Saturday, May 3, 2008

Female combatants in wargames

One might be excused if one thought women were nearly as fully involved in the violence of war as men if one went by science fiction and fantasy games. Indeed, in some of the games they seem to be getting close to parity. Of the figures in Dream Blade that have an identifiable gender, a very large faction are female. In Battle Lore at least one of the Lore masters is female and there's a whole army of Amazons in Wizard Kings.

Female fighters make at least a token appearance in nearly all the science fiction wargames and sometimes much more than that.

Of course, in actual history female combatants are very rare and the cases when a woman actually take up arms usually become the stuff of legend.

There are many cultural reasons for this, of course, but it's also true that physical strength was an inseparable part of hand-to-hand combat in the pre-gunpowder era and even once gunpowder weapons became available, most military tasks and most weapons required the kind of upper body strength that women didn't possess.

Women were somewhat better represented among high level leaders, and female commanders such as Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I and Maria Teresa led their nations in war, often successfully. Indeed, in Friedrich the German king's three opponents are represented by female leaders although Madame Pompadour might be a little bit of a stretch.

But it's really just in the last few decades that women actually started to take part in a direct way in combat. The Bolshevik Red Army and Spanish Civil War Republicans had some female fighters who got attention. The Soviets again fielded some famous women fighters, while women played a notable role in many of the resistance movements against the Nazis. By Vietnam it wasn't uncommon to see women bearing weapons in a revolutionary army and since then it's been a staple of left-wing insurgent forces.

Women serving in regular forces has been much more uncommon. The Israelis have experimented a bit with women in combat and near-combat roles but it's been the U.S. military that's given women the greatest opportunity to serve in direct combat -- although often by happenstance as the non-linear battlefield of the 21st Century puts all military people at risk. At least two Army women have been awarded the Silver Star for gallantry under fire. Still, the most direct combat jobs such as infantryman, tanker or gunner remain off-limits so far.

So it's not surprising that there are very few examples of women being explicitly depicted in a combat role in history-based wargames. One example of women being shown as a combatant is in Axis & Allies: Miniatures, where the Soviet sniper is depicted as a female (Mila Mikhailovna Pavichenko).

Another is in Thunderbolt / Apache Leader, the GMT solitaire game. One of the A-10 pilots, "Viper," is a woman. Female A-10 pilots have flown many hundreds of hours of actual combat missions over Iraq, so this depiction isn't just a "what-if" but is a "has-happened."

So far the negative consequences predicted by opponents of women in combat have generally not come to pass, although there have been some problems. The scale of those problems has not been more than the military has been able to handle, however, and more and more regular military forces are placing women in combat and near-combat roles, so this trend seems to continue.

It will be interesting if the next generation of modern squad-level wargames will start to include female soldiers. Leaving them out might now be considered unrealistic.

1 comment:

  1. My only problem with women in combat with US Forces today is the lack of 'equality' in the standards they are held to. I have no problem with the women who out 'hooah' the men. The women who could take a PT test and equal the male scores, those are the women I've come to respect. They are just too few! When women are expected to do the same duties of a man, they need to fulfill the same physical standards! However, they are held to a consistently lower physical standard, and I'm afraid that sexism will blow up in our face! There needs to be one common PT standard! Not the male standard and then a female standard that doesn't match.

    Otherwise, you are quite accurate in thinking that not depicting women in future games will not be realistic. Women make up over 12% of the military today in the US. While they aren't allowed in line combat units, they do go out of the wire every day in Iraq with support units doing various jobs ranging from humanitarian work as Veterinarians to being gunners on MP humvees.