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In various fantasy settings, female combatants are quite common. There is a history of women in the military in real life but such women were generally rare and often hid their identity. Warfare was generally seen as the domain of men in many different cultures.

In an alternate world, a new culture arises in the Middle East. This culture is very big on gender equality. Men and women equally share every job and position in society. This includes the military. This culture often gets into land and naval battles with its more patriarchal neighbors. Said neighbors only have men serving in the military.

My fictional culture has actually no sexism but they are still composed of humans. Women are still generally smaller and weaker than men. For that and other reasons, my egalitarian nation(s) could potentially be at a disadvantage in warfare. As technology progresses however, warfare is less and less dependent on the physical capabilities of the average foot soldier. For this reason and others, there are far more women serving in the military in modern times than there were in the past (but it is still far from 50% even in 2023).

With all else being equal (population, weapons, competence, etc.) At what technological level will the mixed-gender military not be at a disadvantage compared to the single-gender military? Could having a large number of ancient female warriors actually be a viable decision? Or is that only strategically wise in a post-industrial or even post-modern military setting?

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    $\begingroup$ "There are far more women serving in the military in modern times than there were in the past": Maybe in the USA, I don't know; but I am quite sure that Germany and the UK have far fewer women in uniform in 2023 than they had in 1943. While women can serve in the army, most of them have too many other opportunities in life to even consider volunteering for such a time-consuming, life-threatening, low-pay position. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ In what way is having twice as many fighters a disadvantage? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ @SkySpiral7 why would that be a problem for mixed sex militaries and not same sex militaries? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Blueriver Because 95%ish of people are heterosexual. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 0:15
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    $\begingroup$ Gender equality oughtn't necessarily result in sharing everything 50%/50%, I (want to) believe it's about equal opportunity, not statistical equality. My point being, maybe your fictional culture has different policies surrounding gender equality. $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 10:07

18 Answers 18

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There are a few technological thresholds that need to be achieved in order to enable a society to use women in its military without putting itself at a major disadvantage compared to societies that keep their women "at home". For the purposes of definitions here, I am considering "men" and "women" to be defined by sex rather than gender and I am only considering these two values.

Threshold 1 - consistently survivable childbirth: Through most of human history, giving birth to children has been an essential but extremely hazardous task that only women can do. Dying in childbirth was common. Babies dying in their first year of life was also very common, with deaths after this but before adulthood also being relatively frequent. The practical upshot of this was that a society needed as many of its women as possible to produce as many babies as possible in order to maintain its numbers and hopefully grow the population a little. Males were relatively expendable - a society did not need that many of them and they did not really need to do that much in order to ensure that the women can do the hard work of producing the next generation. So a society could afford to send its men off to fight and die in the army, but if it did the same with it's fighting age = reproductive age women then it will shrink and be overwhelmed.

Obviously, this changed when medical advances such as understanding the causes of infection came along. With sterile surgical instruments, vaccinations and other improvements in medical practices the rate of women dying in childbirth decreased enormously while the survival rate of the babies that were born shot up. For a western European society or another with equivalent medical technology, by some point in the nineteenth century some of women could be allowed to fight without the society dooming itself to gradual extinction. Of course, by this time there were centuries of cultural inertia against such a practice.

Threshold 2 - less melee, better firearms: While firearms have been around for several hundred years, their accuracy, rate of fire and other operational limitations (eg producing enormous amounts of smoke) meant that volleys of musket/rifle/cannon fire was merely a prelude to the real business of getting up close and personal to settle matters with melee weapons. Further, the early firearms kicked like a mule, requiring considerable strength and body mass to control at all. The combination of these two factors would put the large majority of women at a disadvantage in the armies of the period. Nor would they be welcomed in the artillery - prior to mechanisation, cannon needed to be manhandled into firing positions, large projectiles lifted and considerable force used in reloading processes. (This issue continues today, though weapons and ammunition are deliberately designed to be more ergonomic.)

The practical upshot is that women of above-average physical fitness would only really be competitive with average men by the time reliable, accurate repeating firearms were available. Which is consistent with what was observed historically - obviously there are no reliable numbers, but I understand that a significant number of women concealed their sex and served in the trenches of WWI, quite apart from those serving openly in auxilliary services.

Threshold 3 - mechanised warfare: Once the majority of equipment is powered, physical strength is relatively trivial - eyesight and dexterity are more important for crewing an aircraft or armoured vehicle. However, note that everything needs to be powered or strength still matters. It took considerable physical strength to fly some of the large aircraft in even WWII - some women were employed to "ferry" such aircraft around and recounted how it took two of them working together to physically move the controls. It is also necessary to note that the vast majority of personnel involved in aircraft and armoured operations are actually working on the tanks and planes or re-arming them, which can require considerable strength. Well-designed maintenance and re-arming equipment in a late 20th Century environment should allow these tasks to be conducted by any able-bodied person, though. Similar considerations apply to logistics and resupply units.

One hold-out where raw physical strength matters is in the infantry, especially light infantry. Patrolling for extended periods with 30+ kg of equipment simply cannot be done by a person who is too lightly built, and less women have the requisite build. Of course, in a modern army with a typical teeth-to-tail ratio, the infantry are a relatively small percentage.

Summary and psychological issues: The combination of medical and technological advances make the late 19th/early 20th Century the threshold point at which a society can start risking its women in combat without risking extinction. The number of military positions that women can perform without being detrimental to combat performance will increase in line with mechanisation.

However, it should be noted that men are far more violent and risk-taking than women, as reflected in prison and accidental death statistics. If military service is voluntary and perceived as risky (eg nation is currently involved in a war or expected to be soon) then it can be expected that the majority of enlistees will be the violent, risk-taking (aka stupid) ones.

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    – L.Dutch
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 9:30
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The answers so far have only considered the "front line" aspect of an army, but there are vast swathes of military service that never require you to raise a weapon in anger and also leave you at far lower risk of being on the wrong end of one.

Command, logistics, quartermaster, intelligence, recruitment, training, catering, maintenance, medical, communications, as examples that exist throughout the ages. Most of these things requiring far more in the way of soft skills than the simple strength that's being focused on and all of them essential to the functioning of a large military. In earlier militaries you'll get grooms and animal handlers, squires to help the knights. Pick your era and you'll probably find young boys performing these roles, because they don't have the strength to fight themselves.

A fully formed army can find a role for anyone, regardless of strength, ability or even disability.

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    $\begingroup$ Retired senior NCO here. While there are some military career fields which are restricted by sex, the vast majority are not. The US military presently allows recruits some degree of choice in their career field, and this results in women preferring certain career fields when they have the option, and men preferring other career fields when they have the option. As long as the fighting gets done and the supplies get moved, nobody cares what's between the legs of whoever does it. (Not in any official capacity, anyway.) $\endgroup$
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 17:01
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Virtually any technological era: So long as the societal norms of the culture permit it.

For your example the Scythians may serve as a template as it is believed based on archeological finds and literature of the time that women could elect to become warriors if they so chose. But leaving that aside and for the purpose of fiction there are a number of ways women in a gender equal society to be integrated into the societies military.

One reason could be Religion: The society in question has a mythos that includes legends of a class of female warriors who acted as protectors of the Gods and their sanctuaries. Tradition has then led to units of female warriors being included in every army as guards of the holy relics every army takes into battle.

Another is martial tradition. Like the Samurai class where women could be trained in the use of weapons and were expected to defend the home in their husbands absence - expand on that principal and create a society where all women of appropriate age are expected to train with weapons and be formed into units that defend their lands while the army is away campaigning. Perhaps on a regular basis because historically their country faces regular invasions and the 'manpower' is needed.

All the above said though as you noted on average the typical female soldier would be less physically strong than the typical male soldier. So what they might lack in strength they have to make up for in skill, superior weapons or tactics or whatever other factor they can find that might give them some advantage. That is if they can find them.

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    – L.Dutch
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Mon... As a Male, I am larger, physically tougher, have stronger bones, higher natural muscle mass, shorter reaction times, and basically spent all of the time since puberty with performance enhancing drugs running thru my body. This is comparing me to women the same size as me. With limited exercise I am stronger then 90% of women... You need technology that eliminates strength, weight, endurance under load, and physical toughness as factors for a truly mixed gender army. $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Questor. We should move to chat. But briefly? All true (I'm male to). The point is that superior physical strength and endurance are not the only arbiters of success in battle. A mixed gender (or solely female) army would need other factors on their side to ensure victory. But the fact is there are lots of other factors that decide victory on the battlefield. Nor am I suggesting a female army is desirable, just that it's 'doable'. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 22:02
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As soon as you have a professional soldiers

By professional soldiers I mean members of society with the primary job of being a soldier and fighting. As an example the Roman Empire with a population of 60 Million had about 300.000 troops in the standing army. Much more was simply not economically viable for a civilization. The lions share of the population was concerned with food production (think about 80%+ being farmers)

Since arguing for a mixed-gender army being viable is mostly arguing against possible shortcomings, let me address the cited (believed) shortcomings.

? Females are needed for population growth ?

The population size of most ancient civilizations was mainly limited by the amount of available food. You can see this by their relative fast population growth back to the old size after disasters or plagues (which usually hit men and women alike). While regularly loosing a big percentage of females would impact a society very negatively, the standing army only comprises a small fraction of the total population and losses are even smaller than that. This will not be an issue.

? Females are physically weaker ?

Females have on average less muscle mass and are smaller than males. This means they will performe worse in feats which heavily rely on strength. So females will for example as archers on average not be able to draw the same weight consistently as males. On the other hand current studies suggest females may on average actually outperform males on stamina and endurance. Females may also outperform males in several social skills, which can translate into better morale and unit cohesion.

So if we talk about pure fighting ability, we should on average probably talk about soldiers fighting in a group or formation, usually with spears and light to medium armor. They will have walked long distances with a lot of baggage and be brave and level-headed enough to perform on slippery or stony ground. I think in this case the male advantage in strength and body size can be offset by stamina, skill and teamwork on the female team.

With a typical Roman soldier stamina/endurance was one of the most important physical requirements and battles were often decided by morale and discipline instead of stronger spear trusts.

Overall there is no clear evidence if a unit of female legionaries in a typical Roman army would have performed worse than a male unit in war. - Also because the biological differences are marginally small compared to the difference in individuals and training.

? Females lack the aggressives and hormones for fighting

Biology and statistics suggest females are less prone to violence, rage or criminal behavior. While this may be a disadvantage when trying to get female soldiers into the right mindset to kill, it is a huge advantage in all other situations. Female units will be less prone to rape and kill for sport after the battle. The evidence also suggests that you will need less disciplinary actions because there is less infighting and less uncontrolled rage in your units. While a raging barbarian might be a good weapon for some battles, an organized disciplined unit, which follows commands is desirable for almost any battle.

? Females cannot cope with the stress/trauma ?

While overall females seem to be more effected by traumatic events (e.g. post COVID trauma studies) this seems a cultural induces effect and is different for females in e.g. military professions. In fact data (e.g. released by the US department of veteran affairs) suggests that PTSD, alcohol abuse, anxiety and major depressions are less prevalent in female soldiers.

This suggests that female soldiers could better deal with the traumatic events of war and also show better recovery rates. An army can hugely benefit if their veterans can longer maintain their active duties and continue to be respected parts of society. Also this hints at units of female soldiers could possibly better endure long campaigns with high psychological pressure without breaking down or resorting to drugs, violence or sexual abuse.

Conclusion

Overall the factors would suggest that in a setting like the Roman army a mixed-gender military could actually perform better than an all male army. Important factors are the share of the population participating/dying in battle (if this is a significant number, your society may not recover from losing a big number of females in child-bearing age), the kind of battles (long campaigns with formations and discipline favor females while fist-brawls with the neighboring village favor males)

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    $\begingroup$ Could you cite the 'women have better endurance' studies? I think you're underestimating the difference in strength with more primitive nutrition; it'd probably be more pronounced than today. Women wouldn't be incapable of being infantry, but on aggregate I think they would be at a significant disadvantage. I also question the idea that women are intrinsically better at social matters, and that that would overcome the physical difference. That said, being smaller would make them suited to cavalry or scouting, and they'd make excellent spies if no surrounding nations considered women a threat. $\endgroup$
    – Aos Sidhe
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ There's another issue that's being overlooked, and that's what happens after the battle. For the losing side, for much of history, the possibility of women getting seriously injured or killed from the rampaging victorious forces would have been pretty much the same whether they were engaged in combat or whether they were civilians. Ask the women of Nishapur if it made a difference in 1221. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ also keep in mind the male advantage in muscle is very small compared to the difference in muscle mass training can make. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ @John, yes. Generally, a man will have greater strength than a woman, and with equal training, a man will be stronger than a woman, but a woman with training versus a man with less (or none) evens the field considerably. I'm also noting, with amusement, that people are vastly underestimating the physical requirements necessary to operate a farm in the pre-industrial era. The women didn't just sit around and knit and sew, and if they didn't have kids to take care of in many cultures there was an expectation they'd be out there working as well. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison, sorry that was me being unclear, the difference gained through even moderate trainings is more than ten times the strength difference between the sexes. The variation between individual soldiers of the same sex will be drastically large than the difference between sexes. the difference in sexes is basically irrelevant. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 14:09
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If everyone is going to be a general purpose soldier, then pretty late into the firearms era. As you said, there will be exceptions, but the further back you go pure physical strength plays a larger role, so males will have an advantage. However, if you have a military with more specialized units, then the equations change.

Say you have a light cavalry unit. Their purpose is scouting, early warning pickets, maybe light skirmishing, perhaps rear-area security patrol. They are not intended to get into stand-up fights, and ideally only engage if they have no other option. If your military is fielding such units, then there's no particular reason they can't be women. Bows with a draw of 30 lbs, for instance, are easily handled without requiring a huge amount of upper body strength, and while they won't have range or great penetration, especially against armour, they can still ruin your day even if they're only meant to harass. Their swords are meant to be deployed from horseback, as a last resort, but they'd still have an advantage over lightly-armoured infantry if they were running them down in a pursuit, the traditional role of light mounted units in major battles.

Women in such mounted units might have advantages over men: on average lighter, so all things being equal their horses should have more endurance and makes logistics a bit easier. It should also give their horses more speed, allowing them to disengage against a superior force. So really, for such units, there's no particular reason women couldn't be equally represented, if not over-represented. So that gets you pretty far back in history, technologically speaking.

You could go back a bit further, pre-riding. In the traditional chariot setup, you had a driver and one or two people who did the actual fighting. Even if you want to keep the menfolk as the bowman and throwers and wielders of pointy things, there's no reason the driver can't be a woman.

You could see the same thing with defensive troops. If you have troops whose primary purpose is to defend fortresses and the like, and you've got the technology to build things like the various forms of pre-cannon artillery, there's no reason you can't have women operating them, especially if you can design those systems to minimize the amount of physical strength any individual operator requires. Women might not be on the ramparts waiting to repel troops trying to get over them in hand-to-hand combat, but there's no reason why teams of them can't be operating artillery, crossbows, and the like behind.

Like the light cavalry, women can also fill the security role. The assassin isn't going to have a much easier time getting to the general if the people surrounding the general are women with long sharp pointy things than they are with men in that same situation.

And, obviously, there's no reason whatsoever women can't be the engineers planning construction or destruction, the scouts and mapmakers, and all the other things that aren't standing shoving the person in front of you and trying to stab one another.

So again, specialization of duties can overcome average physiological advantages or disadvantages.

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    $\begingroup$ Sure, some women can fill some roles in pre-industrial armies. Bad thing is that 90% of those roles are "hold this spear and push against the enemy". $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 4:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Negdo but if we're talking medieval armies the professional soldiers or standing army was only a small fraction of the total work-force. No society could thrive while regularly losing significant parts of their population (male or female) $\endgroup$
    – Falco
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ @AncientGiantPottedPlant We actually have decent evidence of at least one steppe civilisation fielding women in "large numbers" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scythians#Warfare $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 11:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Anketam Scythians and then Sarmatians (who both had female warriors) dominated a large swath of the steppe from ~7th century BC to ~3rd century AD. That's a very long time. If there was a disadvantage, it couldn't have been very serious. So for the purposes of OP, Scythian/Sarmatian culture IMHO qualifies as "not being at disadvantage" $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Falco, indeed. For instance, in the English invasion of France in 1326, King Edward landed with an army of between 7,000 and 10,000 troops out of a population of about 2.5 million. That's 0.4%. The loss of every single one of them, population wise, wouldn't have made a significant impact on the overall population, women or not. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 17:11
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As technology progresses, fighting prowess is more dependent on the strength of the user.

Soldiers are carrying increasingly more weight as technology gives you a massive advantage in fights.

Helmet, uniform, boots, armor, weapon, ammo, food, canteens, compass, first aid kit—everything a soldier wears and carries (their “load”) can add up to more than 68 pounds. In a combat mission, that weight can skyrocket to as much as 120 pounds. Carrying a heavy load while walking, marching, running, or even fighting is essential for every soldier, regardless of sex.

This is worse for women.

All that weight is associated with high rates of stress fractures and other musculoskeletal injuries to soldiers’ hips, legs, feet, and ankles. For female soldiers, the risk of stress fractures to their lower extremities is 2 to 10 times greater than for their male counterparts. Loverro wants to know why.

Power armour fixes this disparity.

Once artificial power armor becomes a reality soldiers aren't dependent on their weak human bodies to lift heavy weights, but the purity of steel and motors and batteries. The most important thing is the soldier's competence, not the power of their bodies.

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    $\begingroup$ I added the links. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ soldiers have carried about the same weight in almost every time period, around 60lbs. a few carried more, roman legionnaire could be expected to carry 100lbs of gear AND marched everywhere, no catching a ride on a truck. history.stackexchange.com/questions/2421/… $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 2:52
  • $\begingroup$ My source is based on what soldiers actually carry, not what historic regulations state they should carry. The amount they actually carry is greater than 60 pounds. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ and my point was it was the same for soldiers in history, especially in antiquity soldiers carried way more than their standard gear. And how much they carried increased with combat. To the point the romans made many efforts to discourage bringing too much extra gear because it was impacting combat ability. then you have loot, soldier in antiquity looted a lot and had to carry that loot for the rest of the campaign. And to top it off those soldier were carrying the load for much MUCH longer, again no truck rides. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 14:17
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Low Infant Mortality

Mixed military is better. Mixed military is bigger. Biggest army is best army ooga booga.

Half the population is women. An army of one thousand army men is worse than an army or one thousand army men and one thousand army women.

The downside $-$ those army women cannot make babies if they are busy on the front lines. This is bad for the country as a whole. We might win the war but thirty years later our economy collapses because 80% of the population is wrinkly and senile.

The threshold is that the women at home can reliably create the next generation without mother or child dying in childbirth or childhood.


Extra: Size of the army also matters. For example the American army makes up much less than 1% of the population. And much less than that is on duty at any one time. Even if that was all women and they were all wiped out, it would not change the size of the next generation. So the infant mortality is only relevant if the country is fighting a large war for survival. Compare that 1% to the number of young men who died in trenches in WW1.

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No era

Even considering an era where male physical superiority is neutralised:

Women are more biologically precious.

In any extended conflict, the society that has lots of female casualties takes more damage than the one where men die.

In addition, they lack testosterone and the male brain which is adapted for aggression (just being aggressive is an advantage in war) and combat, and will retain a small edge. You can't just ignore firmware as hardware changes.

More contestable: men have greater variability in most traits, physical and mental, than women. Militaries that draw from the upper end of the various mental and physical bell curves will recruit more men.

By the time women are truly equal in war with men on the population level, soldiers will be robotic and armies irrelevant.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ The main fallacy here is that child-production is the most important thing for a society, which absolutely not always the case. Other than that this runs into exactly the fallacy I describe in my answer. No need to reply to this. I'm just explaining my downvote. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth It pays to read the comments. The question(s) specify a large number of women, or is (are) ambiguous. Not one woman. Allow me to reciprocate with a downvote, which I hardly ever do. No need to reply. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think aggression is a desirable trait in war. I can think of one country where aggression isn't doing them one bit of good. Balls and bayonets aren't much use on a modern battlefield with 21st century weapons. Discipline matters more, and aggression inhibits that. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Harper-ReinstateMonica Have a read about Patton and training soldiers to hate the enemy during the Italian campaign. The Day Of Battle by Rick Atkinson is a good recent popular history that outlines it quite early on. Or about the Kurds and ISIS. Or Vietnam. Or Afghanistan. Aggression absolutely matters and is desirable. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 1:28
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Depends on recruiting strategy.

Consider that there are essentially only a few cases:

  1. Zero sum, ranked: limited number of recruits, hired based on ability.

Allowing both genders to serve is a net win, as you get the upper outliers of both genders. Even if men average more suitable for the role, the best women will either not be hired because they don't make the grade, or they will push some more-mediocre men out of the role.

This gives a stronger military.

  1. Zero sum, random: limited number of recruits, hired randomly.

This might be worthy of discussion if people can find any historical case where it occurred.

This gives a weaker military.

  1. Unrestricted: all recruits taken. Either anyone can serve, or everyone must serve.

Opening to both genders then allows a nation to field a military force of about double the size.

This gives a stronger military.

  1. Zero sum, enforced ratio: Serving has enforced equal representation for a limited number of slots.

This MIGHT be the case the OP is talking about: where some more-able men are pushed out by less-able women, and any increase in overall numbers is insufficient to make up the shortfall in ability.

This gives a weaker military.


So long as a nation aims for 1 or 3, it'll likely do better than its neighbors, with an important caveat.

The strength of the military is only one important element of the strength of a nation. If everyone is off fighting a war, the nation is weakened because nobody is working on the logistics/ops side of keeping the nation running: schooling, farming, manufacture and trade.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't total war with conscription be more or less #2? $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ @AncientGiantPottedPlant That sounds like #3 to me: zero sum is where female participants may push out male ones from a limited pool of positions. "Total war with conscription" implies taking as many people as you can get, with no limit to the number of positions filled. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ @DewiMorgan... 3 is wrong. It assumes that 100% or close to 100% of your eligible people will be soldiers. historically less then 10% of the entire population were soldiers. (as historically you need massive amouunts of farmers to feed everyone). in that case you can field just as many men, as you could field men/women... Only difference is if the society is a steppe tribe. $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 0:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Questor if it helps, you can mentally replace the term "everyone" in item #3 with "everyone who applies", "everyone eligible", "everyone who's name begins with A", or whatever you like. The point here is not "100% of the population serves" (obviously: children and the disabled exist, etc), but that it's not a "zero sum game" where if one person serves, another person cannot, as in #1, 2 & 3. Feel free to suggest alternative phrasing if you feel this was unclear. But if you're explicitly capping it at "10% of the population" then that is indeed zero sum, and you're talking about #1, 2 or 3 $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 18:54
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At any technological level. In the circumstances you describe a mixed-gender army will always be at least as good as a single-gender one. But more so when physical strength is less of a factor

The questions is falling into the trap that discussions like this often fall into - namely that they think the statement "women are weaker than men" means "all women are weaker than all men", when it really means "on average women are weaker than men". But in reality there can be women who are stronger, have better endurance, and are more fit to be soldiers in all other ways than 99.9% of men.

If you were to make a selection of the people best suited to be soldiers without worrying about their gender, you are by definition going to get soldiers that are at least as good as if you choose your soldiers only from half the population. If there is even one woman who would be category of "best soldiers" then you are hurting the army by not selecting her.

It's possible that there are some kinds of cultural effects, but since your culture has "no sexism" then we can assume that won't happen. IN a "no sexism" culture the other possible issue - that there are skills useful to war that only men have been trained in - won't happen.

It's true that the more strength and endurance is key to soldier performance the fewer women are going to be "the best soldiers", but there is no level of technology where it is better to exclude women completely.

For social comment please note that this is always true for all fields of endeavour, although social constructs may make it appear not to be the case.

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  • $\begingroup$ where does your 99.9% number come from? I think it is fabricated $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 0:37
  • $\begingroup$ For example 4371 men have run faster than the women's world record at 100m. So one woman is faster than 99.9999% of men. I was being conservative. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 16:14
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The beliefs of the enemy are an important factor

The enemy may believe that women should not be attacked by men as warriors. This could be for a number of reasons, e.g. (1) Women are sacred and should not be defiled - compare with sacred cows in India, (2) It is simply not acceptable to fight women because they are "the gentler sex", 3. A macho warrior who stoops to fighting a woman will be ridiculed by his fellows. He would be unworthy of acclaim for his victories.

Whatever the enemy's reasons for not engaging in combat with women, meeting female warriors on the battlefield would seriously impinge on their conduct. If the taboo is strong enough, it might even lead to women being allowed to walk behind enemy lines and cause damage unhindered.

Answer

The more technologically advanced the civilisation, the less likely they are to be ruled by superstition and taboo. Therefore, when considering social norms, the more primitive the technology the better.

EDIT

It might even be the case that a male sniper would be more likely to deliberately miss a female than a male because of his upbringing.

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    $\begingroup$ If someone is coming at a soldier with a sword on the battlefield, I imagine the enemy would get rid of compunctions about fighting women quickly. And I can't imagine any taboo so strong as to stand helplessly by while someone destroys your backlines. Now, if the enemy nations didn't consider women combatants at all, then they would make excellent spies and saboteurs. But if they were discovered, they'd be imprisoned at the very least. $\endgroup$
    – Aos Sidhe
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Aos Sidhe - It depends how strong the compunction is. We see sacred cows wandering the streets in India. Very often they cause destruction of goods or obstruction of roads and pathways. If women were similarly sacred they would be tolerated by a sufficiently and suitably devout enemy. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ I'm confused... If this enemy belief were the case, how would it not be more important (rather than less) to have women on one's military? If I knew my enemy was confused or disrupted by tan jumpsuits, that would become the new uniform. If confused or disrupted by women soldiers, I would want as many women in the ranks as possible. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ @HumanJHawkins - If you go back and read the question as stated in the title of the thread, you will see that that is exactly what the OP is asking for, i.e. how can a mixed gender army not be at a disadvantage. I have shown that, if killing women were taboo, then not only would they not be at a disadvantage, they would provide a very positive advantage. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 16:05
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Far Future Technological Level

Even in the modern era many things you do in the military require physical strength. Running around lugging heavy ammo, digging trenches etc etc. All other things being equal, you want this to be done by men since they are physically stronger. However, once you have powered armor, maybe antigravity technology and other things eliminating the need for brute physical strength, there is no longer any disadvantage in having as many women as men in the military.

But: this is only true with all other things being equal. Many armies of ancient and medieval era mostly consisted of levies - literally peasants, often forcibly conscripted by their lords, with no military training, little to no armor, most basic arms and no wish to be there. Those were mostly there to provide the sheer force of numbers.

Now, if you were to substiture some of that levy with female knights, who trained in warfare for most of their life, have good quality armor and well-made arms (and perhaps good horses as well), eager to win glory on the battlefield, then your army would certainly be better off. Now in real life female warrior class simply didn't exist, but perhaps in your completely egalitarian society it might.

But if you want all things other than gender of the combatants to be equal, then my original answer stands.

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Just being genetically advanced enough to remove the annoying long gestation periods and slow growth rates of humans.

The only reason the humans are sexually dimorphic is because of those traits forcing the necessity.


As for in your scenario, presumably the humans haven't changed yet.


The easiest way, is just for the culture to be very good at diplomacy to the point of barely needing to fight. This is actually a very good strategy, as contrary to perceptions diplomacy can be lethal, as it can very easy to get random humans on your side.

The second easiest way is actually something already implemented in nations, or example Egypt (it's even in the Middle East, how serendipitous). Many o the nations just have completely unrelated reasons for the women not being a major part. The military becomes an economic juggernaut.

This has considerable advantages for some regimes, some of which are:

  • An easy way to implement a castle-like defence strategy of just holding necessary resources so the country is really annoying to bring down. Nations that cannot starve are really, really, annoying to deal with and they can just wait it out as you bleed money on army expenditure. Which is usually enough to keep aggressors away.
  • An easy way to manipulate the economy to a goal e.g. self sufficiency, or allying with nation X
  • A way to utilise humans that the nation has trouble using and in the process training them up e.g. criminals or orphans. To varying degrees of forced labour or freedom to join.

If the military's economic defences are a core part of its defence strategy, the women being physically weaker is irrelevant, especially for that role. Also it is possible the society only cares about equality in jobs, not what roles they do in that official position.


As for actually fighting, firearms and drones are the obvious candidates.


So all in all, just make the society like an egalitarian Egypt, or like any society where diplomacy is important. Like egalitarian Iran.

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To begin with, an assumption

We live in a more politically diverse world than we once did. You say "mixed-gender" but follow with a discussion about men and women. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because the pros and cons of the world's current views about gender are remarkably complex. IMO, too complex to handle in a single question.

So, cheers for working with one, specific condition.

There are many reasons why women have been a challenge in the military

In my opinion, nobody in their right mind would dispute the value of women in the military. Likewise, nobody should be arguing over whether or not women should have the right to fight for the people and the nation they love. But that hasn't shortened a very long women-shouldn't-be-in-combat attitude.

It was a surprise to read an article about women finally getting flak jackets that fit. Surprise, surprise! Women are shaped differently than men! And when did we finally solve this problem? June, 2021... and that only after an Act of Congress forced it to happen.

But it underscores the problem and frames the nature of your answer.

It's not just about strength

It has been long established that, when comparing male and female atheletes at peak performance, men outperform women. From a technological standpoint, that means you need a way to...

  • Improve strength
  • Improve agility
  • Improve speed

SciFi has often used the idea of an exoskeleton. Powered armor has been the favorite, but I've often wondered how you'd fit a human inside powered armor. The powered exoskeletons shown in Edge of Tomorrow (2014) are, IMO, more realistic.

There are other physiological differences including, in men, thicker skulls, longer limbs, etc. However, that exoskeleton combined with good head armor solves all that.

As mentioned earlier about flak jackets that fit, there's the simple reality that, generally speaking, women are shaped differently than men. But, technologically, that's fairly simple to overcome, too. The U.S. military could have done it decades ago. They just didn't think it was important due to, frankly, millennia of belief that women shouldn't be in combat.

But there are some biological problems

Things get a bit more complex, especially logistically, when a military must start considering the requirements of mensturation and child bearing.

Let's start with child bearing, because I don't believe it not just a technological issue when it comes to keeping women active in the military. Yes, through chemicals it's possible to keep women from childbearing, and it's reasonable that a woman can choose to avoid childbirth indefinitely to devote themselves to a military career. What isn't reasonable is to assume or compel that choice.

And here's where technology isn't sufficient. Should a woman choose to conceive, then the military's only real choice is to relegate the woman more and more to non-combat duties until imminent childbirth and early child rearing demands her full attention for the success and health of both mother and child.

This is only one opinion about how childbearing and the military might collide. Others may have other insights. I don't profess to know definitively if what I just suggested is the best perspective.

Menstation is the next issue, but today, chemistry can overcome that, too. Great advancements are being made to allow women to serve fully and to their utmost capacity in the military.

Conclusion

It appears that humanity has already solved two of the three problems:

  • With chemistry, we can manage menstration and childbearing, leaving the later as a choice, not a problem to be suffered by either soldier or the military.

  • And only conscious regard was necessary to overcome the problem of properly clothing and outfitting both male and female soldiers.

From this perspective, 2023 technology is sufficient. The problem is making personal, physical strength, agility, and speed irrelevant.

  • The use of a powered exoskeleton to make all soldiers equal.

Humanity is working on powered exoskeletons for combat and is testing existing solutions for powered prosthetics. At the rate of current technological advancement, I'd guess that the first practical combat exoskeletons will exist in the next 20 years.

So, what's your answer?

I predict that human technology at 2040-2045 will be sufficient to wholly equalize the sexes during combat. Or, perhaps it's better said that gender will become irrelevant.

A Disclaimer...

I've treated combat soldiers as if they all do the same thing in the same way. That simply isn't true. There are specialized combat forces, combat engineers, combat medics.... There are combat specialties that are gender-irrelevant today and have been for a long time. I'm answering in the most general way possible.

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How many?

You asked about a "large number." Answers talk about upper body strength, continuation of the society through childbirth, etc. But consider:

  • Modern societies draft a large percentage of their young or not so young males during times of crisis or war. A few get excused on grounds of physical incapability. If, on average, women have a lower strength, what percentage of women is stronger than the weakest percentile of men who do get drafted?
    You could have a situation where 80% of males pass the requirement, and 20% of females. That would give you a 4-1 ratio, arguably a "large number" of women in the military.

  • A society needs to birth and raise the next generation of warriors. Males can do one part of that, but not the other. Many militant societies expected women to handle this.
    But (opposed to the near-industrial levee en masse above) medieval and classical societies could not afford to keep a large percentage of the population under arms. Plenty of serfs actually on the fields, not handed a spear, to support each mounted knight. At the highest level of society, it is not just a woman's womb that is needed to raise the next generation, it is the legitimacy of succession which matters. It does not help the society if the duchess lives the duke dies, if the dowager duchess does not hold the title in her own right.

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When the majority of the fighting is conducted by AI, and no humans are involved at a physical level, or are present on the battlefield.

This will render all combat and combatants free from physical and psychological constraints in warfare, and combat will essentially be down to a combination of who has the better technology and tactics.

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Really, there is no capability problem here. Whether or not women are more or less suited on average to any specific task, it is clear that most women are capable of many tasks that a military requires. So with some basic filtering for a minimum fitness level, making use of the women of a society could increase the capabilities of any military.

For anyone enlisting, if they are strong and tough they may put on armor and fight physically or lug a heavy pack and rifle around. If less tough, there may be a spot on an archery line in the back or operating a targeting computer. If even less tough, there is likely a spot repairing equipment or planning or cooking. Anyone put to use somewhere, is freeing up someone else to do something else. It's a resource added.

So in an egalitarian society with systemic protections, a society putting it's women to use in the military where each can best contribute should be a net gain.

The problem in the real (sadly not egalitarian and free of sexism) world is integration. Typical combat-age men are full of testosterone, and a problematic subset of them have only basic or lower proficiency in the skills and self-awareness necessary to remain professional around women... 24/7 for example, for weeks on end, deployed in a trench in Eastern Ukraine. Yes, they can be managed to control themselves, but that takes resources. Time and policy enforcement at a minimum. And it's not something anyone (male or female) wants to make a priority when an enemy battle group is marching toward your city.

In short, it is not the incapability of women that has made them unwelcome historically in militaries. Aside from culture and societal norms, it is the incapability of men to work effectively beside them that makes it problematic. The question is really, under what circumstances and culture can the addition of women produce more benefit by way of their contribution, than the cost of this increased need of training, management and supervision to keep the men in line. Under what circumstances will their capabilities offset the cost of lost effectiveness because a non-combat-focused relationship formed, ended, or was rebuked.

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    $\begingroup$ It's a resource cost if you only start it when they're recruited. If the society itself is egalitarian such that young men are raised with the understanding that women are not objects, that sexual violence is not tolerated, where women have equal rights, including the right, and expectation, to fight back (legally and physically), then a lot of the heavy lifting is done. And there's a real-life example: gay military men have that same surge of testosterone, but oddly enough they seem to be able to control themselves around the subjects of their desire. So straight guys have no excuse. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 4:18
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison, I missed (or rather forgot as I read others before replying) that the original question stated an egalitarian society without sexism). There are plausible arguments that this discredits my response. I'll try to edit to correct that. I don't think the example of gay men aligns well to the differences in the real world though, because sexual abuse can only exist with an imbalance of power. The population difference between gay and straight men puts the systemic balance of power in the opposite direction to that which systemically support widespread abuse. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 7:07
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I'm going to give Three, partially contradictory answers. First answer:

No Era

And let me explain my reasoning. The first thing that often gets thrown out is physical strength differences - this in story is usually countered with technology not requiring physical strength.

So for a real world comparison, let's pick a competitive activity where Strength or any physical attribute is a factor.

Next up is often Numbers. More Men want to fight than Women, so more Men join to serve in the Military - we could fix this by having a draft or national service type scenario - perfect 50/50 distribution.

So for our real world comparison, let's pick a competitive activity where physical attributes have no bearing and there is at least a 50/50 gender split in participation.

Then we have 'Natural inclination'. Related to the above, More Men are Killers, so perhaps we could have a means to artificially increase the desire to fight in Women so it's equal to that of Men.

Linking back to our real world one, we now need a competitive activity, where physical things don't matter, participation is at least 50/50 and Men don't have a natural advantage...

With all of these things - you might say 'ah ha! We can have a military that is equal'

But there's a reason why I keep mentioning real world comparison. See, there is a Game that has:

  • No requirement on Physical prowess
  • Significantly larger participation by Women than Men
  • Women have a natural advantage over Men

That game, being Scrabble. The player base is majority female, Women have a greater vocabulary (on average) then men.

Yet...

there has never been a Female World champion Scrabble player

I know that Scrabble isn't the Military - but I'm using this to highlight that even when all the usual factors about Men out-performing Women are accounted for and nullified, Men still win, decisively.

I believe this is due to Evolutionary Biology - Women are choosy when it comes to mate selection and will only have children with the best, evolutionary speaking - all women get to bear children - so there is no reward for them taking risk. Whereas for Men, our evolutionary history can be summed up by 'Death or Glory' - there is a hard-wired drive in Men to push that little bit farther, to be the best, to become a potential mate to a Woman.

This drive manifests itself in all sorts of ways - but in all competitive endeavors (best highlighted by the Scrabble example and war is a Competitive business) - there is always going to be a Man who is willing to risk a little bit more than a Woman on the chance of Victory...

That said...

Answer Two - Any form of combat that requires extreme survival on limited Calorie diets

There are 2 sports where Men and Women are somewhat equal - Extreme long-distance running and Extreme long-distance swimming. Now, sure Men are generally faster - but like any high-performance machine, we use a lot more Fuel. There's only so much fuel you can store in your body and after a while that performance starts to drop. Whereas Women are more fuel-efficient, have bigger fat stores (Sorry Ladies!) and don't burn as much calories as men.

By extreme distance, I'm thinking of Courtney Dauwalter doing 200 mile events. The same goes for ultra-distance swimming - I believe it's after about 35 Km that Women start to get an advantage over Male swimmers.

Going back to our friend Evolutionary Biology - If stuff has hit the fan so bad that all the men start dying out, Women are still able to survive for a bit longer to raise the next generation.

So any form of combat where the requirement was before any combat happened for such distances to be run or swam, Women could have an advantage.

And now for the most controversial answer of all:

Answer 3 - it's not about Technology, it's about using the one power Women have over men - their sexuality

History is littered with tales of young men doing absolutely stupid things to impress a lady. Also, Men are somewhat hard-wired to killing a Women who is young and fertile (they are, unfortunately, not above doing other things). A Military 'force' that was comprised not of 'soldiers' but of very alluring Femme Fatales who could infiltrate and seduce an army (mainly comprised of 18-25 year olds, full of raging testosterone and no other women insight).

Now, this has a long and sordid history of working - the VietCong employed such ladies to sleep with American GIs, the world of Spying has the 'Honey Trap', hell you could even point to the rise of the E-Girl - Beautiful women who know how to manipulate horny Men into doing what they want.

So an unconventional force of stunning women could devastate a conventional military force - however this would probably only work on mass once or twice before the Military would wise up to it... but even then - as I said - young horny dudes will do all sorts of stupid things.

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  • $\begingroup$ A lot of this is very rooted in modern stereotypes and pop evopsych. Scrabble has no bearing on military capability; that's kinda ridiculous. Further, A) men aren't dumb; they're capable of killing "fertile women," especially if they're an enemy soldier who's trying to kill them. B) "Men want to impress women" is not a good argument for women not being able to be soldiers. I don't even see how that applies. $\endgroup$
    – Aos Sidhe
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ @AosSidhe - you miss the point about Scrabble. It was to show that even when the immediate factors are tipped in Women's favor, the male desire to win still results in victory. And that is very applicable to War. Sure men are capable of killing fertile women - but it leaves deep psychological scars. Men have a natural aversion to it (for good reason). Lastly - all I'm going to sayvis read the history of espionage and Female agents. They may not be physically fighting, but they did a lot of work. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think it's necessarily "the male desire to win" so much as that any cohort of men tends to be wider in bell curve of any metric, when compared to a similar cohort of women from the same population. So men don't "win" more, they "vary" more, having more upper and lower outliers. The biggest winners in any group will indeed tend to be male; but also the hardest-hit losers. By focusing only on who's at the top of the winners, we see only half the picture: a form of survival bias. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ @DewiMorgan - either way - if it's male variability or male competitiveness that's the cause - the point was, when translated to combat, the Men win. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ Plus 1 from me for the espionage point. It takes a very brave woman to go behind enemy lines and get information. However it is a common tactic. A sufficiently attractive woman can infiltrate to very high levels. Who do you see on millionaires' and billionaires' yachts, on their islands or in their mansions? Attractive young women. They may not be able to influence policies or tactics but by playing innocent they can overhear vital information. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 0:16

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