Can Women Be As Strong As Men? Marine Corps Pull-Up Controversy Kindles Debate

| by Allison Geller

The Marine Corps has delayed setting its physical fitness standards for women after it discovered that over half of female marines in boot camp can’t do the required minimum of three pull-ups.

The fitness test was supposed to silence the “women aren’t as strong as men” argument by holding both male and female recruits to the same standards, in order to qualify women for combat jobs. All military branches are gearing up to offer women thousands more combat roles by 2016.

The standards were supposed to require that starting this year, all female Marines would have to do at least three pull-ups, with eight being the ideal. For men three is also the minimum, and 20 makes a perfect score. When it was tested on female recruits in 2013, however, only 45 percent could perform the minimum three.

For now, a flexed arm hang of at least 15 seconds is sufficient for female marines who can’t do the three pull-ups, as Marine officials "continue to gather data and ensure that female Marines are provided with the best opportunity to succeed," according to Marine spokeswoman Capt. Maureen Krebs.

The upper body strength requirement is supposed to ensure that Marines can carry heavy munitions, climb walls, shimmy up ropes, and complete all other tasks that might be necessary in combat.

Logically, there should be no difference in standards for men and women required to fulfill the same roles. But men do have certain physical advantages over women when it comes to upper body strength.

Retired Army lieutenant colonel Robert Maginnis, who wrote a book called Deadly Consequences: How Cowards are Pushing Women into Combat, is one person who believes women will never be up to combat.

"Young women, in spite of all the training and all the best intentions, are not going to be the equal of young men in terms of upper body strength," Maginnis told NPR. "You've got to have a lot of upper body strength to lift the stuff. Been there, done that."

Others disagree, saying that with proper training, neither pull-ups nor any other physical fitness barometer is unreachable.

Former Marine infantry officer Greg Jacob trained the women in his company to do eight to 12 pull-ups within six months.

"At first, a lot of women weren't able to do it," Jacob says. "They were able to do one, some were able to do two, but what happened was by having that standard and enforcing that standard, it made my Marines, it made the troops go to the gym and train to that standard."

After the first two to sign up in 2012 didn't make it through, thirteen women have graduated from the Marine Corps’ enlisted infantry training course, proving that with training and the right attitude, women have the brawn, too.

Sources: Associated Press, Washington Post, NPR, Military Times