« Previous | Main | Next »

Women in the forces

Eddie Mair | 17:24 UK time, Thursday, 29 March 2007

You heard Col. Stewart. What do YOU think?


  1. At 05:25 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Aperitif wrote:

    Um, I'm afraid I didn't! I'm missing the programme tonight as I am in the office. I promise to listen again later though.

  2. At 05:27 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Gillian wrote:

    I am reeling at his words. How can he perceive men as being less ''special'' than women? To me, this implies that he considers men to be more dispensible than women. I pity the men who serve under him if this is an example of how he displays his humanity.

  3. At 05:33 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Caius petronius wrote:

    Make sure they've got a supply of clean Knickers!

  4. At 05:36 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Peter White wrote:

    If a woman picks up a gun, she shouldn't be surprised if someone shoots at her. Neither should anyone else. What's so different?
    From the reaction I've heard on Radio 4, it would appear that women on the "front-line" are a liability insofar as the reaction they may cause in their male comrades.

  5. At 05:37 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Fifi wrote:


    Fifi }:o\

  6. At 05:41 PM on 29 Mar 2007, TJ Langrill wrote:

    I am a naval officer married to a military man and have a 5 year old son. I've just returned from a 6 month tour of Iraq and have huge empathy for what LS Turney's family must be feeling.
    However, women in the Forces have their eyes open to the tasks they undertake and with respect, comments such as those made by Col Stewart highlight preconceptions and outdated ideas of what the modern day armed forces are about.
    Certainly in the Royal Navy I have never been made to feel anything other than a valued member of usually pretty tight-knit units.
    Col Stewart's views are unfortunately not atypical of officers of his rank, but certainly in the RN, they are unfounded in my experience.

  7. At 05:44 PM on 29 Mar 2007, The Stainless Steel Cat wrote:

    I didn't either; I'm just off the train. Can someone give a quick summary of what he said while we wait for Listen Again to catch up?

    My view is that if women are trained and capable, then they should be in the front line. I'll gladly hold a door open or offer to carry a heavy bag for a woman, whether she's a frail granny or a strapping Royal Marine, but when it comes to their job they can go ahead and do it in the same way as a man would.

    Um, not very elegantly expressed and for all I know, nothing to do with the points that Colonel Stewart was making. Sorry.

  8. At 05:52 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Mike R wrote:

    Sorry, Eddie, I would just like to comment on the motorbike piece that we just heard.

    The gentleman motorcyclist is absolutely correct to point out the abyssmal standards of driving that are becoming the norm amongst many car users. This applies equally to new drives and experienced drivers. Both have learned bad habits. Experienced drivers have learned them over many years of battling with congestion, during which the temptation to break the law and rules of etiquette have been too much and have now become the norm. Younger drivers, literally, learn their bad habits through the media, laddish culture and games consoles. I speak from the experience of talking to several A-level college students of my acquaintance who have told me that they drive "properly" for the test, but as soon as they get their own car, they drive how they want to drive. They acknowledge that its not safe, but then, I got the sense that they didnt care.

    btw the apostrophe key doesnt work, it keeps accessing some kind of search function.

    Anyway, yes, there are bad motorcyclists, but there are far more bad car drivers.

    The Governments approach to this is familar. Theyre going after the easy target again. In the same way that the Home Office chases successful, law abiding immigrants because theyre easier to find and deport than the real criminals who drop off the radar, so the Government look at the statistics and see that motorcyclists are dying in droves. What to do? Tell you what, impose restrictions on motorcyclists so that they cant get themselves hurt. Eventually, people will stop riding motorbikes because of the sheer inconvenience of it all. This is like saying that the entire population should wear stab proof vests and not go out after 8pm in case a murderer has a go at us, instead of trying to catch the murderers. Its always easier to solve a problem by imposing on the law abiding citizen, because you know he will do as hes told.

    Sounds a little like the approach to Iran, but thats another topic.

    Anyway, sorry for the OT, Eddie.

  9. At 05:56 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Big Sister wrote:

    It is deeply patronising to talk of women in the armed forces in this way. By all means take into account the measurable physical differences when tasks are allocated (I'm prepared to admit that the majority of women are probably less strong than the majority of men), but in this day and age there is a heavy reliance upon intelligence rather than brawn - and women are at least on a par with man on that quality!

  10. At 05:58 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Aunt Dahlia wrote:

    Lets see what that does for Army recruitment, nice one Col.

  11. At 05:59 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Steve Pell wrote:

    I'm ex-Royal Signals and I'm sure that if Col Bob ever visited his Signals support squadron then he would have seen women doing exactly the same roles as the men. Women have been "on the front line" in the Royal Corps of Signals for a long time now!

  12. At 06:11 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Ben wrote:

    Colonel Stewart left the Army well over a decade ago. The Services have changed markedly in that time. He commanded an infantry battalion (and thus had extremely limited contact with female soldiers and officers). His opinions are irrelevant and just show why the media need to stop wheeling out these old, passed-over armchair generals.

    His outdated and naiive remarks were offensive to both male and female members of all 3 Armed Forces (and I speak as 1 of them).
    Women serve alongside men in almost all areas of the Forces. They do a sterling job and frequently balance family lives with a demanding profession. I suggest Stewart and his fellow civilian windbags learn more about the roles, responsibilities and commitments of Servicewomen before passing their patronising and outdated opinions as fact.

  13. At 06:17 PM on 29 Mar 2007, John wrote:

    As a serving member of the forces and the father of a very liberated 24-year-old daughter, I agree with TJ Langrill that Col Stewart's comments about women in the forces were symptomatic of an older generation who have little experience of the role of women in today's forces.

    Treating women in the forces differently from their male colleagues runs entirely counter to the emphasis on equal opportunities for all, including women. Women join the forces today as equals with their male colleagues and should be treated as such.

    If the Iranians thought that releasing the female member of the group early would endear them to the UK they were mistaken. Just because they have a particular view about the role of women does not mean that we think the same and would thank them for releasing her before the rest of the group. For them it has been a tactical error.

  14. At 06:18 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Monika Ghosh wrote:

    Col Stewart sounded a nice man .. even if "old fashioned". I'd be interested to know whether he has knowingly killed women soldiers (i.e. enemy forces) and if so whether their gender made any difference? I know, the military always want us to believe that they just defend us .... I've always thought using women might be a bit "unsporting" if the enemy is chivalrous.

  15. At 07:04 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Old Salt wrote:

    Eddie - as a recently (8 weeks) retired Royal Navy officer (retired early due to the prevalence of poor senior leadership) you will find that the front line units are highly professional and look after each other as closely knit teams should. But, there is no support from those above. The Fleet HQ staff spend their time preparing briefs for the senior officers who themselves spend the time trying to retain their pension rights. They have no interest in fighting for those units & personnel put in dangers way. Lets face it there are more Admirals and Commodores than we have operational ships (of any shape and size) so they are acutely aware that a cull is required as they are using up valuable front line resources. These scared senior officers will not stand up and be counted against the pussy footing politicians. Lets face it this government doesn't like the armed forces anyway as their personnel do not live in traditional Labour constituencies and they are generally very wary of people who are committed and willing to defend our traditions (unlike the government) - why do you think President Blair was not concerned about committing troops to Iraq & Afghanistan.
    Anyway considering the captured sailors the reason they are now political pawns is that the Rules of Engagement (ROE) is decided by those same weak and ineffectual politicians. A robust ROE would have had the Commanding Officer of HMS CORNWALL able to defend his personnel with force if required. He has a powerful and accurate 4.5" gun plus a helicopter with which to defend his crew conducting legal UN boarding operations. The pussy politicians have drawn the CO's teeth and now his crew members (and the region) are in more danger than necessary.

  16. At 07:46 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Old Salt,

    I love the way you mix egalitarianism with gender-based insult (pussy)!

  17. At 07:50 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Cat Barber wrote:

    If I was male I would be downright jealous of females.

    I've always felt liberated just by the fact that I am female, and have never felt sorry for the female sex.

    Males are simply treated as dispensible and pressurized into having to act brave and do all the dangerous difficult bits simply because they're male. And get little sympathy if they break down. (In the past they got shot).

    Females have all the prerogatives of being allowed to opt out and be as cowardly and emotional as they please. And then get most of the sympathy and protection to boot.

    In a hijacking or kidnapping females have a good chance of being quickly released, whereas the males may have to suffer horrible consequences.

    Males run more risk of getting physically attacked anywhere.

    Seriously I think it's time males rose up and started a Mens Liberation and play females at their own game for a change.

  18. At 10:51 PM on 29 Mar 2007, Andy Bird wrote:

    I could not believe what I was hearing!!

    I feel really sorry for the female soldier who is being singled out from her follows because the Iranians cannot accept that she is in individual capable of making her own choices and is free to do is in a free society.

  19. At 11:42 PM on 29 Mar 2007, ian wrote:

    I was mighty impressed with the archeological feature on today's programme. Where on earth did you find this dinosaur?

  20. At 12:17 AM on 30 Mar 2007, Aperitif wrote:

    Having read the comments above I'm having second thoughts about using the 'listen again' function: "Why subject myself?" methinks. And I can't believe that Cat Barber (17) is a woman, despite the "I am female" announcement. Mind you, it seems a pretty odd occupation for either sex -- don't our feline friends groom themselves???

  21. At 12:51 AM on 30 Mar 2007, Old Salt wrote:

    Ahoy Ed (16),

    Sorry shipmate! When I did biology back in the Ark I understood pussy cats could be of either gendre. I suppose "Cat" politicians would have been more socio-biologically correct but it would have lost its impact.

    They all need a pussy-o'-nine tails anyway...

    Old Salt

  22. At 01:35 AM on 30 Mar 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Salty Dog,

    I couldn't resist. I actually credited you with egalitarianism on the slimmest evidence. No real offence in tended.
    Houb Salaam
    30/03/2007 at 01:40:18 GMT

  23. At 08:58 AM on 30 Mar 2007, Simon Worrall wrote:

    Old Salt (15)
    I agree with everything you said about the higher ranks of the Armed Forces. The figures you quote re: numbers of admirals vs. numbers of major warships have been well known for years. Job preservation is the order of the day.

    But I must take issue with you about the accuracy of the 4.5" Mk8 gun. By every account I've seen as the Naval personnel were disembarking from the merchant vessel after their search. The Iranians were already close at hand and 'arrested' them as they were climbing back onto their RIBs. The footage on TV backs this up, showing the Iranian gunboats within a few feet of our people.

    No gun, fired from 7 miles (or was it km) away, is that discriminatory that it can pick out a gunboat and miss a RIB only 6 feet away. The burst radius of the shells, even from a direct hit, would have riddled the British with shrapnel.

    And the helo would have suffered the same drawbacks. It carries depth charges, missiles or torpedoes, none of them accurate and discriminatory enough to pick out 4 Iranians from 2 RN boats. An Apache might, just might, have carried the right weaponry. But you don't tend to find those on a warship at sea.

    As for the RoE; The Iranians were armed with either 20mm cannon or heavy calibre machine-guns, judging from the footage. Our people were armed with 5.56mm SA80 personal rifles. There were four of their boats and two of ours. Opening fire would have resulted in a bloodbath, and the press would now be speaking of a number of dead British personnel. Changing the RoE would make no difference. Besides it's likely that the RoE allowed for them to open fire if their lives were at risk. And it's difficult to open fire when you are effectively ambushed climbing down a ladder and trans-shipping at sea.

    Si. Ex-Navy.

  24. At 09:24 AM on 30 Mar 2007, Stephen, Leader of STROP wrote:

    I have rarely been so ambivalent while listening to PM.

    My reaction was "This is an arcane and wholly inappropriate attitude to take" along with "what he says is probably entirely correct!"

    Why was Leading Seaman Turney shown on Iranian TV? because anyone in PR is well aware that a picture of a captured woman will have far more impact than a picture of a captured male. The hysteria those pictures provoked in the UK press are ample evidence of that (and don't get me started on the Daily Mail, who seemed more interested in the fact that LS Turney had to wear a veil!)

    We (men particularly) react differently when a female is in jeopardy rather than a male. That was the thrust of what Col. Stewart was trying to say. The only genuinely "arcane" portion was that it is very un-PC to try to justify treating women any differently!

  25. At 01:07 PM on 30 Mar 2007, S Drummond wrote:

    Is it a mark of our advanced western civilisation that we send women, traditionally symbolising the givers of life, out to kill others. Do we really believe that we will create a better world by encouraging women to kill their fellow human beings including, inevitably, other women and children. Is this the only way women can prove they are “as good as any man?” I find the whole concept revolting and I despair that we can tolerate such barbarism - and all the name of so called “equality”.

  26. At 01:29 PM on 30 Mar 2007, Aperitif wrote:

    S Drummond (25), re Is this the only way women can prove they are “as good as any man?” You're kidding me, right? You think we all spend our days comparing ourselves to men and wondering how we might manage to match up? (shakes head and wanders away).

  27. At 01:36 PM on 30 Mar 2007, Gillian wrote:

    S Drummond (25) So it's okay for a man to kill others, including women and children?
    A better world will only be created when men in power publicly grieve over the death of armed forces personell. And that means men in suits, in the safety of their own war-free lands, doing more than saying ''That's regrettable'' Every human life is special,and no-one is dispensible, even a soldier on the front line.

  28. At 01:43 PM on 30 Mar 2007, Big Sister wrote:

    Look, guys, we appreciate that you think women are wonderful, but just accept that if a woman has signed up to the Services, she knows what she's getting into and will do her best to fulfill her role there.

    One thing's for sure, she won't have done it to prove herself equal to any man.

    As to the point about women as the givers of life being encouraged to take life, blah blah, that's a load of cr*p, if you'll forgive the expression. I'm all for discouraging any violence anywhere, but please don't start mixing pacifism with sexual equality issues.

  29. At 02:21 PM on 30 Mar 2007, RJD wrote:

    S Drummond (25) - I'm not sure that the " human beings including, inevitably, other women and children" would have much of a view on whether it is more barbaric to be killed by a woman rather than a man. I don't really get your point.

  30. At 02:28 PM on 30 Mar 2007, Matthew Gray wrote:

    These debates on "equality" of the sexes rage in our present society.

    However, I think that the problem is that when many people are talking about "equality" what they are really pressing for is "uniformity".

    I our present society we have rather clouded the issue, failing to see that men and women are equal, but they are not identical.

    There are things that women are better at and more suited to than men. There are things that men are better at or more suited to than women. But men and women complement each other, and if they have different roles, that does NOT mean that there is "inequality" between them.

    Far from it, recognising the positive aspects of both genders, and the roles to which they are suited, is both sensible and dignified.

    I am passionate about the equality of men and women, but I am also passionately AGAINST the 'uniformity' of gender roles.

    Society functions far better if we recognise this.

    If we continue to press for this "uniformity" and "identicalising" of genders, then our society becomes monotone and flat in its political correctness, like the increasingly stifled culture in which we are living in the UK.

  31. At 02:49 PM on 30 Mar 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Matthew (30),

    Interesting observation. I have often remarked that what is called "Quality Control" is actually uniformity control when applied to machine-made things (99% of what we meet every day), and that true quality is in the differences.

    Houb Salaam
    30/03/2007 at 14:54:08 GMT

  32. At 04:02 PM on 30 Mar 2007, Aperitif wrote:

    Yep, equal does not mean the same, but sameness can be one measure of equality. For instance receiving the same level of remuneration for doing the same job. (And, note that, where jobs are different "traditional male jobs" have always been valued at a higher level than "traditional female jobs", but then, who does the evaluating?... Another of my much-travelled tangents...)

    Anyway, The Equal Pay Act is as old as me. Do we have equal pay yet? -- *Howls of hollow laughter*

  33. At 04:52 PM on 30 Mar 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:


    As usual, we're pretty much in agreement. "Equal pay for equal work" might be turned around for the present topic:
    Equal hazard for equal pay.

    Houb Salaam
    30/03/2007 at 16:56:26 GMT

    I like Whisht's suggestion that children should be taken to the front, especially for the higher ranks.

  34. At 05:22 PM on 30 Mar 2007, Aunt Dahlia wrote:

    I think an easier route to world peace would be to insist that any leader who wishes to take agressive action against another country should be put in an arena with the leader of that country having choice of weapons. then our leaders might not be so keen on declaring war.

  35. At 06:15 PM on 30 Mar 2007, Matthew Gray wrote:

    Again, I feel that in this debate people are confusing "equality" for "uniformity".

    In this materialistic, carrer-obsessed society, why do we always have to be measuring things in terms of pounds and pence....?

    Just because someone doesn't receive the same wages as somebody else, does that make them "less equal" as a person?

    No, it doesn't, at least it doesn't in my view.

    Also, the issue about "equal pay for equal work" doesn't quite fit when thinking about the genders. For instance, is it 'equal work' when a woman is allowed up to 12 months maternity leave from her job, and a man is only allowed 2 weeks? How does the woman make up to her employer that 12 months that she didn't work for them? Is that "equal work"?

    What if a man has a family to feed, and a mortgage to pay - and some young, single person who lives with their parents with no commitments or outgoings, comes to work alongside him in the same job. Is it "fair" that they should both receive the same remuneration? Some may think it is, I for one think there is a case to say it is more 'fair' to do otherwise. Indeed our government's taxation and benefits system thinks so, so why shouldn't employers?

    Does that make the person who receives less emuneration "less equal" as a person? No, it doesn't, it is just recognising the issues and roles in our society, and being just.

    I don't think it's quite as cut and dry as some of these 'egalitarians' make out. There's a whole lot more to life than just monetary remuneration, and carrer prospects when it comes to the issues of 'fairness' or 'equality'.

  36. At 06:40 PM on 30 Mar 2007, Aunt Dahlia wrote:

    If a man could carry a child and give birth within two weeks I'd drink to that.
    And why should one person be paid less than another for doing exactly the same thing because the other has taken on a wife and children whom he obviously cannot afford.

  37. At 11:44 AM on 31 Mar 2007, Aperitif wrote:

    Aunt Dahlia (36), You beat me to it.

    I'm not going to dignify Matthew Gray's nonsense with much more of a response, execept to say I would welcome a world where everyone was paid at exactly the same level, no matter what they did, and everyone had enough to live comfortably... wouldn't really need money at all, would we?... then we could all contribute our talents and skills, take only what we need, and enjoy exploring the reasons for our existence, the depths of the oceans and the limits of the universe, rather than fight with one another over who has what, and whose claim to our finite resources is most "legitimate"... oh, that was nice -- just spent a few moments in Utopia.

    Back in the real world where, unfotunately, money does matter, I should feel outrage at the idea of it being those who want equality who are obsessed with money. (Like a glutton accusing a pauper of being obsessed with food). And I would. If it wasn't so pitiful, that is.

  38. At 12:34 PM on 31 Mar 2007, Big Sister wrote:

    Matthew Gray:

    Surely the young person could just as well be male as female?

    I'm not sure what your point is - Sorry. We need rational argument, not angry rants if the matter is to be truly debated.

  39. At 02:28 PM on 31 Mar 2007, onlyalurker wrote:

    I'm worried about taking on board the idea that men and women are suited to different things. Most men may be suited to 'male' activities; most women may be suited 'female' activities (as well as the majority of activities that are equally suited to all). but there are a substantial number of men and women whose abilities and predispositions do not neatly fit the norm. Why impose artificial gender barriers?

    Equal pay for the same work yes - and I agree with aperitif that attempts to divide work into male and female usually result in higher value being placed on 'male' work. As a society, we may wish to recognise that the work of raising the next generation should be supported, but this can be done with the tax and benefits system, not by altering pay. As for maternity leave - this is one situation where the physical differences have to be recognised and accepted, while not devaluing the paid work that a mother does.

  40. At 07:31 PM on 01 Apr 2007, Gillian wrote:

    Interesting article in today's News Review section of the Sunday Times. ''Two sexes divided by a single brain'', by a neuropsychiatrist who argues that the ''battle of the sexes'' is due to differences in hormones which mean that men and women really do think differently.
    She says that testosterone in a male foetus shrinks the brain's communication centre, reduces the hearing cortex and makes the sex-processing part of the brain twice the size of the female's. (So tell us something we didn't already know!)
    She does go on to say that women and men have more similarities than differences, that biology isn't destiny,and that men and women arrive at the same place in different ways. The significant point is that she backs up her argument by citing many scientific studies and brain-imaging technology. She says we are not passive victims of our hormones - we all have intellect and reason. (So there is no excuse to say ''They can't help it....they were made that way'')
    In my opinion, we all have knowledge and first-hand experience of how the opposite sex behaves.......it is a matter of personal choice how we use that knowledge to inform our behaviour. No-one is obliged or innately driven to conform to any stereotype. It may not be possible to be gender-neutral but it is certainly posible to be gender-blind, especially as men and women share 99% of their DNA

  41. At 01:11 AM on 02 Apr 2007, Aperitif wrote:

    Gillian (40), interesting stuff. I believe that there is much difference in the behaviour of the sexes, due to the way we are nutured, but I am of course prepared to accept that it could be due in part to nature too. I wonder what the ratio might be?

  42. At 09:02 AM on 02 Apr 2007, Gillian wrote:

    Aperitif (41) I wonder if it was an April Fool's joke? :o(

  43. At 10:14 AM on 02 Apr 2007, Gillian wrote:

    Me (42) It doesn't appear to be.....unless The Times is still running with the joke! There are several similar articles by her on the web-site, including one about the differences in communication skills of teenage boys and girls. I have one of each so I have a keen interest !

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.