When you have men and women together in combat, I think men have emotions when you see a woman in harm's way. I think it's natural. It's very much in our culture to be protective. That was my concern. I think that's a concern with all of the militaries.
Will Wilkinson unpacks this quote:
It's really is amazing how far we've come in such a short time, equality-wise. Within the span my own lifetime, it was thought that women ought to be barred from the Olympic marathon due to the inherent fragility of the female. Now we've got Haywire and an unreconstructed, full-on patriarchal, old-school Catholic, Republican office-seeker saying maybe women shouldn't go to the front-lines because men are too hopelessly emotional.
Caitlin Fitzgerald scrutinizes Santorum's concern:
Some men would have a harder time seeing women hurt or threatened in combat than other men. This is hard to refute. It’s ‘women and children first,’ or chivalry, or manners; or on the flip side, it’s condescension, or infantilization, or minimization. Whether it comes from a place of honor or a place of diminution, and whatever you want to call it, there’s no denying this could be an issue for some men.
That being said, so what? It is incumbent on those men to be grown-ups, to be professionals, and to get over it and do their jobs. People adapt. Men will see women in different roles more often, they will become accustomed to it, the culture will change. The more common it is, the more normal it will become and the less of a potential issue it will be. In the meantime, we can rely on training and professionalism to carry people through.
Joshua Keating, noting a mistake in Santorum's words about women in the Israeli Defense Forces, takes a comparative look at female combatants around the world. A roundup of commentary on the overall debate here.