flexedarmhangLast fall, the Commandant of the Marine Corps announced that starting in January 2014, as part of the annual Physical Fitness Test, female Marines would be required to perform pull-ups just like male Marines. The announcement was a long time coming and way overdue. (And no, I have no innate ability when it comes to pull-ups. On the contrary, my upper body strength is unimpressive, and as work and family demands have increased over the years, my interest in getting stronger regularly falls by the wayside, trumped by everything else that needs constant attention. A weak excuse, sure, but we’ve all been there.)

But PFT changes are way overdue, and adding the pull-up requirement is an honest start. It’s only right that as Marines, if we expect some to perform pull-ups as part of the PFT, we should all be expected to do them. The flexed arm hang is a poor approximation for upper body strength; I consistently max it and have yet to practice it. But critically, for a service that prides itself on its high standards, expecting—requiring—different outcomes based solely on gender creates more problems than it solves. The Marine Corps should expect all Marines to meet the minimum standards, not just some. Pull-ups may be harder for me to do than others, but I should be able to perform them as required. And I will, it’ll just take more work on my end.

So when I recently heard a rumor that the Marine Corps is reconsidering the requirement for women to do pull-ups based on low success rates and sub-par numbers, I slapped my forehead in response. It’s only been seven months since the initial announcement, and we’re already rethinking it? We’re talking about discarding the pull-up requirement before it even goes into effect? This bothers me on every level. To those making this decision: don’t take it back. To say to the women out there, “We were wrong, you’re not capable, go back to your arm hang and sorry we had you all worried?” Please, please don’t. Stick to the standard, keep the expectations high. Force us all, male and female, to hoist ourselves up to that bar. At least three times, and preferably many more.

The PFT has its share of problems: the different standards for men and women, the way it reeks of favoritism, how it diminishes us as Marines by expecting less, and the way the sliding scale also favors age (but no one complains). On one level, I get it: it’s a fitness test, and I recognize that we’re trying to measure a fitness level and not unambiguous strength in three areas. But we go about it wrong, resulting in a convoluted system that misses the boat. We were heading in the right direction with the pull-up change. Let’s get back to that.

Think about this. We’re only seven months into the change. Seven months doesn’t mean squat when we consider the weight of the preceding years and the different expectations many people face in high school and college. There’s a giant gulf between what is expected athletically of men and women from a young age. By my husband’s senior year of high school, he was required to perform ten pull-ups as part of his P.E. classes after years of preparation. By my senior year of high school, I was required, after building up to it over a year, to run a mile. One mile, that was it. Pretty sure we didn’t even have to run the whole time. There was no expectation for girls to do pull-ups, pushups, or any other strength training. Which one of us showed up better prepared?

Many of us have to start from scratch, or at least from a low standard. But we are talking about Marines; if we expect Marines to do something, they generally won’t disappoint. Give the standard time to work. Give Marines time to believe that we can all do it and then to act on that belief. We’ve got time: the requirement doesn’t take effect until next January. This spring, realizing that it had been years since I’d attempted pull-ups, I set up a bar in the hallway, jumped up there, and tried to knock some out. It was an epic failure. But after working on it, I’m there now. I can’t max it yet, but if I can haul my old, mother-of-three self up on that bar and make it happen, then so can anyone.

The point? This is about pull-ups, but it’s really about much more. Don’t go back to the ridiculous arm hang. Make us all work for it. Set the bar high, and Marines will reach it.

Posted by Jeannette Haynie in Marine Corps

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  • Ken Adams


  • Aubrey

    Honestly, i think it is the only way things can work – being a Marine (or sailor, soldier or airman) is the common denominator, not genetics.

    No matter the gender, race, sexual orientation, political beliefs, breakfast preferences, etc…, everyone must be held to the same standards. The same PFT standards, the same professional standards, the same performance standards, and the same behavioral standards. Anything less does a disservice to all concerned, and in the long run weakens the service(s) as a whole.

    • Ken Adams

      Someone needs to convince the political class and the professionally aggrieved that this is the case. Jeannette certainly makes a great argument, but will it penetrate?

      • Jeannette Haynie

        Probably not…

    • Jeannette Haynie

      Agree. It leads to the “weakened standards” argument, and does far greater a disservice to all of a us in the process. I may not be able to get 20 pullups, but then again, neither can all the guys.

    • chantell bless

      So I assume we will be doing 20 pull ups and running a 19 minute 3-mile for the PFT since everyone needs to be held to the same standards. Also, dont forget about that 19% bodyfat too. Have you ever seen a man do the flexed arm hang? Most of them cannot make it past 30 seconds. Men and women are genetically built different…no matter how much we try, we will never be the “same” as a man physically. Why not enjoy being women and stop trying to be the same as men. They are not like us and we are not like them. A good Marine is a good Marine whether it’s an arm hang or pull-ups.

      • Anneke L Marvin

        I’m 38 years old with 3 kids and a husband. I own two businesses and recently finished grad school. I also have 18% bodyfat by DXA machine (which is the most accurate method. Calipers would most likely put me around 12%). I can do 20 strict pullups, and run a 20:21 5k. I still enjoy being a woman, love wearing makeup and dresses and going to PTA events at my youngest kids’ school. When I was a Marine, I loved my cammies, but I loved my dresses and skirts on the weekends too. My point is, women are more than capable of meeting these standards as well as remaining feminine. But for too long, they’ve been fed the myths that 1) They are genetically incapabable and 2) Being a badass will somehow make them less feminine. With women being admitted to combat roles and the “rear” becoming a thing of the past, every Marine, male or female, needs to be strong enough to pull her weight and possible her male counterparts’ as well.

      • Becky F

        Great post! Women can be “capable,” “tough,” “smart,” “feminine,” and whatever else makes up our person, it is up to us to figure out what it looks like. I’m sure your husband appreciates what your dresses look like on your athletic body (I know mine does, on mine)!

      • chantell bless

        Pull ups just simply says you are physically strong. Doesn’t mean you are equal to men or a good Marine. Keep up the good work!

  • Patrizia Dienhart-Stabile

    KEEP THE PULL UPS! Do not get rid of them. Like you said, Jeannette, 7 months is not enough time to put a standard out there and then consider taking it back. I agree, the flexed arm hang is a complete joke. I have 16+ years of active duty in the Marine Corps and am still going strong. Yes, OFCOURSE the pull ups will be harder for me to complete. Yes, I will have to prepare for them. However, there is definitely a certain level of excitement amongst the majority of my female USMC peers. We didn’t joing the USMC because it was easy. We shouldn’t let the complaining 2% convince our higher levels of leadership (some of whom are pressured politically or think we can’t handle it) to get rid of these. We are proud and like the challenge and ability to say, “Yes, we do pull ups for our PFT. Yes, the USMC is tough.” Like you, I NEVER EVER practiced the flexed arm hang and maxed it EVERY time. None of my male peers can “not practice” their expected pull-ups and do 20 dead hangs every time. Let’s keep the standard higher for the ladies. Challenge us! PLEASE!

  • Anneke L Marvin

    I agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, I believe the Marine Corps will cave to pressure from people outside of the military sphere and change the standards back. I was in the first class of women to be held to the same standards as men at OCS (summer 1996 if my memory serves), and although our attrition rate was very high, those of us who made it felt like we graduated on an even playing field; we felt like we were truly equals with the men. A few years later, the standards were changed back to their old, unequal metrics because attrition was too high.

  • Jerome

    Very well said. Problem is everyone wants to be equal but everyone doesnt REALLY want to be equal. It’s a catch 22 and the problem within our society is it’s been going on for so long that many don’t have the stomach to go against the grain. The Army is testing for gender neutral standards so females can enter the remaining five off limits MOSs. So what will happen is the standards will overall be lower so that some one can say, “See, we made it fair and all the problems of the world are solved.” We have standards, if one female makes it outta 20…then so be it. Not all males make it into SF and not all make it into the Rangers. It is what it is.

  • Lindsay Guillen

    I agree, when a precedent is set, we meet it. Because the Marine will ALWAYS rise to the standard, the standard NEVER drops to the Marine. However, equality across the board is a stretch. We train with the men most times but we are NOT them. I’m not ashamed of that, why does it seem like having our “other” standards (excluding pull ups but including BMI and weight) are something to be ashamed of?? The more we are potentially pushed to perform as men, the more we all will realize that we ARE NOT them. And becoming that which we are NOT will eventually downgrade femininity. And that… is NOT why we joined.

  • Capt Woody Sanford

    Go! Jeannette: Keep it up, Major! This discussion is outstanding. It will take us to the right place. The Ancient Greeks believed in a sound mind within a sound body. That’s where you’re headed.