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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

When Idealism Doesn't Stack Up to Realism

Close stack

As a Marine Security Guard (MSG), I twice had an opportunity to serve on a tactical team—a group of individuals that provides a planned tactical response to high-risk scenarios, typically beyond the capabilities of other first responders.

The teams with which I worked used a close stack formation (pictured above) when executing training and mission operations. Per one source:

In general terms, the close stack calls for a tactical team to line up on a door or corner in very close proximity, with one man right behind the next. Team members will attempt to maintain 360-degree security while in the stack.

Aside from tactical stacks, the word “stack” also refers to an action whereby one arranges or fixes something so as to make a particular result likely. For instance, the term “stacking the deck” suggests unfair arrangement of something in order to achieve a desired result.

Thinking of my time on the MSG program, and considering recent focus of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision regarding differential standards addressed through affirmative action, I wonder about the controversial topic of separate military physical standards for males and females.

Idealism vs. realism

Growing up, from time to time I would hear the song “Anything You Can Do” from the 1950 film Annie Get Your Gun in which a female character boasts to her male counterpart, “Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.”

In my youth, the tune didn’t make sense to my underdeveloped brain, because the notion of females outperforming males in a contest of physical strength and agility seemed unrealistic. Though ideally desirable to perhaps a significant number of people, I didn’t believe females could do everything better than males.

This is where idealism and realism don’t stack up. According to one source, “[T]he defining premise of idealism asserts that all manifest certainties emerge from conceivable possibilities; where realism contends that all manifestable possibilities emerge from preexisting certainties.”

On one hand, I was required to register for the United States (U.S.) Selective Service System upon turning 18-years-old while my female counterparts remained free from the possibility of involuntarily dying in combat if ever the draft was reinstituted. This sort of differential treatment appears to violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

In 2021, a petition to SCOTUS stated in part:

The registration requirement is one of the last sex-based classifications in federal law. It imposes selective burdens on men, reinforces the notion that women are not full and equal citizens, and perpetuates stereotypes about men’s and women’s capabilities.

Rather than hearing the case and issuing a ruling, in the same year SCOTUS declined to take action and instead issued the following guidance through Justice Sonia Sotomayor:

It remains to be seen, of course, whether Congress will end gender-based registration under the Military Selective Service Act. But at least for now, the Court’s longstanding deference to Congress on matters of national defense and military affairs cautions against granting review while Congress actively weighs the issue. I agree with the Court’s decision to deny the petition for a writ of certiorari.

Per one source, “In 1981, in Rostker v. Goldberg, the Supreme Court rejected a sex-discrimination challenge to the registration requirement, reasoning that it was justified because women could not at that time serve in combat.” However, per a separate source, “Women are no longer excluded from any type of combat mission.”

On the other hand, when I volunteered for military service with the U.S. Marine Corps in 1996, males and females were held to different physical fitness standards. Though females enjoyed the privilege of voluntary serve free from oppressive treatment related to the draft, they also indulged in lower physical fitness standards than males.

Having recently discussed this matter with a female former Marine, “Nails,” I failed at persuading her to accept my argument concerning the abolition of sex/gender-based physical fitness scores. I can understand her reasoning.

Rather than being uncharitable to Nails’ position, I will instead steel man her argument:

Though it may seem like an archaic policy, a separate physical fitness standard for males and females who serve in the U.S. military is necessary. This is because there is a physiological difference between males and females.

On average, males tend to retain more upper body strength and they aren’t as prone to develop lower body injuries common among female military members, due to physical differences in hip dimensions. Typically, a female’s hips are wider, not as high, and are shallower from front to back.

Therefore, abolishing sex/gender-based physical fitness scores would almost certainly result in fewer female service members being promoted at a similar rate as males. Likewise, military occupational specialties (MOS) which require rigorous fitness standards would be unavailable to females.

Disparate treatment of this sort is illegal, doesn’t foster an environment of fairness, and creates an unnecessary burden for the proud females who want the opportunity to serve their country alongside their male analogs. As such, the proposal to abolish equitable standards is rejected.

I will respond to Nails’ argument at the end of the current section. For now, let us examine what objective versus subjective evidence suggests regarding different physical fitness standards.

In June 2023, the Marine Corps held a deactivation ceremony for the 4th Recruit Training Battalion—an all-female recruit training unit through which Nails entered the Corps. One source described the process as “an effort to end gender segregation.”

Idealistically, females—though they aren’t held to the same standard as males in regards to the draft—can now serve in combat and experience integrated boot camp training. Nails verbalized to me that although she valued 4th Battalion, she believed females could compete with males.

How does belief of this sort stack up to realism? Is it true that anything males can do females can do better?

In the photo featured above, a female MSG is positioned in the rear of a tactical stack. Was she placed there by the evil patriarchy comprised of toxically masculine males who desired to subjugate her through misogynistic behavior? No.

In a blogpost entitled Swimming in Controversial Belief, I stated:

When I served in the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), Marines were required to complete a physical fitness test (PFT) that directly impacted our promotions. Because we weren’t treated equally, females had equitable standards.

Per official USMC guidance at the time, “The PFT consists of three events: male Marines will perform dead-hang pull-ups, abdominal crunches, and a 3.0 mile run; and female Marines will complete the flexed-arm hang, abdominal crunches, and a 3.0 mile run.”

For a perfect PFT score, males had to complete 20 pull-ups, 100 crunches, and an 18-minute 3-mile run. The minimum standard was 3 pull-ups, 40 crunches, and a 33-minute run.

For a perfect PFT score, females had to complete a 70-second flexed-arm hang, 100 crunches, and a 21-minute 3-mile run. The minimum standard was a 15-second flexed-arm hang, 40 crunches, and a 36-minute run.

As well, body fat maximum limit standards were based on sex (18% for males, 26% for females). Simply because a person may feel or believe thing A doesn’t mean the world at large, or the USMC, ought to concur.

Idealism doesn’t stack up to realism when presented with objective data. No matter one’s subjective view, a 25-year-old female Marine who enjoys arguably easier standards than her 25-year-old male counterpart is treated as an equal—though she doesn’t perform at the same level.

The female MSG member in the tactical stack couldn’t possibly compete with her male team members. However, she was afforded all the rights, liberties, and privileges without enduring the same responsibilities or being held liable for comparable standards of accountability.

Similarly, Nails could physically perform at a reduced standard and achieve promotion quicker than male Marines who were subject to feasibly more difficult requirements. All the while, she was never subject to the discriminatory requirements of the U.S. Selective Service System.

Arguing for equal standards in the U.S. Army, one source stated:

As the Army’s first female infantry officer, I have long awaited the elimination of a gender-based fitness test. The drastically lower female standards of the old Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) not only jeopardized mission readiness in combat units but also reinforced the false notion that women are categorically incapable of performing the same job as men.

Setting aside the preposterous notion currently echoed by some activistic entities regarding the lack of physiological differences between males and females, examination of reality is warranted. How might the elimination of sex/gender-biased fitness tests impact military effectiveness?

In 2018, one Army senior official stated that he believed a new physical fitness test would have both gender- and age-neutral standards “because the enemy does not specify who they’re going to shoot and not shoot. Combat is combat,” as expressed by one source.

Sounds like equality to me. Equal rights…and equal lefts on the battlefield seems like a realistic consideration. Equal rights and equal fights—or at least the opportunity to kill or be killed without socially-engineered policies which advantage one group over another—seems appropriate.

However, in 2022, a separate source reported:

The ACFT was supposed to have “gender-neutral” standards identical for men and women, but the structure of gender equality has crumbled under the weight of reality. Due to persistently high failure rates, primarily among female trainees, the Army has decided to scrap the concept of gender-neutrality in the ACFT.

Regarding my beloved Corps, not much has changed in relation to our sister service—the Army. Although a deceptive 2016 article title states “Both men and women fail new Marine Corps fitness standards,” examination of the how poorly females performed was buried in the piece:

Six out of seven female recruits — and 40 out of about 1,500 male recruits — failed to pass the new regimen of pull-ups, ammunition-can lifts, a 3-mile run and combat maneuvers required to move on in training for combat jobs, according to the data.

Currently, the USMC continues to maintain different physical fitness standards for males and females in regards to pullups/push-ups, running, and rowing exercises. This is not equality in action—it’s discrimination.

Responding to Nails’ steel man argument, and given the information addressed herein, I consider the is-ought problem which suggests that one cannot derive an is from an ought. This concept proposes that simply because a person thinks something should, must, or ought to be doesn’t mean that the demand can or will alter what actually is.

In this blogpost, I’ve advocated equality—the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities. Rather than “equal” representing a person or thing considered to be the same as another in status or quality, I’m addressing equality under the law.

By this standard, I offer that all human beings have the right to be treated equally before the law. When sameness and equal protections collide, a socially-constructed concept arises in the form of equity—in the supposed interest of fairness and justice, recognizing that people do not all start from the same place and must acknowledge and make adjustments to imbalances.

I am pro-equality and anti-equity regarding the matter of sex/gender-specific physical fitness standards within the U.S. military. Pushing down on the proverbial heads of males while elevating females is discriminatory action and it is antithetical to U.S. law.

I fully acknowledge that there are physiological differences between males and females, and that a fitness-based promotional score and MOS opportunities place females at a disadvantage when relying upon physical performance parity.

Though it may be true that on average females cannot compete physically with males, I argue that the disparate treatment standard isn’t an appropriate process of leveling standards. Rather, having unequal policy to benefit females over males is an illegality matter.

Additionally, while equality standards may not foster an environment of fairness, and it may very well create an unnecessary burden for females who want the opportunity to serve their country, a merit-based system comports with realism.

Conclusively, I reject idealism. Simply because one may demand that the U.S. ought to practice positive discrimination—favoring individuals belonging to identified groups—doesn’t change the fact that doing so is contradictory to a longstanding legislative foundation.


The female MSG featured in the photo for this post was placed in the rear of the tactical stack for a reason—she couldn’t physically compete with her male counterparts. Idealistically, it didn’t matter what male members of the team believed or “felt” about her capabilities.

Realistically, the female member of our team couldn’t outrun us and she had less upper body strength. Various tactical maneuvers required for dynamic force didn’t create an appropriate setting for the testing of idealistic feminist proposals.

When SCOTUS recently struck down affirmative action in institutions of high education, I listened intently as opinions were expressed by bigots—people who are obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief, opinion, or faction, especially those who are prejudiced against or antagonistic toward a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group.

It would appear as though justice isn’t valued by everyone. Likewise, neither is reality. Some people, no matter how ludicrous their reasoning may be, cherish differential treatment in relation to males and females in the U.S. military.

Herein, I’ve highlighted the fact that males and females tend to perform asymmetrically to one another. This is because, on average, our physiological differences afford males an advantage over females concerning physical fitness standards.

When idealism doesn’t stack up to realism, though our nation continues with the deranged notion that there is no difference between the sexes/genders, we effectively decrease tactical readiness of our military. At this pace, we may not prevail in upcoming conflicts.

All the same, the maintenance of differing requirements in relation to the draft and physical fitness standards is discriminatory. If affirmative action is now being chipped away, is it time to also level the playing field regarding the treatment of males and females in the military?

It doesn’t matter how much activism one aims in the direction of what is, reality doesn’t conform to what other people think ought to be. This is not a pretend life and perhaps it’s time to be realistic.

As such, crucial and uncomfortable questions may need to be asked regarding the appropriateness of coed military service, unequal treatment, and the perceivably inevitable war with formidable enemies within the foreseeable future.

No, you can’t do anything better than me, merely because you are female—just as I can’t do anything better than you, simply because I’m biracial. Now, are we truly ready to have a realistic discussion about these matters within the halls of SCOTUS once and for all?

Time will tell. As for the reader who stumbles across this post and becomes frustrated, agitated, angered, or otherwise, it isn’t what I’ve expressed herein with which you have become upset. Rather, it’s what you believe about what I’ve stated that causes your emotional response.

Self-disturbance of this nature is precisely the sort of content with which I assist people in my practice. Are you prepared to push through discomfort of your own creation and engage reality?

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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