In undergoing required training during US Marine Corps boot camps, both male and female service members must pass a Physical Fitness Test, more commonly known as the "PFT." While male Marines' PFT entails successfully performing a minimum of 3 pull-ups, female Marines are currently not required to complete any pull-ups, but rather are challenged with completing a 15-second flexed-arm hang.
Marine spokesman Capt. Eric Flanagan rationalized this inconsistency by simply reasoning that "women aren't able to make the minimum standard of three pull-ups." To be exact, fifty-five percent of female recruits tested were unable to successfully complete three pull-ups, whereas only one percent of male recruits failed the same test.
Marine officers further justified the discrepancy by explaining that, were they to enforce the policy with both genders, they would run the risk of losing "not only new recruits, but also current female Marines who can't pass the test."
An effective tool in evaluating Marines' upper body strength for over 4 decades, the pull-up bears special meaning in the armed forces; pulling one's entire body weight over the bar symbolizes a military-specific type of strength: lifting fallen comrades. Many believe that if women fail to meet the same physical standards as their male counterparts, they are unfit for combat.
As to why certain female service members lack such strength, fitness experts vary. Some cite genetic disparities, training tactics, and social stigmas. Others blame pure laziness.
Jay Morgan, a fitness trainer based in Washington, D.C. weighed in on the topic by explaining that, in his professional experience, all females "hate [pull-ups] with a passion", but while some clients began their training unable to do a single pull-up, they now can complete up to eight.
Lisa Reed, a personal trainer in Arlington, Virginia, similarly asserts that, with enough time and practice, "[y]ou can train anyone to do a pull-up" – despite her admission that it's invariably "harder for [women] to do the pull-up than the male." This unavoidable truth is due, in part, to the fact that testosterone provides men more lean muscle mass than women, who tend to carry more body fat.
Former Navy SEAL Stew Smith, proposes yet another argument: the self-fulfilling prophecy that teaching young girls to settle for flexed-arm hangs enforces the (false) notion that they are physically incapable of completing a conventional pull-up. "In my personal opinion, one of the worst things we ever developed in physical-fitness classes [was] the 'girl pull-up' or flexed-arm hang," Stew recently maintained. "At an early age, we have been telling young girls that they cannot do regular pull-ups because they will never be as strong as boys." While Stew conceded that "part of that statement is true", in that even "[t]he strongest woman will never be stronger than the strongest man", he countered that with personal anecdotes of training middle-aged mothers of three to complete up to 10 pull-ups.
While female Marines will continue to be given the opportunity to opt-out for the flexed-arm hang in place of the pull-up, the test may be implemented gender-neutrally in 2015, as officials continue to assess the legitimacy of the policy.