The Pentagon has lifted the ban on women in combat, but what does that mean? After all, we (and by “we” I don’t include me – I mean “we women”) have been in combat roles for some time. Unofficially.
What it means is that we should be eligible for the draft. (We should have been for some time.)
I say this not as someone who hates feminists, or who is in effect saying, “You want it? You got it!”
I say this as a feminist who believes that it ain’t equal until it’s equal.
My husband (who’s in the military) and I were recently discussing an argument that was taking place online (“Somebody’s wrong on the Internet!”) about whether women should be allowed to fly Special Forces helicopters. That led to a conversation about what duties might be involved (neither of us has experience in that area, so we were just imagining), and then—probably because I was getting angry with people who believe women don’t belong in the military, period—I thought about the draft, and how it only applies to men.
And it occurred to me that women have been fighting for some time to be considered not just viable, but valuable, military assets – and now the Pentagon even agrees – but that we have absolutely no obligation to serve if the country comes calling.
It made me feel…terrible. Hypocritical. Like all of my “Anything you can do, we can do” rhetoric was hollow now that this disparity, one I’d once given little thought, became clearer.
I think the thrust of feminism, in conjunction with being treated equally, is to be taken seriously. President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law in June 1948, permitting women to serve as permanent, regular members of the military.But it’s been over 64 years since we started dipping our toes in the military pool.
Until we’re also eligible for the draft, we women continue to have the luxury of treating the military like camp. We can join if we want to, but if there’s a national crisis and the draft is reinstated, we can also back-pedal and say, “Oh, not me. I’m just a girl,” while our country’s men wait anxiously for their number to be drawn.
Why should we have the option to say “No, thanks” when men don’t have that option? Because we have vaginas? Because we’re girls?
It doesn’t feel right, especially not when feminism is, by definition, in direct opposition to someone else saying, “You’re just a girl.” That’s exactly what we’re fighting against when we say women also belong in the military, when we argued that they should have more combat roles.
It can seem like female service members are taken seriously when you see their pictures, when you watch coverage on TV of their return from war, when you hear that they’re POWs. It looks that way until you replace women and how “seriously” they’re taken with anyone else in the military.
Imagine what the reaction would have been upon the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell if an addendum stipulated that gay service members wouldn’t be required to register for the draft. Not only would it communicate, “Don’t worry your little heads about it when we’re in the most desperate need for fighting forces – you just join up whenever you feel like it,” but the resounding outcry would have been, “They’re getting special treatment!”
We’d see their presence in the armed forces as a novelty, which is how I think women’s military roles will continue to be perceived until we, too, can be drafted.
Granted, it’s unlikely that the draft will ever be reinstated, so it’s tempting to call this push to include women in the Selective Service a symbolic gesture or, better yet, a waste of time.
As unlikely as another draft might be, it’s still possible – which is why we still have the Selective Service registry. If the time comes when we need forces, we can’t rely on adequate numbers to volunteer. So, we all – men and women – have to be compelled to drag ourselves to service in spite of our fears or the lives we don’t want to leave (with family care plans in place, of course).
And even if a future draft is a non-issue, even if there are those who argue that the Selective Service should be discontinued, the Selective Service – like it or not – is in place. And so it continues to be a very real issue – unless you’re a woman.
From the Selective Service website:
Registration is the law. A man who fails to register may, if prosecuted and convicted, face a fine of up to $250,000 and/or a prison term of up to five years. Even if not tried, a man who fails to register with Selective Service before turning age 26 may find that some doors are permanently closed.
So should it be for women. Even if not all women are fit for combat roles, because neither are all men. Not all draftees would be put into combat positions.
On Jan. 21, I started a petition at WhiteHouse.gov (now expired) asking that women be required to register for the draft. It has just 30 days (from its creation) to reach 100,000 signatures for it to be addressed by the administration.
I’d like to believe feminists/equalists as a whole will not just approve of what I’m doing, but will support it and promote it and try to make it a reality. How could it be any other way?
How could we as feminists, or at the very least as people who have fought for equality in the military, not be interested in women being eligible for the draft? Equality can’t only desirable to us when it’s pretty and convenient, when it’s a benefit. When it means we get to do what we want to do – but not when it means we might have to suffer some of the consequences. As a friend so eloquently put it recently, “At least some of feminism has to mean renouncing the few unfair privileges that women do enjoy.”
I know I couldn’t respect myself if I would argue for a woman’s right to be in the military, to be assigned to combat duty, but be content to let men shoulder the burden of the draft. I might as well insist on having the right to leave the sidewalk by myself as long as there’s a man nearby to carry me over the gutter-puddle when it rains.
If we argued that women should be in the military and don’t put equal effort into making us eligible for the draft, we wouldn’t be truly committed feminists at all, would we? We’d just be opportunists.
Equal is equal.
*Note: My petition failed to get the necessary signatures, but that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t press forward with this.