On Women and the Draft

Nadia Asencio, USARNG

Nadia Asencio, USARNG

Growing up in the third wave of feminism during the 1980s, girls of my generation were taught that not only were we able to do it all, we were able to do it all without men, and that in fact, doing it without men should be our #1 goal as strong, modern young women. Men, it turned out, were mere hindrances to careers and lifestyles that we’d been denied access to due to antiquated, patriarchal oppression. We didn’t need men for anything, not even to raise families (thanks, Murphy Brown). Men were obsolete. At least, that’s what we were told.

Extreme? Maybe. But feminism has evolved in the past 30 years and today it isn’t about eradicating the roles of men, but of expanding the roles of women to suit our own strengths and abilities without having to apologize for them, deny them, or accept less than we deserve for them. While reproductive rights, equal pay, and the societal responsibility to help alleviate the unique challenges faced by working mothers for the good of the country continue to be fodder for great debate, the debates have expanded. The struggles overcome by the women who came before us have inspired Americans to confront a new question: Should women be drafted into war?

Let me back up a bit. There was a time when women had no access to financial independence (although the first major credit card was issued in America in 1950, it was legal to deny a woman credit based on gender until 1974); women couldn’t serve on juries until 1973, or get birth control until 1960, and then only if they were married (yes, this is factually true, bizarre as it may sound). Although somehow, reproductive freedom and equal pay continue to be up for debate in some circles, most of these issues have been resolved today, ushering a new frontier for women’s equality: the right to serve on the front lines of combat in the armed forces.

In December of 2015, the Pentagon opened up direct combat positions to women who wished to serve. There was much speculation about the effectiveness of women in these roles, many citing physical and biological reasons why women wouldn’t be as capable as their male counterparts to deal with the strains of combat (smaller body size; less upper body strength; menses); while others worried that women in combat would distract males from serving adequately (sexual attraction; the psychological need to protect female soldiers over accomplishing the mission), a problem that might be easily solved by having all-female combat teams instead of integrating the sexes. Unfortunately, questioning the effectiveness of females in combat sparks extreme responses, but little real discourse: for a male to question it makes him a sexist; for a woman to question it, is tantamount to gender treason.

There is no doubt that there are women who are physically and psychologically capable of overcoming the rigors of combat and the attrition of sustained operations under hostile conditions; women have already proven themselves effective and ready in many cases. But there are other realities to consider. According to female veterans such as Marine SGT Judith Eden, who has already successfully served in infantry positions, the truth is that women don’t have the equal opportunity to survive face to face combat against their male attackers.

The focus of the military is and should continue to be “readiness,” the ability to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible with the least amount of casualties; but the physical realities of being female — comparatively, less bone density, less physical strength, and secondary amounts of testosterone — do not make women equal to their enemies on the front lines. In addition, women are higher-value targets; not only as POWs, but especially for use in propaganda videos used to demoralize a country into succumbing to an enemy’s demands. To put women at a higher risk than men isn’t “pro-equality,” it’s anti-women.

At the time of this publication, it’s still too early to tell what the real challenges will be, or how they will be resolved. Surprisingly, however untried this new policy is, it hasn’t stopped Congress from plowing forward with an attempt to take it one step forward and open the draft to include all American women between the ages of 18 and 25. To be clear, the purpose of a draft – any draft – is to replace fallen soldiers on the front lines of combat; not to serve as support or administration. Mandating American women to register for the draft would, in fact, force women involuntarily onto the theater of war.

The new draft bill was first introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who sponsored the measure as a way to force congressional conversation about the role of women in the military; ironically, Hunter does not support drafting women, and has voted against his own bill:

“It’s wrong and irresponsible to make wholesale changes to the way America fights its wars without the American people having a say on whether their daughters and sisters will be on the front lines of combat.” ~ Rep. Duncan Hunter

And he’s right. What would it mean for a nation to have all of its young, healthy citizens drafted into war? Who would be left to build industry, to run our schools, to raise our kids? Not only have we not had sufficient time to suitably analyze the impact of females in combat, Americans are still greatly divided over this new law. What right does Congress have to establish a change to the draft without the approval of the people it will affect most?

Equal rights do not make men and women equally adept to all roles, especially when it’s a question of national defense; however, the physical limitations and the inherent risk of compelling women onto the front lines is not an argument against equal rights. To force women into positions where they are in greater danger than their male counterparts in order to gain equal status to men smacks of misogyny, not “equality.”

This bill has opened up a Pandora’s box that will have a much greater impact on the national narrative than Congress anticipated, because the most obvious question now becomes:

Why do we have a draft at all?

The United States has not activated the draft since the Vietnam War, but that’s not the point; an active draft keeps that window open. To empower the government to force the involuntary military service of its citizens is a difficult policy to defend in the age of technology; considering America’s foreign policy and failed war strategies of the past 20 years, to broaden this power is questionable at best. If Congress serves greatly at the behest of the Military Industrial Complex, as many scholarly journalshistorians, and prior service members attest (see General Smedley Butler and work down from there), then how would increasing Congress’ human resources for profit-driven war benefit the American people?

Perhaps the time has come to abolish the draft altogether. Like the patriarchal oppression over women in the past, it is arcane and no longer suits a purpose commensurate with the ideals of a 21st Century American society.

But if Congress insists on drafting us all into war, then the American people would be wise to demand a caveat to the law: that the age-appropriate children and grandchildren of Congress get drafted first. After all, those who have the power to create war are those who benefit most from it; it’s only fair that they pay the greatest price for it.

That would be true equality.