By Caitlin Hall
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday Jan. 16, 2002
In the Persian Gulf War, 41,000 women were deployed, five were killed and two were taken as prisoners of war. Since 1975, women have had the right to become officers in any branch of the military. As I write this, female fighter pilots are pounding targets from overhead in Afghanistan. And through it all, the American news media has always been quick to point out the advances that military women have made - from overcoming contempt in the academies to living in contrast to images of the mute and cloaked Saudi women broadcast nightly during Desert Storm.
How far away, though, have current and former administrations moved from the policies that initially made the military such a rotten place for women? The truth is, despite the genuine and concerted efforts to recruit women by some branches of the military, especially the Army, results have often been limited because of a bureaucracy that seems to have a hard time reconciling warfare and femininity. If you need an illustration, check out the Department of Defense's Web site, everywhere decorated in sober black and blue, except for the Women's History Month page, which is awash in pink.
Perhaps a more important example is the continued and baseless reluctance of every branch of the government to demand that women be included in the draft. The Selective Service is a federally mandated institution whose sexist policies are often overlooked. This presents a real barrier to the feminist movement.
The problem isn't just that the Selective Service is unfair; it's that every defense of it in some way rests on discriminatory principles. Either women aren't good enough for service, a stance which has been refuted by the accomplishments of women in Desert Storm - for example, the 23 Combat Action Ribbons awarded to female Marines - or they are too good for it, which is a pedestal I, for one, don't want to be placed on. As for the contention that we simply have enough people registered for the draft to meet our country's needs, I offer this question: Why should women be turned away while men are still coerced into registering?
The rulings that upheld such a gender-based anachronism were based on facts that no longer exist, such as the wholesale exclusion of women from combat. Yet the institution persists for a simple reason: No one really wants to say anything about it. When I talk about the issue with other women, they often object on the grounds that they don't want to have to fight. Personally, I applaud the notion that in a country that has achieved our level of technological sophistication, only those who want to should have to go to war. However, that principle can't be applied selectively to one sex. Ask any man who fled to Canada during Vietnam if he wanted to fight. Lack of enthusiasm isn't an excuse the Selective Service accepts in the case of men; why should it be any different with women?
That brings up the problem that many women's groups, such as the National Organization for Women, have encountered. They quietly oppose gender-based registration for the draft, but the issue gets lost amid a much more public demand for the abolishment of the draft itself. It may be that the draft is an archaic practice but so is gender-based discrimination. The difference is that one is just an outdated and arguably bad idea, while the other, under a modern interpretation, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
Another common argument says that women are free to volunteer for the military; there's no reason that they should have to be drafted. That's partially true. They are free to volunteer. They're also free to not volunteer. It is insulting to men and women alike that the government should be so ambivalent about the enlistment of women and yet demand it of men when the need arises.
However, that contention does demonstrate a problem for any movement to include women in the draft. After all, what sane woman would lobby for the right to be coerced into doing something she or he could do anyway if she wanted to? But that only testifies to the fact that this isn't really about gaining the right to register. It's about fairness. The feminist movement claims to want equality. That doesn't mean all rights and no responsibilities. And it doesn't mean keeping quiet when unpleasant issues raised by gender equality come up. Real equality is not just progress for one gender, and it's not only women who would benefit from it.
As goes the mantra of algebra students, so too should go the philosophy of the feminist movement: "If you want things to stay equal, you have to do to one side what you do to the other."