Women and Strength

Women and Strength

As the author of Women in the Line of Fire, whenever I do media, I get questions and comments on women’s physical strength.

Some men simply don’t want to know that women’s physical strength can be dramatically increased by the adoption of realistic weight limits and strength training. They’re running off a thirty year old database that they have no intention whatsoever of updating, thank you very much.

Some men demand that the average woman meet physical requirements that are impossible for the average man (who is 5 inches taller, height being the best proxy for strength there is) to meet. One man told me he wanted to crew a tank with guys who could throw him out as if he were a baby—he clearly had no idea of how cramped a tank’s crew compartment is. Another man claimed to be an infantryman weighing 212 pounds, humping a rucksack weighing 85% of his body weight (180 pounds, and that wouldn’t include rifle, helmet, body armor, and web gear, probably bringing the total to well over 200 pounds) 4 and 5 miles a day through Afghanistan, and asserting no woman could have kept up with him. Assuming he is telling the truth (and that is a generous assumption), he’s right. Nor could most men. Those few who can and do, often suffer severe orthopedic injuries, and I told him I hoped he hadn’t.

And then there are the women.

I took two calls on two recent radio shows from women, including one woman who began by telling me that in her experience, most women menstruated. (She was quite put out when I agreed that that was also my experience.) Both women insisted that equality does not mean treating women the same as men, and that to expect women to be strong and have stamina was to turn them into men.

For whatever reason, women as a group look at changes for the better in their status very differently than men do. Men often see opportunity; women want to know what they have to give up, specifically, will they cease being women? Yet that said, these women were not expressing honest differences of opinion, but delusions in point of fact. Equality often does mean treating women the same as men: specifically, it means valuing women as much as we value men. For the historic tradition across cultures is to view women as worth less—often much less—than men. Part of that tradition has often been for women to do heavy work, and sometimes serve as outright beasts of burden, on less food, particularly less meat and fat, than the men in their household and often while pregnant or nursing. Another tradition has been for women to suffer and die in war, while being barred from engaging in war, and combat, as soldiers—i.e., with a good chance of killing those men who mean to kill their menfolk, and subject them, as women, to the mercy and perhaps pleasure of the conqueror.

Treating women the same as men isn’t feminism, cried the caller who assumed I didn’t know about menstruation. But in many ways, that is what feminism has been about. Valuing women as much as men, whether intellectually or physically, and wanting women to be as strong as they can be and to eat as much as they need, does not change women’s chromosomes or hormones. And this equality means that like men, women are responsible for defending their polity: just as no one man can do everything or anything, no woman gets an exemption for being a woman.

For the truth is, the American Republic is in terrible trouble, and the wreckage of our Army and Marine Corps in Iraq is just the beginning of the threat we face in what promises to be an increasingly dangerous century. Draft or no draft, American women are more and more equal citizens of equal human worth to men, which means that we have to take increasing responsibility for the survival of the Republic that increasingly guarantees our human and civic worth.

We have a stake in the survival of this Republic that is greater than our biological lives. If our biological lives are all that matter to us, perhaps we would do well to let the Republic disintegrate and collapse: they say it is easier to drown than to struggle for your life. And with luck, we will find merciful men—many women who are chattel, rather than citizens do, but many do not, and they will have little, if any, recourse, and few if any rights. If we wish a full human life—loving marriages with men who are our equals, and even women; only the children we choose to bear from the sex we wish to have with those whom we wish to raise children; the freedom to show our faces and feel the sun and wind on our skin and in our hair; meaningful work that enables economic dignity for ourselves and our families; to live under laws that we have made—then we are going to have to accept our common human heritage, as women, of intellectual, emotional and physical strength and stamina, and aggression honorably expressed.

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