Women’s Interests and the Military Draft

I’m taking a break from writing a novel to actually more or less blog, and write about what it means to be a woman-or a man-and a citizen today. 

As a start, I’m linking to this piece about the Israeli Defense Forces targeting female draft dodgers.  Israel, which has slowly begun to reopen the combat arms to women in 2000 after a long, religiously-inspired ban, has long drafted women.  Women used to easily obtain exemption; one was simply for claiming to be religious.  Now, the Israeli Defense Forces expect women who claim a religious exemption to abide by all the restrictions Orthodox Judaism imposes upon women. 

Religion and the draft itself are separate issues:  whether or not you are pious or orthodox are one thing.  Whether or not a draft makes sense for a particular country is another issue.  But what I have never understood is why women would tolerate being

  1. excluded from a draft in any country that has one
  2. excluded from the military or any other security forces in any nation
  3. excluded from the combat arms in any military or other security force (say, Interior Ministry troops)

As an illustration of why I am asking these questions, I’m also linking to the murder of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, who was stoned to death in Kismayo when she and her father reported her gang-rape to the al-Shabab militia.  None of the men she accused were detained, much less have been stoned.  Not reported is that while gang rape is brutal enough, about 95% of Somali girls undergo female genital mutilation (FMG) between the ages of 4 and 11 and over 80% of those girls have been subjected to the most vicious and extreme form of mutilation, infibulation, which renders at least initial intercourse a prolonged act of torture and usually results in a lifetime of suffering.  People often do not draw obvious, visible connections.  And perhaps no one really wanted to mention the additional, and nearly universal horror of FMG, out of a desire to leave Duhulow some shreds of privacy.  And then, after all that, she was stoned to death before a crowd, far from all of whom appeared to have approved of her savage death, but who, unarmed, were faced down by armed thugs. 

No one who has not been in that situation may call such people cowards, but many, perhaps all of them, also knew themselves shamefully complicit, and who knew that even more shamefully, were their daughters to be so hideously hurt, it would be better to kill them privately and with such mercy as is possible.  Sometimes the world is so brutal these really are the only choices, and the horrible thing is not what people do, it is what they become inured to. 

But the larger point is that while such Islamic clan-based militias cannot take over the world, we are living in a century that is going to pit more and more of us who live in modernity with its rights and possibilities, especially for women, against those who cannot get in (such as those who were helpless to save Duhulow) and those who wish to destroy it (such as her rapists and murderers).

You would think that such events would galvanize the desire of women in such front-line states as Israel to participate in the defense of their community with arms.  Men as well, but women particularly, since they do have more to lose.  Women may or may not suffer more in war than men (certainly they do not if the enemy abides by the rules of civilized warfare) but they do often suffer worse in defeat, because the military-age males who were supposed to defend them are dead, crippled, or prisoner.  This is true whether the occupying power behaves brutally and regards conquered women as the spoils of war, as many (not all) do or the occupation is so inept as to permit the defeated nation to collapse into anarchy. 

That does not so far seem to be the case, so the question is why?  Why do women in modern cultures, in which the value of female life is so much closer to that of men, tolerate being unarmed and alienated from both their own physical strength and the institutions created to protect them and their cultures?


8 thoughts on “Women’s Interests and the Military Draft”

  1. I have been saying the exact same thing since the late 70’s. To include women in drafts or selective service is a necessary action toward meaningful equality. My personal belief is being excluded from the draft contribes to the glass ceiling. They are two sides of the same coin. The sooner there is inclusion of women in the selective service/draft, the quicker the glass ceiling will be broken. It is hard to have it both ways…I want equality where I want it, for exmaple President of the US, but I expect to be given special consideration when topics such as the draft/selective service comes up.

  2. I wish you had a name, but… many thanks for the compliment, and the opportunity to work out some further ideas.

    I am not, I hope obviously, pro-draft except in exceptional circumstances which are not binding precedent during normal times.

    However, what is clear is that being excluded from participating in the common defense as part of the community to be defended, as has been the norm for women across history and throughout culture, does not contribute to the glass ceiling, or the exclusion of women from owning land, or voting, or jury service, or having their testimony count as a man’s done. The exclusion of women from the legitimate bearing of arms is why these things are possible, just as the inability to engage in effective communal and national self-defense was the why of slavery by conquest (as opposed to enslavement for debts).

    It is not in anyone’s best interests to be weak or defenseless. And this is as true for women as it is men.

    Erin Solaro

  3. Hi Erin,

    I am recovering from a cold, so I wasn’t at my best when writing my comment to your blog. I forgot to give my name! I’m Tom.

    Yes, you are obviously not pro-draft. That was clear to me. And I am not pro-draft too. But in the US we do currently have registration with the Selective Service. And by not including females, I believe, contributes to the glass ceiling.

    That point, I hope, is my contribution to your thesis, which I totally agree with.


  4. Before we go any further, please tell me your background regarding this issue: I find it extremely helpful to know where people are coming from.

    I am a former Army Reserve officer who received a research grant to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan, accredited by the Seattle P-I, where I was embedded with combat troops and provincial reconstruction teams. I have been published in everything from the Marine Corps Gazette and the Proceedings of the US Naval Institute to the Seattle Weekly. I would also add here, I spent many years as a Marine Corps wife and my second husband is a former Marine. My work on US Servicewomen was published as Women in the Line of Fire (Seal Press, 2006) and my speech at West Point, “The Woman Soldier: Biology, Equality, and the Profession of Arms” as a summary of the project, while “Into Time: Women and the Profession of Arms” as a capstone. Both are available on my blog under “Articles and Speeches.”

    Semper Fi and lookign forward to hearing from you,

    Erin Solaro

  5. Erin,

    Thanks for visiting my site. I am an amateur rabble-rouser from way back. I write on a wide range of topics and over the last almost 3 decades have increased my interest in men’s rights since I have been gravely affected by the lack of the same several times over. I am the son of a Korean War Veteran who was going to be drafted so he volunteered. He said he did this because “They were going to come get me so I might as well just go.” He also said that this allowed him to go from a bad situation to a less bad situation. He was working for the orphanage where he and my mom grew up. This was not because they did not have parents in fact quite the contrary but you see they were the products of the crash. Orphanages existed because adults could not take care of themselves let alone provide a roof over children’s heads. My father had only an eighth grade education (a product of male sacrifices) while my mother went on to higher education (a business school). My father was a brilliant man and devoured technical books and manuals and National Geographic. He lived by and understood the world through the extreme of common sense that rarely if ever failed him. He had to have wits and smarts because he “volunteered” for the Airborne. Low profile night jumps at 500’. He said never volunteer for anything in the military LOL. Now that is smart! He figured what the hey, it is better money and he needed to save for a wedding and family. He had a chat with me and told me that if I decided to go into the military just remember that there may be conflicts of interest, ethics, and morals. He was right. My exposure to war has always been questionable at best. He was in Korea the first forgotten war. I lived through the Vietnam era, and now the latest desert debacles. He told me just think and go in with open eyes if you choose to go. He said “Not 90 years before I joined we fought a war to prevent separation and secession of the Union when we granted states that right and then I fought a war again over people with differing ideas etc. and told them that they HAVE to separate.” This to me was an epiphany. It did not make sense then and it still does not.

    Since then I have been exposed to the bigotry, prejudices, and closed doors if I would not show my selective service card for things that women received gratis. These include but are not limited to, guaranteed school loans, certain schools, drivers licenses, jobs, threatened with beatings, called various names and vulgarities, etc. I feel that in this day and age of so called “equal rights” I should not have to prove my citizenship anymore than a woman has to for the same benefits of our society. I hope you agree.

    I am an avid reader and number cruncher. As far as front lines go I will not waver because the numbers do not lie. They are what they are and I do not leave anything out conveniently to taint the numbers to prove my point, I want to know the truth even if it means I am wrong. I am very good at research and have been at it for a long time. I dig even after I have been published in periodicals because things change and what was 30 years ago may not be today, unfortunately for the most part disparities for men have only become worse. I have two daughters and a son and I feel bad for my son because of the current status of PC and its implications on him. So you see I have a vested interest for both male and female with twice the concern for female but my daughters are not the current risk factor.

    Besides, if moms are granted an “opt out” then so should dads or do you believe as everyone else that men are expendable and women are not. If that I s the case I can turn you on to studies and papers that clearly demonstrate that children of single parent homes are more likely to become involved in gangs and delinquent behavior if that single parent is a mom and not a dad. Oddly their chances o f this behavior are greater in a two parent household over that of just a dad. Despite this I still strongly believe that the two-parent household is of paramount importance for a more rounded individual and better able to cope with all the world has to throw at them.

    This is the short version. Thanks for your reply, time and consideration.

    Bernie Misiura

  6. Bernie:

    Thank you for the thoughtful response.

    You may wish to read the essays I mentioned in my previous note to you. I think you would find them very useful.

    But to touch upon the main points you raised:

    1. Generally speaking, I am opposed to both the draft and “national service, with and without military options.” I do not believe people should serve their country, I believe people should be active participants in the Republic, to include participation in the common defense, which ranges from expeditionary warfare to Neighborhood Watch and includes such things as firefighting and Search and Rescue. I believe people should transition between roles between 18 and 65, according to their abilities, interests and the needs of the nation, their Republic. The draft should be reserved for time of genuine national peril, not to give whoever inhabits the White House and Congress bodies to play with. The difference between “serving your country” and “participating in our Republic” is not semantic.

    2. As women are citizens, the right and responsibility to bear arms in the common defense applies to us too. Fully.

    Now let’s get down to some brass tacks.

    Same physical standards for men and women in the military?

    As a woman who is a weightlifter, it is not that simple.

    Not even operationally, because even operationally, all-male units work with a range of physiques and abilities. I have seen infantrymen whom I could carry without the slightest trouble. I have seen infantrymen who could do the same to me. If you think the one can do what the other can, and in some ways that great size is a real disadvantage, you’re very wrong. If the military took biology as seriously as it says it does, probably a large minority of SEALS, Special Forces (not Rangers) and a majority of Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers would be female. (And in fact a Rescue Swimmer instructor told me that he and his male buddies were at first blown away when older women outpreformed young men; now they expect that.)

    Underlying this is that until very recently, the military’s weight standards for women were so restrictive that 60% of servicewomen had eating disorders and in the Marine Corps, twice as many women had full-blown anorexia as had normal eating habits. (Small female soldiers used to be held to jockey-level weights.) This had a direct, profoundly negative impact on women’s strength, stamina, injury rates, and general satisfaction with military service. Weight standards have since been revised in the right direction, but generally speaking are not as liberal as they should be (I prefer them level with men’s weights for the same height but only the Air Force has gone to that extent) and the Army has changed its body fat equations so that a substantial percentage of a woman’s muscle mass reads as body fat. (For myself personally, close to 15%.)

    Physical fitness tests need to be totally recalibated. Pushups, situps, and pullups need to be level for both sexes at the low end, and normed at the high end, according to how much muscle mass as a percentage of body weight is carried by the average fit person of both sexes. This would require women to do more situps then men, fewer pushups than men, and substantially fewer pullups than men (because the arms support much more weight, about 40% more, doing pullups than pushups). Currently, the Marine Corps requires women to do a flex-arm hang and will not score women who do pullups at all (talk about refusing to ask a question because you think you might not like to know the answer; male Marines who run their mouths about how “easy” the flex arm hang is undergo a profound change of heart once they try it). Runtimes for women should be totally different from men: somewhat slower, to take into account the average difference in stride length, which is a function of height, between men and women, but about twice as long, in order to take into account the fact that although women typically have a lower VO2Max than men (a function of body fat, which even extremely lean, fit women tend to carry more of than men in equivalent shape) they can use a higher fraction of available VO2Max, an advantage that expands with duration of effort.

    In short, physical standards for men and women should take into account both the real similarities between us and the real differences, rather than pretending that men are naturally biologically superior while women are both too weak to do the things they actually do and at the same time, so strong they don’t need to eat adequately to perform as soldiers.

    Combat exclusion: drop it. Assign women without restriction as women, subject olny to their personal abilities, desires, and the needs of the service for replacements of various sorts. (As men are.) Incidentally, you note that women make up about 2% of the casualties in Iraq. While casualties are often taken as a rough indicator of combat motivation, but the fact is that casualties are not spread evenly across the services or within them. (You may want to read Statistics, Women, and the Common Defense.) I have heard anecdotal reports of women who have been killed in combat listed as nonbattle casualties because women aren’t supposed to be in combat.

    Moms in combat as opposed to dads in combat.

    There is a long tradition in the military of requesting single men (or failing that married men without children and who were not expectant fathers) for certain missions. You’d take who you had to, of course, but men without children or wives were preferred. And there was a draft exemption during World War Two for fathers, which resulted in a mini-baby boom, before the goverment closed off that loophole. The only exemption for women from the draft (and let us be honest here, you draft for combat replacements) that is moral today is to exempt (voluntary, to be claimed or not as one desires), not exclude, women who have suffered a dangerous (life-threatening) pregnancy, delivery, or recovery. The old moral bargain that underlies the traditional exemption, that then became corrupted by male supremacy into an exclusion, still holds: those who risk their lives to bring life into the world should not also have to risk their lives to defend life if anyone else is available.

    For of course, maternal mortality defined the inferior human and civic worth of women to men since we became human until, in this country, about 1940. (At that point, a woman’s lifetime chance of dying in childbirth dropped below 1 in 100; 20 years previously, it was 1 in 40.) In most of the rest of the world, it still does: the average Afghan woman stands a worse change of surviving childbirth than a US infantryman did in the European Theater of surviving combat. In some provinces, like Badakhshan, maternal mortality is nearly universal. The signal difference, of course, is that infantrymen are armed and trained to defend themselves. Not so women in childbirth.

    Male supremacy was the world’s most impressive affirmative action program, and we still deal with the fallout today, even when it is no longer operative in our societies. I personally do not believe in comparative suffering. I know men who have beeen horribly hurt by women, and women who have been horribly hurt by men. Far more of the latter than the former, but I am not going to say to either, her/his suffering is worse. As for the things we do to warp each other into the grotesque caricatures of manhood and womanhood that we call femininity and masculinity, plenty of pain on both sides. Plenty.

    I am opposed to unnecessary pain and suffering.

    Best regards,
    Erin Solaro

    And as always, apologies for the typos and grammar hiccups. I can’t edit myself ad hoc worth a damn.

  7. “And as always, apologies for the typos and grammar hiccups. I can’t edit myself ad hoc worth a damn.”

    LOL, neither can I!!! More later I have to go take care of some business.


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