On the one hand, since I was about seventeen and actually considered the topic, I've been strongly opposed to women in the military. I think all the Tolkien and Lewis had rubbed off on me, and I was getting annoyed at how fantasy novels always make their heroines take up swords and be as tough as any man. It felt -- counterproductive. If the best thing a woman can hope to do is beat a man in single combat with swords, we're basically all screwed because 99% of us can't do that. I preferred fantasy novels in which women were mages, clerics, wise women, healers. Those were things I felt I could identify more with.
Here, let me embarrass myself with an excerpt from a novel I was working on in college:
“Why must I stay while you go?” she demanded. “I am not the weaker for being a woman.”
“It is not a matter of being weaker.”
“Then what is it?”
Rademard paused. “War is not about fighting alone; it is also about killing. I have killed men before, and I will kill men again soon. It is a soldier’s duty to deal death and to put himself in danger of death. It is this that I fear for you.”
“I am not afraid of dying,” she said, bitterly.
“Dying could not hurt you as killing could. Don’t you see that killing someone else would be killing your own heart?” He paused a long moment, then said at last, quickly, “For it could be tender, if it would, and to weigh it against your sword would be to weigh gold against dust.”
Eek. Embarrassing. My worship of Tolkien is kind of obvious. Anyway.
I do believe that war dehumanizes. I believe that getting yourself into the mindset where you could kill someone else is bad for you as a person, that it reduces your compassion and gentleness. You can't simultaneously be a ruthless killer and have that affect no other aspect of your life. Obviously I don't want women to undergo this.
The trouble is, I don't want men to, either. Men rock babies to sleep. Men kiss boo-boos. Men need to take compassion into account when making decisions from deciding wages for employees to voting.
The argument "but women are MOTHERS and we can't deploy mothers away from their children!" is a good one also. I firmly agree. On the other hand, who says children don't need their fathers? Being a military child myself (though my dad was in the reserves and not deployed at all for most of my childhood), I know a lot of military families, and I think every single one of them has suffered through having an absent father. We already know that absent fathers are bad for children when they're growing up. The fact that they are killing people in far-off lands doesn't have some mysterious ameliorating effect. It's also incredibly hard on their wives, who have to do and be everything for the family -- while also handling military red-tape, being available to Skype in the middle of the night, and worrying themselves sick about their husbands. No wonder many military couples divorce. It's a wonder to me that not all of them do, and a sign of the amazing relience and inner strength of military spouses.
I would not join the military myself. I also would not encourage my husband to do so. In fact (and I'm going to catch flak for this for sure), I told him when we were dating that if he had any dream of joining the military, he should tell me right away so I could find a different guy. I wanted an actual FATHER for my children, one who would BE THERE. The military would not have allowed him to do that in the way I felt my children would need.
My kids are both very attached to their dad, and they now BOTH cry at goodbye almost every morning. When John is gone for a week, the atmosphere suffers. Marko whines a lot and asks for his dad many times a day. He demands to be "took wif" and insists that Daddy is coming back not on Friday, but tonight. I am sure if John were gone for six months, he'd get used to it ... but I doubt the relationship they have now would still be the same when he got back. Kids need you when they need you, not six months from now.
But -- I can hear you saying -- someone's got to defend our country. And yes, this is so. (I personally believe a much smaller military that focused on defending our borders rather than policing the globe would defend us just as well, with less hardship on individuals and families, to say nothing of all the money it all costs.) But let's stop pretending that nonstop warfare is good for men and bad for women. It's bad for everyone. It can only be justified by extreme need.
I am tired of being told that a term in the military will "make a man" of a boy, that you learn all these "manly virtues" there. What virtues can you learn in the military? Hard work? Send the boy to work on a farm. Courage? Send him to Alaska to fish; he'll earn good money and face danger on a regular basis. Self-discipline? Self-discipline is something you can only teach yourself. What you learn in the military is externally-applied discipline which will wear off once the young man gets out of the military. Obedience to authority? This is a nation that believes in self-government and personal responsibility -- I want my sons to disobey unjust laws.
I'm not sure I believe in the concept of "manly virtues" at all. Virtue is virtue. There may be some virtues which come more easily to women and some which come more easily to men, but if so, it seems we'd better learn from one another to acquire all the virtues we can. If courage doesn't come easily to Sally, she shouldn't shrug and say, "Well, I'm a girl so I'm not supposed to be brave," but just screw her courage to the sticking point and go kill that spider or mouse or whatever it is. If it's not easy for Dan to put himself in someone else's shoes, he shouldn't say, "All that sympathy crap is effeminate anyway," but instead take a long look at his mother or his wife and figure out how to be as compassionate as she is. There are no cop-outs for virtue because of gender. I think that's part of what St. Paul meant when he said "In Christ there is no male or female."
The absolute worst arguments against women in combat are those complaining that our whole nation will be "feminized" if women are allowed into the male-only zone where men can be REAL MEN and get muddy and cuss and ... whatever it is they think women shouldn't be doing. If you want boys to grow up to be real men, make sure their dad can be around while they're growing up. Sticking a rifle in their hands and shoving them into a trench isn't going to magically do it, even if there are no women around.
Okay, I take that back. The worst argument of all is, "Women have periods, and there is no possible way to reconcile this with trench conditions." Dude, they have pills for that now. I am not interested in taking those pills, but then I am not interested in joining the military either. Neither issue is one I feel needs to be legislated; it's a matter of individual choice.
Other terrible arguments include this one: "Any woman of reproductive age could be pregnant at any time. We have to treat her as potentially pregnant at all times, and she has no right to bring innocent people into a war zone inside her uterus, therefore women should never be in war zones." By that logic, women should not be allowed to drink, receive X-rays, or ride in motor vehicles. The fact is we now have the ability to find out pretty darn quickly if a woman is pregnant. Pregnant women are always sent home if they request it. And in any event, care for her unborn child is the mother's responsibility, and no one else's. No one may restrict her rights of free movement or medical care to protect her baby. A mother is a person first, and not merely a vessel -- and I say this as someone who is unabashedly 100% pro-life.
Or this one: "When women start coming home in body bags, maybe people will rethink this." Guess what? Women have already come home in body bags. Men are dying over there all the time. Kids--even babies, female babies if that matters--are turning up as "collateral damage." What is it going to freaking take before we say, "Enough, we are not going to win this one and it isn't worth the cost"? Who is the one coming home with no limbs or no heartbeat isn't the point ... the point is that we are sending off the "best and the brightest" and even those who come back aren't coming back the same. WAR IS BAD. Is this one justified? Why are we not asking this question?
Here's the deal. Women are already dying in combat. They are already being captured by the enemy and brutally raped (and so are men, if you didn't know this). They are already being deployed away from their babies -- even single mothers. They are already getting raped by their comrades-at-arms. They are already suffering permanent damage to their health (and so are men). The only thing that has been held back so far is the ability to serve in the kind of combat situations that get you promoted. That just seems a little sexist to me!
Mind you, I don't want to see women in the front lines. I don't want to see them in the military at all -- it's not really a friendly place to women. I also don't want men to be on the front lines so much, because I don't want this nation to be at war so much. But preventing women from serving wherever they want to and are qualified to on the grounds of "their nature is different" or "we're afraid they'll get hurt" is just paternalistic. Set the standards as high as you like, and if the work is really such that women can't do, they won't make it in. But if they do make it in, you're just going to have to adapt.
And that's my two bucks on the subject. (Price raised due to inflation and my inability to be brief.) What do you think?