It served as one of the primary arguments against the Equal Rights Amendment, that if this came to pass, women would be drafted into the military. But such a fear was misguided, as this nightmare, if that’s what it is, has now come to pass by ruling of Southern District of Texas Senior District Judge Gray Miller.
If ever there was a time to discuss “the place of women in the Armed Services,” that time has passed.
The court held that “male-only registration” for selective service was unconstitutional, so the law requiring males to register, but not females (or any other gender, as the case may be), violates the Equal Protection Clause.
The decision deals the biggest legal blow to the Selective Service System since the Supreme Court upheld the draft in 1981. In Rostker v. Goldberg, the court ruled that the male-only draft was “fully justified” because women were ineligible for combat roles.
But U.S. District Judge Gray Miller ruled late Friday that while historical restrictions on women serving in combat “may have justified past discrimination,” men and women are now equally able to fight. In 2015, the Pentagon lifted all restrictions for women in military service.
The archaic notions about women in the military were an obstacle to women who sought to join, wanted to be eligible for combat just like anyone else. And that happened, as well it should. If competent and qualified, there is no reason that women should be denied their choice to die for their country. The point of combat may be to make the other poor bastard die for his, but it doesn’t always work out that way. The women who chose this path no doubt knew this only too well, and yet made their decision.
Sure, there remained the sexual and romantic problems, but to allow them to justify deprivation of the chance to fight and die was sexist. And so they were dismissed.
But by the same token, not all men wished to fight in combat. Not all women either. But wars happen, and Congress deemed it necessary to keep tabs on young men just in case. The restoration of selective service, requiring males to register upon reaching their 18th birthday, was disturbing. Will our daughters have to register as well now? So it would seem, according to how this plays out.
The suit was brought by the National Coalition for Men, which is a curious organization since I’m a man and I never voted for this organization to be my voice. The fact that men, and not women, have to register has long been a point of significant tension in the Culture War, where women could demand privileges without the burdens that go with them, the things that men were compelled to suffer but women were not. The draft was one such thing. If women wanted equality, they should get the bad with the good. The draft was certainly one of the less desirable aspects of gender distinctions.
At a time when there is no draft, however, this is largely a matter of virtue signaling. Registering with selective service is a bit of a shock to the system because of what it might, conceivably, mean for a person, but the reality is that the nation is not drafting soldiers and not sending unwilling participants into battle. It’s easy to be bold and state that we are willing to suffer a burden when that burden is inchoate, theoretical at worst. People have become quite adept at being strong and assertive when there is no actual risk involved.
Will this attitude toward equality remain should war break out? Part of gender equality is the agency to be a tough woman, prepared to fight and die for her country, and part is the right not to be, to choose to be a stay-at-home mom baking pies, wearing pretty dresses rather than camo and high heels instead of boots. The former will embrace this as a matter of principle, that they will happily accept the burdens that go along with the privileges. The latter may not be quite as sanguine.
Some will view it as a matter of virtue, that if the United States goes to war for a cause which they support, they will take off the apron and strap on a sidearm. But soldiers don’t get to decide whether they approve of the fight, except to the extent they flee their draft notice. This may well prove to be the biggest shock should the draft be reinstituted. While most young people have been taught that they are entitled not only to an opinion on every subject, with no concomitant duty to know what they’re talking about, but to act upon their belief with impunity. You only have to do what you feel like doing.
While many boys will struggle with the notion that the Army doesn’t say “please” and only expect you to take to the fight when it’s a fight you like, women disinclined to join the military of their own volition may well find this obstacle more than they can take. The boys who ran off landing craft onto Omaha Beach and almost certain death were scared far beyond anything they ever did before. Still, most did as their duty as demanded. Would young men do so today? Would young women?
While the National Coalition for Men may be testing the limits of gender equality by forcing women into a position that men would just as soon avoid, it’s unlikely that there will be cries from women conceding they’re too girlie to be drafted and the men win. It seems inevitable that women who call themselves, and each other, fierce and strong will take up the cause on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, proclaiming themselves ready to face their duty just like a man. But it’s easy to be tough on social media. It’s easy to call oneself fierce knowing that you won’t be tested.
At the end of the day, is this really what the National Coalition for Men hoped to accomplish, or are they playing the same game as the tough women on social media, a game of gender chicken to see who will blink first? The problem may be that we won’t have a winner until the time comes to run off those landing craft onto a beach facing certain death. By then, it will be too late for all of us.