Why Drafting Women Isn’t Gender Equality

by Myra Pearson

On Tuesday, June 14th, the Senate approved a military policy revision bill that included a provision requiring all able-bodied women 18 years or older to sign up for the draft, beginning as soon as January 1, 2018.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-California), who has spoken out against women’s service in the past, introduced the provision to National Defense Authorization Act 85-13 to test his more liberal colleagues, then voted against it. He intended it as a “gotcha amendment” to call the bluff of those who support women as active service members. A 1981 Supreme Court decision had barred women from the draft due to their status as exempt from combat. Now that circumstances have changed, Rep. Hunter intended to make a sarcastic case against women’s full inclusion in combat. It appears Rep. Hunter sees women’s rights as tools for him to use to troll his colleagues.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) responded with uncharacteristic logic to the “gotcha” provision, saying, “The idea that we should forcibly conscript young girls into combat, to my mind, makes little or no sense… I could not vote for a bill that did so, particularly that did so without public debate.” However, it is worth noting that Sen. Cruz hasn’t been struck by by a newfound surge of reason — his comments come from his sexist views of women’s roles in society.

Despite such conservative views of women in the military, they have already been serving heroically and voluntarily in combat roles, with an estimated 300,000 women deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 10,000 combat action badges and Bronze Stars awarded to female service members.

Rep. Hunter’s amendment was never meant to pass, and it is likely that National Defense Authorization Act 85-13 will be vetoed by President Obama, though not for its conscription provision. The bill includes other policy provisions, such as one that supports keeping Guantanamo open, which the president had vowed to close during his first term in office.

But it has opened a debate about gender equality and selective service. The provision has been called “an accidental victory of a progressive cause” by Nicholas Clairmont of the Atlantic, yet I beg to differ. There is nothing progressive about requiring women to register for the draft; women should never be bound by law to fight wars that are started by governments disproportionately controlled by men, for resources controlled by men — especially while we’re still expected to do most of the child-rearing, paid less than men for the same work, and can’t get justice for sexual assault or domestic violence. Talk about having it all.

It figures that this version of equality is the one recently brought up for debate in the Senate. It is one of the most frequently cited examples of inequality by “men’s rights activists.” In 2013, the National Coalition for Men filed a lawsuit against the Selective Service System for excluding women from registering. Just to be clear about what the NCM is all about, bear in mind they opposed the Violence Against Women Act, which provided funding for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women.

Such men measure women’s equality by comparing it to their own inequality. Unable to fully know the experiences of women and the effects of misogyny on our daily lives, an inverse assumption has been made about what equality means. The argument that women must be subjected to the same rights violations as men in order to achieve gender equality is misguided and takes us further from achieving equality and personal freedom. It is unfathomable that women should be required to enlist for conscription before our rights are protected as equal under the Constitution — before the ERA, which women have struggled to get passed for nearly a century, is ratified. Protect women’s equality by giving us our equal rights before trying to take them away in the name of male-centered “equality.”

Top image: Wikimedia Commons 

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