Gender issues in the military

A progressive feminist view of equality in the military draft

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been an outspoken feminist since my awkward middle-school years. I own multiple shirts proclaiming “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” and my daily actions and in fact, my entire (self-designed) college major (Social Justice & Activism) is oriented around identifying broader systems of oppression in our society and trying to figure out how address them. For as long as I remember, I’ve been quick to remind anti-feminist keyboard warriors that the definition of feminism is the belief in equality for all, regardless of gender, sex, ability, race, class, culture, religion, etc. This intersectional view of feminism puts me on the more progressive spectrum of “feminism,” but it’s the most inclusive, accurate (albeit, *ethical*) platform a self-proclaimed “feminist” can take. If you call yourself a feminist and show up to the Women’s March on Washington but not a Black Lives Matter protest then you aren’t really committed to equality, you’re committed to equality for *certain* women, women who match your particular privileged demographic.

So why do I, a-self-proclaimed progressive, intersectional feminist oppose amending selective service drafting laws which would require both men and women to be equally called upon to serve their country? For me, it boils down to the sexist standards we use when we assess an individual’s fitness to join the army in the first place.

Just to be clear, while there were attempts by both the Senate and the House to pass a bill last year which would force men and women to both register for the draft, it is currently not the law of the land. However, with a president as trigger-happy as Trump (especially when it comes to his “Tweet” button), as a young adult who would likely qualify for the draft, it is an issue that sits at the back of my mind and bothers me every once in a while, should it come back up for a vote.

As it currently stands, the armed forces have different physical requirements for men and women wishing to join the armed forces. I’d like to quote Kate Germano, a Lt. Colonel in the Marine Corps from an article she wrote in 2015 urging the Marines to make the standards for men and women equal. Germano states “Right from the start, women are held to a lower standard for achievement, which explains why their failure rate on the initial physical fitness test at boot camp is nine times greater and their discharge rate is double that of men. It also explains why we have such a problem with sexual assault in the Marine Corps. There is no level playing field established for men and women in terms of respect, conduct, performance and expectations” (Germano, 2015).

Germano’s viewpoint is not exclusive to women serving in the Marine Corps branch of the military. In Military Review, Jude Eden expressly outlines that having lower physical standards for women and men in the army perpetuates a sexist culture within the military in which “army strong” isn’t exactly true across the board. Eden argues that there are certainly women who can perform physically at the same level as their male counterparts and not having gender-neutral standards leads to discrimination and sexism including the fact that “Women aren’t encouraged to establish the same mental toughness as men – rather, they’re told they can’t compete. Men, meanwhile, are encouraged to perceive women as weak” (Eden).

While having different physical standards for men and women in the armed forces clearly has created a troubling set of issues already even without making the draft mandatory for women, should the draft become mandatory for both sexes and eventually enforced, it would be a catastrophe. Here’s why: allowing physically “weaker” men to avoid the draft simply because they don’t identify as female or weren’t born female is incredibly unfair while women who meet a lower physical standard than their male counterparts would be forced to fight on the front lines, simply due to the fact that outdated physical standards have labeled them the “weaker” sex. The lower, more fluid expectations for who is and who isn’t considered “fit” enough to be in the armed forces for women means that two individuals who are equally “fit” but not as “fit” as the men who physically qualify for the draft means that if one of those two people happened to be a woman, that person would be more likely forced to go to war.

Before we make the draft mandatory for both genders, it’s important to establish gender neutral physical standards for *anyone* wishing to join any defense branch. I have to laugh a little when I see the hashtag #armystrong, because as it currently stands, it’s a misleading slogan and the inconsistency of strength requirements and expectations weakens our military as a whole. I know several strong, brave ROTC women who could physically surpass the majority of men on their worst days. Why not make standards equal across the board so that should a gender-neutral draft law exist, it would at least be fair to women? Why let men who physically perform at the same standards as female recruits get out of serving their country, just because they identify or were born as male?

Make physical standards gender-neutral across the board, and then we can talk about the idea of a gender-neutral draft.