For those who continue to deny that there are any remaining gender inequalities in America, let’s look at our military. Today, January 24, 2013, we are just now lifting the ban on women in combat. Yes, it is 2013 and not 1950 (I’m as surprised as you). In 1948 women were first allowed into the regular armed forces. Now, 65 years later, gender equality is still not a reality for women in the military. Even with the very recent lifting of the ban, many continue to argue that women should not be allowed to participate in combat. Women don’t have the strength or the stamina, some say. Women integrated into male combat groups will only serve as distractions, others say. Or, my favorite reason: the American people just cannot stand to see so many women killed. What an interesting conundrum. The American people have had no qualms about denying women basic civil rights for the past 200 years, but now they get teary-eyed at the thought of women risking their lives in combat. A woman should die rather than have an abortion that would save her life, but heaven forbid if she wants to fight for her country and die in combat.
I am very angry about all of this. Disgusted, really. Because we have a situation in which strong and competent women want to serve alongside their male servicemen, and they are being denied the right to do so because they are female. And on top of that, when they are allowed to serve, they face the constant threat of sexual assault. We try to bar women from serving, and when they do get the chance how do we repay them for their service? By chastising them and blaming them for being sexually abused. For anyone who is skeptical that misogyny and patriarchal dominance still exist, all you need to do is look at the prevalence of sexual assault in the military (see The Invisible War documentary). When I look at the outrageous number of reported rapes (not to mention the unreported cases) I am deeply troubled by this treatment of women – women who are willing to give up their lives to serve their country. If we cannot respect these women, how can we possibly respect the women in our midst? The military is a special case: it’s like patriarchy on steroids. Every “masculine” virtue upheld in society is cherished beyond the norm and any sign of weakness (read: femininity) demolished. This is why it is women and gay men that are primarily preyed upon. And contrary to the belief of some, barring women and gays from entering the military is NOT the solution. Are we to accept the state of things and maintain the system that allows them, or are we going to change that very system?
I vote for change. Many victims of rape and sexual abuse do not speak up, for various reasons. They are ashamed. They do not think they will be taken seriously. They don’t want to risk losing their job. In many cases, the abuser is the officer to which they would report the incident. What can you do in that situation? The military as an institution is not dealing with sexual assault in the proper way, and consequently they are allowing it to continue happening. Acknowledging the problem is not enough if proper action is not taken. I believe that this action starts with giving women level footing in the armed forces. This involves not only opening ALL positions to them that are already open to men, but giving them the respect that they deserve as human beings and as people risking their lives for others. We cannot hope to be a successful nation with a successful defense force if we ignore the needs of over half of our population. In the face of these monstrous inequalities I cannot imagine why women would even want to join the military – I know that I don’t. But I admire their courage and their determination to serve others and I cannot understand why we would punish them for this.
The mistreatment of women in the military has been going on for long enough. It’s time to do something about it. If you’re interested: