Expanding the Draft: Does Gender Equality Mean Ignoring Assault?

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At the end of April, the House passed an amendment that will potentially change the lives of at least half of all American citizens. The bill requires that women sign up for the draft, and is now awaiting further negotiation in the Senate.

As a woman, I first looked at this measure with fear. Little me, someone who decided to take up piano instead of martial arts when I was younger, tossed in the drawing to fight for my country. No, I do not volunteer as tribute. And no, the odds will never be in my favor.

As a feminist, however, I thought that maybe this could be another step towards equality between men and women. I’m sure there have been plenty of men before me with the same concerns when it came to the draft. Now we’re all in the same lottery.

However, I quickly realized that this amendment has been passed with little consideration towards the current military culture, and will only make women more aware of their unequal standing in a very patriarchal, unchanging system.

The military encourages masculinity and laughs at femininity. Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s 1989 film, “Full Metal Jacket”, known for its accurate portrayals of Marine Corps training, called his trainees’ “maggots” and “ladies,” using them synonymously to insult his men. A more recent film, “Invisible War”, documents dozens of women who found themselves shut down when they reported sexual harassment while in the military, their supposedly petty “female problems” worth little to the male-dominated chain of command.

These examples show that forcing women to participate in the draft is dragging them into a culture that simply does not accept them. Rather, it is a culture wherein men get away with not only belittling the women who fight alongside them, but raping them and tearing them apart until they run away from the military, ironically an establishment that was always meant to protect rather than harm Americans.

I am not making these claims simply from the movies I have seen in my Humanities Core class (for those of you who have taken the course and are wondering how I coincidentally fell upon such works). Efforts to integrate women into the military have made it clear that the military does not welcome females among its ranks, and will not change for the sake of equality.

In January, only a few months before the draft measure was passed, the Department of Defense announced that it would allow women to take up any position in the military, including combat positions. Although Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ speech on this decision  suggested more progressive views, his language actually held the subtle truth that the military is not willing to fully integrate women. He stressed that women will have to meet the same old standards, the ones set for men years ago, if they want to fight in combat. While he argues that this is for the protection of the country, it is biologically impossible for women to attain the same physical standards as men.

Not to mention, he did not consider the aforementioned harsh military culture that stigmatizes and discourages female participation, which will make meeting the standards difficult for even the most determined female citizen.

When I say that men stigmatize and discourage women, I mean much more than giving them dirty looks and saying rude comments, which is already difficult to handle in itself. For example, WUBA stands for “Working Uniform Blue Alpha” in the military, yet men often use it towards women to mean “Women Used by All.”

Unfortunately, there are some women who find themselves used by all. According to the film “Invisible War”, about 20% of women who voluntarily serve in the military get raped, and this estimate only comes from those who have reported. Of those who have reported, none received compensation for the damage caused to their lives—which, in some cases, meant losing their lives—because men in the higher chain of command simply did not believe that such sexual assaults occurred. Confronting the government about these issues has been futile, because the Feres Doctrine of 1950 states that the government is not held accountable for damages upon military members due to the negligence of others.

Thus, the issue has only gotten worse in recent years. The numbers of reported rape incidents in the military rose by 11% in 2015, according to Military.com, suggesting that either more people are reporting or that more sexual assaults are occurring. In any case, these reports should not be happening in a military that is proposing equal participation of males and females.

I do agree that women should be drafted like men currently are, and that they should meet high standards when training to protect their country. However, while women are different from men physically and mentally, that is not necessarily disadvantageous.

Although women are not as strong as men, they can still be valuable resources in modern warfare, wherein there is a stress on the use of technology and strategic planning. For example, military members are often sent out to speak with civilians and acquire information, a task that may be better suited for women than men. Women are more inclined to talk to other women, especially in Middle Eastern countries where women are often limited to speaking with other women.

With the way war is fought now, there is no reason why a female cannot be as valuable as a male on the battlefield. For both men and women to be of use in the military, the system itself must be willing to change to accommodate both sexes. Right now, the military is a man’s world. Until this changes, women are simply unsafe in it.

 

Michelle Bui is a first year biological sciences major. She can be reached at mkbui@uci.edu.

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