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Women have always played a vital role in the United States military, but their duties have, for the most part, been sufficiently limited. Even as far back as the Revolutionary War, women served “in military camps as laundresses, cooks, and nurses but only with permission from the commanding officers and only if they proved they were helpful.” Their contributions have been entirely on a volunteer basis, illustrating the dedication women have for fighting for their country. This dedication stems from the common history shared by all Americans. It proves that loyalty and patriotism does not differentiate based on gender. It also illustrates, however, the military’s historical lack of gender equality. The lack of equality, however, has been decreasing in the past few years, with women, as well as other groups of people, increasingly being accepted.

On Dec. 3, 2015, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter announced that all combat roles are being opened to women in the military. According to Defense Secretary Carter,

There will be no exceptions…They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men.

The monumental decision to include all women in the military comes a mere two years after it was decided that a previous long held regulation, which banned women from combat roles, would be reversed. This decision, while bringing a measure of equality and opportunity for women, also brought about structure for the military, overruling policies of any military segment that segregates women, and in turn promoting a form of unity in the armed forces.

On the other hand, it also raised concerns that in some cases, such as the infantry, inclusion is irrational because of what the jobs entail, specifically. In reality, however, while the rule opened roles for women, it did not ensure any spots for them. Women will have to earn their place as men have, and meet the standards of the jobs they want to pursue. It merely opens the door for women to be able to advance in their military careers. The core idea behind the change is based on the defense department’s studies and surveys that have found that there are no viable reasons to keep women from the remaining military positions. Their conclusion is that women can qualify and advance on their own. Thus, there should not be a system in place that takes away any potential opportunities for them since taking away opportunities will keep the military from being able to “harness the skills and perspectives that talented women have to offer,” potentially hurting its advancement.

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The ruling thus opened up 220,000 job positions for women, which had previously been closed, making the number of potentially available jobs approximately 331,000 (when incorporating those that became available in 2013). However, it was also responsible for inciting a debate regarding the place of women in the draft. For the first time, in June 2016, the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would make women’s conscription obligatory. The House on the other hand, did not. The bill would require any woman turning 18 on or after Jan. 1 to register for Selective Service—a requirement that is true of men now.

The consideration to add women to the draft is a consequence of opening all combat roles to women; since women now possess the training and abilities to fight, they should also be responsible for answering the call to fight. This is because the Supreme Court hearing in 1981 ruled “ that women did not have to register for the draft, noting that they should not face the same requirements as men because they did not participate on the front lines of combat.” That ruling thus became void when combat roles were opened to all women, equalizing them in the eyes of the law, and logically voiding the Supreme Court’s rule. Nonetheless, while impersonal logic dictates that the inclusion of women into Selective Service is plausible, according to U.S. News & World Report, many continue to rely “on emotional rhetoric about female frailty or obligations to protect our daughters.” One such believer is Senator Ted Cruz who, after voting against the bill, remarked, “I could not in good conscience vote to draft our daughters into the military, sending them off to war and forcing them into combat.” Mr. Cruz fails to acknowledge however, that the system sends this nation’s sons and forces them to fight. It is designed to see biology before ability and patriotism, and in doing so it perpetuates an illogical, and possibly detrimental way of thinking. According to U.S. News & World Report:

With 71 percent of the nation’s youth unfit for military service, the exclusion of qualified women from compulsory service during a time of war would severely limit our access to qualified citizens and possibly put our nation at significant risk.

At the end of the day, not including women in Selective Service may actually create the very problem that people are afraid inclusion will bring about. That very problem is in itself stemmed from the, albeit, outdated system, but in terms of the gender inequality running rampant in the military, it results in a progressive step forward. Additionally, much like open combat roles, just because the opportunity is there, it does not mean that all women will be on the front lines. As Senator Deb Fisher puts it, “There are many ways to serve our country in the event of a national emergency. ” Not all women and not in every circumstance will women be forced to fight. The conscription would only force women to register. It does not qualify them nor does it determine the role that women will play.

The interesting part of this military dilemma is that the fear that people have seems to stem from the idea that conscription and open roles take away women’s decisions, forcing them not just to fight, but to fight on the front lines. The irony of the situation is, in an attempt to try to stop what people believe strictly confine and limit women in their choices, society actually takes away their voice, and thus their choice, perpetuating the very thing it “fears.”

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Even more so, the increased rights of women in the military should by its very nature, impact the rights of women in society. Ideally, allowing women the opportunity to fight alongside their male counterparts at every stage creates an environment where women are not seen as fragile creatures, but as the warriors that they can and choose to be. This then has the potential to become the lynchpin for increased inclusion of women in society. If women are seen as being truly equal to men in the most terrifying aspect of society (war), then there can be no question as to their equality otherwise. However, while equality can be a possibility for the U.S., it will not manifest itself without equal drafting because people, “cannot expect full equality if we continue to support a Selective Service that only requires compulsory service by men.”

 

-Louisa Saakian

 

Sources:

History.org:

https://cdn.underground.net/wp-content/uploads/women_military_timeline.pdf

Department of Defense:

http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/632536/carter-opens-all-military-occupations-positions-to-women

The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/04/us/politics/combat-military-women-ash-carter.html?_r=0

U.S. News & World Report:

http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2016-06-22/its-time-for-women-to-register-for-the-draft

The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/15/us/politics/congress-women-military-draft.html?_r=2

 

 

 

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