I'm a feminist, a law professor, a Mormon, and a mother. And in each of these capacities, I am advocating opposition to the extension of the military draft to women. Last week the Senate voted overwhelmingly in support of extending selective service registration to women. The bill is now in congressional committee before being sent to the president.
I am a grateful beneficiary of the feminist movement. Because of feminism, I was able to become a lawyer and practice at prestigious firms in New York City and Indianapolis. Feminism declared that women are not prisoners forced to stay at home and to stay out of the centers of economic and political power—the core ideals of feminism being choice and empowerment. I embrace this declaration and join in advocating the empowerment of women.
But there are many women who in fact choose to be at home. Being a Mormon, I have numerous friends and family who are full-time stay-at-home mothers and/or wives. For these women, being at home is not a show of weakness, brainwashing, or subjugation—rather it is their own freely-chosen path. How can that be? Because many women believe the adage, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. They believe the best use of their time, talents, and life is to live for their children. They could be doctors or lawyers or CEOs. But they have chosen to employ their talents at home instead. This is an empowered choice. Indeed, while I am a law professor, I also have five children. I am thrilled to live in an era when I can simultaneously be a mom and a professor; but if I had to pick one of those roles, I would choose mom. Not all women should be required to make that same choice—that’s why I’m a feminist.
Which leads to my objection to extending the draft to women. Isn't this just a matter of equality? As a law professor, I understand the importance of equal obligations in a system of justice. If men can be drafted, shouldn't women also be subject to a potential draft? I remain unconvinced.
Several major religious traditions hold that a woman’s greatest role is raising her children at home. And many women sincerely believe as much—without cowering to husbands or religious leaders. Other women want to join the military and agree to leave children and/or opportunities for child-bearing and child-rearing behind while they are gone. I’m happy they can make that choice. But it is a different matter to create a law that can force any woman to give up, at the government's beck and call, getting pregnant, having a child, breastfeeding her baby, raising her preschoolers, being home when her kids get out of school each day, or even preparing to start a family and finding a partner? Keep in mind that women have a relatively short window of healthy fertility and childbearing.
There are numerous Muslim, Mormon, and other Christian and religious (and non-religious) women who truly believe their greatest duty and joy in life is to have a family and to build and be present in a safe and beautiful home for their children. And we’re saying now that such women should be drafted? Should be torn from their dreams of motherhood, from their cradles, and from their babies (both born and unborn)? As a devout member of such a religion, I'm asking Congress, are we building into this law a conscientious objector exception for women who devoutly believe that their God-given mission in life is to be in their happy home creating a family and then building a safe place for their children to grow in a loving and secure environment? We must continue to allow women to make that choice.
Have we considered the psychological effects on women who are drafted against their will—especially taken from their children (and opportunities to have children) when they sincerely believe it is their life mission to build a family? What happens psychologically to women who are torn from their children? Have you ever heard of a mother bear? What is the effect on children of having their mothers taken from them? What about breastfeeding women? Medical science shows that it is significantly better for the physical and psychological health of both the baby and the mother to breastfeed the baby, reducing cancer risks for both, providing immunities to the baby, and improved healing and health for both. Will breastfeeding moms be excluded from the draft? According to the Selective Service’s own website, “If Congress and the President were to reinstate a military draft, Selective Service procedures currently in place would not treat married registrants, or those with a dependent child, any differently from men who are single.” Would the same be true for women?
Even for women who have not yet had children, what are the opportunity costs to them of being able to have and raise a family if we draft them to war in their prime years for marriage and childbearing? And in light of the documented mental and physical injuries sustained by veterans, what about the fact that after being drafted, these women veterans may have lost the physical and/or psychological ability to build the family they devoutly believed was their life mission to create?
And the injuries to conscripted women are likely to be far more severe than they have been on men. Women and men simply do not stand on an equal playing field—physically or psychologically—when it comes to force and violence. It’s a biological fact. As noted in Psychology Today, there exists “a clear distinction between male and female sexes regarding their predisposition to violence.” This is not due to “the imprinting of social roles” but is “first of all, due to genetic factors.” Indeed:
"The fact that males are more aggressive and more violent is reflected by their anatomy itself . . . . In humans, for example, the arms of men are, on average, 75 percent more muscular than those of women; and the top of a male body is 90 percent stronger than the top of a female body [Bohannon, 1997; Abe et al., 2003, apud Goetz, 2010, p. 16]. Also, men are taller, they have denser and heavier bones, their jaw is more massive, their reaction time is shorter, their visual acuity is better, their muscle/fat ratio is greater, their heart is bulkier, their percentage of hemoglobin is higher, their skin is thicker, their lungs bigger, their resistance to dehydration is higher etc. In other words, from all points of view, men are more suited for battle than women, and these skills are native; they were selected and evolutionary polished."
This genetic difference between the sexes is why violence against women is a serious world-wide problem. On the whole, women are less able to physically and psychologically respond to and reciprocate violence from men. Why would that be less true in combat? That's why we have women who flee to shelters across the US. And violence against women is significantly worse in many parts of the world. According to Amnesty International, “across the globe, women are beaten, raped, mutilated, and killed with impunity”—subject to “gender-specific persecution including genital mutilation, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and domestic violence.” What about our women conscripts who are captured in such countries?
And, assuming we could change that—assuming the difference were merely one of training—would it be good for society if we can and do conscript women, "unsex" them like Lady MacBeth, and make women as a group more comfortable with violence and killing? A more violent society is perhaps the last thing this world needs.
So to everyone who cares about choice, about sincerely-held religious beliefs, about motherhood and stable families, about healthy babies, about violence against women, please stand against the extension of the draft to women. Feminists, if you believe in choice, fight for your sisters who believe their empowerment is found in being at home with their children. Empower them to keep that choice—even as other women have become empowered to reject it.
#savethemoms #keepthechoice #sheforher #dontdrafttheladies #letladieslive #antidraft