The Thinking 

Not in the Military but for the Military

October 15, 2012


MARY M. writes:

There are traditional ways for patriotic women to support the military without joining. Somehow those traditional forms of support have been forgotten or demeaned in the rush to push women into combat.

I have been a very active volunteer with the USO at center where members of the military can come and get a ‘taste of home.’ Home-baked cookies, sandwiches and a friendly face in civilian clothes who is happy to talk. This kind of break from the rigors of military life is very welcome by many in the military. It is a way that a traditional women can show her patriotism and support for the military while still staying true to her beliefs.

For those who may not be able to volunteer with the USO they can always write letters and send care packages to the troops. Most who I have spoken to in the military (hundreds, if not thousands over the years) truly appreciate the connection to the civilian world that volunteering women can offer. It’s a shame that type of volunteer work is no longer celebrated as it once was in our society as an important part of the war effort.

Laura writes:

Now, a feminist would say, there’s no reason women can’t volunteer too. Both should be celebrated — the female soldier and the female volunteer.

But the truth is, they are mutually exclusive ideals. The female volunteer is acting in a supportive feminine role. The female soldier is imitating a man. To uphold one model is necessarily to deprecate the other.

There is no neutral position between feminism and femininity.

—— Comments —–

Marilyn writes:

I know I’m not exactly your normal readership, but I have to say I don’t quite understand this post. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, and maybe it’s because I don’t ascribe to your idea (and I could be wrong in my understanding here) that all women should stay home, get married, and have babies and all men should go out to work. That said though, I don’t see why some women can’t be in the military and some volunteer. Every woman (and every man) has strengths and weakness (it seems to me in my admittedly limited experience anyway) and thus there are women who want to take on each of those roles.

I’ll be honest that I don’t know any women who want to be in the military (that said, I don’t know any men who want to/are in the military either) and that could very well be a Canadian thing since our military is obviously smaller than the US one. I just don’t see why there can’t be respect for both roles. Perhaps it is because I consider myself a feminist that I think the woman soldier and the woman volunteer deserve my respect. I also don’t think a working woman (what you label imitating a man if I’m correct – you could just be talking about soldiers though) and a housewife/stay at home mom/whichever alternate term you prefer deserve any difference in respect.

I know that if soldier or volunteer were my only options I would choose volunteer – I would rather make cookies for the troops than risk my life. I am thankful for the men and women that ‘protect’ my country (although, really, it’s not likely anyone is going to attack Canada) and I’m thankful for the men and women of the U.S. military as well, but it is certainly not a job I could ever do. However, I don’t see why you must malign the women who do want to and are capable of risking their lives (not that anyone is technically incapable of risking their life) protecting your country and mine.

 Laura writes:

I’ve never expressed the view that all women should stay home and have children, though if such a thing were possible, it wouldn’t be a horrendous nightmare, given that children are at least as interesting as most jobs, no culture survives without responsible care of the next generation and child-rearing is a noble undertaking. But your question is, why isn’t it possible to uphold and promote the female soldier and the solicitous female volunteer at the same time?

My answer is that society cannot — and does not — promote contradictory values. It always chooses and promotes its most important values, however much it may provide token support for secondary values. Aggression — and being a soldier absolutely requires aggression — is at odds with feminine virtues. It is not easy for any human being, no matter how superhuman, to be both a trained aggressor and a mother or both a trained aggressor and a tender wife or both a trained aggressor and a Florence Nightingale. A society that is comfortable with and enthusiastic about women trained in aggression is unable to support confidently the values that go into marriage, maternal nurturance and the feminine tenderness that provides a necessary and vital counterbalance to masculine dynamism. The diminished birthrate, the high incidence of divorce and illegitimacy, and the mass relinquishment of child care to state institutions in our era are evidence of this. Note the lack of pieces in the mainstream media lamenting the loss of female volunteers such as those Mary M. mentions. Have you heard of any governmental commissions studying the decline of the female volunteer? Have you heard or read of any recent U.S. president stopping to take note of the female volunteer in the same way that recent presidents have hailed the female combatant?  Do you honestly believe that our nation is equally supporting these two roles? I am confident that you do see many articles about the need for equality in the military and the importance of female soldiers. One of these ideals is relentlessly promoted. The other is forgotten. That’s because they are utterly at odds.

A society that considers women able to assume the role of military aggressors cannot appreciate the distinctive role of mothers and wives or the roles of men as men. There is reason to believe, as a commenter notes here, that the vast majority of women do not join the military out of patriotism but instead join it out of careerism or economic need. Of course, many men don’t join out of pure patriotism either. However, men innately possess a greater desire than women to fight for and protect others. Men want to do this. Women don’t want it in the same way. Surveys of military women show that most prefer to work in support roles. The greater predilection of men for combat has been true for as long as human history has been recorded. Women, also are, by all objective standards, physically weaker than men and even the strongest female soldiers are inferior physically to the weakest male soldiers, as has been documented on military physical entrance tests. And when men and women fight side by side, men will instinctively seek to protect women.

The purpose of a military force is not to make people feel good. The purpose of an army is to defend a nation. While women can serve a valuable support role, no country serious about its defense or serious about social order and its future promotes the ideal of the female soldier. Of course, that doesn’t mean women would ever be totally absent from military operations. Such a thing is unthinkable and unpractical. But as it is now, as Capt. Kevin Eyer points out, the U.S. Navy is turning away many men in favor of women. It must, given the propensity of women to drop out, take in disproportionately more women in the hopes of getting some to rise to the top. Purely because of an ideology of equality, the Navy discriminates in favor of women.

I would also note that in none of the large scale successful military operations of Western history did female combatants play a decisive role.

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