The right to fight has itself been a well-fought battle
By Ellen Snortland 02/07/2013
“Do feminists really feel that women should be on the front lines of combat?” asked my friend, who isn’t sure about how he feels about the subject. Ambivalence is rampant as we all picture our mothers, daughters, sisters, granddaughters and nieces mired in sweat and blood.
First of all, there is no “official position” for feminists on anything. There is no Pope of Women, no Pope Ellen the III residing in some Vaginal City, surrounded by sacked and commissioned works of world-class art. I am, alas, fallible. There are no papal decrees and no “correct” feminist line, not even darling little red shoes for her little papist feet. (And who doesn’t love red shoes, really?) Feminism is as individual, in many ways, as the women and men who have the gonads to call themselves feminists.
It is not easy to dub oneself a “feminist,” since the term has been so adulterated, convoluted and polluted by the mainstream press. When someone uses the label feminist, the interpretation can range from “you baby killing, family destroying witch” to “you civil rights hero” and everything in between. The only other PR hatchet job on a word that has been as successful and insidious is the demonization of the moniker “liberal.” But I digress.
My answer to the combat question is that, as a liberal feminist, I’m ambivalent as well. I don’t want men in combat, so why would I want women to be maimed or die for their country? But I’m not a pacifist. The late, great Jeannette Rankin of Montana was the only person in Congress to vote against EVERY war, even including the so-called “good” war: World War II. Rankin I ain’t. I want an effective military until we all lay down arms. And to have an effective military, I want the brains of a lot of women in top positions. Not just token women; I want there to be enough women to have them be represented in ALL of their various views and life experiences. I am not ambivalent about wanting the genius and skills of women in all aspects of life and living in the modern world.
To have it otherwise is to have one more excuse to exclude people based on gender from their pursuit of whatever dream they might have; if a little girl dreams of becoming a soldier, and then a general, then why would I support policies that prevent that dream from ever coming true? Similarly, why would I back a policy that disallows boys from dreaming of being the “at-home” parent in a family?
The whole notion of combat has shifted. For decades, movies featuring combat scenes showed opposing battalions of infantry squaring off with their various weapons (swords, muskets, light sabers) or hand-to-hand fighting, where upper-body strength has an advantage. That rarely happens anymore, and the superiority of brawn over brain is largely anachronistic.
I want more people in the military with the obsessive drive and attention to detail of Carrie Mathison from “Homeland” or Maya from “Zero Dark Thirty.” Is obsession a gendered talent? Who knows, but the country was better off for it in each case, both fictional and real. Regarding “Homeland” and gender, you can see how much intelligence a woman can gather from other women, especially within gender-segregated societies. In one episode, Carrie did not need to employ torture to get information from an abused wife about her cruel terrorist husband.
Do I think women are better than men? Or saints? Nope. They are just as profoundly human as their brothers, but I want the sisters to have the quality and quantity of opportunity their brothers have.
There have always been women in war, as refugees, victims and as active, courageous participants: the cross-dressing women who were better at fighting than staying at home, distinguished, promoted and decorated … and finally discovered to be women only after their deaths; the camp followers, nurses, prostitutes, laundry women and servants. They were allowed to die; they simply weren’t allowed to make any decisions.
The anonymous quote, “No Guts, No Glory,” doesn’t apply to women; they had only guts and no glory. The open acceptance of women in all parts of the military is a way to get some glory for the already integral work they do for our country.
That all said, I’m sick of military force as the first, rather than last, approach. I long for sanity, diplomacy and leaving civilians out of the tragic mess of war. Women and child non-combatants are the primary victims of war and post-war, but women are largely missing from the negotiating tables that broker peace! My dream is that “feet on the ground” female soldiers will help end the gender apartheid that currently exists in times of war and of peace.
Finally, we need not protect women from matters of blood. Up until the turn of the last century, childbirth was frequently fatal, as it continues to be in way too many countries around the world. We are not sissies when it comes to life and death, and never have been.
Ms. Snortland teaches writing in Altadena. Reach her at snortland.com. At 2 p.m. Saturday, she will be performing in a solo show, “Now That She’s Gone,” at Backstage at the Coffee Gallery, 2029 N. Lake Ave., Altadena. Tickets are $15 at the door or can be purchased online at http://tinyurl.com/CG-02-2013.