I am a loud and proud feminist. I make my voice heard when I know it is most needed. For many years, I thought feminism required men and women to be treated exactly the same. In my mind, if I were to believe in equal treatment, I had to fight against every stupid joke. And most stupid jokes were made by cis men about how sexism actually helped me because I could never get drafted. I lied through my teeth – if there is a draft, I’d be more than willing to be part of it. After all, the violence the army demands its members to enact can be done just as successfully by women.
As my feminism has grown and evolved, I learned I did not have to lie through my teeth – feminism never demanded that I support a violent government-run institution. Not supporting the conscription for anyone allows me to have a stronger, more intersectional feminist approach to the debate, all while standing by my pacifist values.
Conscription: a short history
One of the leaders of the suffrage movement was an alum of my alma mater, Alice Paul. She was a quaker and fought for the right to vote for women. One of the foundational pillars of her fight was pacifism. In the 60s and 70s, Barbara Deming, a prominent feminist, used pacifism to guide her strategy and fight against oppression. Taking a step back, feminism has always had an undercurrent of pacifism and has historically been against the military. In fact, feminist critique has often been applied to the military industrial complex to show it is an overtly white, cisgender, heterosexual, and male-dominated institution that promotes “a destructive [form] of power.”
In 1975, the Vietnam War and the national conscription both met their end. However, a few years later, President Carter reinstated it, wanting to prove prepared as the Soviets started war in Afghanistan. Carter’s proposal included women and men, but Congress shrunk it to only include men. This immediately led to court appeals by various groups, arguing the draft was unconstitutional and inherently sexist. Feminist groups varied in their reactions. Some groups argued that conscription had to include women in order to be equal. Other groups argued the draft should simply not exist. Today, the draft remains restricted to men. Meanwhile, feminist groups have increasingly argued for canceling it entirely.
The debate explained
On its face, including women in the draft seems like the obvious right answer. That would be equal treatment under the law. However, that argument begins with the assumption that the draft is fair and should exist. Does gender equality matter if everyone is then forced to blindly follow rules from higher-ups? Feminists know that women are capable of being soldiers – they can pull a trigger just as well as anyone else. However, anyone who does so should only do it based on their own willingness and decision to do so. Feminism depends on the idea that we can make our own decision, of our own volition. A draft would stand completely against that core value.
A less voiced, but intuitively sound argument, is that the military decreases differences between people by demanding the same uniform from everyone. This means that women will not be sexualized in this line of work because they are wearing the standard uniform. Again, the assumption this stems from is incorrect. Regardless of what a woman is wearing, she can and will be sexualized. The problem is not, and never has been, the clothing on her body. It has always been the power structure and pervasive sexism that allow sexualization to occur at such a high rate.
Conscription in a man’s world
Conscription is a violation of our basic rights as American citizens. It demands that we give up our lives, dreams, and futures for our country. This sacrifice is made for wars that are started by governments primarily led by men, for resources and goals mainly made for men.
The men who argue the draft is sexist are not often feminists. The leaders of ‘men’s rights groups,’ such as the National Coalition for Men, tend to oppose other laws meant to bolster equality, such as the Equal Rights Amendment or the Violence Against Women Act. Their idea of equality is rooted in their perceived idea of inequality – if they have to die for this country, so do you. But what if no one was forced to die for this country? What if, instead of implementing and demanding a draft, armies were only filled with people who voluntarily want to be there? What if no draft existed?
In Norway, women are part of the national conscription. However, the Norweigian Association for Women’s Rights (NKF), does not support this legislation. Their argument is two-fold – firstly, women have different problems and realities to face than men. They make less money, own less property, and have smaller pensions. Women are also the primary caregivers according to the current structure of society, and partially thanks to biology. To give them the additional burden of the draft is to impose a new demand on their lives, making their lives much harder, in ways men cannot understand.
On the other hand, they argue that equality means more than just incorporating women into a world made for men. Equality means giving women just as much access and power to mold society as men have for millennia. Over the past several decades, the role of women has changed dramatically in comparison to the role of men. The value of ‘male’ work gained strength, while the value of ‘women’ work gained weakness. The role of women is still massively important. Therefore, the first step to achieve real equality lies in transforming the understanding of women’s roles.
Get rid of the draft
In the feminist zeal to bring forth equality, there was too much of a push to become part of the oppressive system enforced by white, cisgender, heterosexual men. The white feminist movements of the past that declared themselves victorious did not have the berth necessary to create real, inclusive change. Now we face the consequences.
Inequality continues to grow, and the superficial, flimsy belief that women ought to be part of the draft is yet another call to widen that inequality. We need to call upon the intersectional feminist theory and listen to non-white activists who are at the forefront of the fight to establish a nonviolent, inclusive society. Making conscription gender inclusive does not bring the feminist fight forward, but rather stands to impede it from growing.
Get rid of the draft – no one actually wants it.