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Jewish World Review Nov. 14, 2001/ 28 Mar-Cheshvan 5762

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Gender equality isn't a fair question in war --
NO American war is complete without the Gender Equality Question: Should women be drafted? I feel like filling my remaining column space with "blah blah blah" and taking the rest of the day off. Haven't we figured this one out yet?

Apparently not. Angry men weary of being feminized want women, specifically members of NOW (National Organization for Women), to be on the front lines. And feminist-equality advocates, such as columnist Anna Quindlen, think their daughters, not just their sons, should have to register with the Selective Service for a possible draft.

Writing in Newsweek recently, Quindlen decried the usual anachronistic arguments against drafting women for military duty: that women would spoil esprit de corps, aren't physically strong enough, would distract male soldiers and would get raped as prisoners of war. It's only fair, she said.

Never mind that all of these arguments happen to be true - though admittedly, some women are less distracting than others - it is simplistic to suggest that failing to draft women is "unfair." To whom, our enemies? You can imagine the Taliban's response: "By all means, send us your women. We love shooting women!"

The reason women aren't required to register with the Selective Service is because the purpose of a draft, as currently conceived, is to create a combat-ready force. Since women aren't permitted to fight in direct combat, a female draft is irrelevant.

Quindlen argues that women served in the Persian Gulf and that even now female pilots are dropping bombs on Afghanistan. In other words, girls should be required to sign up. But there's a difference between dropping bombs from an airplane, where quick reflexes and mental dexterity are the soldier's tools, and navigating rugged terrain carrying heavy packs, guns and ammo.

On the other hand - and this may be what Quindlen meant but didn't say - there are lots of important non-combat roles women can play in service to their country. So maybe the question needs to be rephrased and the purpose of the draft redefined.

If the draft were reconceived to create a smarter, not necessarily combat force, then women should be included. That's fair because in non-combat roles, most men and most women are more or less equal. In demanding physical contests, with rare exceptions they're not. Thus, pitting women against men in battle is not "fair."

I was chatting a few days ago with one of my son's teachers, a young woman in her late 20s. She recently had watched "Saving Private Ryan" and, in the context of our current war, she said, "I don't think I could do that. I mean, what about all those days when you've got, you know, PMS?"

We laughed, but it's not really funny. Of course, we don't like to mention the unmentionable in these discussions. Suggesting that a woman's menstrual cycle might interfere with good soldiering will get you strafed by the feminist phalange, but honest women and men who live with women know better. Biology matters.

Fundamentally, the gender equality question is misplaced in wartime, and we run the risk of being stupider than usual if we aren't vigilant. It's too easy to embrace the argument that because women and men have reached parity in other institutions, they should be treated equally by the military. It's too easy to suggest, as Quindlen does, that military inequality is tantamount to embracing the Taliban's codification of gender fear and ignorance.

The truth is that men and women, though equal under the law, are not the same. Can you believe I have to explain this? My brother and I were from the same litter and were reared under the same household laws, but we weren't, I promise, the same. He was a big, mean, fighting-machine Marine who found Vietnam rather relaxing compared with home; I was a twig-sized girl with a propensity for rescuing insects, and I wouldn't have lasted a day in combat.

Fairness, meanwhile, means divesting oneself of personal interest (feminist theory) and considering the larger picture (staying alive). If we want a combat-ready military force capable of meting out justice to bin Laden and the Taliban, let's leave Britney, Kimberly and Muggins at home.

Not that we really have to concern ourselves. Were Congress to enact a female draft, the post-World War II baby boom would look like a puddle next to the ensuing obstetrical tsunami. America suddenly would be awash in single, 18-year-old mothers.

Biology not only matters, it rules; and pregnant women don't do war very well.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.

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