The debate over whether women should also be required to register for Selective Service gained momentum last week. First, high-ranking military officers told Congress that it is the next logical step, and presidential candidates were forced to respond. Then, two congressmen introduced a bill titled “Draft America’s Daughters Act,” which would require registration for all women ages 18-26.
Many of you have asked for my opinion since I’ve been ringing this bell for a while now. So at the risk of becoming someone who cares too much about the issue, here is a review, updates and my thoughts.
Selective Service vs. “The Draft”
As the topic surfaces nationally, there is much confusion about the difference between Selective Service and “the draft.” Even Martha Raddatz, moderating the New Hampshire debate, seemed confused.
“[Americans] register for the draft,” she said to Jeb Bush in the tone of a schoolteacher instructing a child.
Bush quickly corrected her: “We don’t have a draft.”
Bush was right; Raddatz was wrong.
Since 1980, young men have been required to register for Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. If they don’t, they face up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and ineligibility for financial aid and government jobs.
But the government has not enacted a draft, in which they tap into the country’s database of young men, since 1973, making it easy for many people to forget about Selective Service at all.
Unless they have sons.
Why women? Why now?
When asked about the military’s recommendation that women be included in Selective Service, Hillary Clinton said that in order to answer, she needed “to be better informed about why they’re making this recommendation.”
Clinton was likely being coy. Or else she is naive. She knows exactly why the military is making the recommendation: women fought to be eligible for combat roles, and feminists, Clinton included, said that women can and should be able to do anything a man can do. I guess no one realized that true equality would mean that all girls might now face the threat of compulsory military service, as men have for generations.
The purpose of Selective Service is to make a draft fair and equitable among those who can serve in the military. Now that women can serve in combat roles, a draft that does not include them can never be “fair and equitable.” Expect lawsuits if the country enacts a draft from a Selective Service registry that does not include young women.
But not all women want to be in the military.
Neither do all men, and assuming that they do is as sexist as assuming a woman can’t fly fighter jets.
Herein lies the thorny political dilemma for politicians. Taking a side on this issue forces them to reject one of society’s two closely held beliefs: that women can do anything a man can do or that men go off to war to protect the country’s women and children.
If a politician supports the idea that women should have choice — in employment, over their bodies and pregnancies, about maternity leave — they probably don’t like the idea of a woman not having a choice, even in theory, about joining a war.
So where has men’s choice been all these years?
We have fought for women’s choice regarding their bodies and their lives, but apparently men having no choice about joining a war is par for the course of being male.
But … our daughters?
During the most recent Democratic debate, Clinton said, “The idea of having everybody register concerns me a little bit.” She didn’t elaborate on why. Was she thinking about her own daughter? Her granddaughter? Was she imagining what it would be like to love and protect a child for 18 years and then tell her she’s required to sign up for Selective Service or face jail time? Was she thinking about the tough, heartbreaking questions that child might ask about it? Was she realizing what it would feel like to have the government decide the fate, even just in theory, of a child you have birthed, raised and loved?
Certainly she wasn’t thinking that women need to stay home, have babies and raise them. But maybe she was suddenly realizing what mothers like me who have sons have faced since the 1940s?
What makes Clinton’s female relatives, or anyone’s daughters, for that matter, more precious than my three boys?
But it’s not likely we’d have another draft anyway, right?
During the debate, Clinton seemed to hang her lukewarm passion for this on the hope that the draft will never be used anyway.
“I have a hard time imagining the kind of national emergency that would require the use of the Selective Service system,” she said.
Never mind that a presidential candidate should in fact be able to foresee all the worst-case scenarios that would lead to a draft, Clinton’s dismissive reasoning fails to address one thing: so why are our boys still registering, and why are they penalized if they don’t?
Another draft might be a long shot, but the consequences for boys who fail to register are very much real. If women want equality, it’s time they be held to the same standard.