Thursday, May 19, 2005

Women in combat

I was listening to NPR on the way into work this morning, and I heard a piece on a small amendment proposed in the House of Representatives a few days ago. It was proposed by John McHugh (R-NY), and backed by Duncan Hunter (R-CA), House Armed Services Committee Chairman. This amendment would ban women from serving in combat support companies, basically, starting with its implementation. Women already serving in combat support capacities would not be removed, but no new women would be allowed into those positions.

As you could probably guess, I'm against this provision. Hunter says, "The American people have never wanted to have women in combat and this reaffirms that policy," but I'm a little loath to let this guy speak for all American people. But I don't want to talk about the specifics here so much as deconstruct what's going on behind this bill.

The way I see it, McHugh and Hunter have at least one, maybe both, of two reasons for proposing this measure.

  1. Women are inferior to men and must therefore be protected legislatively from harm.
  2. Women are inferior to men and are therefore endangering our troops when in combat positions, and our troops must therefore be protedted from women.
Both are condescending to the extreme. The first is paternalistic, assuming that all women need somehow to be saved from being put in harm's way. The second is antagonistic, and I think that women in combat (and the people who they've supported) would probably beg to differ. The only other option I could possibly think of is really a sub-option of reason one. Perhaps McHugh and Hunter think that women should be protected from the potential crudity and condescension of the average male soldier. I'm not trying to say anything bad about the soldiers; only that they can be quite crass in their language, and perhaps condescending toward women in their units.

I could go on about women's rights, but I won't. I don't think this is about that. I think it's about people. If we start legislating to force unwanted protections on people, we're setting a dangerous precedent. This legislation is condescending, as I said, and unnecessary. It's opposed pretty roundly by Army leaders as well as by Democrats, so it's unlikely to pass, but it's still troubling that it got out of the committee.