Opening Note: This post is not intended to explore the morality on any level of the draft itself. It is intended to engage with the question of whether the draft should, if employed, be restricted to men only, or include both men and women equally.
I read the Gospel Coalition’s blog, and am often very encouraged and edified by it. Equally, I also often disagree with their posts. Unsurprisingly, many of these posts tend to be on the subject of gender. Usually I just sort of move on, but a recent post by Joe Carter called ‘Will Women Be Forced to Register for the Military Draft?‘ moved me to do more. Not only do I disagree with this particular post, I find it rather insulting, both as a thinker and as a woman. As such, I wanted to post a response to it.
Carter’s argument, if it can be so called, boils down to this:
“A poll taken in 2013 found that nearly sixty percent of Americans believe women should be eligible for the draft. Women favor the draft at a much higher rate than men (61 percent to 35 percent), and Democrats favor the draft much more than Republicans (80 percent to 50 percent). Overall, 59 percent of those polled said women should be drafted.
A likely reason for the increased support is a foolish and historically ignorant belief that the military draft is an outdated institution and will never be used in the future. While the draft has indeed been dormant for forty-two years, it is likely to return during America’s next large-scale conflict. The reason the draft will be needed is obvious: relative to some other nations, the U.S. is woefully lacking in manpower… That is why many people have no qualms about supporting “gender equality” by allowing women to be drafted: It doesn’t affect them directly. They seem to have no concerns about forcing their granddaughters or great-granddaughter to be subjected to the horrors of war. As long as it doesn’t directly affect them, they are allowed to be seen as embracing ‘equality.'”
To summarize, Carter argues that the more likely reason women (and men) support the draft is because we don’t think it will ever be used. Carter can think of no other, perhaps more intellectually honest, reasons for supporting the draft for women than a desire “to be seen as embracing ‘equality'” without consequence (in an anonymous survey, no less?)
For me, two reasons come immediately to mind, although there may certainly be others. The first is that women have thought through the implications of being registered in the draft, and concluded that they find laughable the idea that their sex somehow disqualifies them from wanting to defend– to the death if necessary– what they believe to be valuable and worthwhile. Certainly this is where my own feelings lie. Certainly I imagine I would struggle with many qualms and fears if faced with the harsh reality of defending my values in a contest of the magnitude of war– but I don’t doubt that many of the young men who have in the past been drafted to defend their country felt the exact same qualms and fears I would. Though the women-and-children-first, ‘men at the front lines’ mentality that has been the currency of the patriarchy for centuries upon centuries is deeply ingrained (it’s a huge movie trope, for example), I categorically deny that there is something intrinsic in me that would rather be defended and sacrificed for than to defend and sacrifice. I feel a jealous ferocity rise in me at the idea of my husband or children being attacked, for example, that I defy any man to exceed, and I am confident that my fellow women experience the same feelings.
A second explanation is the notion that women don’t want to be conscripted and do hope that the draft is never employed in their lifetime or that of their daughters, but they nonetheless feel that it is just and necessary that the draft legally include both genders. Even if no noble fire of courage and self-sacrifice kindles in them at the notion of defending their home and country, they acknowledge that their feelings aren’t a good gauge for what is legally just or morally ethical. Thus, while hoping that the draft need not be employed, they still conscientiously believe on an intellectual level that the draft should include both men and women.
However, even if we grant Carter his ill-defended premise that women self-evidently should not be included in the first line of a nation’s defense, that all the men of a country should sacrifice themselves to defend their women, he provides in his own post a defeat of his conclusion that women should thus be excluded from the draft. This defeat lies in the numbers he provides.
“Currently, the armed forces is comprised of about 2 million men and women, both on active duty and in the reserves. The potential pool of draft eligible young men (ages 18-25) on file with the Selective Service is approximately 16 million.
In contrast, China has an available manpower of 750 million—more than twice the entire population of the United States. They also have over 100 million draft eligible men, with nearly 20 million men in China reaching military age every year. Although it has less manpower than China, Russia also has about 45 million men of draft age.
If we were to face either or both of those countries in violent conflict, the draft would need to be implemented in the U.S. on a broad scale. Having already shown that drafting women has popular support and having no legal basis to exclude anyone based on gender, young women would be drafted in numbers equal to young men.”
What Carter is saying here is that the United States currently has an eligible pool of 18 million people, tops, in the event of a war. If that war were with China or Russia, they would be colossally outnumbered. This ‘first line of defense’ of American manpower a jest, then! Refusing to double your available forces is a foolish way of defending your women even if defending your women is acknowledged to be the goal. It strikes me not as noble and self-sacrificing to tell women to stay at home hoping that a military of 18 million will stand up against a military of 850 million, but as blind and self-aggrandizing. If you truly want us to be defended, let us stand beside you. Not all of us will live, but at least we won’t have sat at home watching you be slaughtered in a foolish and misguided attempt at chivalry that ultimately does us no practical good at all.
Summary: A case for being an evangelical who believes in the authority of Scripture and isn’t complementarian.
Recommended By: A rather mixed review on the Gospel Coalition blog. You might not be surprised to learn that I agreed with a lot more of Stackhouse’s points than the TGC blogger…
My Thoughts: I think what I most appreciated about this book was the ‘middle way’ approach Stackhouse takes. He critiques flaws and too-glib arguments in both complementarian and feminist readings of Scripture, and his approach provoked me to take more honest looks at the ‘sticky’ passages regarding the roles of women in Scripture. Although I didn’t always agree with his interpretations– for example, I find a plain reading of Ephesians 5 to be much less supportive of male leadership roles than Stackhouse does even within it’s historical context (a blog subject for another day!)– I appreciate the chance to think critically and consider new perspectives on these passages.
Stackhouse presents the argument that New Testament norms in gender were adapted to their historical context, much in the way the sexual transgression laws of the Old Testament represented not God’s ultimate best standards, but his patience to meet hard-hearted humanity where they were at in their cultural surroundings. This isn’t a particularly ground-breaking argument, but Stackhouse’s approach to it is unique and moderate. His ‘model’ for best synthesizing and understanding the Scripture’s teaching on gender is as follows:
– Principle #1: “That men and women are equal in dignity before God.”
– Principle #2: “Since some things matter more than others, lesser things sometimes must be sacrificed in the interest of the greater. What matters most to God, it seems, is the furtherance of the gospel message.”
-Principle #3: We have “the Christian liberty to give up precisely some of the freedoms won for us in Christ– again, for the sake of a higher good.”
Stackhouse argues that Scripture presents a model of doubleness– affirming certain patriarchal practices and attitudes of the day, while at the same time– sometimes in the same breath– offering a taste, a breath, a reminder of the equality and unity of men and women. Although I don’t always agree with his interpretations or the broader framework he proposes, I think his approach to the task of forming a coherent interpretation from a widely varied body of Scriptural teaching on gender is wise and can be learned from: he is committed to not using ‘pet’ texts from murky passages to support his preconceived views, but instead trying to form a theology that most nearly agrees with the most clear teachings from the broadest passages on the subject. As I work to form a Biblical theology of gender, a task for which I most certainly find myself in flux and often in deep water, I appreciate this wise approach to interpreting, and I pray I can humbly and wisely approach Scripture in a similar way as I work to understand the sometimes-thorny issues surrounding gender and the word of God.
A final point I find very worth considering comes in this quote: “Indeed, as Howard Marhsall pointedly suggests, the very term complementarian may be nonsense: two classes of people are equally capable, but certain leadership roles are reserved to just one of those classes, yet everything else can be done by members of either class– what is ‘complementary’ about that arrangement?” I read this put another way on a blog post (which I’ve unfortunately lost track of since so will have to paraphrase from a very rough memory): “If the positions of pastor and church leader are closed to women by nature of their God-given roles, what positions within the church are correspondingly closed to men? Should men not serve in the nursery? Help with the dishes after a potluck? Offer support and advice to someone making a decision? In what sense do complementarians understand women’s ‘ezer‘ role to be distinct from an man offering their gifts of service and help within the church, such that we could say that man was ‘usurping’ a woman’s role?” Without a coherent answer to this, we are not really discussing women as ‘complementary’, but merely restricted.
*Book linked through my Amazon Affiliates account.
One more post on the Target gender-desegregation hoopla. Because I’m really frustrated and kind of horrified at the things people are saying.* I read this post by Matt Walsh because some of my Facebook friends ‘like’ his page (although I did decide to hide all posts from him in future because I need to live my life not constantly frustrated about this.) Anyways.
When Target makes a decision that allows kids to enjoy whatever toys they are drawn to without feeling as though they are making the ‘wrong’ choice, and a big crowd of people hop onto their Facebook page to tell them they are denying our God-ordained genders, kowtowing to the ‘transbullies’, and leading America further into the ‘depraved’ dark hole it’s already in. GUYS. God didn’t give Adam and Eve each a pile of approved toys. Kids are also not born with any particular proclivity to cars/blocks/actions figures vs. kitchen sets/baby dolls/pink dress up. None of these things are sexual. None of these things are inherently gendered. None of these things are treated in the Bible’s discussion of gender, which instead focuses on things like honour, servant-heartedness, and love. Those are things I can do and be while moving heavy rocks to build a wall for my garden– so why not a little girl playing with construction toys? Those are things my husband can do and be while cuddling our little boy before bedtime and singing him a lullaby– so why not a little boy playing with a doll? These were things Jesus exemplified while heading up a bread and fish meal for a big crowd– so why not a little boy playing kitchen?
What I’m getting at is, when you’re upset about the breakdown of gender divides that do not exist in any way, shape, or form in the Bible, and invoking God to do it, you’re doing it wrong. You’re gypping a bunch of kids in the process. It hurts nobody to let kids like what they like without judgement. It will help kids, to feel free to explore and learn with a broader range of toys and games. It will help kids by letting them feel more confident in their choices and preferences. Putting extra-Biblical rules and restraints on little children is exactly the sort of thing the Bible frowns very strongly on. Unlike letting your daughter play with Avengers action figures and your son wear fairy wings, on which subject the Bible is utterly silent.
(Or maybe I just read the headline wrong, and Target actually replaced its whole toy section with a squad of evil child-corruptors handing out sexual literature? No? Then let me close with this handy flowchart:)
Oh, and one final good moment. At the end of the film, the lactating mothers you saw at the beginning, they ones who just felt like props establishing the place of women in this society as, like, human cows? They’re the ones who step out and open the water gates. They are not things, either.
“…not that every woman is, in virtue of her sex, as strong, clever, artistic, level-headed, industrious and so forth as any man that can be mentioned; but, that a woman is just as much an ordinary human being as a man, with the same individual preferences, and with just as much right to the tastes and preferences of an individual. What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person.”
Dorothy Sayers hitting it out of the park.
If you’ve not yet heard the news about Rodger’s shooting spree and the misogyny that spurred it on, you can read about it here. It gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. A chilling statement like “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it,” followed by a killing spree– it’s just an isolated incident from a deviantly violent man, right?
Maybe. It comes awfully close on the heels of Maren Sanchez’s tragic stabbing death at the hands of a fellow student who she didn’t want to go to prom with. Following that incident, I had been thinking about the role TV advertisers played in that death. I’ve heard or seen it said many times when someone’s pointing out the sexism or stereotypes in advertising– “Advertisers just give people what they want to see. They just use what sells.”
But what if they’re selling death?
How many thousands of TV commercials have aired that equate masculinity with irresistibility? The man at the bar drinking the right beer with a woman on either arm, so enthralled with his manliness that they don’t mind only getting half his attention. The man with the right aftershave who turns the head of every bikini-clad supermodel on the beach. Use our products, advertisers whisper, and you won’t even have to ask. Women will be falling over themselves to get into bed with you. You’ll be rugged, have that perfect five o’clock shadows, the body of a movie star, and if you have that and our product, what woman could resist you? The perfect man– irresistible.
In a media-saturated society, many men hear this message over and over, day after day, from so many different sources. It’s not surprising if some of them take it deeply to heart. And if manliness equals irresistibility, what does it mean when you’re not irresistible? The implication is that a rejection at the hands of a woman has nothing to do with personal incompatibility, or that she’s not interested in a relationship right now, or any other logical reason why a woman might not want to be with a man. The implication is that she’s emasculating you. Because if you were a “real” man, she wouldn’t stand a chance. Her petty female personal preferences would be swept away in the face of “real” manliness.
Couple that with a movie culture that marries manliness with tough-guy violence, and even if all the advertisers intended was to sell some aftershave, they are contributing to a swirling pot of misogynistic violence against women who dare to turn down men.* We cannot afford to think it’s okay to just “use what sells”, we cannot ignore this stereotype, when the side effect is women being killed.
*Although the extreme violence in the above cases is thankfully more rare, street harassment “rejections” are often met with the same breed of aggressive disdain for women who aren’t interested in the catcaller.