Sunday, June 26, 2005

Women and the Front Lines

In a lead article this morning in the NYT --discussing yet another pair of suicide bombers and insurgent violence--the AP reports:

The lethal ambush on a convoy carrying female U.S. troops in Fallujah underscored the difficulties of keeping women away from the front lines in a war where such boundaries are far from clear-cut. At least one woman was killed, and 11 of the 13 wounded troops were female.

Why did this make me pause? Interrupt my casual Sunday paper reading? Because, I find it odd that we have some sort of intent or policy to keep women from the front lines. While the death of several women is horrific, and, while I don't support this war, nor have I ever supported this war, I am bewildered by recent efforts to keep women from the front lines (see this Washington Post article from May 18th).

Many may wonder why I--Ms. Melancholic Feminista--oppose any efforts to restrict where women can fight. You might think that my opposition to the war, of course, leads me to oppose women from fighting in the front lines of the war. But, these are two separate issues (1) Is the War Just? and (2) Should women be fighting on the front lines?

The fact that it is hard to tell, exactly, where the front lines are is irrelevant.

[However, I cannot help but point out how much this report of suicide blasts seems to fly in the face of Rumsfeld's insistence that this is not a guerilla war:

Mr. Rumsfeld said he does not view the ongoing, low-level conflict in Iraq as either a guerrilla war or an endless "quagmire," like Vietnam.
Attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq are more like terrorist attacks being carried out by criminals, foreign terrorists and officials from the ousted government of Saddam Hussein, he said.

I am clearly not subtle enough in thougt to understand the differences here.]

So, I do think it is a violation of liberty to tell women that they are not allowed to carry out their job, which is to fight this "war." If these women want to be in the military and have willingly accepted the risks and responsibilities, to deny them the front lines is simply wrong. Where does it come from? Well, no doubt some outdated views of womanhood, i.e. that women should not be exposed to danger, harmed, or expected to be able to defend themselves. Yes, the cult of femininity has returned to keep women in their place.

What I also find objectionable to this sort of effort is that it ultimately will work against women gaining further freedoms in this country. History teaches us, over and over again, that when soilders fight bloody wars, governments--at least democratic ones like Ancient Greece or the Civil War--cannot deny these soilders the right to vote, or full participation in the society. Democracy, many argue, resulted from cheaper materials for battle, allowing more men to fight. Once men have fought for their country, it becomes difficult to deny them participation. Likewise, the right to vote was extended to African Americans after the Civil War, in part because they fought for the Union. Lasty, the women's suffrage movement was born from the Civil War, because of their own wartime participation (an nurses, etc.). Granted, women already have the right to vote, but certainly we do not have full equality. In particular, we are less and less certain that women are autonomous agents (as recent legislation restricting women's reproductive rights demonstrates). Yet, if women are fighting this war alongside the men, it becomes much more difficult to characterize them as incapable of autonomy (that is, dependent on men to protect them and to make decisions for them). And, I think, in my cynical way, that this is why the House brought forward a bill to ban women from fighting in the front lines.

What do you all think?