Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More on Women on the Front Lines

Both Jill at Feministe and Vanessa at feministing commented on this Sunday Times article on the female casualties of the Iraq war. I have always been interested in the issue of women soldiers, because it is one of those classic examples brought up, now and historically, for why men and women could never be equal. Much like the bloody posters of miscarried fetuses that pro-life fanatics parade around abortion clinics, Phyllis Schlafly invoked the horrible specter of the female soldier in combat to defeat the ERA. Despite the fact that the ERA was defeated during the Reagan era and that many Republican politician would still like to keep women out of combat, women are in combat in Iraq. Women are also coming back in body bags, and the American public seems fully capable of stomaching this reality.

What I have argued before is that keeping women out of combat is a way to continue justifying female oppression. If we learn anything from the birth of democracy in Ancient Greece, once farmers and merchants were able, thanks to cheaper battlefield garb and weapons, to fight, the aristocrats had little hope of denying them political voice. If you die for your country, it's difficult to deny you full equality under the law.

But, I think the most interesting thing to ponder from this NYT piece is exactly what Vanessa zeroed in on:

A whole crop of veterans are suffering from post-traumatic stress and lost limbs, circumstances that sometimes prove more difficult for women who often fill the role of nurturers to their families.(my emphasis)

While many opposed to women on the front lines will assuredly use this evidence to further their cause, what it really reveals to me is the real tragedy of any war, and more, specifically the ease with which we dispose of men. We take it as axiomatic that part of what men should do is risk life and limb in war, even if it means that should he live, he will never be the same again. We don't expect fathers to take an important and valuable role in families, but rather expect that women should do that work of nurturing. This is a mistake, one that both Steve and I already argued that feminism corrects.

If we are concerned that women's PTSD is harming families, we should be equally concerned that men's PTSD is.