The Republican Party war on women was reaffirmed last week as Tea Party officials and spokesmen came out to condemn the Pentagon’s plan to allow women into combat. By the end of the day on which the Pentagon announcement was made, Tea Baggers pretty much went full-Jihad against the idea of women in combat, making it clear that their Fundagelical religious beliefs are exactly in step with al Qaeda and our Saudi Arabian royal family allies on this issue.
The parallels between the Tea Bagger’s arguments and Moslem fundamentalist arguments were striking. But equally disturbing were the more sane-sounding claims by pseudo- intellectual voices.
Tea Bag “intellectual”, Kingsley Browne, a professor at Wayne State University, took to the airwaves after the Pentagon announcement to condemn the idea of women in combat. ‘Unit Cohesion’ will be destroyed by allowing women into combat, he said. Men in combat need to be able to trust their buddies. They need to be confident that the man beside them is able to do the job, and willing to do the job. Putting women into such combat situations will lead men to distrust their compatriots.
For those who have forgotten, Professor Browne is repeating claims that were stridently advanced against the decisions to racially integrate military units. At least with racial segregation, a professor could concoct a plausible argument. After all, black soldiers come from a long tradition of oppression. And a large percentage of white soldiers are drawn from the least educated rural areas of the South, having grown up believing in white supremacy. Such soldiers have a pretty rational basis for wondering how much they should trust the black soldier beside them, knowing that that soldier has experienced the hostility the white soldier has to the black soldiers’ equality.
But racial integration has not diminished our fighting forces. Black officers have proven their ability to rise to the highest levels, without affirmative action, solely on proving that they are as good as the best West Point graduates. And black soldiers have proven themselves through such wars as Korea and Vietnam, where the white majority and southern white officers continued to refuse to acknowledge their equal abilities and rights.
Professor Browne’s anti-integration argument has been used more recently against integrating gays into the military. This argument is closer to the anti-women argument than to the anti-black argument. This argument focuses on sex and on a denial of modern reality.
The modern reality is that women are in combat now, and have been for years. Similarly, gays have been in the military, and in combat for as long as there have been armies and navies. As a man who built a legal career representing employers who wanted to break unions, deprive workers of fair pay, safe workplaces and equal treatment, professor Browne has a deep commitment to crafting arguments that justify discrimination and pretend that it is justified by some fantasy situations.
But women are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, just like gays. And they are getting wounded, just like gays. And they are getting killed just like gays. We have learned that gays will fight just as hard to stay alive, to survive, in war as any man will. We have seen reports that women will keep on fighting, after being wounded, to protect themselves and their comrades in the field.
Professor Browne’s real argument is not that women shouldn’t be in combat, but rather that we shouldn’t acknowledge the reality of their work and of the risks they work under. We should treat them with the same denial that corporations use for workers in hazardous conditions. We should deny them any recognition that might lead to justification for better conditions, career advancement, or higher pay. Just as we do with so many workers.
Another ‘problem’ identified with women in combat is the distraction they “necessarily” cause for the men in their units. This is an argument on which U.S. fundagelicals and Islamic fundamentalists agree entirely. Fundamentalists believe that all men suffer from sexual weaknesses. They believe that men can’t, and shouldn’t be required to, control their sexual desires while on the job.
The clearest expression of this belief is the requirement that women wear burkas, the full body covering that hides women from men’s view. The underlying concept is that the mere sight of an exposed ankle, wrist or frown can drive even a devout, god-fearing man to abandon all his civilized impulses and become a marauding rapist. It is, in this conception, women’s responsibility to preserve the fragile man’s tenuous grasp on civilization.
It is the same concept that argues that women can’t be allowed in fighting units in our military, because they would be responsible for all sort of uncontrolled misconduct by men. That’s right – the women would be responsible for driving the men to misconduct. Just as women who dress ‘inappropriately’ invite rape. Women who walk alone cause any attack they suffer. Men just can’t be trained or disciplined enough to make foxholes safe for women.
This is, of course, standard corporatism. Blame the victims for being victims. Consumers who buy adulterated foods are responsible for any illness they suffer, because they should have avoided buying tainted products. Children who are burned by flammable pajamas should have refrained from wearing them.
Never blame the company that adulterated the food. Never blame the company that marketed flammable pajamas, or cell phones that spontaneously ignite, for selling unsafe products. And never blame a male soldier for abandoning his post and his duties to molest a woman assigned to his unit. When men attack women, it’s the women’s fault.
The men who see women as the protectors of civilization are also men who don’t want women to be educated, to vote, or to control their own health care decisions. And it is a view espoused by Islamic fundamentalists, like our clients who rule Saudi Arabia, under our military protection, and Southern Baptists who worship the flowers of southern womanhood, and then deny women the right to preach.
It’s an interesting concept, but not the one really at the root of objections to women being “allowed” into combat role. The reality is that women are currently being forced into combat roles. Our military news regularly reports on women in front line combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. In her film praising torture and pretending that it works, Kathryn Bigelow reminds us that women are in the front lines of our ‘intelligence’ wars.
The opposition to the Pentagon’s announcement is not opposition to the reality of women fighting and dying. Rather, the opposition is to any official acknowledgement of such work, and to any recognition of the contribution of the women. This is fantasy thinking – if we don’t recognize that it exists then it won’t exist. This is drawn straight from the fantasy economics of Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan. If we pretend that management does all the work, and deny the contributions of workers, then the actual work of workers won’t be real and we can ignore it and them.
The people who make this kind of arguments want to drive cars, but not acknowledge the workers who design, build and maintain them or the roads they drive on. They want to take the profits from selling tires, spark plugs and gasoline, without paying the workers who design and build those things. Such ‘thinkers’ are the real “takers” who want to oppress the real “makers”.
And now they want to have women doing the dirty work of their colonial wars for control of other peoples’ natural resources, without acknowledging or paying the women for their efforts. They want the benefits of the wars, but they don’t want to pay the costs of those wars. And as with all previous efforts, including their efforts to reduce veteran’s health care benefits during the Iraq war, their efforts now to limit their costs focus on those with the least political clout to defend themselves.
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