White House petition asks that women be required to register for Selective Service

My feminist writing persona, whose name is Sylvia D. Lucas, exists only because I had already tried creating a slot for my real name, Kristen Tsetsi, in the world of fiction. They say you’re supposed to brand yourself, and the two didn’t necessarily mesh. But now,  as a professional newspaper writer using my real name, and as someone who plans to write a very feminist column for that paper, the two names are merging.

The subject of the column was going to be women and the draft. Rather, that the draft has no impact on women whatsoever (unless you count how they’ll feel about losing their menfolk). Once I started thinking about how the Selective Service registry doesn’t require women to sign up, it started to bother me. I couldn’t get the unjustness of it out of my mind. So I created a WhiteHouse.gov petition asking that women be required to register for Selective Service.

In an effort to emphasize that I don’t consider this a small issue, I enlisted the help of a feminist blogger, incidentally one of the first to sign the petition, and one of the ways she’s helping me is by using the following interview as the foundation for an upcoming blog post. I thought about writing a blog-blog, an essay, here, but in a way, the interview is an essay; it’s just in a Q&A format. 

My husband is military, but I’m not. Nor do I want to be. But that doesn’t mean I – or any other able-bodied woman – shouldn’t be called to serve if our country is under attack, and the interview – which I kind of see as one taking place between my two writing-selves – explains why.

Why did you start thinking about the issue of women and the Selective Service?

My husband (who’s in the military) and I were discussing an argument that was taking place online (“Somebody’s wrong on the Internet!”) about whether women should be allowed to fly Special Forces helicopters. That led to a conversation about what duties might be involved (neither of us has experience in that area, so we were just imagining), and then—probably because I was getting angry with people who believe women don’t belong in the military, period—I thought about the draft, and how it only applies to men. And it occurred to me that women have been fighting for some time to be considered not just viable, but valuable, military assets, but that we have absolutely no obligation to serve if the country comes calling. It made me feel…bad. Hypocritical. Like all of my “Anything you can do, we can do” rhetoric felt hollow now that this disparity, one I’d once given little thought, became clearer and clearer to me as absolutely unacceptable. And it’s funny—as soon as it’s introduced and dealt with seriously, I can’t imagine women’s absence from the SS registry not being the elephant in the room in any conversation about women in the military.

Many women don’t want to be in the military, don’t feel prepared for it, and certainly don’t want to go to war.

I don’t want to join the military, either. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be drafted to go to war. But many men feel the same way, and they still have to go.

Why should women be required to register for the Selective Service?

It seems the thrust of feminism, in conjunction with being treated equally, is to be taken seriously.

President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law in June 1948, permitting women to serve as permanent, regular members of the military. And that’s wonderful. Yay! We can join!

But it’s been over 64 years since we started dipping our toes in the military pool. Until we’re also eligible for the draft, we – not female individuals, but our sex as a whole – continue to have the luxury of treating the military like camp. We can join if we want to, but if there’s a national crisis and the draft is reinstated, we can also back-peddle and say, “Oh, not me. I’m just a girl,” while our country’s men wait anxiously for their number to be drawn.

If I’m relatively fit, physically, and if I’m capable of being trained—if I have something to offer and could be of some value if the military needed me – why should I have the option to say “No, thanks” when men don’t have that option? Because I have a vagina? Because I’m a girl? It doesn’t feel right, especially not when feminism is, by definition, in direct opposition to someone else saying, “You’re just a girl.” That’s exactly what we’re fighting against when we say women should be in the military, when we argue that they should have more combat roles.

But women are already taken seriously as service members. They don’t need to be required to register for Selective Service for that.

It seems that way until you replace women with anyone else in the military. Can you imagine what the reaction would have been upon the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell if an addendum stipulated that gay service members wouldn’t be required to register for the draft? How seriously would we take gay male service members if the conveyed message was, “Don’t worry your little heads about it when we’re in the most desperate need for fighting forces – you just join up whenever you feel like it”? The resounding outcry would be, “They’re getting special treatment!”

We’d see their presence in the armed forces as a novelty, which is how I think women’s military roles will continue to be perceived until we, too, can be drafted.

The draft is really a non-issue, though, isn’t it? It’s unlikely that it will ever be reinstated.

It is unlikely. But we still have the Selective Service registry, and for a reason. If the time comes when we need forces, we can’t rely on adequate numbers to volunteer. So, we have to be compelled to drag ourselves to service in spite of our fears or the lives we don’t want to leave. If the military needs bodies so badly that they’ll enlist those who would never otherwise sign up voluntarily, then they obviously need as many bodies as they can get.

And even if a future draft is a non-issue, the Selective Service isn’t (unless you’re a woman, that is). From the Selective Service website:

And so should it be for women.

What made you decide to write a petition on White House.gov?

It’s such a wonderful opportunity the administration has given us, isn’t it? Get X number of signatures, and the issue will be addressed. I figured a petition would be one of the best ways to at least make it a real conversation, and to ensure it would start generating attention (and signatures), I sent a link to various feminist groups I follow on Facebook and that I just knew would take it up.

This isn’t a joke to me, and it isn’t a little cause to keep me busy. I work full time and I’m trying to read a lot of books this year, so I have plenty to do. This is something that means a lot to me as an able-bodied American, and as a woman who calls herself a feminist. It also means a lot to me as someone who believes in fairness.

Not all women are fit for combat.

Nor are all men. But not everyone who is drafted is put into a combat position.

What kind of response has the petition received?

I posted the petition January 21, and as of the afternoon of January 22, it had 12 signatures. So, it’s been slow. I think the idea has to germinate. Unfortunately, the petition only has 30 days to reach 100,000 signatures for it to be addressed by the administration, so I’d love it if the germinating could happen a little faster.

Do you have any worries about this effort?

I’d like to believe feminists as a whole will not just approve of what I’m doing, but support it and promote it and try to make it a reality. But I’m afraid that there are people who call themselves feminists who will think it’s not worth it, or who won’t take it seriously. Worse, I’m afraid there are some who are thinking, “Yes, we are fit to be in the military, but good Lord, I don’t want to be DRAFTED.”

And I completely understand that. Like I said, no one wants to be drafted. The draft wouldn’t be necessary if we all voluntarily joined.

But how can we as feminists, or at the very least as people who fight for equality in the military, not be interested in women being eligible for the draft? Is equality only desirable to us when it’s pretty and convenient, when it’s a benefit? When it means we get to do what we want to do – but not when it means we might have to suffer some of the consequences? As a friend so eloquently put it recently, “At least some of feminism has to mean renouncing the few unfair privileges that women do enjoy.”

I couldn’t respect myself if I would argue for a woman’s right to be in the military, but be content to let men shoulder the burden of the draft. I might as well insist on having the right to leave the sidewalk by myself as long as there’s a man nearby to carry me over the gutter-puddle when it rains. If I argue that women should be in the military and don’t put equal effort into making us eligible for the draft, I’m not a feminist at all, am I? I’m just an opportunist.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted January 30, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m on board with the basic idea here, but there’s one crucial reason I very much oppose requiring women to register for the draft *now*: the military is a much more dangerous place for women than it is for men, because of sexual assault. I’m not very well versed in military issues, so I can’t give a nuanced answer for what exactly it would take for me to sign this petition. But, I know that I would oppose it until the rate of sexual assault (by fellow US soldiers) in the military is brought at least as to the level of statistics in the general population. And, until the awful treatment of survivors is remedied.

    There seems to be some hope that the military is starting to take this problem seriously, so maybe including women in the draft will be something I could support in my lifetime, but for now – no way.

  2. Posted January 31, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I’ll spend my time advocating for an end to the draft instead.

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