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In Praise of Military Women: Thanks for Taking on Responsibility for Our Nation

written by Erin Solaro
on May 17, 2010

What do women bring to the military?

Themselves.

Not satisfied? OK, I'll try again.

Women bring: Courage, honor, strength, skill, intelligence and much more.

But besides that, you might ask, do they bring anything else, anything unique to the military?

Way back in the 1980s, I read something by a feminist writer who argued that bringing more women into the military was desirable, since women's inherent gentleness and pacific nature would make wars harder to fight. If by "harder to fight" she meant "easier to lose," her suggestion should be consigned to what my husband calls the dead fish box — the final resting place for ideas that rot from the head down.

Others might conclude that the presence of women (if not their conduct) would improve the behavior of the men in the military: there would be less porn, less barracks language, less whatever some might think that military men need less of. Undoubtedly, there is something to this, but the whole notion reminds me of those Victorian marriage manuals that instructed young brides-to-be: Your husband is your natural superior, and it's your job, your purpose in life, to civilize the brute.

Thanks, but men are responsible for their own civilizing. Deal with it, guys.

So do women bring something special to the military? Absolutely. Servicewomen should absolutely be applauded for their participation, and most especially, for their willingness to take on the responsibility for our nation when others don't necessarily expect or want them to.

As I've written in Women in the Line of Fire, I'm a civic feminist. I hold that feminism, after half a century of rightful and necessary concentration on women's equality of rights and opportunities, must now emphasize women's equality of responsibility for every aspect of this republic and this civilization, including the common defense.

I've also written of my disgust with the way the organized feminism of the last century went about expanding the military rights and opportunities of women. For these feminists, the military was the last bastion of toxic machismo; they did not consider being in the military an honorable and necessary profession. For them, military women were useful as victims and as poster girls whose travails got undue billing.

But when the balloon hit the fan on 9/11, organized feminism ostentatiously lost all interest in military women. While it's true that it wasn't organized feminism that sent the women in the military to war, organized feminism did proceed to ignore these women's valor, and later, refuse to acknowledge the larger significance of that valor.

Servicewomen were and remain a very real, avant-garde of a civic feminism that has no further need of hissy-fitting, the politics of victimization or the self-righteous expansion of organized feminism to include "other oppressed groups." The women in the military, many of them members of such oppressed groups, have, by their actions and participation in the military, taken responsibility for this civilization in its entirety; they're doing it for all of us.

These servicewomen don't often think of it that way, of course. Like their male comrades, they're in uniform for reasons both personal and political. But they're packing the gear and doing the job. And in the end, there is no other kind of assumption of responsibility beyond just doing it.

I do not deny the existence of oppressed groups in America or the need to continue the righting of wrongs. I opposed the Iraq war from before the start and oppose Mr. Obama's policy of continuing the Afghan war. But I also hold that these wars do not negate what America's military women have done, are doing and will continue to do.

They are providing for the common defense when so many of their sisters still think of nothing but themselves, and that's something special, indeed.

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