The GOP Debate About Drafting Women Highlights Feminist Contradictions

By Heather Wilhelm Published on February 11, 2016

Last Saturday’s GOP debate was disastrous for many reasons — Chris Christie’s kamikaze snarling, Marco Rubio’s deer-in-the-headlights moment, and the free pass granted to Donald Trump by his terrified rivals count among the many lowlights — but perhaps the weirdest moment came with the posing of a simple hypothetical.

“Should young women be required to sign up for selective service,” ABC News moderator Martha Raddatz asked, “in case of a national emergency?”

The question was hardly out of left field. In December, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that all combat positions in the U.S. military would be open to women. The White House, in turn, announced its intent to reconsider the Selective Service Act, which mandates that all American males ages 18 to 25 register for a potential draft. In early February, two top military officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, arguing that since women are now in combat, they should also, by extension, register for a potential draft.

According to the logic of modern feminism, this all makes perfect sense. Whether it adds up under the dictates of common sense, however, is another question. So it was rather stunning to see the responses of Rubio, Christie and Jeb Bush, who each answered the question — in front of 13 million Americans, many with jaws likely agape — by blithely equating the mandatory registration for a potential draft with an empowered woman’s “right.”

“I think that we should not impose any kind of political agenda on the military,” Bush declared. Women, he continued, “ought to have the right” to sign up for the draft. Marco Rubio agreed. The most mawkish of the three, Christie — who has since dropped out of the GOP race — was the most over the top, citing his own daughters: “If a young woman in this country wants to go and fight to defend her country, she would be permitted to do so. There’s no reason why one young woman should be discriminated against from registering for the Selective Service.”

And they say chivalry is dead! There are multiple logical problems here, but one in particular stands out: Registering for the draft is not a “right.” It is not a self-actualizing, empowering decision. It’s a draft, you dingbats. It’s the government forcing people to go to war.

Many have pooh-poohed the women-in-the-draft question, insisting it’s a political distraction, that it wouldn’t differ that much from the status quo, or confidently declaring, like Bush did on Saturday, that “the draft’s not going to be reinstituted.” This last point would be fantastic news. Just one question: What’s the point of the Selective Service, which forces people to register in case there’s ever a draft, if there’s never going to be a draft? If Jeb is correct, can’t we just call the whole thing off?

In the end, the debate about drafting women isn’t as important on a practical level as it is on an ideological one. This is because it highlights, in stark and alarming relief, the wacky, contradictory and bafflingly powerful narratives of modern feminism — narratives that have saturated our culture, our politics, and, yes, our military policy.

One narrative — let’s call it “The G.I. Jane” — paints women as virtually identical to men. Sure, there may be a few biological differences, but toss on some extra muscle and cardiovascular stamina, and we’re all good.

There’s a second narrative that’s arguably more pervasive. It claims to empower women, but it implies — often without its most loyal acolytes even realizing it — that women are fragile weaklings without an ounce of personal agency. We can call this one “The Beleaguered Freshman Dorm Counselor’s Mandatory Sensitivity Training Handbook,” or, alternatively, “Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, But Too Wimpy and Repressed to Actually Boil the Bunny.”

While “G.I. Jane” narrative often takes center stage in popular culture, it’s the “wimpy Glenn Close” storyline that has sandbagged our college campuses. How else can one explain the sexual assault “Survivor’s Guide” at Clark University in Massachusetts, which defines “the use of emotional manipulation to persuade someone to do something they may not want to do,” as sexual assault or rape? How about the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s “Think Before You Speak” campaign, which equates saying things like “man up” and “hey, guys” with “gender bias” and toxic masculinity?

Or how about the responses to Sen. Ted Cruz, who, along with Sen. Mike Lee, has emerged as one of the loudest voices against registering women for the draft? Here’s feminist Amanda Marcotte, responding on Monday: In the world of Ted Cruz, she wrote, “women should be drafted into childbirth every day, not hypothetically drafted into combat.” This is the second narrative on steroids. Helpless, weak women have nothing to do with getting pregnant, you see — it just happens to them, like the draft!

A Rasmussen poll released Wednesday revealed some depressing news for these acolytes of equality: 52 percent of women in this country oppose having to register for the draft. Among men, 61 percent of respondents were just fine with shipping the ladies off to war. Think about that for a while, and then ponder what the latest iterations of feminism have wrought. It’s not a pretty sight.


Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

This article originally appeared at RealClearPolitics on February 11, 2016, and is reprinted with permission.

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