It’s been a few months, so it must be time to talk about women and “the draft” again. As if on cue, the U.S. Senate last week voted 85-13 in favor of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Inside was a provision that will require women ages 18 to 26 to sign up for the Selective Service. The bill goes to the House next. And given that the world has now had enough time to debate and digest the idea of an equal draft, I think it will be hard for any politician who believes in equal rights and opportunity to kill.
The problem with this issue, however, is how much mystery and misinformation surrounds it. Also, it turns regular politics on its head, often causing some feminists to argue against equality; some traditionalists to promote sending women off to combat; and some pro-choice advocates to find themselves saying that, in the matter of national security, perhaps just men, or both men and women, should not have any choice at all.
Case in point: In a report for the Huffington Post, Jennifer Bendery, White House and Congressional Reporter, wrote, “It’s weird that the issue is being debated since the draft, also known as Selective Service, hasn’t been in use since 1973.”
Bendery is wrong, on all accounts.
First of all, “the draft” and registration for “Selective Service” are not supposed to be interchangeable terms. Selective Service, or at least, registration for it, has most definitely been in use since 1973. Every year, young men are required to register for Selective Service on the occasion of their 18th birthday. Until they are 26, are also are required to update the government on all of their moves and their home address. The penalty for not doing so amounts to jail time, up to a $250,000 fine, no consideration for federal loans and ineligibility to enter into a government job.
These penalties, by the way, really only impact financially disadvantaged boys in our society. The government has not expended much energy hunting down nonregistrants for jail time or fines, but it is absolutely a reality that men cannot get financial aid or apply for government jobs if they are not registered. Meaning, if mom and dad can pay for your college without financial aid, you effectively have no consequence for not registering. If you need assistance, however, you’ll have to promise Uncle Sam your life first.
“The draft,” whereby the government calls up men registered with Selective Service for compulsory military duty, has not been in use since 1973. But that doesn’t mean men haven’t been subjected to the penalties for nonregistration or that they haven’t, by virtue of having their names on the government’s list, considered each national crisis or war in a very personal way.
Women have never been subjected to any of the above, including the penalties. Women, however, have recently gained entrance into all aspects of military service, including combat, if they choose. For years we fought to prove we can do anything a man can do, and now we have earned that right. But some women seem to want this caveat: “unless it means registering for possible military duty and being subjected to financial penalties if I don’t.”
A common argument here is “but not all women want to serve in the military” or “not all women are capable or serving in the military.” Substitute “men” for “women” in those sentences, and you have the crux of this dilemma. Can we really say that every male ages 18 to 26 years old is capable of serving in the military or is interested in doing so? Would it be sexist to assume as much?
Ms. Bendery, all of this is why we are debating “the draft” now. It’s not “weird”; it’s time.
For too long, Selective Service has not been on women’s minds, especially if they don’t have sons. Perhaps this “weirdly” came out of the blue for Bendery and others, but it’s a lived reality for millions of young men, and it has been for quite some time. While the rest of the world championed women having their rights — the right to work outside the home, the right to have a baby or an abortion, the right to serve in combat — men have been quietly registering for Selective Service or, except for the financially independent minority, living with the realities of nonregistration.
Despite my military upbringing and military husband, I am against Selective Service for either gender. The country never cared, however, until drafting women was on the table. So my only glimmer of hope is this: In the history of the world, it often has been women who influenced massive change. Now that it is their life, financial aid and “choice” at stake, perhaps they will finally change Selective Service, too.
Maine writer and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She may be reached at facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.