Gendered value

29 Jan

Italian women partisans

For many years, American women have served in the United States Armed Forces, in many different capacities: in both Iraq and Afghanistan women served in ground combat troops. Despite the fact that a female soldier was not technically allowed to be in combat troops, this prohibition never meant that women were not involved in on-the-ground battle, saving lives and risking their own.

However, because of the continued ban, the recognition the women received for their duties and their abilities to move upwards in the Armed Forces chains-of-command were severely limited.  Last week’s decision to lift the ban, basically allowing women to enter into all echelons-upper and lower-within the Armed Forces provoked delight and satisfaction in women in the military.   

http://www.npr.org/2013/01/24/170198106/woman-who-sued-to-reverse-combat-ban-was-stunned-then-ecstatic

Colonel Ellen Haring was one of the two women whose lawsuit provided the final nail in the ban’s coffin. Haring was interviewed last week on NPR, and spoke of the many opportunities she saw bypass her; 80% of the highest position general officers were taken from people (men) in the combat specialities units that women were barred from joining. This structure could not be integrated unless the ban was revoked.

Does this mean that women in the military are now on a fast track to equality? Of course not. Sexual assault in all of the armed forces is only now finally being seen as the epidemic it is. More women in more places will not make this disappear, but it will almost immediately make finding an administrative ear somewhat easier.

In the above interview, Colonel Haring was asked whether the decision would make her more likely to hesitate if her daughter approached her about joining the military, seeing as how now there would be no impediment to her serving in the most dangerous elements available.

Haring replied that she has one daughter and two sons, and would be fearful and hesitant for all three of them. “I don’t think you can place more value on one of your children versus the other simply because of their gender.”

Haring brings up an excellent, contradictory, thorny point. For as long as “women and children first” has been stated, as long as women and children have been counted as casualties of war and men mentioned afterwards, and the idea of Chivalry has been considered infallible, the female sex have been deemed to be of more “value” than the male.

This “value” is by no means monetary, it instead refers to a kind of sacredness that the female embodies. She must be protected, guarded, defended. This type of value is that of the negative: for it is what she is not, what she cannot do, that renders her of value. She is weak, she must be protected. To no longer see her in this light the spell is broken. If she does not need male protection she is no longer weak. If she can protect herself, the historically male duty to protect, defend, and guard becomes no longer male.

To not “value” a daughter more than a son, is to perceive one’s children as equals, in ability, potential and possibility.

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