Two weeks ago, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced women will now be permitted to serve in the combat branches of our armed services. I was surprised that didn’t attract more criticism. It surely would have 30 years ago, when the opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment succeeded in thwarting its ratification.
Maybe we just don’t care these days. After all, nobody’s talking about drafting our daughters or granddaughters. Or maybe we’re more realistic. Ranch wives and daughters have done men’s work for generations. We’ve also had female county supervisors, city council members and fire and police chiefs.
Serving in the artillery, armored and infantry branches has, until now, been men’s work. It often requires heavy lifting and carrying, but that can probably be worked out. I’m more concerned about sexual issues. A recent headline said, “Sex is major reason military commanders are fired.”
I also wonder about sleeping arrangements. When I was in the infantry in the 1950s, the Army recommended two-man foxholes. Two soldiers together were believed to be braver than one alone. How’s that going to work out with male and female soldiers? And, do soldiers still bivouac in pup tents? They also hold two people.
Maybe that’s already been worked out. Many thousands of women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the way, more than 800 were wounded and at least 150 died from combat and non-combat causes.
But they aren’t America’s first female warriors. I read “A History of Crossdressing Soldiers” on The Atlantic’s website. It said at least one woman dressed as a man fought in the Revolutionary War and as many as 400 did in the Civil War.
One of them was Mary Seaberry. She disguised herself so well no one suspected she was a woman. But then she caught a fever and was sent to a hospital, where her secret was discovered. She was discharged “on the basis of sexual incompatibility.”
But Lizzie Compton was just careless. Her true gender was discovered seven times, but she just moved on to other regiments. She was wounded twice.
Many people who oppose using women in combat probably also oppose the Equal Rights Amendment. They may have a residual, tribal urge to protect women to ensure the supply of babies needed for the tribe’s survival.
So our new permissive attitude toward women in combat could mean this is also a good time to try again to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.