Last week Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women serving in military combat. Talk about what this means has ranged from saying it actually will not change much, as women already find themselves in combat roles, to pointing out the nature of modern warfare renders physical differences between men and women irrelevant, and plenty of points to the contrary.
Of course Christians disagree about the roles of men and women within and without the Church. But as I have considered this announcement, I am reminded how God created men and women – each with unique strengths and weaknesses. Owen Strachan, an assistant professor of theology at Boyce College summed this truth up, saying: “God doesn’t make Blob A (Adam) and Blob B (Eve). He doesn’t make gender-neutral people. We don’t believe in a divine creation of Teletubby-esque nature as Christians. The Bible shows as a matter of first principles that men and women are different, distinct and complementary.”
Al Mohler called this announcement a “major moral revolution,” pointing out that aside from the “utilitarian” arguments against women in combat, the real historical reasons for such prohibition have been moral. He stated: “women are to be protected rather than to be considered just like men when it comes to such high danger contacts as warfare.” Further,“if you do consider that gender difference matters, then there is a moral aspect that is attached to it … it says something about a society that it now officially forfeits any idea of gender difference that would include the responsibility of men to protect women.”
It is an affront to modern sensibilities to suggest closing a door to an entire group of people based on gender. And as a woman heavily influenced by this equality obsessed culture, my initial reaction is to agree that although I would never want to serve in combat, all women should have the opportunity, if they so desire.
But I realize that if I take seriously the biblical teaching on men and women, accompanied with the traditional understandings of masculinity and femininity supported by scientific research, it would be foolish to insist upon complete gender neutrality. It is not a matter of women being incapable of defending themselves or performing the same tasks as men, but of thriving in the roles God created us for. This, of course, is a hugely unpopular idea, even within the Church.
At the turn of the 20th century, G.K. Chesterton wrote in his wonderful book, What’s Wrong With the World that suffragettes in Britain surrendered when they “owned that the man has been right all along; that the public house (or Parliament) is really more important than the private house; that politics are not (as woman had always maintained) an excuse for pots of beer, but are a sacred solemnity to which new female worshipers may kneel.” He pointed out that despite real abuses women have endured, being the “queen” of the private sphere is, in many ways, a superior position to the narrow and specialized work men must do in the public sphere.
The basic point is that women were wrong to believe they were missing out being excluded from “men’s work,” when all along we did significant work educating and shaping the next generation. Now I wouldn’t want to return to the Victorian era, and I appreciate the opportunity to get an education and pursue a career, but I think all our struggles with work/home life balance indicate that Chesterton was onto something. And in the case of military combat, his point is especially true. Do women really believe they are missing out by being kept from the front lines?
By clamoring for more “equality” with men and asserting, “anything a man can do, a woman can do better,” we concede that “the man has been right all along,” when we might have a better deal after all. Men take on the burden of protecting and defending our country so women don’t have to. Further, this could mean young women bear an equal responsibility as their male peers during a wartime draft if America ever implements one again in the future.
In reality, I don’t know many women who actually want to be treated the same as men. They just don’t want to be excluded. Women are (were) not kept from combat out of discrimination, but for myriad practical reasons, and in recognition of their unique feminine nature and dignity. To those who don’t believe there are real, inherent differences between men and women, though, this sounds like offensive, exclusionary nonsense.
What do you think about the ban repeal? Follow me on Twitter (@Kristin_Rudolph) for more updates.