Iraq

Time to Stop Humping and Start Fighting

Separating men and women in war and peace

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Last week, the House Armed Services Committee tacked onto a $442 billion defense bill a provision to limit the role of women in combat. Supporters have neglected to listen to senior army leadership, female veterans, or virtually anyone of authority on the issue, but perhaps they'll listen to Dr. Elisabeth Lloyd, who recently wrote a book with a title that should be harder to ignore: The Case of the Female Orgasm.

Dr. Lloyd—who has managed, through sheer force of scholarly will, to produce a dry book on this subject—argues that attempts to explain the female orgasm are fraught with misplaced parallels between male and female. In her account, the female orgasm is not a strategic adaptation but vestigial happenstance, a physiological trait with no procreative purpose. The evolutionary account of the female orgasm, she contends, is a failed attempt to graft a male story onto the female form, and it smacks of male bias. Orgasms are generally not a matter of public discussion in the Rayburn building, but a couple of congressmen have been working themselves into an orgiastic fury over the prospect of women in combat. Faced with a shifting military front, Republicans are racing to redraw lines that the past three years have blurred. On May 11 a House subcommittee pushed through a measure to bar future female recruits from tens of thousands of positions in which women currently serve. The move's biggest backers, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif) and Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) have no support from the military they're trying to purify. The Associations of the U.S. Army and the National Guard vigorously opposed the amendment from the get-go, insisting the effect would be "confusion" and an insult to the women already serving.

In an attempt to quell outrage from both sides of the aisle, Rep. McHugh proposed a compromise amendment on May 18 that would prohibit women from serving in infantry, armor or artillery units but allow the services to open some jobs to women in combat zones—as long as Congress approves of such assignments first, a caveat that would trade flexibility for bureaucracy. The conflict climaxed in a long, furious, partisan debate on Thursday night before the amendment finally passed in committee. "I can't figure out why we're doing this," offered a bewildered representative.

A 1994 policy bars women from ground combat units, but the U.S. hasn't sent women to the front so much as the front has come to them. "There is no rear area," Army Reserve Maj. Mary Prophit told the Washington Post in Mosul. So far, 31 women have died in combat in Iraq. Cultural conservatives can't argue that women are not capable of filling risky support roles; they're already filling them. They can't argue that female participation lowers morale; by all accounts, it hasn't. And they can't argue that the weaker sex has weakened the military when men in harm's way are insisting the opposite.

Rep. McHugh's timing is awkward, as the army has missed enlistment goals for three months running. The New York Times reports that recruiters have been bending rules at will, enlisting at least one recruit fresh out of a psych ward. But even if the U.S. military were flush with virile young men, there would be no compelling reason to pull back on women. 9,400 are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Washington Post reports that Army officers in Iraq "agreed overwhelmingly" that the ban on attaching female support soldiers to combat battalions should be lifted.

In response, Republicans aren't offering arguments so much as presumptions. Hunter issued a statement saying, "The American people have never wanted to have women in combat and this reaffirms that policy." Sunday, on ABC's This Week, he hypothesized that "one of the marks of civilization is we have not had our women in direct ground combat…That isn't something civilized nations do."

A Washington Times op-ed by retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel Robert L Maginnis hazards to explain why exactly civilization is in peril: "Our young women are no longer valued as the bearers and nurturers of future generations—they are now interchangeable with men and expendable."

The House Armed Services Committee has taken it upon itself to protect the rest of us from gender meltdown. Society, the story goes, erects a bulwark of rules to separate the sexes, lest they melt into an "interchangeable" sexless morass. In a world where women are manning artillery while their husbands are home watching Queer Eye, some would legislate gender from testosterone-packed Congressional committees.

To this peculiar anxiety of cultural conservatives, Dr. Lloyd offers a bit of comfort: In fact, we're different in ways many of us have never even considered, absent a single Congressional mandate. Men and women may be worlds apart at the moment of climax, separated by millennia of divergent evolution. Embracing those distinctions in the bedroom doesn't require separating us on the battlefield.

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