National Defense

Good News, Ladies! The Military-Industrial Complex Is Ours Now!

No one wants to consider if casually blowing things up is a good idea in the first place.


Sipa USA/Newscom

Is it good news that "the CEOs of four of the nation's five biggest defense contractors—Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and the defense arm of Boeing—are now women"?

On Wednesday, Politico published an article called "How women took over the military-industrial complex." Though "military-industrial complex" always feels like a pejorative term, David Brown's piece strikes a positive note; it's written in that delicately faux-neutral fashion that presumes the institutions in question are swell, and that ladies in them sweller still. From helping to perpetuate a Yemen famine to spying on everyone, these ladies don't need no man, unless that man is military-aged and is underneath a Hellfire missile.

The recent midterms boasted a smorgasbord of diversity firsts. You don't have to be very old to remember when the idea of an openly gay governor would seem surprising. And yeah, straight white men dominating every other sexuality, gender, race, and creed isn't the answer to any good question. But the Hillary Clinton–ready logic of Wow, a WOMAN now runs the National Nuclear Security Administration feels, at best, like some serious wheel-spinning. And yet here we have women solemnly giving their lean-in tips on being in charge of a world-threatening nuclear arsenal.

When it comes to questions of institutional sexism, the Politico piece runs the gamut from A (Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson saying "We are the protectors; that's what the military does. We serve to protect the rest of you, and that's a very natural place for a woman to be") to B (National Nuclear Security Administration head Lisa Gordon-Hagerty assuring the author that it's not important when she's "the only woman in the room"). Both sentiments betray both the author's and his subjects' deeply conventional thinking about their gender and their place in the world and whether blowing up bits of it is a good idea.

It doesn't need saying that women who head Boeing or Lockheed Martin are not women who spend time questioning whether the U.S. should have a presence in 177 countries, or asking if the Department of Defense needs $686 billion for FY 2019. But weirdly, the idea that girls running the military would improve things has supporters beyond the Beyoncé-empowerment wing of feminism. No less than scholars Francis Fukuyama and Steven Pinker have argued that women could make the world a more peaceful place, and in Pinker's case, that they already have. Fukuyama more boldly suggested, "A truly matriarchal world, then, would be less prone to conflict and more conciliatory and cooperative than the one we inhabit now."

And perhaps he's right. Perhaps the ladies of Lockheed Martin and the rest will cooperate themselves into billion-dollar Pentagon deals for many years to come. Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson assures Politico that she intends to bring more women aboard, and hopes to keep this brave new world of Pentagon women as more than a diversity blip. True equality, however, might evade us until women have to register for the draft, just like men. Then we can all kill equally.