Annie, Don't Get Your Gun

The question of whether women should be drafted forces society to think more deeply about both war and feminism

But now women have a little more power as a class. And many of them would tell me that to distinguish between masculine and feminine temperaments is to endanger the progress that women have made. I have no certain evidence—although we may eventually be provided it—that the lesser aggressiveness or physical expression of hostility in women is a biological trait. It is indisputably a socialized trait. But the crucial fact at our disposal is that only a handful of women have fought in combat in all of human history. The explanation for this fact is both that it was a predictable corollary to the discrimination against women in most endeavors, and that war has been specifically a man's game. Only men, after all, can be accused of unmanly behavior if they object to war. It seems to me that in 1980, women interested in effecting a human liberation might have a piece of history in their hands waiting to be molded. What if they gave a registration and none of us came?

I am not the first person to make an argument along these lines: that feminism and pacifism can be profitably linked. The idea is as old as Lysistrata. In 1938 Virginia Woolf attempted, in her long essay Three Guineas, to answer a question put to her by a man: How are we to prevent war? Interestingly, Woolf 's tentative answer involved not the powers thatbe, but those who traditionally held no power. Because women comprised an unofficial "Society of Outsiders," she felt they owed their government nothing in wartime: "not to fight with arms," "to refuse in the event of war to make munitions or to nurse the wounded," and "not to incite their brothers to fight, but to maintain an attitude of complete indifference." She justified this last, most controversial assertion by claiming that indifference garners more attention than hot-blooded partisanship. She also claimed that as a man cannot appreciate a woman's maternal instinct, "it is a fact that she cannot understand what instinct compels him . . . . As fighting thus is a sex characteristic she cannot share, so it is an instinct she cannot judge."

Modern feminists would have trouble accepting that position. Some would answer that parenthoodfor everybody is as trumped‑up an "instinct" as courtly love. Others would answer that the paternal instinct, equal to the maternal, has been unrightfully quashed by society. But does it necessarily follow that fighting cannot be a sex characteristic? Nature doesn't keep a scoreboard. The logic that asserts such differences are impossible is one with the logic that makes women deny their lesser physical strength. We are not lesser human beings, after all, if we're shorter or don't enjoy playing with tin soldiers. In any case, some of us—myself included—would disagree with Woolf that we have no right to dissuade our brothers from fighting.

What is absolutely timely in Three Guineas, however, is Woolf's understanding that women have traditionally abetted war by supporting it once begun‑by behaving like Joan, the Lonely Wife, who knitted socks and sewed parachutes. Women have helped perpetuate the male assumption that war is inevitable. How are we to prevent war? In answer, Woolf decided to offer one symbolic guinea to each of three causes: one to provide women with formal education, not just tutoring at home; one to help women enter the professions; and a third guinea "to assert the rights of the respect in their persons of the great principles of justice, equality and liberty."

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