Readers debate the role of women in the U.S. military and whether they should be allowed in combat units and forced to register for the draft. To join the discussion, especially if you’re a female servicemember, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reader Alana A. Roberts is very proud of her family members with military service—a sister, brother, husband, and two grandfathers—but she strongly disagrees with the idea of women joining the Selective Service. Her argument is one I’ve never heard before:
Nicholas Clairmont’s piece laying bare the political process behind the effort to make women liable to conscription was interesting. [The subsequent reader note from Susan argued that women have just as much of a national duty to protect their country as men do.] As a 34-year-old mother of a daughter and a son, I oppose this measure so strongly that I’m learning another language in preparation for the possible necessity of taking my daughter elsewhere to avoid the dishonor of her registering for the draft. The reasoning behind my opposition is as follows, although it’s instinctive and (if you will) archetypal rather than rational:
Because only women can bear children, and the survival of the nation depends on it, this is an actual duty—not for the individual woman, but for women as a class.
The sacrifice and difficulty of this duty is so great, and the physical courage required so real, and the survival of the nation (and humanity) so dependent upon it, that the duty of childbirth is equal in dignity and weight to the duty to defend one’s nation.
Like a soldier in battle, the woman who gives birth must shed her blood to do it. For nine months she donates her blood and bodily substance to the baby growing within her. Osteoporosis, anemia, and other maladies often result—injury and death, occasionally. In the act of childbirth, a woman actually spills her blood.
Even women who do not give birth or do not plan to are subject to the physiology adapted for the purpose. Thus women shed blood monthly in a cycle of preparation for pregnancy. Menstruation, awkward as it sounds, is the female draft.
This feminine physiology—not merely menstruation but the whole feminine mode of being human—renders military life more onerous for most women than for most men, in ways that are obvious to most people.
In nearly all civilizations, the childbearing class is preserved as such by exemption from military duty.
Israel’s policy is born out of an unusually necessitous situation: a small country under continuous attack. It is still not ideal.
What women desire is the liberty for exceptional women to do things that most women don’t want to do. We do not generally wish to force the activities of the exceptional woman upon the ordinary woman. We feel that the ordinary woman is, compared to the ordinary man, exceptional enough.
If you would like to address that argument, drop me a note and I’ll update. I’ll just quickly point out—because it’s close to home for me—that having children and serving in the military are by no means mutually exclusive; my mother had two sons and a long career in the U.S. Army. When I was born, she left active duty to focus on raising my brother and me but returned after several years and eventually retired as a full colonel, outranking my father. Unlike him, she never deployed to a war zone, but her best friend—a mother of three and high-ranking Air Force officer—did.
If you’re a woman who’s been deployed, especially in a combat unit, and would like to share your perspective, please say hello@. Update from a reader, Rory, who makes an essential point:
The push to register women for the draft is based on the idea that women are now eligible for combat so they should share the load, but the simple fact is only a minuscule number of women would ever be able to contribute in a combat role. In any draft scenario, all that would happen would be that men would automatically be sent to the front lines while women would fill all the support positions.
Women registering for the selective service would only provide an illusion of equality. The politicians will decide the issue based on ideology and gender optics, but I doubt the generals in Washington are factoring women into their contingency war plans.
Just because different people would have different roles in a draft, and because men and women would on average serve in different ways, I don’t think that’s an “illusion of equality.” All Americans would be serving in some way, based on their individual capabilities—just as the draft was done back in the day but with various kinds of men.
Susan has a strong opening argument in favor of gender equality when it comes to conscription:
I have my Dad’s draft card calling him up for “the duration plus six months,” and it still makes me stop and think. Although I was opposed to the draft during the Vietnam War, when my brother registered with Selective Service in 1971, I argued with my father that women should be subject to the draft as well. (At the time, of course, the roles for women in the military were limited to administrative or medical support, even if you tried to volunteer.) I wanted to be treated equally, and I thought equal rights and equal responsibility went together.
Certainly there are some women not physically capable for ground combat duty, but the same can be said for some men. And in a technology-driven military environment, physical size and strength are not the only determining factors, as proved by our current volunteer military forces.
My belief, then and now, is that the only appropriate use of conscription would be if a fundamental threat to our nation arose. In such a situation, I see no reason why women have less of a duty to serve. And I can’t rationalize the value of a life based on gender.
Over the past few months, Congress has been in the middle of a debate over whether to expand the Selective Service registration requirement to include women in any future military draft. In the latest development, the full House just voted on the idea for the first time after Ohio Representative Warren Davidson attached an amendment to a major government funding bill that would bar the government from paying for the expansion. It passed, causing another setback for supporters of women joining Selective Service:
House passes ban on funding changes to Selective Service registration 217-203, pushing back on Senate women draft provision #FY17NDAA
Some background: Proponents of gender equality when it comes to the draft hold that after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in December 2015 opened up all combat jobs to women, it’s only logical—and only fair—that women should be conscripted alongside men if the draft is ever resurrected. After all, the Supreme Court case in 1981 that upheld the male-only draft did so on the basis that women weren’t eligible for combat roles, and now women are. Plus, there’s a symbolic issue at play: While no one particularly wants to be drafted, supporters argue that there’s value in making clear that women have the same duty to protect their country as men do.
Not everyone in Congress agrees. As Duncan Hunter, a Republican representative from California, said during an Armed Services Committee hearing in April:
I’ve talked to coffeehouse liberals in San Fransisco and conservative families who pray three times a day. And neither group wants their daughter to be drafted. [...] The draft is there to get more people to rip the enemy’s throats and kill them for our nation, sanctioned by the U.S. government. That’s what a draft is for.
Hunter is getting at something that runs culturally deep. It’s why the issue of women in combat is so fraught. The moral stakes of conscripting women to fight and die are high, and this cuts right to some of the themes that drive America’s bitter culture wars: gender roles, patriotism, support for the military, support for actual wars.
Hunter’s quote comes from his ill-conceived attempt to prove that America couldn’t support drafting women. In early May, I wrote about how the amendment to expand the draft came about: Hunter himself proposed it to the House Armed Services Committee—as a bluff, sure that his opponents were all talk. He was convinced that when they faced the gritty reality of women being drafted, they’d see what Hunter regards as reason and vote against what they claimed to believe.
The vote didn’t break his way, and that’s when things went through the legislative looking glass. Hunter’s powerful ally from Texas, Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, used his position to go against the will of his committee’s members, killing the measure before it got to a vote on the House floor, where it was predicted to pass. Meanwhile, it passed in the Senate despite some loud protestations from, among others, Ted Cruz, recently back from the campaign trail. As it stands, the two chambers are conferring about how to bring their respective versions of the bills into agreement so that they can send it on to the president.
One of the reasons the debate has been so bitter is that each side assumes the other isn’t playing in good faith, and in a sense the two opponents aren’t talking about the same thing.
Enemies of the draft expansion see themselves as defending an old and noble chivalric idea about the male duty to protect—one of the last remaining justifications men have for themselves in modern society. Advocates of the expansion, on the other hand, see it as a way to reify an important conviction that the differences between men and women aren’t substantive enough to mean that the genders should play different roles. Some also see it as a basic issue of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, not to mention a a matter of basic fairness.
When the sides of a debate don’t even agree on what the debate is really about, things tend to get heated. According to one Atlantic reader who supports the draft expansion:
What it’s about is the fact that Hunter really would prefer if women couldn’t serve in many posts at all. He thought the draft threat was enough to get women’s advocates and political representatives to back down on the issues. He completely misread them, as well as women in general. It turns out, women don’t object to women being drafted. Many actually support the idea quite strongly. That was pretty easy to see beforehand, except for those who are really ignorant on the subject.
Women are much less likely than men to say women should be required to register for Selective Service when they turn 18, according to a poll conducted June 18-20 by The Economist/YouGov. Thirty-nine percent of women supported registration for women, compared to 61 percent of men.
It’s impossible to know why this is, but one explanation more or less suggests itself. We are, after all, talking about people being forcibly shipped off to war, and regardless of one’s stance about the principle of the thing, that’s not the most attractive proposition in the world. But as another reader points out:
There is a difference between not personally wanting to be drafted, or not believing in the draft, and not believing women should be drafted simply because they’re women.
Plenty of people twist themselves into knots decrying how horrible it is that some Americans don’t pay taxes or receive government subsidies, but then they always have a reason why industries they’re in should receive help from the government, or why people in their particular situation should receive tax breaks. It’s just as dishonest. Pretending to hide behind some sort of principle just because you benefit in the short term is not being principled.
Should principle guide policy in this case? If so, what principle? To join the debate about whether women should have to register for the draft, and why or why not, send us a note: email@example.com.
On Monday morning, my partner laid a carry-on suitcase down on the floor, preparing to pack for his first post-vaccination trip to visit his parents. The moment he unzipped the bag, our cat Calvin promptly clambered inside.
A piece of me would like to think that Calvin was attempting to covertly join my partner on his trip, or perhaps thwart his inevitable attempt to spirit away. But I’m pretty sure #OccupyLuggage was less a heart-wrenching bid to tag along on a flight, and more a textbook example of a central scientific tenet: Cats are absolute suckers for boxes. And sinks, and vases, and grocery bags, and shoes, and Pringles cans, and the nooks and crannies between furniture and walls, and just about any other space they deem cozy, confining, and swaddly. (Cats, in case you were wondering, are a non-Newtonian liquid.) It’s the one thing about which our pointy-eared companions are not terribly picky: If it fits, they sits. And when they do, we humans can’t help but obsess over them.
For some Americans, history isn’t the story of what actually happened; it’s the story they want to believe.
This article was published online on May 10, 2021.
Most of the people who come to Blandford Cemetery, in Petersburg, Virginia, come for the windows—masterpieces of Tiffany glass in the cemetery’s deconsecrated church. One morning before the pandemic, I took a tour of the church along with two other visitors and our tour guide, Ken. When my eyes adjusted to the hazy darkness inside, I could see that in each window stood a saint, surrounded by dazzling bursts of blues and greens and violets. Below these explosions of color were words that I couldn’t quite make out. I stepped closer to one of the windows, and the language became clearer. Beneath the saint was an inscription honoring the men “who died for the Confederacy.”
For most young people, the social and emotional benefits of taking masks off outdoors greatly outweigh the personal and public-health advantages of keeping them on.
As parents gradually reap the rewards of vaccination—including unmasking outdoors, socializing unmasked indoors with other vaccinated people, and abandoning anxiety about getting seriously ill—they’re wondering if they need to keep up pandemic precautions for their children’s sake.
I am a primary-care doctor, and the parents I talk with are deeply concerned about their communities; they also want to see their kids reengage in life. They want to liberate themselves from the intensity of pandemic child care and worry. I can empathize: I’m a mother of three.
Although emergency-use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine was granted this week for 12-to-15-year-olds, kids in this age group and younger ones don’t need to wait for freedom through shots. They can and should enjoy some benefits of our collective progress. That’s why I’ve begun telling my patients that their kids, vaccinated or not, do not need to wear masks outside—despite the fact that the CDC recently issued summer-camp guidelines that recommend kids wear masks whenever physical distancing is difficult, including outside. I know that parents in some communities get dirty looks at the playground if they let their kids run around without masks, but doing so is not a sign of recalcitrance; it’s a sign that they’re following the science.
The most famous dysfunctional family of 1990s television enjoyed, by today’s standards, an almost dreamily secure existence.
Updated at 11:10 a.m. ET on February 8, 2021.
The most famous dysfunctional family of 1990s television enjoyed, by today’s standards, an almost dreamily secure existence that now seems out of reach for all too many Americans. I refer, of course, to the Simpsons. Homer, a high-school graduate whose union job at the nuclear-power plant required little technical skill, supported a family of five. A home, a car, food, regular doctor’s appointments, and enough left over for plenty of beer at the local bar were all attainable on a single working-class salary. Bart might have had to find $1,000 for the family to go to England, but he didn’t have to worry that his parents would lose their home.
This lifestyle was not fantastical in the slightest—nothing, for example, like the ridiculously large Manhattan apartments in Friends. On the contrary, the Simpsons used to be quite ordinary—they were a lot like my Michigan working-class family in the 1990s.
The recent scandal at her talk show suggests that the host’s smiling facade covers up something dark—and hints at why that facade had to be created in the first place.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show features a recurring segment, called “Cash for Kindness,” that spreads good cheer by lying to people. DeGeneres will send a producer or an audience member out into the world to pretend to be some harried worker—a cater-waiter, a delivery person, a birthday-party magician—and then, in spectacular fashion, spill whatever they’re carrying on the sidewalk. As potatoes go rolling or greeting cards flap in the wind, a trap is laid. DeGeneres watches through hidden cameras to see which passersby do, or don’t, stop to help pick up the mess.
The bit is funny because it is mortifying. Speaking into her producer’s wireless earpiece, DeGeneres feeds her staffer ever-more-distressing banter to recite: There’s an engagement ring in the tiramisus! The greeting cards are supposed to be in alphabetical order! The strangers who stop to help are, you may suspect, a bit nervous that they’ve been roped into some scam—or maybe worse, roped into a situation that will expose the limits of their time, means, or generosity. Eventually, the undercover staffer reveals that they work for Ellen. The random Good Samaritan is brought onto the talk show’s set, and DeGeneres hands them cash: a reward for being kind, but also, it feels, payoff for being messed with.
Like any good prank, especially the pranks DeGeneres loves, cash-for-kindness revels in voyeurism, deceit, and discomfort, all of which get forgiven in the name of a laugh. Yet, like so much of DeGeneres’s comedy, this mischief doubles as do-goodery. It is part of DeGeneres’s grand campaign to merchandise kindness—which is also seen when she says “Be kind to one another” at the end of each show, or when she gets taxi drivers to hug Uber drivers on air, or when she hawks kindness-themed subscription boxes for up to $250 a year. Her aesthetic of cream colors, goofy grins, and uplifting tears, along with her amusing displays of light sadism, have earned her a $330 million empire, a raft of Emmys, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The modern Republican Party does not tolerate criticism of its once—and current—leader.
One of the many Republican principles that Donald Trump obliterated was what was known as Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.” Like several of the stone-tablet dictates (the prohibitions on committing adultery and bearing false witness come to mind), this directive was lightly followed and rarely enforced—politics is a rough sport. But Reagan’s edict served the purpose of keeping internal GOP disputes from getting out of hand. Candidates and party leaders (including a former vice president named Dick Cheney) regularly used the line as a way to de-escalate intraparty fights.
Trump, of course, spares no one his vituperation. Insults are his shtick and his identity, and Republican voters love him for it. Just as he has remade the party in his image—on trade, on spending, on immigration, and on interventionism, among other policy areas—so too has he revised Reagan’s unwritten rule to apply not to fellow Republicans but to him alone. That commandment—“Thou shalt not speak ill of Donald Trump”—is the one that House Republicans enforced this morning when they ousted Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming as their conference chair in one of the more anticlimactic votes in recent memory. GOP lawmakers claim they removed Cheney because her refusal to let go of Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection amounted to “a distraction” in their attempt to regain the House majority. But anyone can see that her sin was far simpler: Cheney continues to call out Trump as a threat to democracy, and the party no longer abides such criticism—not from a party leader, and not publicly.
By early February 2020, China had effectively locked down tens of millions of its citizens. Entire hospitals were sprouting from scratch to cope with an onslaught of coronavirus cases there. The World Health Organization had just declared that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus was a “public health emergency of international concern.” And on February 7, I went on a radio show and spent much of the segment discussing the economic implications of the ordeal for East Asia.
I often think about that segment now and wonder how I could have been so unimaginative. I was so focused on the desperate scenes in China that I failed to consider that similar scenes could soon transpire around the world. Why didn’t I grab the mic, dispense with the usual commentary, and issue an urgent plea for the world to wake up?
In February 2020, I traveled to New York to celebrate a zeroth birthday and an 80th birthday. First, I saw a close friend’s baby, who had been born only a month earlier. The next day, I went to my grandmother’s birthday party at a crowded Italian restaurant near Times Square.
I would say that this experience made me think about aging and what the alleged Soviet spy Alger Hiss (of all people) called “the Great Span”: the way that seemingly distant history is only a few lifetimes away. But this would be a writer’s white lie. I think about time’s bucket brigade probably too much, and I am constantly looking for tidy anecdotes. Weeks earlier, I had already written in the notes app of my phone: “When my friend’s baby is my grandmother’s age, it will be 2100.”
When the richest of the rich split up, the usual dilemmas are mixed in with the fate of enormous charitable efforts and billion-dollar stock holdings.
When Bill and Melinda Gates announced on Monday that they would be ending their 27-year marriage, they tweeted intandem that they “no longer believe [they] can grow together as a couple.” The reasoning wasn’t unusual for a 21st-century divorce, but their private emotional journey has highly atypical financial implications: Between their personal holdings and the charitable foundation they started together, the amount of money they control—somewhere around$180 billion—is roughly equal to the annual GDP of Kazakhstan or Qatar.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which they launched 25 years after Bill co-founded Microsoft, is one of the biggest private charitable foundations in the world, with an endowment of about $50 billion. In a sense, the jobs of its 1,600 employees and its investments in malaria prevention and early-childhood education have rested on the bedrock of Bill and Melinda’s marriage.
On Clubhouse, a black badge was meant to identify trolls. It’s become an emblem of the app’s dysfunctional moderation system.
To block someone on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter is not, in the scheme of things, a big deal. You’ll no longer see them on the platform, they’ll no longer see you, and then you’ll both go on social networking, largely as you did before. Since your feed is made up of discrete posts personalized for you by an algorithm, blocking one person’s in particular can be a simple, unobtrusive action. It’s among the saving graces of a realm buffeted by bots and wracked with rancor.
But what if blocking didn’t, or couldn’t, work that way? The year-old social audio app Clubhouse is built on live group conversations: Everyone in a given “room”—a virtual space convened around a given topic—hears the same person speak at the same time, and that shared context forms the basis of all interactions. A conversation in which certain people’s voices are silenced for certain other people would be incoherent to all. So when Clubhouse went to develop its own blocking feature in the fall, in response to user outcries over rampant misogyny, anti-Semitism, and coronavirus misinformation, it had to come up with a new approach.