While Americans focus on combatting the novel coronavirus, lawmakers are quietly revisiting the 5th amendment as it relates to another form of combat, namely the U.S. Selective Service System and how women have never been required to register for the military draft.
The Selective Service System, or SSS, is the governmental agency responsible for registering young men for the military draft, and though the last time registered men were drafted into the military to serve their country was during the Vietnam War in 1973, by law to this day males are still required to register as soon as they turn eighteen.
While there has been virtually no threat of registered males being forced to enlist and serve during wartime, there are nevertheless serious consequences for failing to register that include fines, imprisonment, and the risk of being denied federal services such as federal student loans among other programs.
Women were historically barred from combat even if they were serving in the military. Because women were prohibited from fighting in wartime combat, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld their longstanding ruling in favor of continuing to exclude women from draft registration.
But in 2015, the Pentagon reversed their policy on women in combat, and from that moment forward women in the military were permitted to engage in direct combat.
More than 224,000 women have served on active duty, and at least 30 women completed the U.S. Army Ranger School as of August 2019 according to the National Defense Authorization Act committee report that was presented to congress last month.
The incidental double-standard that resulted from the 2015 policy reversal as it relates to women’s exemption from the draft incited the National Coalition of Men—a non-profit men’s rights organization—to file a lawsuit against the SSS on the basis of sex discrimination.
In the opinion of the National Coalition of Men, requiring men but not women to register for the military draft has been unconstitutional since 2015 since the policy reversal of that year only reinforced their point—women have been deemed fit to serve in combat, therefore women should be considered worthy to register for the draft.
Interestingly, the loudest voice in the conversation about this particular area of sex equality in the military has come from the men’s rights movement. Their argument views selective service registration policies as placing an unfair burden on men. By excluding women, the draft exposes men to possible punishments for failure to comply.
U.S. District Judge Gray Miller agreed and in February of last year declared that a male-only draft was unconstitutional, but he stopped short of ordering the government to make any immediate changes. After dozens of hearings across the country in 42 cities and 22 states over the past two years, the bipartisan committee overseeing this issue presented its final report to congress last month. The 11-member National Commission on Military, National and Public Service released its 49 findings on March 25.
Finding number 49 stated: “The Commission recommends that Congress amend the Military Selective Service Act (MSSA) to eliminate male-only registration and expand draft eligibility to all individuals of the application age cohort.”
Women’s rights figures and feminist organizations have not been vocal in this lawsuit or debate, which raises questions.
The push to secure equal access and opportunity for military women to serve in wartime combat was embraced as well as promoted within feminist circles, however. The 2015 inclusion of women in combat was celebrated as an example of successful feminism in the United States. As Jean Bethke Elshatain reasoned in her book Women and War “military combat is, in some sense, the defining male role.”
But feminism cannot and will not stop there. While women fighting in combat is considered a “win” for feminists, it would be a colossal loss—in the minds of feminists—if women were legally obligated to register for the draft with the SSS. Why is that, though?
Feminism isn’t strictly about equality between the sexes. Feminism is also committed to criticizing and dismantling male patriarchal values, ideals, and systems. One of the greatest symbols and systems of male patriarchal values that feminists question is war itself.
So which is it? If feminists want women in combat, shouldn't they also support obligating women to register for the military draft?
It would seem that feminists want equal privileges as men, but not equal risks and burdens.