You just know that Greg Sheridan is going to be on a sexist roll when the highlighted sentence from his column is…
The wilder shores of feminism have never been inhabited by normal people.
(Headline and quote from the print edition: the subbing of the on-line edition is slightly different.)
Hmm… well… the wilder shores of opinion writing in The Australian have clearly never been bedeviled by logical argument. Sheridan takes as his target the idea that women should be able to fight in all front-line combat units of the Australian army, if they (i.e. the individual women concerned) meet the physical requirements to do so. Sheridan doesn’t like it, and he says so, in several silly arguments, after saying that it’s the single stupidest idea he’s ever heard in his lifetime.
Warning: I might just be a little sarcastic in my responses to his arguments.
(1) It will denature women.
Because women are soft and cuddly and it would just be wrong for them to be anything else. And we certainly wouldn’t let individual women choose for themselves! No, they had better all be soft and cuddly, all the time, and never do anything that implies that they capable of strong, physical action.
Later in the piece, Sheridan suggests that one day, science may enable men to have artificial wombs, asks, “Would we want to do that?” and says, “No – of course not!” So it becomes clear what he has in mind: women are for making babies, and men are for fighting. Whoa! The gender essentialism is amazing. Memo to Sheridan: if you look around, you know, like, outside your office window, you will see that women can do lots and lots and lots of things, other than making babies.
(2) The Israeli army doesn’t let women serve in the front-line.
Since when has the Israeli army been an example of good practice? And just maybe, the Israeli army might be prone to the same mistaken ideals about what women are and aren’t capable of doing as Sheridan?
(3) Women aren’t strong enough to lift 45 kilo shells. In fact, they’re just not strong enough to be front-line soldiers fullstop.
Some women aren’t, just as some men aren’t. Some women can lift 45 kilo shells, just as some men can. The ability to lift 45 kilo shells is not predicated on having a penis. If the individual can complete the task, then there is no reason for her not to have the chance to perform it.
Sheridan suggests that in order to accomodate women, standards will drop and that’s a reason not to have women at the front-line. But, surely the other possible conclusion is that care should be taken to ensure that standards don’t drop.
(4) The men will try to protect the women. This is a bad thing which will interfere with their operational effectiveness.
You know, in every single damn war movie I’ve watched, there’s a heartbreaking moment where a fit, uninjured man goes back to help his wounded buddy. This is seen as a good thing. They all look after each other, and no man is left behind.
So it’s a good thing when men protect and look after other men, but a bad thing when men protect and look after the female comrades?
(5) The blokes won’t be able to bond with each other.
D’uh! The units will still be able to bond with each other, because they will bond as a fighting unit, not as a group of men. Or is he suggesting that in order to be able to bond, men need to exclude women, and treat women like sh*t? If that’s the case, then just maybe there’s something horribly wrong with the whole process of male-bonding, and it needs to be changed, rather than encouraged.
(6) War requires warriors and everyone knows that warriors are men and have always been men.
The is-ought problem: using “is” claims in your premises, or claims about the way the world is (eg. only men are warriors), but putting an “ought” claim, or a claim about the way the world ought to be in your conclusion (e.g only men ought to be warriors). As a matter of philosophical logic, you can’t have something in your conclusion that is not in your premises. it’s a little like algebra, and indeed all mathematics: you can’t have something in your answer that isn’t in the mathematical arguments to start with. Sheridan has used only “is” claims, but then he concludes with an “ought” statement.
But more that than, he assumes throughout the piece that because men are naturally fighters, and women are naturally soft cuddly baby machines, this is good. It’s natural, therefore it’s the way the world ought to be. Leaving aside whether or not it’s natural, there are many, many things that are “natural” and not good. I’m sure you can come up with half a dozen examples by lunchtime. Here’s an analogous argument.
– All the world’s societies have been slave-holding societies.
– This is natural.
– Therefore, slave holding is good.
I’m sure you can see the problem. Sheridan can’t.
(7) And the real doozy:
Our society is awash with violence. Just walk through the centre of Melbourne about 1am any Saturday night if you don’t believe me. Much of that violence is directed at women. To remove any notion that women are special, that men have an absolute obligation to protect women, is to coarsen and infantilise our society.
Because we’ve really noticed how our society is ssssoooooooo concerned about eliminating violence against women. That’s why when a woman is pack-raped by a rugby league team, it’s her fault. That’s why women who are victims of domestic violence were “asking for it.” That’s why it’s okay to assault and humiliate and demean women, because they are special.
I’ll believe that Sheridan and his cohorts are really concerned about protecting women when they devote just a little time to worrying about the violence that ordinary women suffer every day.
Having said all that, I loathe wars, and warmaking, and violence, and I tend to pacifism, ‘though not absolutely. But if we are going to have roles for trained killers in our society, then the question of who should be able to fill those roles should be based on who can perform the required tasks, not on outdated notions of gender essentialism and social custom.