Look out! Incoming brain-fart!!

Equality for women in war is sheer lunacy

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.

Bingo! The naturalistic fallacy. I knew it would come out soon or later. Sheridan indulges in both versions of it, the is-ought problem, and assuming that if it’s natural, it must be good.

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.

Cross posted


21 responses to “Look out! Incoming brain-fart!!

  1. There are many historical cases of female warriors, attested through the ancient authors. And I’m not just talking about Amazons.

  2. He also misses the real point: because of the unpredictable nature of war women do end up on the frontline, and they’re denied the proper training to contribute to the efforts of their army or to protect themselves most effectively.

    (When my Dad was conscripted he volunteered very quickly to become a cook, it’s a strategy I intend to employ should my number ever come up)

  3. The question answers itself straight away, really. Given his ignorance about the ‘wilder shores of feminism’, none of the arguments you so patiently unpack here will ever have penetrated his brain.

    Innercitygarden, yes. Except that I’d go for medic, I think.

  4. So he obviously hasn’t read any of the stuff coming out of the US from the Generals who have women on their staff. I read one last weekend, where the General said that although the women weren’t officially on the front line, as there isn’t actually a real line, everyone was in it together. Women driving vehicles could come under fire just the same as anyone else and had to be able to respond. Not only that, but they did so and they did it well. That’s why he put some of them in positions of command.

  5. Thanks for the logic. But, as DrCat says, less wise heads than ours may prevail.

  6. Incidentally, on the matter of wilder shores, I didn’t know we had a feminist beach, and frankly I’m a bit upset that none of you ever told me. Do we have a beach house too? Do I have to book in or can I just rock up with my Wollstonecraft under my arm?

  7. 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.

    Or possibly that the standards aren’t as essential as they were perceived to be, or in fact that the standards, rather than being an objective measure of the baseline of fitness required to comfortably and reliably manage duties are in fact a measure set partly at a level designed to exclude women. I understand from the Mercury 13 stories that it wouldn’t be a first to have standards for which one of the main inputs is “there’s no way a woman will pass this test!”

  8. So he obviously hasn’t read any of the stuff coming out of the US from the Generals who have women on their staff.

    One such story is G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier in the New York Times.

  9. godardsletterboxes

    Brilliant piece. People who can’t see through essentialised gender positions need to be called on it. And I totally agree – I would rather there not be soldiers at all, but if there are going to be soldiers, women can do the same things men can.

  10. Or possibly that the standards aren’t as essential as they were perceived to be,

    I just made a similar point on Robert’s thread over at LP.

  11. Those arguing against women in combat always offer us a paradox: “Girls can’t fight, and they shouldn’t.” But if they can’t do something, it doesn’t matter what they should do. If they genuinely can’t do it, let them try, fail and then that’ll be the end of the argument.

    The only reason to prohibit something is because it’s possible. There is no law preventing an illiterate who never finished primary school from applying to be Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Monash. Those who are genuinely incapable will apply and be rejected. Simple.

    Recruitment into the armed forces and the various positions within them should be based entirely on objective requirements.

    That is, someone who is going to be an infantry soldier probably needs to be able to do 30 pushups – dropping to the ground on contact then getting up and charging forward a few metres before dropping again, all with pack, webbing and rifle, this takes some upper body strength – and run 5km in under 25 minutes, that sort of thing.

    Someone who is going to be a clerk in an Army office probably does not need to be able to do 30 pushups and run 5km in under 25 minutes.

    At the moment, the standards for male and female recruits are different, and for older recruits. So if you’re going to be a 20 year old male clerk you’re required to be fitter and stronger than a 35 year female clerk. Why? You’ll be shuffling the same papers.

    Look at the actual requirements of the job, set the standards, then let people try out for them, regardless of being male or female, black or white, 50 years old or 20 years old, missing limbs or retarded or whatever. Don’t adjust the requirements to suit the number of recruits you need that year (raise to cut them down, lower to bring more in), don’t come up with bullshit requirements to exclude certain parts of the population, etc. Just look at what the particular job actually requires.

    The only reason to prohibit them from even trying is because we’re worried they’ll succeed. Someone upthread commented that conservative males always oppose women in combat. It’s more accurate to say that rich conservative males oppose it. They also oppose rich people fighting, this is why they are so fond of a volunteer army. Conscription might accidentally grab a few rich kids (though it is usually designed to let them off).

    What Greg Sheridan and others want is to ensure that the only people fighting in wars are poor and working class young men. No women, no middle-classed or rich people, no-one they know.

    Sheridan and others are quite fond of speaking in praise of various wars. It’s a lot easier to do that when you’ve never felt the weight of a pack, seen someone die close up, or hear someone’s grief at the loss of the life or limb of a loved one.

  12. I read the very interesting War and Gender a few years ago (although I never finished it, unfortunately) and it provided some very interesting research on why war has been so comprehensively a male domain. The book isn’t entirely without issues, but its conclusion that Is does not equal Ought is one I can agree with.

  13. That book looks fascinating, George. I skimmed the conclusion, but I may try to hunt down a copy so I can read the whole thing.

  14. >Sheridan suggests that one day, science may enable men to have artificial wombs, asks, “Would we want to do that?”

    Oh hell yes! Better living through science ftw.

  15. I identify as a pacifist, and yet I can’t help feeling that Mr. Sheridan has at least one argument backwards. As in, if women were allowed to become trained killers, wouldn’t that make men more likely to leave us alone, rather than become coarsened and infantilized?

    Please note that I’m not arguing that women becoming violent against men would actually have any chance of stopping men’s violence against women, just that Mr. Sheridan’s argument tends to point more that way than the way he thinks it does.

  16. Ignore all the sexism and there’s still two big, gaping holes in his logic:

    a) The Aussie forces aren’t fighting a nation-state’s army, they’re fighting a decentralised guerilla insurgency. There isn’t a front line, female soldiers are going to get shot at and shoot back wherever they are.

    b) The Soviet Union used female combatants in World War 2. It did not seem to impair the Red Army – on top of which, the most decorated of the Soviet air force? Female bomber pilots. Who were flying to the front line in inferior planes and getting shot at daily.

    And wow, Greg sure seems to think being in the army in wartime is a horrible place to put women – so why the fuck is he pro-war then? Afghanistan doesn’t become happy-fun-time because you have a penis, Greg.

  17. ” Women aren’t strong enough to lift 45 kilo shells”

    My head just exploded. Seriously what is wrong with this guy? He can’t actually believe that.

  18. I’m amazed he thinks that women who couldn’t lift 45 kilo shells would be put on the front lines in combat _lifting 45 kilo shells_.

    I believe there’s physical requirements for the army and other jobs on the front.

  19. …I just noticed he uses rugby to back himself up, claiming why would we want to see women in the Rugby League taking the physical punishment that men do? Except he follows the rugby league and says he has admiration for an injured player – so why does HE want MEN to take that sort of punishment then?

    Also, women play rugby and have their own rugby leagues (I’m pretty sure there’s one in Australia too). They don’t play against men, but they still play it and it can still cause severe physical damage.

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