Women May Soon Be Required To Register For The Draft – Implications For Women, The Military, And Society
*This article is a comparison of arguments and is meant only to provide information and perspective. It contains no personal opinions of the author and in no way reflects the opinion or outlook of the DoD.*
The debate about Selective Service registration and gender has been going on for decades, with compelling arguments on either side. Many have questioned the constitutionality, morality, and general fairness of requiring only men to register for selective service while letting females, “off the hook.” The Supreme Court’s recent rejection of the National Coalition For Men vs. Selective Service System lawsuit has lit a fire under the issue, sweeping it to the center of national attention.
A Quick History
The military draft in the United States dates back to the Civil War, when Congress passed the Civil War Military Draft Act of 1863 as a way to beef up the force of the Union Army. All Males between the ages of 20 and 45 were required to register, but there was a loophole. Those with money often hired other men to go in their place, or would pay a fee of $300 to avoid it altogether. For context, $300 in 1863 equates to $6,468.95 today.
The Civil War draft set a key precedent, eventually leading to the Selective Services Act, which required men aged 21 through 40 to register for the Selective Service System. The system documented eligible men as a way to prepare for World War I.
Men were drafted for every war after that up until the end of the Vietnam War. In 1973, Congress retired the draft authorization for Vietnam, and in 1975, President Ford officially ended the requirement to register for the Selective Service System. Unfortunately for men of the era, that luxury only lasted about 5 years before President Carter brought the requirement back. The system has largely remained the same since then.
One year after President Carter’s reversal, the Supreme Court ruled that the gender-based requirement was constitutional in Roskter v. Goldberg. But that was before all combat positions became available to women in 2016. And with the Supreme Court deferring the National Coalition For Men vs. Selective Service System, we no longer have a set precedent1.
In 2019, a federal judge from Texas ruled that a male-only draft is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection provisions of the Constitution. But the opinion of one judge doesn’t hold that much weight. For now, Congress will deliberate and eventally decide on the state of the requirement.
So, Should Women Be Required To Register?
To answer this question, we’ll have to dive into the arguments on either side, starting with the proponents. The primary argument for women to be eligible for the draft is that women and men have a shared responsibility to protect the nation in the event of war. The logic is that true gender equality would mean both men and women should have to serve.
While this argument is often used as a derogatory way to counter modern feminism, it does at it’s core have merit. A friend of mine put it like this: “As women, we expect equality in all aspects of our lives, even if it sucks.” Equality means sharing all responsibilities, regardless of whether or not it’s something we want to do.
Today, women make up 17% of the armed forces, and that statistic will probably only increase as the military makes an effort to recruit more women. With so many female volunteers, women have proven themselves capable of serving in the military. The eligible pool of civilian women probably won’t be as numerous as that of men, but proponents of gender-neutral draft argue that if they’re physically capable, they should be required to register.
It’s unclear whether the drafted women would be subject to combat roles. That’s a whole other topic to debate, but it’s definitely an interesting one. Could women be drafted into the infantry if they meet the physical standards? We already know of women who have conquered these brutal training pipelines. Would they be integrated with men, thereby causing the ever-present issue of relationships forming, or would there be all-female platoons, similar to FETs in Afghanistan? These are questions that are currently hypothetical, but need to be considered in tandem with the idea of a gender-neutral draft.
The final piece of this discussion is the idea that making everyone eligible for the draft would reduce the disconnect between society and the military. Despite being citizens of the same country, the two groups often misunderstand each other. But the likelihood of anyone actually being drafted anytime soon is slim, and simply registering for the draft doesn’t give anyone actual military experience, which would be needed to facilitate the desired level of understanding.
American society tends to treat it’s “daughters” differently than it’s “sons.” Most people are uncomfortable with sending women to war. When faced with the idea of allowing women to be drafted, or even voluntarily serving, Americans think of how they would feel if their own daughters, granddaughters, nieces, etc. were put in that position, and they feel uneasy.
When I told my family I wanted to join the military – and the Marine Corps, no less – I was met with skepticism and worry. The fact is, I would always be “their little girl,” and that’s not something that you just grow out of. Now, if my brother had taken the same path I did, I’m sure my family would’ve been over the moon. But he didn’t, and they weren’t. Eventually my family accepted my decision and supported me whole-heartedly, but I’ve experienced the double standard first-hand. To a point, it’s understandable, so let’s analyze these arguments.
First, there’s the ever-present argument of physiology. Women and men are simply built different, with men generally being much stronger, faster, and “more capable” of fighting wars than women. The problem with this argument it that it’s not particularly relevant to making women eligible for the draft.
There are a multitude of different jobs that need to be done in the military, the large majority of them being in an office. Yes, military members need to be physically fit, but do bulging biceps and sculpted abs make someone a better intelligence analyst than a person who’s just generally fit? You don’t need to be on the front lines to help fight a war.
Piling on to the physiological argument, women in the military have a higher rate of injury than men. A study of Army basic training found that women were twice as likely than men to be injured while in training2. In my personal experience, I’ve noticed that women are particularly prone to injury in the hips, due to the way that the gear sits on our bodies. Check out this article to prevent injuries and take care of yourself during a hike.
From a rational standpoint, men are cheaper and faster to train than women. The last thing the military wants in a time of war is to have a bunch of injured recruits doing nothing and still getting paid. The goal of Selective Service registration is to enhance readiness, but drafting women may reduce it.
These arguments weave together to form another major concern that women have about joining the military, which is how they’ll be treated by men. Perceived differences in the capabilities of men and women in the military have led to women being bullied, harassed, and assaulted. Nearly a quarter of active duty women were sexually harassed in 2018, and 13,000 women were assaulted or raped3. Who would want to be forced into that kind of environment?
Bear in mind, women aren’t the only ones. In that same year, 6.3% of active duty men were sexually harassed, and 7,500 were assaulted or raped3. So while it’s more likely to happen to women, men would have to deal with the same issues in the event of a draft.
However, even if women were required to register for selective service, it wouldn’t really make much of a difference in day to day lives. There hasn’t been a draft since the Vietnam War, and barring the outbreak of WWIII, there probably won’t be another. And if something did pop off that required extra military support, the required numbers would be easily filled by those who have already registered.
Earlier, we briefly discussed women being drafted into the infantry, and how integration would work – the two options being integrated or all-female infantry units. A 2015 study by the Marine Corps found that all-male units performed better than integrated units in every possible measure, and the top 25% of females overlapped with the bottom 25% of males4.
Those are some bleak figures, but what about all-female units? From what I could find, the United States military doesn’t have real-life measurements of all-female infantry platoons. However, we can get an idea of their effectiveness by looking at the experiences of foreign militaries.
In 1917, Russia created the first female infantry battalion, known as the Russian Women’s Battalion of Death. Led by Maria Bochkareva, the battalion demonstrated extreme tactical proficiency in a trench battle with the Germans near Smorgon. Bochkareva’s battalion was the first to charge through No Man’s Land, going before all the skeptical male units – though they did eventually follow her lead5.
For other examples, see the Jegertroppen (Hunter Troops) of Norway, their first all-female special operations unit. They go through the same training as men, with only minute differences in physical standards. And by minute, I mean, women get 3 extra minutes on a 4 mile ruck run – nothing to write home about. Sadly due to the inherently secret nature of special operations, I doubt they’d ever publish figures measuring the Jergertroppen against male special forces.
But these women are able to do the job, and their gender opens up new intelligence-gathering opportunities that men simply don’t have. They were created in the same logic vein as Female Engagement Teams from the US, because, as women, they’re less threatening to local populations, and can therefore interact more with the citizens on the ground. Those kinds of relationships are crucial for getting insider information while deployed.
One thing to mention is that we’ll never truly know the effectiveness of all-female units unless we actually let them get out there and do the job. This article put it nicely, “without the empirical evidence the “audit of battle” reveals, any assessment of integration will be purely theoretical.” I’ve gone pretty far down in the rabbit hole at this point, but it’s important to weigh all these factors.
Finally, to take a completely different vein of questioning, consider if the registration requirement itself will continue to exist. There is a push to get rid of it altogether, for both men and women. Now, the disbandment the Selective Service system will almost certainly never happen, simply due to it’s negative effects on perceived readiness, but someone has to play the Devil’s Advocate.
What are your thoughts on mandating women to register for selective service? Make sure to share in the forum.
- The Draft – History
- High injury rates among female army trainees: a function of gender?
- Military Sexual Assault Fact Sheet
- Marine Corps Study – NPR Report
- Georgetown Pub – Women In Combat: Bad For Military Effectiveness?