In the middle of the 20th Century, there was a lot of debate about who should be drafted for military service -- specifically about whether it was fair to draft boys, and whether it was fair to draft men with children. Absent from the debate was talk of drafting women.
In 1943, the United States Congress considered drafting 17-year-old boys to meet the military's manpower needs. Rep. Clare Boothe Luce said it might be necessary, though "brutal."
Admiral Randall Jacobs told the Senate that drafting boys would have some advantages -- "they were more adaptable because they had no 'preconceived ideas,'" presumably meaning they're easier to control. Better to draft boys than fathers, chimed in Brig. Gen. Albert Cox.
The House Military Committee seemed to think the choice came down to either drafting 17 year old boys, or to start taking older men -- the law allowed men to be drafted up to age 45, but the prevailing practice was to cut it off at 38.
The majority of Americans were okay with drafting young men with dependents -- so long as the government would take care of the dependents.
After World War II, the policy shifted and the draft age jumped all the way to 19. That's too high, said Anna Rosenberg of the Defense Department, the U.S. needs more manpower. The notion of drafting women to fill those needs simply wasn't an option. Rosenberg went before Congress to lower the draft age to 18. To justify it, she cited that beacon of civil rights, China -- she explained that China drafts 16-year-old boys.
In 1952, the situation was so desperate that Rosenberg said women were needed to fill non-combat military jobs. Did Rosenberg call for women to be drafted? Of course not. She called for women to volunteer for non-combat armed services jobs -- or, she said, the U.S. would be forced to start drafting young fathers with deferments and even men who'd already been fought in a war. But drafting women? Out of the question!
Of course, the military draft ended in the 1970s, and now, young men are required to sign up for selective service at age 18 or risk criminal charges and and the prospect of losing all sorts of benefits. Many young men are penalized. Young women are exempt from registration. It's a myth that selective service doesn't pose disadvantages for men. Current plans are that if a draft is necessary, women will be exempt.
The Selective Service's Web site is replete with assertions of its own fairness -- ironic, given that more than half the population of eligible Americans are exempt from registering and are not subject to any of the attendant penalties for failing to do so. The site says that the Selective Service System ensures that "any future draft will be fair and equitable . . .." And: "If a draft is ever needed, the public must see that it is fair and equitable. For that to happen, the maximum number of eligible men must be registered."
So who wants to keep women from being drafted? Men, right? If you read the progressive blogosphere, it just the men steeped in traditional gender roles.
In a 1957 poll of teenagers, more girls than boys thought a military draft was necessary. A surprising 40% of teenage boys wanted to see women drafted along with men -- but only 4% of their female counterparts wanted to see women drafted. One girl told a reporter: "Women are the guardians of the home."
But that was the unenlightened 50s, right? Fast forward to 1980. The Carter administration made it clear the president wanted to register women for military service. A 1980 poll showed adult women strongly favoring resumption of the draft -- but most women did not want women included. Men, on the other hand, favored drafting women. (Interestingly, a 1980 poll also showed more men than women in favor of the ERA.)
A 1981 poll showed men evenly divided on drafting women, but women were "strongly opposed."
In the early 80s, after her public service had ended, Clare Boothe Luce -- the woman who once talked about drafting 17-year-old boys -- called for a universal draft that would be fair for everyone: every 18 and 19-year-old would be drafted without any class, race, or college exemptions. Oh, but the draft would only include males.
That was a long time ago you say? Fast forward to a 2013 poll. "If a draft were called, however, men backed the conscription of women as well as men, by 59-36, the poll said." But women still want to retain the female exemption. "48 percent of the women surveyed said they did not want women to be drafted while 45 percent said they should be."
Most people accept the gender roles assigned to them. Not just men.