As I said last week, I really hated buying Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power because it put money in his pocket, but it has proven a wise decision. While he’s got one or two good things to say — unlike a lot of people I cover in Undead Sexist Cliches, he doesn’t believe men are innately violent or that we can’t be nurturing — his efforts to both-sides feminism (men and women are both oppressed! Women hurt men as badly as men hurt women!) are a mess of bullshit.
I’ll get into that when I’ve finished the whole book, but today I want to focus on one particular point. In discussing how men and only men have to register for the draft, Farrell asks how we’d feel if the president suddenly announced “Since 1.2 million American men have been killed in war, as part of my new program for equality, we will draft only women until 1.2 million American women have been killed in war.”
No, he’s not making a serious proposal, he’s just using this to dramatize how men, in his view, are oppressed and feminists don’t care. He complains, for example, that feminists offered women greater freedom without calling for greater responsibilities — notice how NOW didn’t call for 18-year-old girls to be drafted like men? Feminists think women are oppressed but it’s only men who die in wars or fighting to create empires.
Even given that Farrell’s not serious, his proposal creeps me out. It’s the equivalent of BLM saying they’ll stop protesting when they see one white cop shot for every innocent black person killed by a cop. Even if BLM were just doing it to dramatize injustice, it would feel very wrong. So does Farrell.
That aside, his fixation on the draft is a good example of how tottyheaded his thinking is. I’m in complete agreement that both men and women (and the nonbinary) should register as long as selective service exists. However registration hasn’t turned into a draft in the past forty years, not even when our military was straining to cope with the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations. Farrellis correct that the government could order all registered men report for induction, but it doesn’t seem likely. Nor does his link between a men-only draft and prison rape make a lick of sense.
He complains that Margaret Thatcher was exempt from the UK draft but didn’t get judged for it the way Bill Clinton and Dan Quayle did. It’s hard to see Thatcher not being eligible is equivalent to consciously avoiding the draft; if Clinton had been pilloried just for not enlisting, the argument would make more sense (Obama didn’t serve and didn’t get much crap about it). Then again, W avoided the draft and was largely held up as a fighter pilot war hero manly man while decorated veteran John Kerry was branded a weasel who faked his own injuries. Farrell couldn’t have known that in 1993 when his book came out, but he could have acknowledged it in the updated introduction.
Farrell’s point isn’t just the draft/registration, it’s the general principle that fighting and dying in a war shouldn’t be a measure of manhood. No argument here (though from reading a lot of military history, I think there’s a lot more to war and being a soldier). But Farrell twists the argument to the breaking point to fit his theme, that society oppresses men to protect women. Men die in wars so that women can be safe. Men die in colonial wars so that their country’s economy will grow and families can afford to raise children. Men — not women!
Farrell had no way of knowing that women in 2021 would be able to join the military and serve in combat roles (something some women have done throughout history). Even in 1993, though, his argument is bullshit (as We Hunted the Mammoth has pointed out discussing male body counts). Our military casualties in Vietnam were overwhelmingly (not entirely) male but thousands of Vietnamese women died along with their men. Women died in the Rape of Nanking. They died in the London Blitz. They died in empire building: the warriors in America’s Indian Wars may have been male but Native American women died in the millions along with their men.
And how is this feminism’s fault? The American males-only draft was the work of a government dominated by men (and no, the primary motive was not to protect America’s women). The same government excluded women from serving in combat — it wasn’t until the Spanish-American War that women had any role in the U.S. military. Feminists didn’t push for women to be drafted; they did, however support the Equal Rights Amendment which would have mandated a gender-neutral draft (antifeminist women hated the idea). Feminists have a long history of opposing the draft for men and supporting the rights of women to serve in combat roles (though some feminists saw this as caving into the military-industrial complex or worried about military service putting women under the control of men).
Betty Friedan saw the potential for what Farrell claims feminists neglected, the chance to redefine masculinity: if both genders are fighters, violence no longer defines manhood. TYG’s comment when I mentioned Farrell’s idea was that she’d be delighted with a women-only draft. A generation or two where women got heavily trained in how to fight and use weapons and men didn’t? Works for her.
I suspect both these thoughts are among the reasons right-wingers hate women in the military, like Ted Cruz freaking out that women soldiers can’t win against Russia’s manly essence. The last thing he wants in the world is women who are tougher and stronger than he’ll ever be.
Like I said, I’ll be back with more on the book in a later post.