There we sat at a congressional hearing, waiting to testify, when ZAP -- struck by a sudden time warp -- absurdities of years gone by flashed before us.
All week, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel heard testimony on increasing the role of women in the military. The issues, side issues and non-issues concerning American women in combat were examined and re-examined.
Finally, it was our turn. We of Federally Employed Women, Inc., support the Department of Defense bill to repeal restrictions against assigning women to combat units. Clearly, serious questions can and should be asked about the role of women in combat.
We argue that discretion must be usedwhen assigning anyone to combat, but that such decisions be based on ability, not sex.
We quickly realized we were in the minority. One look at the witness list cued us that the stage was set, but no amount of foresight could have buffered us against our opponents' disregard for reason and facts. That we have opposition on this issue is not surprising or disturbing; it is the nature of the opposition that galls.
Basically, the theme and scare tactics were the same as for other issues in which women move beyond "their place." But the illogic, rancor and obsolescence of the arguments made me feel like we had regressed suddenly to some darker age when women were chattel, their competence denied and their intelligence denigrated.
For instance: You thought those old Freudian "penis-envy" theories had died between the musty pages of unused freshman psychology texts? Not really. A "senior psychiatrist" from the Menninger Foundation testified that "these women" (feminists, I presume) are involed in a "pseudomale struggle." He added that any feminists with whom he has dealt have deep-seated emotional conflicts in adjusting to their feminine roles because they are seeking "supermale indentities."
Further, training women to be aggressive will surely destory family life. He concluded that "women produce better warriors than they themselves can ever become."
And perhaps, like me, you thought Congress, however slow to act, was at least sensitized to women's issues. How then does one react to one member's statement that feminism is simply an "egalitarian craze," and that if this fad doesn't end soon, we will find ourselves in the same situation as Russia and China?
The mouthing of sexual stereotypes was not confined, of course, to men. A retired woman general asserted that she had never known in her entire lifetime "10 women who could endure three months under actual combat conditions in an Army unit." With that, she summarily dismissed the sacrifice and suffering, the courage and patriotism of Army nurses in the Philippines, in New Guinea, in Vietnam, and of the 17,000 WACs who served overseas in World War II combat theaters.
And what discussion of "woman's place" would be complete without a few "if-God-had-wanted . . . " diatribes? More than one witness claimed they knew God's position on the issue of women in the military.
A minister from the Moral Majority (who said he represents 83,000 ministers) testified that women don't belong in the armed services because nowhere in the Bible does God call women into military service. He also asserted that "leadership and authority are male attributes ordained by God." Therefore: "Women in combat roles violate the order of creation, the will of God."
But in case we feminists feel powerless at times, we were given full credit for the decline of religion, the abolition of prayer in the schools, immorality, pornography, abortion, homosexuality, pre-marital sex and the breakup of the American family. Now, that's POWER!
As our antihero Phyllis -- who took time out from baking bread and tending the hearth -- told it, integrating combat units will demoralized the troops, with poor, defenseless soldiers seduced by wanton females in fatigues. She fears we will have men and women sleeping in the same tents "under orders," making the baby boom look like zero population growth.
But it was the bit about hormones that most got to me. I was enlightened by a member from the Eagle Forum (a right-wing publication) who implied that one's life experiences and thought processes have little to do with one's politics. It's all in the hormones. She didn't just blurt this out; I had to dig a little.
During a break, I asked her if she or someone in her group would like to sit down, one-on-one, and talk about theissue of women in the military, for education's sake. She looked at me as if I had taken leave of my senses; it was out of the question. For one thing, even though I am 33 years old, with two children, I am clearly too immature to know what's good for me, and when I grow up, I'll certainly see things her way. Her children had all "gone through" this, and what with drugs and sex, it's a wonder they came around at all.
She called me over during the next break and said, "Dear, I don't want to be mean or ugly, but when you get home tonight, take a good, long look in the mirror. Look at the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you hold your chin, the way you hold your elbows" (my elbows? ).
She paused again to look at me, in my skirt and heels, and at my colleagues, one of whom, in hat, gloves and skirted suit, could have passed for a model, and the other, heaven forbid, in a pantsuit. "Look at all of you, the way you look -- TOO MANY MALE HORMONES!"
Imagine, if you will, my shock and dismay. We've finally beaten down the myth that we can't cut it as professionals because of too many female hormones, only to find out that we don't have enough! Reassured, after a subtle peek at my chest for any new hairs, I slipped her a note withdrawing my offer for further discussion. She responded with a note which I shall treasure forever, and shall take out now and then to recharge my commitment.
"My dear," she wrote, "I never accepted your offer. It was too obvious from the beginning that your immaturity, coupled with your fem-lib mind-set, have you locked into a roleplaying. This can be, indeed often is, due to a hormonal imbalance and this is sad. But what is worse is the danger you have become to our nation!"
I share all this, not only to shed a little grim humor on what is seriour stuff, but with the hope that it may shock others into a bit of reality testing. If many still think like this, we've got to stop believing we've come a long way, and start wondering how far we have yet to go.