IT'S FINALLY HAPPENED. The worst predictions of the anti-ERA forces have come about. Someone is seriously suggesting that women be registered for the draft. Not some kook, mind you, but the secretary of defense, Harold Brown, who actually has proposed it to Congress. This time it's no laughing matter. This time the argument that equal rights for women could mean drafting women must be taken seriously.
Secretary Brown told Congress on Monday that if it is going to restore the draft and shelve the all-volunteer army concept, then it better consider women as well as men. Rep. G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery (D-Miss.), a member of the Armed Services Committee who wants to restore the draft, said he hadn't thought about drafting women but he didn't have any problems with that. "In this equal rights environment," he told a reporter, "Men are going to challenge in court any legislation that drafts them and not women."
They probably are. And women probably are going to challenge in court any legislation that drafts men and not women, not because women can't wait to get drafted, but because there are women's organizations committed to the idea of equality, even if it hurts. Even if it means women might go into combat.
"There are a lot of who believe women should have access to a military career and the educational and career opportunities it provides," says Carol Parr, chair of the National Coalition for Women and Defense, a group that is made up of representatives from numerous women's organizations concerned with issues involving women and the military.
"Plus I feel there's a much deeper issue at stake," says Parr. "Participating in the military, I believe, is an act of citizenship and... I think it's important that society face up to the fact that women fully participate in the life of this country. We've made progress on women in coal mines, women in police work, women in corporate management, in positions of responsibility in the government. But there's still one big void and that is women in leadership positions in the military. I think if there's any legislation passed that requires young people to register for the draft, I think that legislation should apply to young women as well as to men."
What about women in combat?"i'm the parent of a daughter and a son," says Parr. "Adn I feel that I would prefer that neither of my children have to go into a combat role, but I would not want to distinguish between them and say one has to go because he's a boy and the other's girl. No, I would not be opposed to women in combat."
There is, of course, the other side. "Basically our view is that women should not be drafted and women should not be assigned combat roles in the military," says Howard Phillips, executive director of the Conservative Caucus, which also opposes the ERA.
"The principle role of women is to nurture and raise children. There is no higher calling in civilization," says Phillips.
He says that grass roots organizations affiliated with the Conservative Caucus will become involved in lobbying against efforts to draft women if such legislation is proposed. "The question of women in combat is perceived by most of us as part of the larger question of women in society. The decline of the family in American society is a very strong concern that has focused the interest of a number of people on legislative questions that affect the family."
"I personally would hate to see drafting women," says Dick Dingman, executive director of the Republican Study Committee, emphasizing that he was speaking for himself, and not for the committee, which is a research support group for two-thirds of the moderate and conservative House Republicans. "I think it's just a further encouragement of the getting away from traditional family unit lifestyles and I really feel that deterioration of the family unit in this country is a very serious detrimental factor.
"I do not feel a woman should be in combat. There are many support roles a woman can fill in the military without exposing them to combat. I guess I'm just inherently protective of women."
Dingman is not opposed to women volunteering for military service but he is opposed to drafting them. "It's really a fulfillment of things the proponents of the ERA said was not an issue and the opponents said Was an issue."
Dingman is right about that and clearly the issue of drafting women ought to have been taken seriously all along. True, the Congress has always had the power to draft women but it never did so. But Congress has never functioned in an era so committed to equality for the sexes.
Opponents of the ERA knew, all along, that equality under the law also could mean equality under the draft and they used it as a scare tactic to frighten off ERA supporters. After all, argued the anti-ERA forces, men got drafted and women had the babies and why should we get stuck doing both tasks if the men can't? There's equal and there's such a thing as being too equal. They turned the draft into a bitter pill women would have to swallow along with the Equal Rights Amendment, and they found an audience that said it wasn't worth it.
The draft may, indeed, be a bitter pill, something we swallow in order to establish equality on all fronts. The draft, of course, has some advantages. It takes away an element of choice and adds one of compulsion, but in return it offers women the same opportunities it traditionally has offered men: career training, an opening into the military old boys network, dependent allowances, veterans benefits for higher education and housing.
But the draft is an alien prospect to most women. We don't understand what the military is, what happens when people are in boot camp, when they go through all sorts of primitive training and drills. It's alien and alarming and probably just as boring and grueling as the men have been saying it is.
We may not like getting drafted any more than the men do, and there are a lot of people who don't like the idea of the draft for anyone. But we can't say it's not an issue any more. If men are going to be drafted then women should be drafted too. We may not like it and we may hope it doesn't happen, but if it does, it will only be fair.