AH, LADIES, there is much talk about you now. The president has appeared before Congress and said that he will ask to resume registration for the draft. After registration, as surely as day follows night, will come the draft itself. Ladies, the nation wonders if it should include you in its plans. Tell the nation it should not.
Hold the phone. Put down the pen. I am not your basic sexist. In fact, I am no sexist at all. I believe in equality of the sexes and I have no truck with those who will argue, as they surely will, that women are too weak or too small or too silly or too giddy to wear the uniform of the United States Army. I've been in that army. I know better.
No, there is something else on my mind and it came to me, as these things often do, in a telephone call from a reader. It was one of several I received on the subject of women and the draft, only this was not like the others -- mothers worrying about daughters. This caller was saying something different. She was saying that women should be eligible for the draft, but that they should not go -- at least not until the Equal Rights Amendment is ratified.
Now here was something refreshing -- a bold thought. This was not the old "should-women-be-drafted?" refrain. The Answer to that is plain -- yes. Even the army thinks it's a good idea and the army ought to know what it is talking about.
At the moment, for instance, the army allows women volunteers to perform almost every job short of combat, from which they are barred by law. Of 352 military occuptational specialities, only 26 are restricted to men and these are all combat related.
No siree. As an issue, the matter is hardly worth discussion. In fact, there is almost nothing in the proposition that will not benefit women and maybe hurt men. For instance, I myself would have had a considerably different army career had women been there in great numbers.
Most of my service time was spent behind the keyboard of a typewriter. What the rifle was to the infantryman, the Remington Standard was to me, and while it can't be said it got me through the war, it sure did get me out of KP. With women drafted, chances are that male clerks would be replaced and dispatched to combat areas where mistakes cannot simply be whited over.
That draft might even be something of a boon to women. It would entitle them to the perks that have been, by and large, the exclusive privileges of men -- things like educational benefits and mortgages and that great bugaboo of the women's movement, veterans' preferences in hiring and promotion. These are benefits men come by honestly, but that does not change the outcome. They discriminate against women.
Probably the best reason to have a draft for women, though, is to shatter what remains of the Madonna stereotype -- not the notion that women couldn't be in the army, but that they shouldn't be. This is the final barrier for women, this vision of purity and lace, subscribed to by men and women alike. It puts women on a pedestal -- out of reach and often out of a job.
But if there is one overriding reason for having women as well as men eligible for the draft, it is that the nation has finally recognized that women and men are equal -- not the same, but equal. It is a way of saying that women now have the same obligations of men, that the nation recognizes their talents and their abilities and also their responsibilities.
Well, if this is the case, it is time the nation put it in writing. The basic concepts here are no different than those contained in the Equal Rights Amendment, which in eight years has failed to garner the 38 states needed for ratification and, instead, has been kicked around -- traded, ignored, rescined, denounced.
And if this is the case, then it is not that much different than the case made by the kids when they said that if they were going to be drafted, they were also going to want to vote. In spirit, it is not all much different than the argument of some blacks who wondered why they were being drafted to defend a nation, that, in many cases, was depriving them of their basic civil rights.
If there must be a draft, women ought to share the burden. Equal rights means equal opportunities, but the trouble is that there is not yet a guarantee of equal rights. In fact, the effort to secure one has so far been rebuffed.
So crank up the draft and make the necessary studies. In the meantime, you ladies of draft age, my generation gives to yours a chant once dear to our heart: Hell no, we won't go.