SOMETIMES WHEN mulling over the question of whether women should be drafted like men, I think of women I see when I am out jogging, and then I remember the expression "runs like a girl." It was an epithet, really, and it was applied to men who ran in a spastic, jerky fashion -- men who were considered something less than real men. The trouble is that nowadays not even the girls run like girls.

They run straight out. They run with power. They don't run with their arms flailing the air, with their bodies fighting their forward motion. They run the way men do, and they do awfully well at it.

There is no great cosmic meaning to this. It is just my little way of reminding myself that my notions of women were formed back when women ran like girls -- or I thought they did. I subscribed then to the concept of "the weaker sex" and I do today if we are talking only of physical strength and then only in broad generalities. Aside from an alley fight, you have to wonder if this physical difference matters any.

But it is this alleged and critical weakness that is supposed to be the main reason why women, as a class and as a group, should be excluded from the draft. We are told they would be worthless or nearly so in combat because they are, as we know, weaker -- anything from outright dainty to just marginally weaker. It is supposed to be enough in either case to give an enemy an advantage.

Maybe. But I am no longer sure how much of an advantage the enemy would get or whether, in fact, the situation would ever have to come down to women in combat. Why the army cannot simply look at a person, decide it is either a man or a woman, decide whether to keep or reject that person and then make an assignment to either a combat or noncombat unit is something I cannot figure out.

This is something the army did routinely when it was my employer of record. We all reported for a physical, and there people were what is now called separated out. If you had flat feet you were out, and if you had a punctured ear drum you were out, and if you had the functional intelligence of a snail you were either kicked out or promoted to sergeant on the spot.

But the army did better than that. It exempted certain people for being married or for being in college or for being in graduate school. It exempted people for having ailments no one ever heard of, for studying Kabuki theatre in Hawaii, which is what someone I know did to avoid the army. What it was able to do, you see, was make all kinds of distinctions among men -- physical, educational, intellectual and, as we all know, by class. If you want to die in combat, it helps to be poor.

No one is arguing that subjecting women to the draft would not make things more complicated for the army. Like private clubs in similar situations, it would have to make some changes -- starting with the showers. But it could figure out a way to make sure women went into non-combat organizations (unless, of course, they did not want to), and it could probably even figure out a way to select the hardiest and strongest of the women and use them in situations where only men had been used before. The army, after all, has more than eyes. It has computers also.

And no one is arguing, either, that subjecting women to the draft would not make things harder for men. It would free them up for combat and no longer would men like me spend their army careers in hand-to-hand combat with a typewriter. War really is hell -- at least on the nails.

But the one thing drafting women would do is make a clear statement of principle about the equality of men and women. It would take women off their pedestal -- the one that exalts them, but exalts them, after all, as weaker. It would remove the blanket exemption that all women possess simply because they are women. They are exempted now not because they are short women or weak women or mentally defective women or women with flat feet, but because they are women. It is an exemption from the draft for sure, but also one from equality, and it is based on a quaint notion of femininity that has nothing to do with reality. Take a look, gents. They don't even run like girls anymore.