We are going back to the Constitution again, back to this legal document we use like a gym mat. Again, nine men, dressed in ceremonial black robes, will wrestle over one of the toughest social issues.
This time it's the draft.
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether or not an all-male draft is "unconstitutional." If it is, we'll have two choices: to eliminate the draft altogether or extend it to women. If it isn't, we'll see the ruling applied to other segregated "jobs" and ideas.
The lawyers will, I'm sure, phrase their arguments precisely, each proving that he or she reads the true meaning of the Constitution. But the issue of women and the draft evokes feelings as well as precedents. It involves personal goals as well as legal ones.
Since last winter when the notion of drafting women emerged as a real possibility, it has held a central place in our minds. It strikes to the core of our concerns over how the lives of men and women are and aren't changing.
It doesn't take a great legal scholar to see how many of us are stuck in the mud of social transition.
The movement of women has been uneven, and we know that. Women have gained more responsibilities than power. We're in the work force in great numbers, but at low wages. We belong to more institutions, but lead few of them. We follow more rules than we make. We carry new jobs at work and old jobs at home.
The men we live with and work with also fell stuck at times, carrying the familiar weight of wage earners and asked to add unfamiliar weights at home. Many are hostile to the demand for equality without the proof of equality.
Stuck here in the middle, many of us have looked to our children for more change. One man tells us half-jokingly that he is a traditionalist with his wife and a feminist for his daughter. I know women who, afraid of disrupting their own lives, tell me about their own homes and ambitions for their daughters.
But we are aware that the next generation is also in transition. Our daughters particularly are amalgams of skills. They learn carpentry in school . . . and passivity. They are expected to be ambitious for themselves . . . and sensitive to others. They are expected to be stars . . . and cheerleaders. They are expected to be independent . . . and obedient.
The young men and women of draft age have changed more than we did, but less than we hoped they would. They are coming into a world in which women do not have equal power.
So we can't help wondering whether it is fair to saddle young women with more obligations. We wonder whether they will be stronger or just more victimized.
The issue comes to a head when we think about our daughters and the draft: fighting, war. This is the life-and-death duty they've been protected from. This is the last, and most dangerous, responsibility.
If women are mired in this traditional mud, should we refuse to follow a law until we have the power to make it. Which is better for women in this current state of stasis: protection or risk?
Frankly, I don't have much faith in protection. In the long run, it turns into a protection racket. We always pay for it, with obedience or silence or fear. A decision in favor of an all-male draft would be used to "protect" women back into their old restrictions.
Protection rackets in wartime have always been costly. The bargain was this: give us your sons and husbands, and we'll let you keep your daughters. Let us make war, and then we will protect you.
So I opt for risk if it will fuel change. And yet I know how difficult it is to offer up our daughters as hostages to the fate of our ideas, of the long run.
The Supreme Court will not hear these arguments. The lawyers phrase their words in cooler tones, in briefs. But this is the debate that goes on inside our minds when as courtroom spectators, we watch the draft issue finally wrestled down to the constitutional mat.