Female Soldiers, Passive Women, and “Barbarians”

Growing up in a family highly influenced by the Christian Patriarchy movement, I was taught that having women in the military was an absolute tragedy. I learned that women should never, ever serve in the military. Why? Because men and women have different roles to play.

It is the man’s role to protect and provide. It is the woman’s role to nurture and care for the home. Men are to protect their women, children, and homes. For women to go on the battlefield, then, was a disruption of the natural gender order. Men are to protect, women are to be protected.

The other day I ran across an article called America the Barbarous: New Pentagon Policy Sanctions Women in Combat. It was, not surprisingly, on a blog affiliated with leading Christian Patriarchy group Vision Forum. This article not only articulates what I said above about natural gender roles but also reveals the way this ideology can easily involve viewing women as objects. I’m going to quote from the article and then follow with analysis.

For more than a decade, women representing the U.S. armed forces have been dying in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. America has become a nation of barbarians.

We have reported on this fact numerous times at Vision Forum, previously highlighting a 2004 front page New York Times article which featured a gruesome cover image of a wounded female soldier, blood running down her leg, with three men surrounding her, screaming. Rather callously, the Times titled the article, “A Routine Burst of Chaos Leaves a G.I. Wounded.” In writing the piece, journalist Dexter Filkins in no way keyed in on the fact that the wounded G.I. was a woman — he reported the story as if she had been any other male soldier hit by enemy fire.

Last week the Department of Defense announced a formal change in policy to “allow Military Department Secretaries to assign women in open occupational specialties to select units and positions at the battalion level . . . whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.”

This will open nearly 14,000 “combat-related positions to female troops, including tank mechanics and intelligence officers on the front lines,” as the Washington Post summarized.

While American servicewomen have been in harm’s way for more than a decade — with nearly 200 coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq in body bags since 2001 — the Pentagon’s new policy now authorizes women to be officially attached to combat units on the ground, the very goal of which is to engage the enemy in battle.

This is a first for the United States of America, and it is a cause to mourn as our nation’s leaders — in the name of “empowering” women — are now self-consciously placing women in combat units to be shot at and killed as men.

What are we to think of a culture that openly welcomes our mothers and daughters being assigned to the heat of battle to have their limbs severed, their faces scarred, and their consciences seared as they lie beneath a flag-covered casket? Does this “enlightened policy” represent the fullest expression of Woman, as feminists would have us believe?

Women are to be cherished as the weaker sex, not exploited to fill the roster of an army. Combat is the province of men, and God calls on men to protect women and children. Men fight when their homes and communities are threatened by wicked regimes and lawless rogues who would despoil their loved ones. When necessary, men carry weapons into battle and give their lives to preserve the liberty and sanctity of those they hold dear. Not hardly. It represents an abolition of womanhood and the perversion of God’s design. It represents a deeply-rooted rebellion against the natural roles and functions by which God has distinguished manhood from womanhood.

It is barbarians who place their women in the midst of war’s brutalities to fight as men. This is what pagan tribes in Scotland did before they were Christianized and embraced the “Law of the Innocents,” written by the evangelist Adomnan, which forbade sending women into battle.

It is high time that we as a people repent of our barbarism — that we cherish our women as women, and call on our men to act as men. Though America possesses advanced weaponry and great military might, we have become a nation of barbarians.

As I said before, opposition to women in the military comes from the importance of adhering to distinct gender roles. It is men’s role to protect and provide and women’s role to nurture and care for the home. Men are the ones who are supposed to protect women, keep their children safe, and fight when their homes are threatened. Putting women into combat is men failing their duty and women stepping into an arena for which they are not designed. It is “an abolition of womanhood” and a “perversion of God’s design.” It is a “rebellion” against the “natural roles and functions by which God has distinguished manhood from womanhood.”

Men are active, women are passive

But there is something else to be noticed here. In this article women are treated as objects. It refers to women as “our mothers and daughters” and says that barbarians “place their women” in combat. It contrasts women being “cherished” with women being “exploited.” What about women’s wills and desires and choices? Oh right. Those don’t matter.  Those are irrelevant.

Men are active. Women are passive. Men are in charge. Women are protected. Men can “place” women in combat, or “let” their mothers and daughters serve while women can be “placed” in combat. The one is active, the other is passive. Let me highlight this by repeating a phrase and adding italics:

It is high time that we as a people repent of our barbarism — that we cherish our women as women, and call on our men to act as men.

Women are supposed to be cherished. Men are supposed to act. Women are passive. Men are active. I think this gets to the bottom of the whole double standard Christian Patriarchy seeks to promote. It claims that men and women have roles that are equal but different. Women’s role as nurturers and homemakers is just as important as men’s role as protectors and providers. But when you read an article like this, you realize the problem with this reasoning. Men’s role involves being in charge; women’s role involves being under someone’s charge. That’s not equal.

Female choice? What female choice? 

Articles like this simply cannot grasp the idea of female choice. Feminism isn’t about forcing women to do things they don’t want to do, but rather about giving them options and choices. It’s about letting women be active agents rather than passive recipients. But then, if you believe women’s role is to be passive recipients, the idea of women being active agents is downright subversive in and of itself.

Even more than this, though, is the assumption that women simply can’t be active agents. When I first started thinking for myself my dad was sure that I was being “led astray” by someone else, that I had “transferred my allegiance” from him to another. The idea that I could actually be making my own decisions and thinking for myself seemed foreign to him. He could not see me as an active agent.

There’s a perfect tie in here with the article’s claim that women are the “weaker sex,” which is, quite simply, the argument behind why women need protecting. This whole “weaker sex” language doesn’t just apply to physical strength. It’s about being emotionally weaker and intellectually weaker, as well as more easily led astray, manipulated, and used.

This is the very basis of Christian Patriarchy. Women are weak. They are easily manipulated. They are vulnerable. Women must therefore be protected. Men are strong. Men are not easily manipulated. Men are independent. Men must therefore protect women. Letting women have choices throws them to the winds, opens them to abuse and deprives them of the godly male protection they need. Removing women from male authority and letting them wander about on their own places them in harm’s way.

When I realized that Christian Patriarchy meant me giving up my own thoughts and desires so that I could be “protected” by my father, I snapped. I couldn’t do it. You see, I am not weak. I am not easily confused. I am not passive. This is what the feminist movement has been saying for generations. Women don’t need male protection. Rather, they need the ability to protect themselves. That is what feminism is about.

Similar ideas in the news

Now of course, Vision Forum’s article highlighted here was not the only reaction against the recent Pentagon rule change. Plenty of conservative politicians spoke out against it as well. Rick Santorum spoke of women not being emotionally prepared for the battlefield. Fox News’ Liz Trotta spoke of rape being a natural consequence of women being in the military.

Sometimes I think that Christian Patriarchy is a bit like dominionism. There are very few people who are completely hard core believers in Christian Patriarchy just as there are very few hard core dominionists, but what is interesting is the greater influence the ideas that undergird Christian Patriarchy have on the rest of society.

Santorum and Trotta’s statements stem directly from the idea that the battlefield is not the place for women because women are the “weaker sex,” whether that involves emotional weakness or physical weakness and susceptibility to sexual exploitation. I suspect both would also have spoken of the importance of remaining in your natural gender role had that not been politically unwise.

The problem with this thinking, of course, is that women in the military are not passive. They are not weaklings. I know a female soldier who has served several tours in Iraq, and let me tell you, she could kick the ass of every man I know. The assumption that women are automatically weak, or automatically emotional, neglects the reality that there is variation within each sex. I mean, I know a lot of guys I don’t think are qualified for serving in the military, whether that’s physically or psychologically.

People like those at Vision Forum get too caught up in the idea of gender roles to recognize the variation within each sex or to see people first and foremost as individuals with their own specific skills, talents, and interests. They would rather look at someone’s sex than at their individual skills, desires, and abilities. And, when it comes to people like Santorum and Trotta, it seems that they are not alone in that.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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