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Drafting Our Daughters

In an egalitarian society, even supposed conservatives have forgotten how men and women are different.

Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed a provision, to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act, that would require women to register with Selective Service, that is, the military draft. This is a grave mistake, but not a surprising one.

Requiring women to register with the Selective Service has long been avoided by lawmakers, even as they have gradually eliminated exclusions aimed at shielding women from exposure to direct combat, in part due to its abiding unpopularity. In 2016, however, the last of these restrictions was removed, opening combat arms specialties—infantry, artillery, cavalry, armor, combat engineers, and special operations—to women. Women would no longer be barred from taking up military roles whose primary mission is to engage in ground combat.

This move effectively eliminated the only remaining rationale for excluding women from a potential draft. A so-called men’s rights group quickly filed suit to force the issue, though the Supreme Court recently declined to hear the case, kicking the matter back to Congress.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Senate’s action is the large number of Republicans who supported the measure: Of the 13 Republicans on the committee, only five voted “No.”

Over at National Review, the editors expressed disbelief that even college-football-coach-turned-Senator Tommy Tuberville voted in favor of the measure. But perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising. Tuberville may pride himself on “bringing his self-described common sense to Washington” but he may also represent the latest trend on the Right: “Barstool conservatism.”

Earlier this year, TAC contributing editor Matthew Walther described the rise of what he termed the “Barstool Conservatives” in the post-Trump era. These are people—mostly men—who

with varying degrees of enthusiasm, accept pornography, homosexuality, drug use, legalized gambling, and whatever GamerGate was about. On economic questions their views are a curious and at times incoherent mixture of standard libertarian talking points and pseudo-populism, embracing lower taxes on the one hand and stimulus checks and stricter regulation of social media platforms on the other.

I might also add that, given their libertarian inclinations on most social issues, “Barstool conservatives” tend to have little of the sense of chivalry associated with traditional social conservatism. They instead prefer a kind of gender equality, though of a sort that enables women to be treated as peers (and hook-up targets), thereby relieving men of their traditional responsibilities to women.

This can be seen in the shifting attitudes of men on the issue. Despite ad campaigns which encourage men to register for Selective Service by appealing to their sense of masculine duty (“It’s what a man has to do”) or, more recently, manliness (“Be the man”), a 2016 Rasmussen poll found that 61 percent of men favored requiring women to register for the draft. Only 38 percent of women agreed.

Men no longer find compelling the idea that their social duties might differ from those of women, that they might bear responsibilities for the common defense that women do not. True, they might (rightly) object that women’s demands for equality should not come without the requisite duties. But rather than asking the premised question (namely, whether a society ought to put its women into combat in any but the most extreme emergency situations) these men’s advocates simply sue to ensure that American women are as eligible to be drafted for front-line duty as they.

In his 1998 book Women in the Military: Flirting with Disaster, former infantry officer Brian Mitchell meticulously documents the decisions that led to widespread use of female forces. His research demonstrates that these decisions had virtually nothing to do with enhancing readiness or combat effectiveness, but were instead were driven by ideological considerations of “equality” above all other factors.

This is clear when the evidence is considered: While there is no data to suggest that combat units that incorporate women are more effective (a recent study by the Center for a New American Security on the status of female integration after five years found mostly ongoing problems), there is plenty of data to suggest that they are less so. In fact, some of the most compelling findings come from the military’s own 2015 study, which pitted all-male Marine combat units against mixed units. The study showed that mixed units were substantially less effective, and that women sustained more injuries than men when performing combat tasks.

But effectiveness is not the point. The point, rather, is the imposition of a version of equality—one largely supported by Barstool conservative types—that holds men and women as undifferentiated and interchangeable parts with few abiding duties to one another.

In 1997, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, then editor of the journal First Things, proposed a “law” pertaining to the status of Christian orthodoxy in Christian institutions: “Where orthodoxy is optional,” he argued, “orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” But there is a corollary law that might be formulated thus: Whatever liberal egalitarianism promotes as optional will sooner or later be mandated.

While libertine Barstool-ism begins by freeing men from their traditional duties and freeing women to serve in traditionally masculine social roles, it ends by requiring mothers, sisters, and daughters to take up the duties abandoned by men who are full of bluster but are, ultimately, without chests.