Equal Rights?

by Rachel Somerville

Recent events have led me to question my preconceived notions as to the future of feminism. It is commonplace to believe that the newest generation is more liberal than the last, but I have noticed the opposite trend. Having attended a youth debate forum with other politically-minded teens, I have decided that my generation has a lot of learning to do when it comes to feminism and our rights and responsibilities as women.

I was almost in tears when I heard the supporting arguments in a debate titled “Should Women be Drafted?”. Boys at the podium suggested that women were physically and mentally weak and not as capable as their male counterparts. I wondered briefly what century we were in; it certainly didn’t seem like the twenty-first. I am a pacifist and would never want to go into combat. I will concede that many women lack the physical prowess of men. But arguments based on the premise that women are overly emotional and lack the ability to handle the strain and stress of combat cross the line of what I consider to be either fair or justified.

I thought I had heard the worst of it, and had begun silently begging a girl, any girl, to go up to the stand and defend us (I wasn’t allowed to sign up, unfortunately; the debate was full). The first girl to go up, however, argued that women should not be drafted. I waited for her to cite the important role women have at the homefront, as demonstrated in wars past. She did not. She instead cited that women are nurturers and childbearers, and not cut out for war. We have a duty as mothers, as daughters, but not as protectors of the country, her argument asserted. Let the men fight. More girls followed in her place, and only one girl argued that women were equally cut out for war, and equally capable as men, especially in intelligence-based roles.

Here I had thought that I was fighting the older generations for equal rights. The fact that youth, much less politically-oriented youth, did not believe that women should have equal responsibility to their country and could not serve the same roles as men frightened me. Their arguments were not based on biological setbacks, but on societal roles that stressed the importance of women as mothers– as soft, loving creatures not cut out for combat. If I have to be drafted to receive equal pay, equal respect, and equal dignity as a woman, I am willing to do so. I am willing to fight for women. I do not agree with all the wars the U.S. engages in, but I agree in all the wars women have fought for equality. If, as girls at the conference suggested, women had sat back and let the men do the fighting, we would have no political voice. We would not have earned our suffrage. We would not have earned the right to an abortion, and thus a right to privacy. We would not have earned the right to look men in the eye and say, “I am your equal”. Women have always fought the harder battle, weakened by members of our sex who will not speak out and ignored by members of the opposite sex. If we let the men fight, there will be no one to fight for us.

On my eighteenth birthday, I will register for the draft. And should I be called into battle, should I be called to fight for my country, my war will not be the Iraq or the Afghanistan War. My war will be Feminism, and I will fight until the day I die.