Among the most distinctive and readily measurable triumphs of (first- and second-wave) feminism is the near total eradication of statutory and juridical language which treats men and women differently in situations where they ought to be treated equally. Among the sundry laws and legal doctrines which no longer hold sway are coverture (whereby a woman’s legal rights were fully subsumed by her husband), the tort of seduction (which originally allowed a father to sue a male suitor for impinging upon his daughter’s chastity), and a broad collection of inheritance laws which explicitly and often heavily preferred sons over daughters.
As a result of these worthy reforms, it is relatively difficult nowadays to find any federal law which explicitly treats women differently than men. Difficult, but not impossible.
50 U.S. Code § 3802 – Registration
(a) Except as otherwise provided in this chapter it shall be the duty of every male citizen of the United States, and every other male person residing in the United States, who, on the day or days fixed for the first or any subsequent registration, is between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, to present himself for and submit to registration at such time or times and place or places, and in such manner, as shall be determined by proclamation of the President and by rules and regulations prescribed hereunder.
The following subsections describe in more detail how Selective Service works and which exceptions to registry and service requirements will be made. These statutes constitute a fairly blatant affront to the notion that male and female citizens should be considered equal before the law. As feminist scholar Ayse Gül Altinay wrote in The Myth of the Military-Nation, “[N]o other citizenship practice…differentiates as radically between men and women as compulsory male conscription.” (She was writing specifically about the history and practices of Turkey, but takes care to point out that “none of this is specific to Turkey.”)
Now that the United States Department of Defense has finally caught up to the idea that servicemen and servicewomen alike should be considered eligible for combat roles, it is a propitious time to revisit the problem of invidious sex discrimination promulgated by section 3802.
To back up for just a moment, my own experience of Selective Service was bizarre and ironic, because the paperwork arrived in my designated post office box at the Air Force base where I was living in Colorado. As an eighteen-year-old in the middle of basic training, I thought it peculiar that the DoD would need me to register my name in yet another federal data system, given that I was already wearing a uniform day in and day out. I also thought it unfair—even as a teenage evangelical Christian—that only young men were required to register. Unfair to men for imposing a sex-selective burden, and unfair to women for sending the message that they were unfit to serve. (I graduated from that base with women who went on to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, in roles ranging from fighter pilot to psychologist, and there is no doubt in my mind that they did so with distinction.)
Speaking of evangelical Christians, it turns out that at least some of them have a strong opinion on this particular issue. They have taken a stand (with manly firmness!) against the notion that women should be treated equally under the draft law. In an article entitled We Will Never Let Our Daughters Die for Us a couple of good Christian men (who have never served a day in uniform) wrote boldly about manhood, honor, and the problem of “men without chests.”
As a society, we sometimes talk about honor, heroism, and courage, but we regularly fail to cultivate it in the life of our men. Cultural moments like this one remind us of how important it is to raise children with a biblical worldview. Part of this work is training boys to risk their own comfort and ease for the good of women. We want youths who are less frat-boy all-star and more Davidic “mighty men” (see 2 Sam. 23). David’s warriors did not fear death. They feared something worse: cowardice. So should we.
I’m not about to take lectures on cowardice from people who spent their hours in a comfortable theological seminary while I was out shining my combat boots and learning to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Or from those who promote an “infallible” holy book which mandates genocide as part of the military conquest of Canaan. Nor should anyone else.