If women can do everything that men can do, and men are defined by doing that which women cannot, where does that leave men?
As CNBC recently reported, there’s a very good chance that Trump could nix Obama’s women in combat military policy. Why? Because Trump is catering to the bigots who think women and transgender gender people in the military are part of a insidious politically correct “social experiment.”
Just over a year ago, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter declared that, “The issue of women in combat per se was no longer a question”—effectively opening all military jobs for all genders. But if Trump’s Defense Secretary pick, former Gen. James Mattis, has his way, women in combat may once again be a question.
Gen. Mattis, a.k.a “Mad Dog Mattis,” has declared women unsuitable for what he calls “intimate killing.” According to Mattis, men are uniquely equipped for killing up close because of their primitive primate nature: “The idea of putting women in there is not setting them up for success.”
To Mattis, combat is an “atavistic primate world” only suited for monkey men.
Like Trump, Mattis has expended much energy hand-wringing over the perils of a co-ed military, warning that women = irresistible sexual temptation, declaring that: “[We put] healthy young men and women together and we expect them to act like little saints.”
You see, Mattis believes that the same monkey-brain that makes men keen on killing also renders them helpless to the mating urge (which, of course, is only male-on-female). Trump famously took this logic a step further in 2013 when he basically blamed the military rape epidemic on the presence of women, tweeting: “26,000 unreported sexual assults [stet] in the military—only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”
Right, because men are incapable of not raping just as women are incapable of killing.
But what do I know? I’ve never been in the military. Never been in combat. Heck, the one time I went to a haunted corn maze I was so terrified by a dude with a chainsaw that I crumbled to the ground, pulling my little brother down with me.
Mattis thinks that women such as myself really have no idea what we’re capable of. According to him, “only…someone who never crossed the line of departure into close encounters fighting” would ever advocate for allowing women to serve in combat.
Except that women have been serving in combat for years now.
In fact, an estimated 300,000 women in uniform have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and have earned more than 10,000 combat action badges and Bronze Stars. As Gayle Tzemach Lemmon points out in her op-ed in the L.A. Times, Secretary Carter’s decision merely reflected, not instructed, a culture shift:
“While we weren’t looking, the military kept fighting, but its fighting force changed. Thursday’s announcement from Secretary Carter that all jobs will be open to all warriors is less a groundbreaking policy shift than simple recognition of on-the-ground, wartime reality.”
But for men like Mattis and Trump, the progression is less about common sense and equality than it is the nefarious ever-plotting “political correctness.” In his book, Warriors & Citizens: American Views of Our Military, co-edited by former senior policy adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign, Kori N. Schake, Mattis warned of the danger of civilian leaders with a “progressive agenda” imposing “social change” on the military:
“We fear that an uninformed public is permitting political leaders to impose an accretion of social conventions that are diminishing the combat power of our military.”
Facts be damned, deep down inside Mattis knows it is the liberal feminist agenda that is forcing him and other men to fight with, and God-forbid be rescued by, women and gay men. In fact, Mattis is actually looking out for women whose “success” depends on where men “put them” rather than where we choose to be.
And that’s an important distinction in an industry that still very much depends on the narrative of men as protectors and women as victims. Mattis has made it clear in the past that he sees himself and other (white) men as the liberators and protectors of brown women:
“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”
Note the not-so-subtle nod to “manhood,” which is defined above and in all the aforementioned quotes as the opposite, the antithesis, of women’s positions. Intimate killing is manly but being beaten is womanly. Uncontrollable sexual urges are manly but being the recipient of them is womanly. Fighting is manly but being protected and rescued is womanly.
In today’s world of female engineers and athletes, and (almost) presidents, war seems to be the final stage where men are the actors and women the acted-upon—at least, that’s the narrative men like Mattis and Trump like to tell. Because if women can do everything that men can do, and men are defined by doing that which women cannot, where does that leave men?
Exactly where the rest of us are.
The reality is women in combat will strip men of their last “you’re special” ribbon—and that is a good thing.
Jessica Schreindl is a campaign director and freelance writer in Seattle, Washington. She is a contributing writer for Mic.com and has been published on Feministing.com. She graduated with her M.A. from Syracuse University where she studied film history and documentary filmmaking.