The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Facts Are Stubborn Things

Posted on | April 2, 2011 | 50 Comments

Following up on this morning’s radio debate with Little Miss Attila, I found myself interrogated in the comments by Attila’s ally, Darleen Click of Protein Wisdom, who now wants to debate women in the military. This endless appetite for argument — the women’s point being that any man who criticizes feminism qua feminism must be wrong — compelled me to make this point:

Again, you see that my view of these issues is informed by a study of the feminist movement’s actual history, as opposed to a generalized sentimental commitment to “equality” as an ideal.

And this, I say again, is the real ground of the dispute. Feminism has an actual history, bound up in specific ideas and events and people, and the attempt to hijack the term “feminism” as some part of the conservative agenda is misguided, because it requires us to embrace a narrative of feminism that is counterfactual.

(And, no, I don’t care what Christina Hoff Sommers says about it.)

The problem lies in our society’s obsession with “equality,” a liberal fetish that seems to have been smuggled into the conservative tent, so that seemingly we are all egalitarians now. But as I tried to point out in our go-’round over women in the military: Is the job of the U.S. military to kill our nation’s enemies, or is its purpose to provide “equal opportunity” for women?

If you say the latter, then you are on the side of Patricia Schroeder and all the left-wing anti-military Democrats who don’t give a damn about American national security.

There is an actual history here, I say, and it is a mistake to sweep feminism’s history under the rug, just so that conservatives and Republicans can position themselves as “me-too feminists.” It is more honest (and I would argue, more effective) for conservatives to understand and explain feminism in its proper context as a species of leftism, and to oppose it as such.

To hell, then, with Professor Sommers’s hair-splitting distinctions between “equity feminism” (good!) and “gender feminism (bad!) and furthermore, to hell with the implied suggestion that we should ignore facts because facts hurt people’s feelings.

Now, in an update to my previous post, I referenced the so-called “Lady J” study (about women’s vulnerability to urinary tract infections) and also referenced Stephanie Guttman’s 2000 book, The Kinder, Gentler Military: How Political Correctness Affects Our Ability to Win Wars.  From Guttman’s book (Chapter 6, beginning on p. 245) I now quote:

Then 1994 arrived: Men and women started going through basic training side by side; women were assigned to fighter jet squadrons; and Representative Patricia Schroeder shepherded a bill through Congress that created the Defense Women’s Health Research Program (DWHRP), which was empowered to spend $40 million a year building a bigger, stronger, more disease-resistant female soldier. . . .
Basic sex differences that are masked by technology in the civilian world stand out in high relief in the elemental, physical-labor-intensive world of the soldier.
The average woman is about five inches shorter than the average man,  she has 55 to 60 percent less upper body strength, a lower center of gravity, a higher fat-to-muscle ratio, lighter bones that are more subject to fracture, a heart than can’t move oxygen to the muscles as fast as a man’s (i.e., 20 percent less aerobic capacity), and a rather more complicated lower abdomen full of reproductive equipment. . . .
In 1995, the second year of DWHRP largess, all the female soldier’s nooks and crannies were being probed. Studies under way included ‘Evaluation of the Performance Impact and Treatment of Exercise-Induced Urinary Incontinence among Female Soldiers” — spurred by pilot research indicated that 12 percent of women in Airborne School (parachute jump training) drop out because of incontinence developed during the program; ‘The Effect of Mentrual Cycle Phase on Physical Work Performance during Exposure to High Terrestrial Altitude”; “The Effects of Inadvertant Exposure of Mefloquine Chemoprophylaxis on Pregnancy Outcomes and Infants of U.S. Army Servicewomen Returning from Somalia”; “Vulnerability of Female Produced Speech in Operational Environments”; “Protocol for the Indentification of Reproductive Toxins Which May Affect Servicewomen.” There was even a study titled “Lady J and Freshette Complete System: A Field Trial for the Active Duty Woman,” based on research that showed that women were prone to urinary infections and/or dehydration because they were reluctant to urinate in the field. (Some would not drink enough water so they wouldn’t have to face the embarrassing problem.) The “Lady J” study was an attempt to find a way to allow women to relieve themselves standing up. Ironically, when Newt Gingrich made his infamous statement about ‘females who [would] have biological problems staying in a ditch for thirty days because they get infections” . . . he was reacting to a study he’d just seen about the high incidence of urinary infection among women soldiers in the field. . . .
In his initial [DWHRP-funded] research proposal, [physiologist Everett] Harman wrote that [Training and Doctrine Command] had “indicated that many soldiers are not physically capable of meeting the demands of their military occupational specialties (MOSs).” “Unfortunately,” Harman continued, “women fall disproportionately into this category.” In 1982-83, tests given to 970 graduates of advance soldier skill training showed that, while all men in heavy lifting MOSs qualified for their jobs, fewer than 15 percent of females qualified. Yet many women currently serve in “very heavy” and “heavy” MOSs, including Food Service Specialist, Motor Transport Operator, and Unit Supply Specialist. Not surprisingly, “attrition of women in [those] MOSs is high.” Harman also noted that “retraining and reassigning a soldier [who has been assigned to the wrong job] has been estimated to cost about $16,000.”

There is much more where that came from, but you get the general idea: Basic physiological differences between men and women have enormous consequences in terms of their suitability for military life. This kind of research focuses on what we would term “average group differences” which is not necessarily predictive of any individual’s military capacity. However — however — in terms of the goals of feminism (i.e., to turn the military into a social-engineering lab for the pursuit of equality) these average group differences become enormously consequential.

If the advancement of an officer to the rank of general (which must be congressionally approved) depends in part on his success in achieving “gender integration” in the units under his command, this creates a powerful incentive to push women into every possible military role. So the percentage of women as truck drivers or jump-school graduates must be shown to increase (and never decrease) or else the colonel risks being passed over for promotion in favor of a rival who has more success in “gender integration.” And if the pursuit of these (manifestly non-military) goals results in impaired readiness or additional costs for medical care or re-training, well, that’s the price that must be paid for Progress.

Having made mention of Patricia Schroeder and the sudden push for women in combat represented by the enactment of DWHRP, we can now put this subject into historical context. Chapter 4 of Guttman’s book is called, “How Did We Get Here?” and recounts the history of women in the U.S. military. The key events in this particular era were (a) the end of the Cold War, (b) the 1991 Persian Gulf war, and (c) the 1991 Tailhook scandal. And these debates took place in a specific politicized environment. As Guttman writes, “This was the era of Anita Hill versus Clarence Thomas, the cry ‘You just don’t get it!’ rang in the air, and the ‘gender gap’ was supposed to be a crucial element in winning elections.”

Scores of Naval officers had their careers ruined as a result of the Tailhook scandal. The military was being downsized, under pressure to cash in “the peace dividend” in the wake of Soviet collapse and — a key point — Democrats were running the show in Washington after President Clinton’s election in 1992. That was also “The Year of the Woman,” when four Democratic women (Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, Patty Murray and Carole Mosely Braun) were elected to the Senate.

This is what Guttman means when she says, “Then 1994 arrived.” By the second year of the Clinton administration, the ideology of feminism was being applied to the U.S. military with a vengeance. U.S. success in the Gulf War had fostered an illusion of a high-tech “push-button” warfare, where everything was done by computer remote control, so that objections to women in combat based on physiology were derided as irrelevant. And the military in the post-Cold War era wasn’t really supposed to be fighting wars anyway. They were engaged in humanitarian “peacekeeping” missions, and so all those old-fashioned ideas about “unit cohesion” and esprit de corps could be cast into the ash-heap of history. Or so it was thought.

Then came 9/11, the “Holiday From History” was over, and suddenly American troops were being deployed into harm’s way in the hundreds of thousands, in exactly the kinds of harsh environments where unit cohesion and the ability to perform one’s MOS at optimal capacity made a helluva lot of difference.

Yet here we are, nearly a decade after 9/11, and the feminist egalitarian dogmas of Pat Schroeder are being defended by self-described “conservative” women, so that my history lessons on the subject are regarded as an insult to Sarah Palin! (Really — that’s what Attila said.) But the actual history of feminism is vitally relevant to this debate, because facts are still stubborn things.


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