Here I was, lounging through desipundit, thinking how lucky I am to live in times when we can demand gender sensitivity, when wise people are beginning to ask themselves whether the world would not be better if run by women, when every so often we hear that delicious crunchy sound of the another crack in the glass ceiling, when it is universally acknowledged that women are people too... things could be worse. A lot worse. They have been.
But suddenly, I was forced to sit up - did I hear that right? In this lovely liberal blogosphere, did I hear someone say ‘Does the army really need women’?
The trouble is that men live trapped in men’s bodies (and of course, they don’t have a choice in the affair) which makes them utterly incapable of forming rational, logical views on the subject of strength, fortitude, courage etc. Some of them labour under the mistaken assumption that pressing a trigger or flicking open a switchblade requires a great deal of strength and fortitude and whathaveyou.
You’ll must have heard that one about the man who wanted to know why his wife claimed to be so tired, when he (glorious HE) did all the hard work? It’s an old one. Man prays to God to let him switch bodies with his wife. God (probably a wicked man with a bizarre sense of humour) grants his wish. A day later, man begs on his knees, to be given back his body. He’s seen and felt and suffered enough. But God, chortling, tells him to wait nine months; man just got pregnant.
While making random statements about strength, training, courage etc, do people stop to think about childbirth? Think about it. It involves having your pelvis ripped apart, pretty much. If somebody did that to you in Guantanamo, you’d be crying torture.
Have you thought about what comes after childbirth? Sleepless night, after sleepless night, after sleepless night… Don’t you know that it is an oft-used method of torture – not allowing a person to sleep for long periods of time?
Have you considered the fact that female foetuses have a naturally better chance of survival than male ones? Naturally tougher, if you like.
Or, thought about walking twenty kilometers or more, to fetch water. Twenty kilometers a day in the blistering deserts of Rajasthan. Without protective gear or proper shoes. I’ve seen soldiers in Rajasthan. They travel in jeeps, gypsies or trains.
You tell me: who’s tougher? Who’s more likely to survive under tough conditions, assuming they’re given the same kind of nutrition?
People also seem to fail to notice that in most mammal species, the task of protecting (the army’s task, in effect) falls to the female. She protects her young, even against her own mate, if she has to. It is not for nothing that they say, there is nothing more dangerous than a new mother in the wild.
In short, if you left mothers to mother nature, each one would be like a one-woman army. And each one would be like a mini-academy, because she teaches the young ones too. Combat or training, the responsibility is as feminine as it gets.
We, being a flawed, weak species, needed to stick together to survive. So, we worked out this whole division-of-labour civilization. Some dude, in a moment of self-delusion about his own abilities (or possibly in a stroke of genius for the rest of the male population) decided that it would be men who’d take up arms and join armies. Because women and children needed protection (but guns and swords represent power and control; see? Stroke of genius, after all).
The question is – who did women and children need protection from?
Obvious, isn't it? From other men. Other armies.
Because, really, what else is there to protect against? Against the forces of nature, men are as helpless as women. Except when our flawed civilization renders women even more helpless than they were intended to be. For instance, during the Tsunami, more women died because women are not taught to swim. Because women must not be seen at rivers and swimming pools. Because women’s bodies were made for the express purpose of tempting men to sin. Because….oh, don’t let me start on that, now.
Point being: in general, men fight for, and against, men. Not for women.
And if you want to talk about masculine/feminine natures, then, as history is our witness – the male fights to acquire. The female fights to protect.
So, let me pose a more pertinent question – Do women need the army?
An army serves only two functions. Either to protect, or to conquer.
There might well have been a time when women were not fit for war. Not because they were physically weaker – after all, a feminine hand that is strong enough to plow a field when the men run off to play with swords is definitely strong enough to use that sword.
But it is possible that women were emotionally unprepared for a conquest war. War meant looting, burning villages, raping, impaling children. Ever heard of a historic battle where women took the initiative to loot, rape or impale, en masse?
Neither have I.
(We’re not talking about individual cases of brutal murder that may have been motivated by greed, jealousy or a twisted mind. We’re talking war. Because that’s what armies are for. Conquest is a brutal business. Torture and enslavement is a brutal business and possibly, women were possibly ill-equipped to deal with it. )
In my imagination, once upon a time, a bunch of men OD-ing on testosterone must have decided that women are tender, fragile, weak things who were at their mercy and that they were going to play this game of attacking and abducting of other clans and tribes, so they could possess many more tender, fragile things. Just to protect them, mind you. Noble creatures, them.
That’s probably the history of war.
Now, some things have changed. We’ve got things like the UN and the international courts of justice and human rights commissions and television and journalists who will tell on you if you let your testosterone get the better of you. Conquering territory is frowned upon. To make war, you have to find defensive reasons; pretend to be under threat (as we have witnessed in recent times, the whole WMD-that-never-were war in Iraq).
We also have bombs nowadays, and hey, you don’t need to be a wrestler to hurl a bomb. All you got to do is push a few buttons, operate a lever or two – and boom! Half a country gets wiped out. Guess what? You don’t even have to fly too close to destroy. You don’t have to be directly overhead where you might be a target for retaliatory fire. You’ve got guided missiles! (I personally believe that modern warfare is an act of cowardice, not courage, but more on that another time)
But let me be bloody-minded and, for a minute, assume that women lack those necessary masculine qualities of strength, ability and aggression that an army needs.
Even so, how much strength does it take to fly a plane? And how strong do you think a fingertip needs to be, to direct a guided missile?
Oh, I know all the usual arguments. Soldiers need to be fit. To survive in difficult conditions.
How many soldiers survive in the kind of conditions that the average slum-dwelling mother in our metros? No toilets, queuing up for hours for drinking water, or walking miles for water, and a husband who might beat you if you complain. How many brave soldiers in the country have had to put up with that every day, day after day? And how many can, with all honesty, claim that a woman might not have survived just as well in those circumstances?
As a woman and a citizen, I can say two things with certainty.
One, that if an army requires strength, courage or sheer tenacity, women are more fit for the job than men are.
Two, that what the average soldier in the average army today needs, is not strength or aggression, but the ability to take orders without questioning them. To be able to blow up a school or a hospital without asking why. To counter ‘militants’ or ‘separatists’ without thinking about whether they have a right to separate or not. In short, what you have as your average soldier is a guy who doesn’t often exercise his mental/emotional/spiritual/social faculties. This is true of the average guerrilla soldier too. Or the average jehadi. He’s a trained killer, who is paid to kill without allowing his personal conscience to get in the way. Sure, he probably believes that he’s doing it for the motherland. But he doesn’t wonder, isn’t allowed to wonder, about what or who this motherland is and how it benefits. The day he starts asking questions, he stops being useful.
That is the way of the army (for which, we, the civilians, pay taxes... and no, we don't sleep in peace at night).
So, here’s another question – are women more likely to ask questions, worry about who they’re killing and why, as compared to men?
I wish I could say an emphatic ‘yes!’ ... but, I don’t know. Yet, I do know this – if women are more likely to stop and think before killing, then that is all the more reason to have women in the army.
Who knows, we just might have fewer wars?
PS – I cannot resist telling this little story that's not about the army:
I went to a girls’ college. The undergraduate cricket team once played against grown men from the town. They got beaten. Hollow. The men, that is.
Most of these girls hadn’t played cricket before, not even in the gully behind their homes. But they trained well, trained hard, for two years. These were girls who weren’t afraid of getting their hands calloused and bruised. I was not one of them, but I took immense pride in them. It was said in our college that you could tell a cricket-team-girl by her hands. You could. They felt like men’s hands.
The same girls who were so tough, went out into the world of men, and felt the need to become ‘feminine’. Girls who worked out two hours a day and could lift toss another full-sized girl in the air, learnt to paint their nails, straighten their hair and wear gold. Nothing wrong with that. But they’re not beating the men hollow, anymore.
All girls begin by being tomboys, if you let them be. But if you keep telling a girl that feminine means soft and smooth, and that masculine means rough and tough, and that she is a ‘tomboy’… of course, she’s going to try and change. Become soft. The opposite of male. Because that’s what she is. She’s not going to roll about in the mud. She’s going to wear fairy frocks and dream of a prince who will ‘protect’ her. And the prince will have a sword or a gun. He will lead armies. Because that’s the masculine thing to do, right?
What makes (or breaks) a woman is attitudes. What makes (or breaks) a civilization is its people. And women are people too.