Thursday, June 22, 2006

Women and the warpath.

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.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff. It is said that if all men died there would still be wars. The women would fight

Anonymous said...

totally agree with the first comment. if all men died...or the world never had any men...there would still be wars. Just that we would have women Generals!

Falstaff said...

Interesting. To tie in to your two part classification of the purpose of armies (protect or conquer), notice that you still do need an army for defense, and sure enough, women have often played an important role in resistance forces throughout history.

Oh, and if we are talking about women on the warpath, can we please talk about the Amazons and their historic origins:

All these Scythians and Minoans. Hardly the kind of behaviour you would expect from weak, non-aggressive women don't you think?

Vishnupriya said...

i read that apparently he only said that there should be fewer women "on the front line", which actually makes it better.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...



wordmonkey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
wordmonkey said...

one subtler question is do men make war because they are men or because of the circumstance of gender, and what happens when you take gender difference out of the equation - like here

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for the link to the blog which had this Deep Meditation on how not having women in the Army will save our lives.

I am in broad agreement with you in most of your points, but I did think this was a little excessive.

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.

As opposed to others who can transcend their bodies, I suppose? And who would these people be?

I personally believe that modern warfare is an act of cowardice, not courage, but more on that another time

Unlike, the bravery of the medieval ages? Bravery and Honour have been sociological constructs which have propelled men and women to war. To uphold acts war and lay down their lives for godknowswhat. In that sense, I am not clear what distinguishes modern warfare from ancient warfare. Other than the methods, I mean.

Anonymous said...

Clarification: I am in agreement with you that notions of fortitude, endurance etc. have been constructed by the patriarchy.

I only object to the language of generalisation, which patriarchy has used over the ages to subjugate people.

R. said...

hasn't the gender equality issue put a shroud over the real issue?
that of army personnel not having a good life, which is leading to many suicides?

Surya said...

Osho once said that if we want others to respect us, we must first start respecting ourselves. In my limited understanding of women, I find that women disrespect women more than men do.

Do we need women in the Armed Forces? In a perfect world we wouldn't need armed forces at all. Unfortunately we live in the real world and every day we need to fight to prove out worth, no matter which gender we belong to.

wise donkey said...

Well Said...
loved the line "It involves having your pelvis ripped apart, pretty much. If somebody did that to you in Guantanamo, you’d be crying torture."
and its so true about women and water..

on "female foetuses have a naturally better chance of survival than male ones" i could be the reaction of the female body to the male foetus.." but then in India..when it takes just 20 years to kill ten million female foetus..perhaps its true..

but on beating men, why should it matter. let the person be what they want to be..
and if a girl who displays "masculine" traits is frowned upon, the boy who displays "femine" traits is frowned upon too..

but while women communicate the problem, men would find it scary to communicate the problem...

women protesting for posts in army would get support from most women,
but men protesting their right to be a homemaker and be respected, claiming its a working even if its not an earning job
24 x job with no weekend offs and no retirement benefits, would get laughs from most men..and perhaps some women..

by rising upto the stupidity of division of labour first, many women have gained independence,by having a myopic view of what is required in life, in the long run, men perhaps turn out to be the losers.

many women today can take care of themselves and the family..
but by believing that women are required to take care of them, perhaps men in future are going to lose out..

by waking up first, women in future have an edge, even if its been at the cost of sleepless nights.

if the army doesnt have women, its more of a loser than women

twip said...

I love the point you made about childbirth.


Anonymous said...

Wish you had a xml feed on your blog.

oof ya! said...

loved it. linked you.

Anonymous said...

i have been wondering about the gender differences for a long time. there are ways in which both complement each other and the labor divisions make sense, but at the same time, provides for atrocities that are brushed aside under the rug of "inequality".

... the hindi movie Dayra.

i have seen your story of the college girls in my family. damn you, you remind too much of my own difficulty.

myopic astronomer said...

great post... cheers.

Anonymous said...

Well the reason why the army is male dominated is because the army likes to rape and pillage. You need to have a penis to rape women of other cultures.

Studies in leading universities in Canada and the United States have repeatedly shown that women do not have a penis.

Guess what, rape has been kosher even in the big wars that people fought in the last century. Both the Axis and the Allies did the same thing that genghis khan did once they subdued the enemy. Spread their genes.
In the event that your female regiment will be captured by the enemy, the ensuing brutality will result in genetic contamination which would be the exact opposite of what we would want to acheive.

Let men do the killing. There's more of us anyways, thanks to female infanticide.

100rabh™ said...

Two wrongs do not make a right but a left front.....and thats what ur post seem to suggest.....the known fact is that what happened was wrong.....seems like a troubled childhood to u......The right path is in defining roles rather than just saying all bullshit....what comes in news is just part of the story the truth is probably somewhere deep down there..... Women compain about not given the right responsiblities..but who would have had done had they not been answers lady...think before u write

Anonymous said...

Whatever. No matter what you say, I've seen plenty of female soldiers. That miniscule minority of them that can run as fast as the average male soldier get lionized, as well they should be. I've seen maybe one or two capable of loading 120mm shells in a cramped tank. And forget carrying a 70-100 pound ruck on your back, days at a time, over broken terrain. The point is that there's some military jobs out there that the overwhelming majority of women just can't do. They're not physically equipped. This shit ain't cricket.

And you know what? That's okay. Because I can't give birth to a child, or nurse one, or read emotions as well as your average woman. Everybody has different abilities. I'm fine with that.

But I've also seen where your train of thinking leads. I've seen women forcibly integrated into one of the most physically demanding jobs out there, Combat Bridge Crew. When building a Bailey Bridge, about the only thing that women were able to lift were the pins and bolts. The huge, heavy cast iron panels and girders were left to the men (you can't make a 130 lb girl lift those.) When you consider that their unit was already at about 80% strength, and about ten percent were women, it's obvious that the men in the unit wound up having to work that much harder to pick up the slack. What kind of resentment do you think that breeds?

Rohini said...

I completely agree with the childbirth and childcare part. I have to do that no matter what. There was a time when I was running a high fever but there are no sick days when you are the mother of an infant. So I had to nurse, rock, carry, change, etc just as always. My husband, sweet and wel-intentioned though he might be, would have collapsed in a couple of hours of this!

On the rest of the post, good stuff but I honestly believe that we would stop categorising men and women as being better or worse at certain jobs - all it does it preserve existing gender sterotypes and/or perpetuate new ones. I think it's time we stopped putting people into boxes based on their gender. Today, for every ball-busting corporate-ladder-climbing woman - there is an equally successful male chef/ gynaecologist/ stay-at-home father!

Anonymous said...

@ Rohini: Today, for every ball-busting corporate-ladder-climbing woman - there is an equally successful male chef/ gynaecologist/ stay-at-home father!

For every one? Oh good.

Men have always been chefs and gynaecologists. Those are positions of power.

How many chefs cook at home?
And how many gynaecologists change their babies' diapers?

Things are changing, Rohini, but not fast enough.

Rushes' Anomaly said...

The gender war isn’t a favourite subject to discuss. An average woman has a weaker build, compared to her counterpart’s natural stamina. It may not be wise to have an equal distribution of women in some military divisions where its extremely phy demanding. But that’s the end of restrictions where one can impose on women candidates. But then what nation can speak of democracy and growth and advocate other nations on freedom, when it does not respect its women!!! Does it require human-right’s group and other such groups to remind “her” of the gender inequality?

Btw, Killswitch, I really hope that you are born as a woman who is forced to get an MTP done just coz you carry a female-foetus. But, then God knows, if born again with the same attitude, you would treat your hubby dear with a surprise by getting rid it on your own, wont you!
Maybe I bit your bait.

ppp said...

kudos for the post! army, police, navy... not the best areas for gender equality - really. i remembered the case on uniform of nursing staff in navy hospitals and how the doctors allegedly refused to give appropriate respect to a rank officer nurse just because she was a nurse... army would rather set up organisations for army wives and let them do social work as and when they need leisure... but i'm proud of those women who enter, stick it out and dont give up in this difficult domain of defence...

Akash said...

Annie, excellent post. Obviously it moves us to think about some stereotypes/myths about women. I just like to add that the life expectancy of a woman at birth is always more than that of a man (check it for any arbitrarily chosen country). I don’t know how medical science will explain this; however, I thought this information might fit well into the present subject that you are dealing with.

SwB said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Gamesmaster G9 said...

I find it odd that you have used the argument that women are superior BECAUSE of their childbearing functions, whereas traditional feminism attempts to separate women's identities from their roles as childbearers.

And just in case anyone accuses me of being inconsistent - I thought this post was not good at all - its poorly thought-out and more of an emotive rant than a substantial argument.

Annie Zaidi said...

thanks, all of you. those who wanted clarifications, another post follows

Anonymous said...

All men are bad, all men are evil, the world should get rid of all men, women are better than men... when are you Radical Feminazis going to grow up???? Dont forget that in Iraq (currently under US Occupation), some of the henious human rights violations have been committed by the women soldiers in the US Army... so stop spinning the old tale about generalising 3 billion women of this planet under one category of being "humane, more ethical and more able" than men.

Good luck
A Oppressed man

Anonymous said...

Why not do one thing? Kill all the males on the planet. Or, if you dont want to get your hands dirty, then you can put separate nations for women and men - no contact, nothing. Two worlds in one world. Or, cut all the penises that are there in the world.

After one of the above is done, because men and women cant copulate, women wont have to become pregnant. There'll be no "pelvis ripping", no sleepless nights, no cumbersome job of baby rearing.

So, there'll be nothing called children. All people will die of natural death and one day, there'll be no human beings on the planet. End of story. End of mysery for all!

If you really care, please come up with something practical and objective, instead of pure emotion and it'll be better if generalisations are avoided.

Josephus P. Franks said...

Small problem Atlantean... some of us humans have built things like nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons, that, without humans to operate or at least shut down safely, have the potential of killing off all life on the planet even after we've made our graceful sexless exit.

Tweets by @anniezaidi