22 April 2010

Your Momma Wears Combat Boots - So What?

While searching for the end of the internet a few days ago, I came upon Stanford University’s Hoover Institute. There, I discovered Mary Eberstadt, a contributing editor to Policy Review. What caught my eye in the first place was her February feature, Mothers in Combat Boots. I would like to note, now, that I really wanted to post about this THATVERYMOMENT but was ultimately too enraged to write coherently. For a few days.

I have so many feelings regarding this piece that it’s almost impossible to disentangle them. In her piece, Ms. Eberstadt lambasts the “military policy” that deploys mothers. Not just single mothers. Not fathers. Just…mothers. But in order to make her point (which is, to spare you the eye strain, that the US, it’s people, it’s military, must stop this practice forthwith and offer incentives for women to either not have children or to defer their service completely), she took a long and winding road that touched on everything that had to do with mothers and women in the military.

To make her point, she cited the case of Army Spc. Hutchinson who refused to deploy last year. I wrote my own assessment of that situation here, and I was not alone in my thinking if Ms. Eberstadt is to be believed

In the end though, Ms. Eberstadt’s ultimate goal appears to be the expulsion of mothers from the military (active, reserve, and guard) for the betterment of our culture, our country and, of course, for our moral well-being. Oh. And the children. Won’t somebody please think of the children??

It’s true that the military does not give mothers of newborns the recommended period of one-year to breast feed before
 the potential to deploy hangs over them again. It’s also true that most civilian employers lack sympathy in this department and that many women have a hard time pumping at work or breast feeding past their maternity leave. It’s also true that George Mason University conducted a (laughable) study concerning the effects of deployment of mothers (not fathers) on adolescent children in the home – and found some alarming statistics.

Why do I call it laughable? Because it means nothing without knowing the following:

1. Are the same effects evident in the homes of fathers who deploy? Other studies, particularly the one cited in the link which surveyede 4,000 families (as opposed to GMUs 77 women - an nth of the number of mothers who've deployed) seem to conclude that, yes, they are.

2. It does not address the impact on newborns, toddlers or teens. Why?

3. It does not effectively note if there is an uptick in these instances of illness and intentional harm by both mother and child as deployment frequency increases.

4. It does not compare the results of deployed mothers’ rates of illness to females (and males, and fathers) who are also deployed. For the record, I suffered a lot of those illnesses too. It’s called adapting your body to the desert and what is, for all intents and purposes, a 3rd world country living environment.

I’m also trying to sort out how Ms. Eberstadt came to the conclusion that women serving, mothers serving, is the result of a “Progressive Agenda” with a healthy dose of conservative complicity. Myself and most of the women (and mothers) I know who serve are rather conservative – and not one of them currently in uniform would support her views. In fact, President Obama’s call during his candidacy for women to have to sign up for Selective Service is one of the few things I laud him on. After all, I am not a feminist but I do believe that having equal rights means sharing equal responsibility.

From a female perspective – not that of a mother – the policy that keeps qualified and willing women from many combat roles to this day is disheartening and reminiscent of the overall call of Ms. Eberstadt’s to remove mothers from service in the first place. It is a call that ignores the overarching needs of our nation and it’s military, but worse, it is a call that ignores the choices that women, that mothers, have made – and it forgives fathers for their absences during deployment because, “It’s always been that way”.

If we are going to continue to progress as a society that values families, equality and the individual right to choose, Ms. Eberstadt’s policy review should, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker’s famous quote on literature, not be taken lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

In the end, mothers-to-be are given a choice: continue to serve or be honorably discharged. I was given that choice when I was pregnant. I made my choice. So have the rest of the mothers that serve alongside me. Fathers, of course, are not given that choice…and that’s a shame. But we value our choices. We make our choices for a myriad of reasons. We understand (usually) the ramifications of our choices.

We should NOT let policy think tanks and reviewers deprive us of that choice and set us back to the stone ages. Then again, in the stone ages, I bet that mothers were allowed to wield spears against their enemies. [snerk]

For an excellent counter point that dissects gender law and military policy, please check out, “Women in Combat: Is the Current Policy Obsolete?” by Martha McSally for the Duke University Journal of Gender Law and Policy.

Tell me, how do YOU feel about mothers in combat?


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