Living as I do with a remarkably talented wife and daughter, I should have applauded Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision to allow more women to serve in combat roles. Instead, I was horrified.
My wife recognizes me as the head of the household. There are certain things, she tells me, that I am just better equipped to handle. Here is the complete list: rodents and garbage.
I also do the dishes, but that has less to do with my head-of-household status than my ineptitude at cooking.
Even though it did not go too well that one month in 1992, my personal suspicion is I could do a darn good job at paying bills and doing taxes. Given that my wife has a master’s degree in business and used to be a tax lawyer, however, those chores go to her. To my neighbors’ chagrin, I mow the lawn, but that’s only because when I do the laundry everything ends up pink.
At 17, my daughter is vastly more talented — and a whole lot wiser — than I was at the same age.
In large part because of the competence I see in my wife and daughter, the “glass ceiling” that inhibits women infuriates me. The fact that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes is an indictment of our society and a tragic waste of talent.
That same gender discrimination also keeps women out of politics. The 2012 elections were historic for women, yet out of 537 federal elected officials, only 100 are female.
And this, I realize, is part of the reason I did not welcome Panetta’s decision.
The most recent war America entered was in Iraq. The ideal U.S. military presence in Iraq would have been devoid not only of women, but of young men. It would instead have consisted of the folks that got us into the war, who invariably were white males over the age of 50.
Despite the unfortunate experience of the hunting partner he accidentally shot, it would have been Vice President Dick Cheney brandishing a rifle at the forefront of the invasion of Iraq. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should have been flying a bomber over Baghdad. With canes in their left hand and machine guns in their right, our esteemed senators could have led the infantry charges. When they needed to thump their chest and crow about American dominance, they could have dropped the cane and leaned on the nearest tank. Instead of grinning under a “Mission Accomplished” banner on a ship near San Diego, former President George W. Bush should have been driving a Humvee through Fallujah.
Call it chauvinism or call it respect, but I don’t believe we would have as many wars if the same percentage of women occupied the White House and Capitol Building as reside in our nation. When two-bit dictators make empty threats, I like to think many women would respond not with a burst of testosterone that leaves thousands of young Americans dead, but with wisdom and an awareness of the consequences of intemperate action.
Most of the women I know would fight to the death to protect their homeland from an aggressor, but would not have the hubris to send teenagers into combat for undefined goals. War is not always avoidable, but it always is tragic. We need leaders who can focus on the tragedy before the first shot is fired, not just after the coffins come back.
When women have an equal say in whether America goes to war, I will understand the logic of increasing their role in combat.
Thoughts of my son, in college, also increase my distress at Panetta’s decision. As a father, I of course taught him those things at which I excel. You know, rodents and garbage. More emphatically, though, I taught him what I learned from my own father: to respect women. I see my son opening the door for a woman he does not know. I see him reacting to female tears with warmth and kindness. I see him worrying more about his sister’s safety than about his own. And when I see these things, I am overwhelmed with pride.
Chivalry is dangerous, because it has contributed to the glass ceiling that is such an obstacle to women and to a society that needs their talents. When devoid of condescension, though, it brings out the best qualities in men.
I have no doubt that women are every bit as capable as men in modern combat. Thousands have proved it and many have died in the process. Forgive me, though, if I choose not to rejoice at the latest advance in gender equality.