Saturday, May 19 is the official date for Armed Forces Day this year. As I write, the U.S. military is now easing some of the restrictions that have kept female soldiers away from the most dangerous military operations--allowing them to play more perilous support (but not combat) roles.
This brings up a question that will help Americans ponder whether we wish to preserve any gender distinctions in our culture--and why. The question is this: Should females be allowed to serve in combat as front-line soldiers?
An accessory question is: In the event the draft is reinstated, should females be drafted into the Armed Services for the first time in history and given combat roles (limited only by physical endurance, not gender)?
I pose these questions because the momentum of the Women's Rights Movement that properly erased some of the indefensible barriers that limited women's roles in the workplace and in professions and in business and in politics could easily power past all the special characteristics generally considered "female" and treat all human beings essentially as if neutered. And before that occurs it seems we as Americans would want to make sure that we want it to.
Just look at the plot in the blockbuster movie "The Hunger Games." Females and males are expected to kill each other without so much as a hiccup of hesitation. And audiences paid that fact no mind.
Already, the side effects of abandoning traditional female stereotypes--like the notion that girls are extremely sensitive or have a unique role in nurturing and protecting children--are apparent.
Predictably, girls increasingly feel as empowered as boys to express themselves sexually--and, with neither gender the demure one--young people have sexual contact earlier with more partners.
Predictably, girls are increasingly in touch with their aggressive instincts, leading to more girl-on-girl physical violence.
Predictably, marriage rates are declining as both genders see themselves as equally able to sustain themselves separately in the workplace and equally ambivalent about giving up sexual freedom.
Again, I am not saying that these side effects are not well worth the gains in equality between genders we seek and achieve. I am, instead, noting that the gains do, indeed, shift other characteristics of our culture. And I am advising that we think through what, if anything, we lose when we make the argument that girls and boys are essentially the same. Questions about how to use females in the military are one such theatre of decision-making.
In my opinion, I do not believe women should serve as combat soldiers. I know they are fully able to do so. I know they would acquit themselves spectacularly well. But I can't deny that I value the special place of women in society as a protected gender.
I can't deny my core feeling that women--by virtue of their anatomy and physiology and whatever God-given ability to nurture they possess--would be impacted more negatively by mortal combat than men.
I can't deny that I think it would bleed out some wonderful chivalrous quality in men were we to collectively send women to the front lines to bleed out as Marines shot up taking hills.
I can't deny that, were my wife or I to have to leave our children to defend this nation in hand-to-hand combat, that I would hold myself in the most vile contempt for letting my wife be the one to go.
I can't deny that I would worry for my son were he to volunteer or be drafted to fight on the front lines, but that I would worry even more for my daughter.
I just don't think it is some vestige of a prejudiced, Neanderthal perspective I harbor that I believe our nation could be doubly demoralized by women coming back from war in body bags in equal numbers to men.
I think it is something else: Reality.
It is the truth making itself evident: When I was told as a boy to never hit a girl, it seemed entirely obvious to me. A given. What sort of boy would strike a female, anyhow? A liberated boy?
Sorry, I just don't buy that--in my heart or my head. And by my very nature as a man, someplace deep in my soul, somewhere connected to God and truth, I want to protect women from violent death--even in war.
Our culture is rapidly dissolving all those quaint "stereotypes" about girls being sweet and boys being tough. But I think that we ought to be careful not to destroy something valuable about the true differences between genders, in the process. Something just plain true. And I think that one place to draw the line is in combat--where men must sometimes fight to the death on the front lines and women should never have to.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.