Last week, the army announced that all eight women striving to become among the first female Army Rangers failed the physical, extremely arduous training course required to move on to the next phase of training. This was the first time the course had been open for women.
When I read about this, I struggled to understand how I felt and what I thought about it. I knew how I should feel and think. I should feel proud of these women for putting themselves up against men, striving to be a part of their world, to show a woman can do anything a man can. I should think that this isn’t a setback for feminism. It’s just a little bump in the long and winding road to equality.
But I didn’t feel or think either of these things.
Firstly, as someone who can count on one hand minus her thumb how many times she’s physically exerted herself this year, I give major props to anyone who has the willpower, ambition, and drive to go through anything physically demanding and arduous. I especially give credit to women in that situation when the physical task is especially designed to test men’s endurance, strength, and speed.
That brings me to my second point. Men and women are biologically and physiologically different. Yes, some women are stronger or can run faster than some men. But if you take the strongest man and the strongest woman and see how much each can lift, 9 out of 10 times the man will probably win. That natural fact doesn’t make me feel lesser as a woman because I know we are capable of things men physically aren’t capable of (like pushing human beings out of our bodies when we probably should have just died instead. And yet, many women do this. Many women do this several times in their lifetimes). So when I read this article, I didn’t take it as a blow to feminism. I just think, yes, of course, in terms of a physical task that is made to measure male physique, tact, and endurance, they win this one.
But who really wins here? As an Arab Muslim woman, I can’t help but cringe when I see army-labeled anything–pens, uniform, commercials. It’s not personal. I’ve met some very kind and amiable soldiers and veterans. But I can’t help but think of the military industrial complex and watching the bombing of Baghdad from the comfort of my home in the US twelve years ago. I can’t help but think of Omar Khadr who was denied 13 years of his life for being too brown for a fair trial. I can’t help but see pictures from Abu Ghraib of military personnel physically and sexually humiliating innocent brown men. Not to mention the epidemic of sexual assault within the ranks of the US military. Why would women want to participate in that? To be equal? To be progressive? The woman’s fight for equality in the US army is a useless fight. I don’t want to measure my worth in comparison to a man’s. He isn’t my threshold. My feminism doesn’t mean gaining equal rights in a man’s world. And right now, that means a world where the military industrial complex vies to destroy the lives, livelihood, and civilizations of black and brown bodies.
I’ll just let Virginia Woolf conclude this one:
“If you insist upon fighting to protect me, or ‘our’ country, let it be understood, soberly and rationally between us, that you are fighting to gratify a sex instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits which I have not shared and probably will not share … For as a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”