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Conscription and sexism

Both feminists[1][2][3][4][5] and other opponents of discrimination against men[6][7]:102 have criticized military conscription, or compulsory military service, as sexist. Feminists argue that military conscription is sexist because wars typically serve the interests of the patriarchy, therefore the military is inherently a sexist institution. They say conscription of men normalizes male violence, conscripts are indoctrinated into sexism and violence against women, and military training socializes conscripts into patriarchal gender roles.[8][9]

While not all feminists are anti-militarists, opposition to war and militarism has been a strong current within the women's movement. Prominent suffragists like Quaker Alice Paul, and Barbara Deming, a feminist activist and thinker of the 1960s and '70s, were ardent pacifists. Moreover, feminist critique has often regarded the military as a hierarchical, male-dominated institution promoting destructive forms of power."[10] Feminists have been organizers and participants in resistance to conscription.[11][12][13]


Historically, only men have been subjected to conscription,[7]:255[14][15][16][17] and only in the late 20th century has this begun to change, though most countries still require only men to serve in the military. The integration of women into militaries, and especially into combat forces, did not begin on a large scale until late in the 20th century. In his book The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys (2012), philosopher David Benatar states that the theoretical arguments are immaterial to those who are pressed into service: "Some women are excluded from combat, but many more women are exempt. While some men are excluded from combat (because they fail the relevant tests), many more are pressured or forced into combat." According to Benatar, "[t]he prevailing assumption is that where conscription is necessary, it is only men who should be conscripted and, similarly, that only males should be forced into combat". This, he believes, "is a sexist assumption".[7]:102

Current practiceEdit

Israeli female soldiers

In 2018, only two countries conscripted women and men on the same formal conditions: Norway and Sweden.[18][19] Norway was also the first, and remains the only, NATO country to introduce obligatory military service for women as an act of gender equality.[19][20] A few other countries have laws allowing for the conscription of women into their armed forces, however with some difference in e.g. service exemptions, length of service, and more. In 2006, those countries were: China, Eritrea, Israel, Libya, Malaysia, North Korea, Peru and Taiwan.[21] Other countries—such as Finland, Turkey, Singapore, and South Korea—still use a system of conscription which requires military service from only men, although women are permitted to serve voluntarily. The gender selective draft has been challenged in Switzerland,[21] but the case was rejected by the Federal Supreme Court on the grounds that the specific law requiring service takes precedence over the general law forbidding sex discrimination.[22][23] Chantal Galladé, former president of the Swiss Defence Committee calls the conscription of men a discrimination against both men and women, cementing the stereotypical gender roles of men and women.[24]

The practice of conscription has been criticized by various men's rights groups, such as the National Coalition for Men, which claims that "no gender oppression is comparable".[25] These groups have been joined on occasion by certain feminist activists. Beginning in the 1970s, "liberal feminists" have argued in favor of extending conscription to women, taking the position that "the best way to insure women's equal treatment with men is to render them equally vulnerable with men to the political will of the state". Radical and pacifists feminists have disagreed, however, contending that "by integrating into existing power structures including military forces and the war system without changing them, women merely prop up a male-dominated world instead of transforming it".[26] There were disagreements between liberal advocates for women's equality and radical and pacifist feminists both in 1980 and again in 2016 on whether women should be included in draft registration or draft registration should be opposed for women and men.[10]

Anthropologist Ayse Gül Altinay has commented that "given equal suffrage rights, there is no other citizenship practice that differentiates as radically between men and women as compulsory male conscription"[27]:34 and continues elsewhere, stating that "any attempt to de-gender nationalism and citizenship needs to incorporate a discussion of universal male conscription".[27]:58 She goes on to quote feminist writer Cynthia Enloe, who argues that "there is a reason that so many states in the world have implemented military conscription laws for young men: most of those men would not join the state's military if it were left up to them to choose".[27]:31–32

Selective serviceEdit

Congressman Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) drawing the first capsule for the Selective Service draft, Dec 1, 1969.

In the United States, most male US citizens and residents must register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday.[28] Those who fail to register may be punished by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, although no non-registrants have been prosecuted since January 1986.[29] They may also be ineligible for federal student financial aid, federal job training and federal employment, and for certain states, state employment and even driver's licenses .[30] As of 2014, transgender women are required to register for selective service, but may file for a exemption in the event they are drafted.[31] Transgender men are not required to register but may face difficulties in receiving benefits which require registration.[32] Currently, women are exempted from the Selective Service System as only males are required to register; this cannot be changed without Congress amending the law, although combat roles for women have been allowed since January 23, 2013, which certain political analysts have said may get rid of the female exemption of registration.[33]

The selective service has been challenged in court in Rostker v. Goldberg in 1981, Elgin v. Department of Treasury in 2012, and a lawsuit is currently pending appeal in the case of National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System. All have argued in small or large part on the grounds of equal protection and due process on the basis of gender.[34] On 22 February 2019, Judge Grey H. Miller of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued a declaratory judgment[35] that the current male-only Selective Service registration requirement is unconstitutional.[36] Professor Stephanie M. Wildman of Santa Clara Law called the decision in Rostker v. Goldberg "chilling to any advocate of full societal participation".[37] In the ensuing congressional debate, Senator Mark Hatfield argued that:

The paternalistic attitude inherent in exclusion of women from past draft registration requirements not only relieved women of the burden of military service, it also deprived them of one of the hallmarks of citizenship. Until women and men share both the rights and the obligations of citizenship, they will not be equal.[38]


  1. ^ Stephen, Lynn (1981). "Making the Draft a Women's Issue". Women: A Journal of Liberation. 8 (1). Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  2. ^ Lindsey, Karen (1982). "Women and the Draft". In McAllister, Pam (ed.). Reweaving the Web of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence. New Society Publishers. ISBN 0865710163.
  3. ^ Levertov, Denise (1982). "A Speech: For Antidraft Rally, D.C. March 22, 1980". Candles in Babylon. New Directions Press. ISBN 9780811208314.
  4. ^ "CODEPINK Opposes Compulsory Draft Registration for All Genders". Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  5. ^ Sun, Rivera. "Women's Draft? Sign Me Up To Abolish War". Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  6. ^ Berlatsky, Noah (May 29, 2013). "When Men Experience Sexism". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on January 5, 2015. Retrieved April 26, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c Benatar, David (May 15, 2012). The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-67451-2. Retrieved April 26, 2015.
  8. ^ Michalowski, Helen (May 1982). "Five feminist principles and the draft". Resistance News (8): 2.
  9. ^ Neudel, Marian Henriquez (July 1983). "Feminism and the Draft". Resistance News (13): 7.
  10. ^ a b Schaeffer-Duffy, Claire (June 28, 2016). "Feminists weigh in on draft registration for women". Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  11. ^ "Letters from draft-age women about why they wouldn't register for the draft". Resistance News (2): 6. 1 March 1980.
  12. ^ "Gestation: Women and Draft Resistance". Resistance News (11). November 1982.
  13. ^ "Women and the resistance movement". Resistance News (21). 8 June 1986.
  14. ^ Goldstein, Joshua S. (2003). "War and Gender: Men's War Roles – Boyhood and Coming of Age". In Ember, Carol R.; Ember, Melvin Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World's Cultures. Volume 1. Springer. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-306-47770-6. Retrieved April 25, 2015.
  15. ^ Kronsell, Anica (June 29, 2006). "Methods for studying silence: The 'silence' of Swedish conscription". In Ackerly, Brooke A.; Stern, Maria; True, Jacqui Feminist Methodologies for International Relations. Cambridge University Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-139-45873-3. Retrieved April 25, 2015.
  16. ^ Selmeski, Brian R. (2007). Multicultural Citizens, Monocultural Men: Indigineity, Masculinity, and Conscription in Ecuador. Syracuse University: ProQuest. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-549-40315-9. Retrieved April 25, 2015.
  17. ^ Joenniemi, Pertti (2006). The Changing Face of European Conscription. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 142–149. ISBN 978-0-754-64410-1. Retrieved April 25, 2015.
  18. ^ Persson, Alma; Sundevall, Fia (2019-03-22). "Conscripting women: gender, soldiering, and military service in Sweden 1965–2018". Women's History Review. 0 (0): 1–18. doi:10.1080/09612025.2019.1596542. ISSN 0961-2025.
  19. ^ a b Koranyi, Balazs; Fouche, Gwladys (June 14, 2014). Char, Pravin (ed.). "Norway becomes first NATO country to draft women into military". Oslo, Norway. Reuters. Archived from the original on January 28, 2015. Retrieved April 26, 2015.
  20. ^ "Women in the Armed Forces". Norwegian Armed Forces. October 27, 2014. Archived from the original on May 2, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  21. ^ a b "INDEPTH: FEMALE SOLDIERS – Women in the military — international". CBC News. May 30, 2006. Archived from the original on April 4, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  22. ^ Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland (January 21, 2010). "Judgment of 21 January 2010" (in German). Archived from the original on May 2, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  23. ^ "General conscription does not discriminate against men according to federal court". (in German). Menschenrechte Schweiz (MERS). March 28, 2013. Archived from the original on May 2, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  24. ^ Bondolfi, Sibilla (March 15, 2013). "Abolition of conscription: Compulsory military service for men only is 'untenable'" (in German). Archived from the original on December 6, 2013. Retrieved April 26, 2015.
  25. ^ "Selective Service (military conscription)". National Coalition for Men. Archived from the original on March 15, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  26. ^ Goldstein, Joshua S. (July 17, 2003). War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa. Cambridge University Press. pp. 41–43. ISBN 978-0-521-00180-9.
  27. ^ a b c Altinay, Ayse Gül (December 10, 2004). The Myth of the Military-Nation: Militarism, Gender, and Education in Turkey. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-403-97936-0.
  28. ^ "Selective Service System: Welcome". Selective Service System. Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. February 12, 2015. Archived from the original on April 28, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  29. ^ Hasbrouck, Edward. "Prosecutions of Draft Registration Resisters". National Resistance Committee. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  30. ^ "Benefits and Programs Linked to Registration". Selective Service System. Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. December 21, 2010. Archived from the original on April 15, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  31. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions: Question #35". Selective Service System. Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. April 9, 2015. Archived from the original on March 30, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015. How does the Military Selective Service Act apply to individuals who have had a sex change? Individuals who are born female and have a sex change are not required to register. U.S. citizens or immigrants who are born male and have a sex change are still required to register. In the event of a resumption of the draft, males who have had a sex change can file a claim for an exemption from military service if they receive an order to report for examination or induction.
  32. ^ "Selective Service and Transgender People". National Center for Transgender Equality. May 27, 2005. Archived from the original on March 16, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  33. ^ "Women and the Draft: Women Aren't Required to Register". Selective Service System. February 25, 2014. Archived from the original on March 27, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  34. ^ Angelluci, Marc E. (April 13, 2013). "National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System" (PDF). National Coalition for Men. United States Government. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 21, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  35. ^ "Final Judgment, National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System, Civil Action H-16-3362," (PDF). Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  36. ^ Hasbrouck, Edward. "Federal court declares current military draft registration requirement unconstitutional". Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  37. ^ Wildman, Stephanie M. (January 1, 1984). "The Legitimation of Sex Discrimination: A Critical Response to Supreme Court Jurisprudence". Santa Clara Law Digital Commons. Santa Clara University School of Law. p. 294. Archived from the original on May 2, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  38. ^ MacDwyer, Sara (September 9, 2010). "Rostker v. Goldberg: The Uneven Development of the Equal Protection Doctrine in Military Affairs". Golden Gate University Law Review. Women's Law Forum. 12 (3). Archived from the original on May 2, 2015. Retrieved May 2, 2015. Once the combat issue is put in proper perspective and the evidence of women's recognized ability to perform military functions is assessed, it becomes apparent that an exclusion of women from a draft registration requirement would be the product of the archaic notion that women must remain 'as the center of home and family.' One court apparently recognized as much about the Congress which enacted the prior draft law. In upholding that law's exclusion of women, the court stated: 'In providing for involuntary service for men and voluntary service for women, Congress followed the teachings of history that if a nation is to survive, men must provide the first line of defense while women keep the home fires burning.' At one time judicially accepted, such romantically paternalistic underpinnings of sex-based classifications are intolerable under current equal protection doctrine. Overbroad generalizations concerning one sex or the other no longer can [sic] used to substitute for a functional, gender-neutral means of distinguishing between the physically unfit and the able bodied. The paternalistic attitude inherent in exclusion of women from past draft registration requirements not only relieved women of the burden of military service, it also deprived them of one of the hallmarks of citizenship. Until women and men share both the rights and the obligations of citizenship, they will not be equal.