The military of a country is often seen as the institution that embodies national pride. With a global rise of right-wing nationalism, the armed forces have been brought to the forefront as the sacrifices of soldiers are valorised in popular culture. Despite those within these forces often complaining of the futility of war, their tragic reality is that they have been reduced to pawns in geopolitical machinations that rarely have anything to do with the people on the ground. The whims and fancies of political leaders often dictate aggressive manoeuvers with nary a care for any potential loss of life. As an institution, the armed forces stand out in a world that increasingly values individual liberty and institutional accountability. In addition to a blatantly authoritarian structure in a largely democratic world, armies often stand as symbols of patriarchy, entrenched in the public consciousness over centuries. For all their apparent success in claims that it eliminates the class distinction between soldiers, armed forces have, thus far, failed any gender that is not cis male.
However, let us first break down the myth of the erasure of class distinctions. In countries like the United States, the poor are far more likely to join the military in search of a sustainable livelihood, reasonable pay, and in some cases, cheaper college tuition. This is a problem that most are willing to ignore, and for far too long, gendered discrimination similarly fell on deaf ears. In fact, it was as late as 2013 that the US finally allowed women to take on combat roles. From both perspectives, this was seen as a positive move. The military could now avail of the talents of an erstwhile ignored half of the population while the women now had greater agency in terms of both choosing a career path and breaking the notion that only men are tough enough to be soldiers.
Martha Davis, women’s rights activist and professor of Law at Northeastern University, also provides a principled need for the army to make such a move. By definition, the military “as a volunteer force failing to engage the best people in the country in all operations where they are needed just because of their gender” is an unacceptable form of discrimination. The battle for equality in a largely toxic patriarchal structure is far from won. In an age of glorification of the armed forces, regulations that exacerbate exclusionary sentiments on grounds of gender and sexual orientation must not be tolerated. Across the world, efforts still need to be made to ensure that there are no barriers to entry to what is ostensibly a volunteer force.