Should women fight in military combat? A retired Marine Corps commandant says no. “Women give life, sustain life, nurture life,” he says. “They can’t take life.”
Are women warm nurturers or can they be as tough as men? The debate about women in the military reopens a standing debate on female nature that divides even feminist from feminist.
Feminism as a philosophy is plagued by two logically inconsistent concepts about women’s nature. In one camp are what we might call Earth Mother feminists, remnants from the counter-culture of the 1960s. You’ll see them at health food stores still wearing long hair and tie-dyed clothes. They have home births and eat natural foods.
Earth Mother feminists insist that men and women have radically different natures. Men, they say, are naturally analytical, thing-oriented, obsessed with power and dominance. Women, on the other hand, are naturally intuitive, relationship-oriented, peaceful, and life-affirming. The argument that women should stay out of combat because their nature is to nurture life is a classic expression of Earth Mother feminism.
In the other camp are what we might call Career feminists. These are the high-powered executive women, wearing pin-striped, dress-for-success suits and carrying leather attache cases. They support abortion so that women can pursue careers just like men. And when they do have kids, they drop them off at a day care center at an early age and send them to the very best private schools and summer camps.
Career feminists tend to be members of the unisex school of human nature. They insist that under the layers of custom and socialization men and women are essentially identical. This doesn’t mean that men and women share a common nature; it means they believe there is no discernable human nature at all.
Career feminists subscribe to the liberal doctrine that human beings are infinitely flexible–blank slates upon which society writes. Differences in male and female behavior are merely the result of social custom, discrimination.
Now, these two types are of course extremes. Most feminists hold some mixture of the two, apparently unaware that they are being inconsistent. Since the 60s, the dominant strain in America has been the Careerist. The goal was equality with men–equal rights, equal salaries.
But women are starting to realize that equality with men is not necessarily a thing to be grasped. The emotional and financial cost of putting their kids into day care is bringing many women to rethink their goals.
US News & World Report notes a growing trend among women to leave the workforce when they have children, and to either work at home or start their own businesses. And women who stay in the system no longer try to imitate male work styles but rather try to infuse the workplace with female traits like nurturing and caring.
It must be trying to be a feminist these days. You never know which sort of feminist you’re supposed to be. Are you divinely ordained to save the world through your superior nature–or are you supposed to carefully repress all differences and be just like a man?
The Christian answer to feminism is that neither camp has it right. Neither offers a real basis for human rights. The biblical teaching is that all humanity–in all its glorious diversity–is created in the image of God. Men and women share a common nature and are entitled to the same basic rights.
The conflict of feminist against feminist is a minor skirmish. The real issue is whether there is a transcendent source of rights –for men and women.
Marine commandant is quoted in “Top Brass Wary of Combat Role for Female GIs,” The Washington Times, June 19, 1991.
The discussion of two kinds of feminism is based on Katherine Kersten, “What Do Women Want? A Conservative Feminist Manifesto,” Policy Review, Spring 1991.
Issue of US News & World Report mentioned is June 17, 1991.