Richard Kemp wrote an excellent article on why women should not be engaged in direct combat. His argument was vilified. I would like to examine what it is that blinds so many to what is highly informed common sense
First, the concept of equal opportunities has become distorted and misused. Equal opportunities was about creating fairness, ensuring that people weren’t excluded from desirable jobs on the basis of age, disability, class or sex. But it derives its legitimacy not just from the principle of fairness but because it results in increasing the pool of talent and therefore is beneficial to the whole. Where the practice of equal opportunities is detrimental to the company or institution there is a system of exceptions which kicks into place.
However, in practice we seem to have lost sight of the greater whole. Equal opportunities is now about promoting our own self-interest as if this were a sufficient goal. In fact, we are so focused on creating opportunities for individuals we hardly ever bother honestly to examine what impact this is having on the greater whole. And equal opportunities cannot even be dignified by ideals of equality as it systematically ignores inequality where this occurs outside the target groups.
Where equal opportunities focuses only on our self-interest it is effectively infantilising those who it supports (mainly women) as it assumes we cannot move beyond an egocentric, childhood position where we refuse to see the greater whole. Women turn into wimmin, stamping their feet and whining “its not fair” until they get, as they invariably do, what they want. A concept of equal opportunities based on self-interest will eventually lose its legitimacy if it loses sight of fairness and cannot be tempered by the needs of the organisation as a whole.
The other great plank in the eye is the extraordinary refusal to countenance the possibility that there are biological differences between men and women. On one hand, this reflects an unfounded insecurity about the ability of competent women to get exactly where they want to be without any help. On the other hand it is so blatantly ideological it can only be preserved through the constant application of double think. Despite ascertaining that there are no biological differences, we are quite happy to go along with utterly specious propaganda that men are much more likely to rape, harass and assault. In the meantime the hard medical, biological and behavioural sciences, on which we are so dependent, assume sex differences and would not be able to carry out much of their analyses without them. And as Lady Corston demonstrates in her report advocating that women should be treated better than men in prisons, we have no problem in drawing on biological differences when they fulfil our self-interested aims. And this is without even getting onto the most elementary discussions about thousands of years of evolution.
All this bodes very badly for the armed forces. They are probably one of the very few remaining institutions where those who join are motivated by a desire to contribute to the common good. “Securing Britain in an uncertain world” is their current strapline. But this moves well beyond the aspirations of idealists and do-gooders whose lofty aims drive them into taking well paid, prestigious jobs with nice pensions. The soldier wishing to make a valuable contribution to society has to be prepared to sacrifice his life. What happens when this cornerstone of military participation is subordinated to an ideology where self-interest becomes the ultimate goal?
The military is also one of the few remaining arenas where masculine characteristics, which society seems so intent on diminishing, are sought after and positively valued. It reminds us that if men do have more aggression in them than women this evolved because ultimately it had a protective role. It also reminds us that men have always been infinitely more prepared to sacrifice their lives than women, and if they weren’t we probably wouldn’t be here. Could we not have the generosity of spirit to recognise and reward this as a uniquely male role?
It is also the one remaining employer where physical strength is uniquely valued. For me, as a carer, physical strength is one of the greatest assets a person can have. When my husband falls it is the young men on the estate, the ones who the police watch with CCTV cameras who come and pick him up. However, instead of recognising how helpful a strong man would be for us we are issued with all kinds of very expensive, cumbersome equipment to ensure that if we do get carers even the most diminutive woman would be up to the task. I believe that if half the carers were recruited on the basis of physical strength the service would be positively transformed. Surely in a context where people’s lives depend so directly and unavoidably on physical strength we might be prepared to recognise and value that men have a greater capacity for this than women do?
These policies are ultimately motivated by female self-interest. However we need to learn that self-interest is not always in keeping with the common good, and where it isn’t the common good should take priority. We need to learn to value self-sacrifice above self-interest. Above all we need to trust men and acknowledge that they too have our interests at heart. If we can’t do these things, we will live in a society where killing is regarded as an opportunity rather than a last resort and that would be to detriment of us all.