The Downtrodden Sex

In 1920, the year women were given the right to vote, this column argued it was unfair that women now had equal voting rights as men without the same potential military draft obligations.

In this the newly enfranchised female citizen enjoyed a distinct advantage over the male. The latter must with his citizenship assume military and other burdens, while his sister is called upon to assume no unpleasant and dangerous duties as compensation to the State for the advantages that citizenship undoubtedly confers. To that extent citizenship to women is all gain and no loss.

Whether men were then — or are now — “the downtrodden sex” (to use the 1920 column’s title) can be debated. But those aforementioned facts remain the same. All U.S. men, but not women, are required to register for the Selective Service upon turning 18. I remember doing so myself, my senior year of high school. The stated rationale was always that men could serve in combat roles while women were legally barred, but in 2015 the Defense Department opened all combat roles to women. Yet the military draft rules remained unchanged.

A federal district court struck down the male-only draft as unconstitutional in February 2019, but the policy hasn’t actually ceased because the Selective Service says it can’t change absent congressional legislation. In March 2020, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — a bipartisan advisory group created by Congress in 2016 to advise the legislative branch on military matters — officially recommended that Congress add women to the draft. The commission’s recommendation was put on the backburner, though, as the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown occurred the very next week.

The real news this month about a national military draft law comes not from the U.S., but South Korea. The country requires 20 months of military conscription for all men between ages 18 and 28, but 28-year-old Jin from the boy band BTS was granted a two-year extension until age 30. Nice work if you can get it.

Other laws cited by the 1920 article as more burdensome to men have since ended. For example, the column mentioned that many states only allowed men to be called for jury duty. By 1968, all states allowed women to be called for jury duty as well, when Mississippi became the last state to do so.

The Downtrodden Sex

Published: Sunday, December 12, 1920

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