Currently when boys in the United States of America turn 18, we have to register for a thing called Selective Service in order to access some of the rights and privileges of citizenship that girls get by turning 18, and also to not be charged with a felony. This means we get put on a list so we can be drafted into the military and sent off to our deaths if that need ever arises. I don't remember doing it, but I must have because I've gotten federal financial aid. Because women are now allowed to serve in any position in the military, there's a growing movement to replace this blatant sex discrimination with an equal-opportunity human rights violation by making them register for Selective Service too. The thought of abolishing the damn thing altogether doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone in power.
Valerie Hudson, however, argues in a recent editorial that the current status quo should be maintained, with men and women both eligible for military service but only men eligible for the draft. I expressed that same opinion once. My reasoning was that men were more evolved for war-type stuff, so while I would never cite evolution as a reason to forbid women from being in the military or doing whatever else their hearts desired, it seemed like a good enough reason to minimize unfairness by not forcing them to be in the military. I didn't think it was fair to force men either, but it was more reasonable because of evolution. Now I just think Selective Service and the draft should be abolished altogether. What's Dr. Hudson's logic, though?
"And I draw that line," she writes, "not for the reason tradition would give us: That women are weak or delicate creatures that must be protected. After all, most women in the world are not protected in any sense of the word. Would you enjoy living as a woman in Afghanistan, where 87% of women report having been assaulted? Or in Liberia, where the chance of dying incident to pregnancy is 1 in 8? Most women in poor countries do the lion’s share of the work of the household each day, and are given fewer calories to eat despite the fact that their daily work load forces them to expend far more energy than others in the household, including men. They watch their children die of preventable diseases and malnutrition because the powerful men of the country could not care less about such lowly matters. In truth, if women were weak, delicate creatures, the human race would have died out millennia ago.
"No, I do not oppose Selective Service registration for women because of their delicacy. I oppose it because a sex class analysis would reveal that women already sacrifice more for their country than men do, and women should not be asked to bear even more. There should be parity between men and women in the work of protecting our country and giving it a future. Selective Service registration for women would undo that parity, placing an unjustly heavy burden on women, and making their load far heavier than that of men."
She then proceeds to point out that far more women become mothers than men serve in the military, and far more women have died in childbirth than men have died in war. She notes that "The maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is now more than double what it was 30 years ago (it’s now 17.4 per 100,000 and rising)." I didn't know that. I thought I lived in a first world country. I did know that black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, and twice as likely to lose their babies, but since systemic racism is a myth and hospital staff (as I can attest firsthand from my experience with Logan Regional) treat all patients with the respect and dignity they're entitled to, these facts can only be explained as unfortunate but meaningless coincidences.
"And this doesn’t account," she continues, "for the 'mommy tax' on a woman’s lifetime earnings of having a child, which can amount to more than $1 million. The greatest risk factor for being poor in old age in the United States is to be a mother (and not a father). And the COVID-19 pandemic has made especially clear the profound economic cost dealt to working women - when the nation needed an army of mothers to step up, they did so at great cost to themselves." These facts, like the foregoing ones, are ----ed up. They speak to the profound sickness of a capitalist society that punishes people for valuing their families over increasing their employers' profits (which of course disproportionately affects mothers because pregnancy and childrearing responsibilities disproportionately affect mothers). Many things need to be reformed and many employers need to be put in their place. Capitalism is not pro-woman, pro-mother, or pro-family, it's pro-profit, full stop.
"But socialism is -" Did I say anything about socialism? Did I? No, I didn't, so don't change the subject.
I have been accused (by a man) of "denigrating motherhood" because I reject the fallacious analogy between motherhood for women and priesthood ordination for men that some people in my church are so fond of, and I suppose I'll be accused of it again after saying what I have to say next. Ahem: With a few possible exceptions, I actually don't believe that women or men deserve to be venerated just for reproducing. Yeah, the miracle of life is cool and all, and pregnancy is a significant sacrifice, but being fertile says nothing whatsoever about your worthiness or competence as a parent. It's literally the least important part of parenthood. Many people have given birth who really shouldn't have. Some parents abuse, some parents neglect, some parents warp their children for life with their unconscionable stupidity, some parents try to cure their children's autism by making them drink bleach, and so on. Have you ever read about Donald Trump's father? When I did, I realized that Donald Trump never had any chance of growing up to be a decent human being. I actually feel bad for him.
After attending my sister's temple sealing a few months ago, I reflected on the oddity of focusing so much on the commandment "Multiply and replenish the Earth." First of all, it's a bad translation that we keep repeating verbatim because we'd rather sound "scriptural" than make sense. In order to be replenished, the Earth must once already been plenished. This phrasing kind of implies that Adam and Eve were actually the sole survivors of a disaster that killed billions. Well, Lillith was there too, but the nuclear fallout turned her into a demon.
God: Multiply and replenish the Earth.
Eve: Uh, you do realize we need about five hundred breeding individuals to ensure a viable, genetically diverse species, right? You do realize our kids will have to -
God: Don't worry, I'll perform a miracle to make it not incest.
Narrator: But he didn't, and that explains the state of humanity today.
(I was going to say the narrator was voiced by Morgan Freeman, but then I remembered that he also played God in a couple of movies, so that felt weird.)
For sure, my church devotes plenty of time and energy is given in other venues to telling people to be good parents and advising them on how to do so, but taken at face value, this commandment to make babies for babies' sake just seems odd. A couple who has four kids and sells them all for drinking money is following this commandment, while a couple who adopts twelve kids, moves heaven and earth to meet their needs, and teaches them to be productive members of society is not. You could, of course, argue a broader and more figurative definition for "multiply and replenish", but then it would have to also include many things that have nothing to do with parenthood at all. I wouldn't object to that, but it seems like a stretch.
While reproduction is, as Dr. Hudson points out, obviously crucial to the future of the United States and every other nation, it's a group effort that transcends any individual birth. Not every person brought into this world improves it just by existing. I think of Derek Chauvin's mother, who recently told him at his sentencing that the day he was born was the happiest of her life. She isn't wrong to love him even though he's an abuser and a murderer, and she couldn't have possibly known he would turn out to be an abuser and a murderer - though she is wrong to deny that he's an abuser and a murderer when the entire world has seen his handiwork - but the fact remains that this country would have been a better place without him in it. I'm not going to thank his mother for giving birth to him anytime soon. Actually, come to think of it, if your child murders someone, the Earth's population has a net increase of zero and your attempt to multiply and replenish it has been retroactively thwarted. Let's hope they only murder one person and you have backup children who are better behaved.
Anyway, I guess I kind of agree with Dr. Hudson and kind of don't. The facts she points out should anger any reasonable person, but I don't venerate people for reproducing and I think her overall argument is moot because Selective Service and the draft should be abolished altogether.
BONUS: Recently I showed my true misogynistic colors. I am ashamed of myself.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.