The Ambiguity of Equal Rights

This is a sad story. The Marines have postponed applying a rule, enforced for more than 40 years, that requires marines to be able to do 3 pull ups. While the story does not indicate what will happen in the future, we know from other areas, such as police and fire departments, that the effort to increase female participation has led to the reduction in strength qualifications.

If one favors equal rights for women (or for any other group), then one wants to see both sexes subject to the same rules. One does not want the qualifications changed so that more women can pass the test. The original argument for equality was that some women could do the job as well as the men who became marines. That is a valid argument, but it does not justify reducing the qualifications. In fact, it condemns it.

Unfortunately, we now live in a world where women’s equality is seen as a justification for reducing the standards. Assuming the original standards were valid – and it is hard to see how upper body strength is not an essential attribute for marines or firefighters – reducing them will only reduce the effectiveness of the operation (and will likely force those who have the requisite strength to work harder to compensate for those who lack it).

For someone who believes in genuine equal rights, the right thing is to support applying the original rules to both sexes. If there were only a choice between relaxing the rules or discouraging women’s participation, one would have to choose between the lesser of two evils. Happily, as a matter of political positions, one does not need to make that choice. There is the clear winner of genuine equal rights. Sadly, though, in the real world, such genuine equality is rarer than it should be.

Mike Rappaport

Professor Rappaport is Darling Foundation Professor of Law at the University of San Diego, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for the Study of Constitutional Originalism. Professor Rappaport is the author of numerous law review articles in journals such as the Yale Law Journal, the Virginia Law Review, the Georgetown Law Review, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. His book, Originalism and the Good Constitution, which is co-authored with John McGinnis, was published by the Harvard University Press in 2013.  Professor Rappaport is a graduate of the Yale Law School, where he received a JD and a DCL (Law and Political Theory).

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  1. djf says

    Surely you’re not so naïve as to believe that the main proponents of integrating women into the military were ever interested in having the same standards applied to both sexes.

  2. Ken Masugi says

    Mike, I’d like to see your argument on whether women should be charged more for health insurance than men, since they are more likely to encounter greater health expenses than men? Thanks again for your thought-provoking posts.

  3. Devin Watkins says

    Is it possible that there are just more jobs that the marines need which don’t require physical strength? I mean flying a drone hardly requires upper body strength. Its possible that regardless of the sex they now have a job for you to do if you cant do the previous physical requirements.

    • gabe says

      certainly there ARE some jobs that do not require any strength – if one is ALWAY on stateside duty. However, interesting thing about the Marines – every job / occupational specialty is also assumed to be a fighter / rifleman.
      Not only that, let’s take your drone operator: nice if you are conducting operations from a stateside base; but what if it is a forward deployed operation? Should our genteel lady be excused when the field installation is set up while the men dig, trench and / or erect the site & equipment.
      Let them play a video game instead and then they can feel “soldierly”; leave the heavy lifting to those who can do it!

      • Devin Watkins says

        Is it better to have that woman who doesnt have the body strength not in the military, not allowed to help her country in whatever way she can? Every person that enters the military is and should be pushed to be as strong as they can, to be able to tackle every job, but I dont care if the person is paralyzed from the waist down, there are still jobs they can do, if they are willing to serve they should be put to the best use we can.

        Now there is a difference between cant and wont, if they just want to lay around all day and not work for it as hard as the men, well too bad! But I dont think that appears to be what they are talking about here.

        • gabe says

          My point (although implied rather than stated) was that when you lower these standards to accommodate the unfit you also lower them across the board for everyone. In the end, you have a weakened force.
          You are correct that these folks, male and female, may still be able to contribute – but only in certain positions.
          let them be cooks, data processors (stateside not overseas), etc.
          Mostly, my concern is for those soldiers who have been wounded. I would rather see the Dept of Defense accommodate wounded soldiers than to enlist someone without the physical strength to perform all duties required of a soldier. At least the wounded soldier has proven his or her mettle – and deserves better than to be cast aside.

          take care

  4. David WS says

    The male chauvinist (and hardened feminist) has said that women and men are “different”, therefore they cannot be “equal”; and they are superior. The progressive makes the equal and opposite error of saying that men and women are “equal”, therefore they cannot be “different”. Truth is men and women are “equal AND different”!

    Vive la différence!

  5. David WS says

    I should add that the best description I have heard of women in the military comes from CS Lewis the Chronicles of Narnia: Susan is given a bow and arrow, and at her asking to join in the fight, she is told the following “Only in time of great need…” That, I think is a good rule of thumb for women in the military.

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