Mary Hunt, writing on Religion Dispatches, reflects on the elimination of the barrier to women serving in combat. She compares the move by the Pentagon with another institution that prevents women from serving in front-line roles–the Roman Catholic Church.
From what I hear, not much will change on the ground because women are already doing combat jobs. The potential of 200,000 combat-related jobs opening to women only reveals how much discrimination there has been until now. More than 20,000 women have served in Afghanistan and Iraq; many of them have been injured, and more than a hundred killed. What constitutes combat is not altogether clear so it is harder to draw lines. The use of drones complicates things even further. Does someone who “pilots” one from afar and goes home to her/his family at night qualify as combat-seasoned?
Gender has increasingly less to do with anything as long as the soldier is physically, and more importantly perhaps, psychologically and morally prepared to injure and kill other people. Yes, there are women who will come back with the same kind of “moral injury” in need of attention that theologians Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini describe in their new book, Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War. I regret that at the same time I understand its logic….
….I do not think that women entering combat will change the bellicose ways of the US military. If anything, I think it will reinforce the importance of the warrior, reinscribe the role of the hero who risks death and kills the enemy. That seems to me an awfully high price for equality. For priests, the entrance of women into the Roman Catholic clerical caste will reinforce the status and role of clergy and reinscribe the power of difference (they are not lay people anymore). What a steep tab for proving the simple point of gender equality.
So which is it? Do we wait to open the doors for the institution changes their attitude, or does eliminating the barriers change the institution? What have we learned from our experience in the Episcopal Church?