February 10 2012

We Need Honest Conversations About Cultural Issues

Carrie L. Lukas

Political correctness is the killer of honest conversation. Politicians are asked to weigh in on touchy subjects all the time, and it does political conversations a disservice to always be looking for offense.

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin falls into this trap in parsing Rick Santorum's discussion about women serving in combat roles in the military. She leaps on his words that “other types of emotions” might be an obstacle if women are in harms way.

What's the outrage here? Do we really think that Santorum meant that women are too emotional for conflict? We might all burst into tears at the sight of someone who's been injured? Or maybe our raging hormones will lead us to fire too quickly?

Almost certainly no.

The women-in-combat debate is one of the few issues that I can easily see both sides on. Being female shouldn't preclude women from having the opportunity to serve in combat, and I understand other countries have successfully integrated women into combat roles.

Yet I also understand (and have heard from men I know in the military) how a woman might influence the combat dynamic for the worse. Dying though it may be, men (particularly military-types) can still be influenced by a sense of chivalry. They may feel differently about having their female colleagues taking risks or being injured than they do other male combatants. And, of course, there is a physical element to this: Women are biologically different than men, specifically on average we aren't as physically strong, so are less likely to be able to drag a fellow soldier out of harms way.

Does this mean women shouldn't fight on the front lines? Not necessarily. But it does mean that there are legitimate questions about the topic, and you can come down on the side of “no women in combat” without being a sexist pig.

Rubin similarly suggests that Santorum was out of bounds lamenting the role radical feminists have had in diminishing the value of stay-at-home moms and “convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.” Declaring “yikes!,” Rubin acts as though Santorum is calling for women—who now make up half of the American workforce—to all get back to their homes where they belong.

Surely this is a willful misunderstanding of his statements. Many have lamented how some radical feminism denigrated the role of family as a source of happiness for many women, including some women on the left who feel that they were mislead into forgoing children and later realized that their careers aren't always all that fulfilling.

Santorum certainly needs to take care not to come across as hostile to modern women's participation in all aspects of society. But commentators do political debates an injustice when they manufacture offense.

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