Rick Santorum is wrong

Earlier today I was cut off in traffic by a male driver, who shared an obscene gesture with me as he whipped around my car on the highway.  Lately I have noticed that men step in front of me to get on the elevator, shut doors in my face and barge in front of me in line.

You know what?  I’m good with it.  Clearly, the world is full of boors of many sexual persuasions.  Being a feminist, I do not expect unwarranted niceties from men.  I don’t expect civility from people around me and that allows me to be delighted when I receive it. I try to be courteous to everyone, say please and thank you and hold the door.  I’m even guilty of telling complete strangers to “have a nice day.”  But hey – I want to be a nice person.  Not everyone does.  I believe that people can choose to be civil beings – ladies and gentlemen if you will – but I am responsible only for what I choose to be.  I am not responsible for the jerk who cuts me off on the highway, only for my response to his rudeness.

Enter Rick Santorum, presidential candidate and very conservative guy.  He made the news earlier this week with his comments on “women in combat.”  In an interview with Ann Curry, Mr. Santorum said, “(It’s) because of that reason of a sort of natural inclination to not focus on the mission because of the natural inclination to want to protect someone because it’s natural within our culture,’’ he told Curry. (really – that’s direct quote)

Curry asked the former Pennsylvania senator whether he believes women are not capable of fighting alongside men in the fiercest parts of the battle.

“No, that’s not the issue,’’ he said. “I’ve never raised that as a concern. The issue…is how men would react to seeing women in harm’s way or potentially being injured or in a vulnerable position and not being concerned about accomplishing the mission.’’

Oh dear.  That old saw about how the boys want to protect us.

In 2003, Dr. Leonard Wong, associate research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute said the paper “Why They Fight: Combat Motivation in the Iraq War” validated the popular belief that unit cohesion is a key issue in motivating soldiers to fight.

Wong and a team researchers from the War College went to the battlefield in Iraq for interviews because they wanted to speak with the soldiers while events were still fresh in their minds.

Their findings followed conventional wisdom, finding in part that each soldier is responsible for group success and protecting the unit from harm. As one soldier put it, “That person means more to you than anybody. You will die if he dies. That is why I think that we protect each other in any situation. I know that if he dies, and it was my fault, it would be worse than death to me.”

Hmmm.  So soldiers in the field report that protecting fellow soldiers is their first, best priority. 

The other role is it provides the confidence and assurance that someone is watching their back. In one infantryman’s words, “You have got to trust them more than your mother, your father, or girlfriend, or your wife, or anybody. It becomes almost like your guardian angel.”  Let me see . . . guardian angel . . .

I’m not sure where candidate Santorum has been for the last few years, as women have worked, died and killed on the front lines in the Mideast.  In 2009, the New York Times covered it fairly well — http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/us/16women.html.

In the most dangerous, fragile circumstance I can conjure in my mind, the people I would choose to have my back are not chosen based on sex, but rather on their love for me.  Help me, protect me, save me . . . and I will help you, protect you, save you.

But more importantly, perhaps when Mr. Santorum looks at his own little girl, he feels a parental surge of protectiveness and can’t imagine her in combat.  If so, he and I have common ground.  Perhaps what he can’t connect to is that parents of boys feel the same.  Here’s an idea for political debate:  instead of spending time trying to figure out what to do with women, let’s put that time and effort into figuring out how to avoid the lunacy of war and protect all of the children — girls and boys — on both sides of the guns.

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