Credit: Courtesy of Kristen Tsetsi.
(WOMENSENEWS)–Kristen Tsetsi is just itching to be drafted.
The Connecticut writer and feminist recently logged onto the Selective Service website to enter her name onto the draft rolls. As soon as she clicked “female” though, she was redirected to a page explaining that women do not register for the draft.
Tsetsi does not accept that.
“Not only should we be equally obligated to defend the country if the need arises and we’re physically capable, but we should be so committed to our value in the military that we’re willing to accept the less glamorous side of our participation, which is registering for the draft,” she told Women’s eNews.
Apparently, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., agrees, according to a Feb. 25 article in the Washington Post quoting a spokesperson.
Tsetsi was raised on a military base and later penned the 2012 novel, “Pretty Much True,” about her experience dealing with her then-boyfriend’s deployment to Iraq.
After a conversation with her husband (formerly the aforementioned boyfriend) about women, the military and the draft, Tsetsi felt inspired. She wrote and posted a petition asking the White House to require women to register for the draft alongside men.
Timing seemed to be on her side.
Just two days later, on Jan. 23, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the ban on women serving in combat roles would be lifted.
“It seemed that if we were going to argue for military equality, that would include being required by law to register for Selective Service just as men are,” she said.
Tsetsi’s effort, however, has not caught the lift applied to the ban on women in combat.
At the time this story was published, her petition had garnered only 71 signatures, a figure dwarfed by the 100,000 required for the White House to review the matter.
A similar petition, posted the day after Panetta’s announcement, gathered a little over 4,000 signatures, still far short. Both petitions failed this week.
While the issue may not be high on the contemporary feminist’s wish list, feminist writer and Slate contributor Amanda Marcotte at least supports the idea.
“It may seem irrelevant, since the draft is so incredibly unpopular and unlikely to be used again, at least for a very long time, but this sort of politics of symbolism has value,” Marcotte said. “After all, a lot of anti-feminists try to claim that men are the ones who are ‘really’ oppressed, because of the draft. So why not take that off the table, so that we can have a grown-up discussion that isn’t derailed by irrelevant nonsense like this?”
Tsetsi said that requiring women to register for the draft is more than symbolic, given the consequences that men face for not registering.
“It would be mere symbolism if registering for the draft were completely voluntary for men or if it didn’t threaten punishment for those who don’t register,” she said.
Jennifer Burke, a spokesperson for the Selective Service, said that more than 100,000 names and addresses of men suspected of dodging registration were reported to the Department of Justice last year.
The penalties for such men can be tangible, she added. “National headquarters and our data management center receive calls, emails, faxes and letters daily from men who are being denied financial aid, federal jobs, job training, security clearance and citizenship because they failed to register by law,” she said.
Men who fail to register can also be fined up to $250,000, though Burke said that hasn’t actually happened since the 1980s, when President Jimmy Carter
re-established the Selective Service.
In 1980, Carter recommended the Selective Service include women, and Congress held extensive hearings on the matter before deciding to keep the draft to just men.
Several lawyers challenged the law on the basis that this gender distinction violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. While a three-judge district court agreed with them, in 1981 the Supreme Court held in Rostker v. Goldberg that it was constitutional to draft only men because only men were eligible for combat roles.
While combat roles have now been opened to women, that policy is not likely to change any time soon, Burke said. It’s simply not for the Selective Service to decide.
“For the existing law to include women in the Selective Service registration process, it would take a change in the law voted by Congress and approved by the president,” she said.
But not only are women not required to register for the Selective Service, they are actually not even allowed to do so, as Tsetsi found out.
After being shut out by the online process, Tsetsi printed out a draft registration form and mailed it in. She included a handwritten note with the form that read:
“Because the ban on women serving in combat roles has been lifted, I can only assume the decision of Rostker v. Goldberg will soon not apply, and women–like men–will be required to register for Selective Service (as they should have for some time). Please keep this form in your files for when that occurs.”
Laura Alix is a business reporter based in Boston.
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