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Feminists against the draft and draft registration

FAQ about women, the draft, and draft registration

Leaflet updated June 2022: What’s happening with women and draft registration (“Selective Service”)?

Take action with CODEPINK women against war: Tell Congress to end draft registration

Feminists Say: Stop The Draft

I wouldn’t mind the privilege of being among the first women to burn their draft cards

To the liberals’ challenge, “If they draft men, why not draft women?” there’s really only one answer — it’s not okay to draft men. And no, it’s not okay to draft women, and no, we don’t owe … the government … collusion in as patriarchal and misogynist an institution as the draft…. Whatever else it is, war is a patriarchal institution, and every war is a war against women.

[Karen Lindsey of Women Opposed to Registration and the Draft (WORD), speech to rally in Boston against draft registration, reprinted as “Women and the Draft” in “Reweaving the Web of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence”, New Society Publishers, 1982.]

The commission concluded its report with a recommendation to Congress to include women in the registration for the Selective Service. Too bad for them, because we know that our liberation will not be realized through war crimes.

As 18- to 25-year-olds, we are within the age range to have to register with Selective Service. As we face a global public health crisis, environmental disasters and increasing state violence, the recommendation for expanding the draft at this time should be seen as a declaration of war on all future generations….

We are a generation that understands that no matter how hard the military tries to co-opt feminism and progressive ideals, war will never be a part of a framework for imagining equity because the first casualty of war is always human dignity. As draft-age people, the only military draft system reform we support is the complete abolition of compulsory military service.

[Expanding the Military Draft Is Not Feminism. Abolishing Draft Registration Is. By Danaka Katovich and the CODEPINK Youth Peace Collective, Truthout, 23 August 2021]

Women’s equality will not be achieved by including women in a draft system that forces civilians to participate in activities that are against their will and harm others in large numbers, such as war. The draft is not a women’s rights issue, as it does nothing to advance the cause of equality and functionally limits freedom of choice for Americans of all genders.

While we demand equal pay for women in all areas of our economy, it is irresponsible for the fight for women’s rights to seek equal moral injury, equal PTSD, equal brain injury, equal suicide rates, equal lost limbs, or equal violent tendencies that military veterans suffer from. When it comes to the military, women’s equality is better served by ending draft registration for everyone.

A draft is often viewed as democratic because it spreads the burden of recruitment across social classes; it is even seen by some as reducing the possibility of reckless war-making because it spurs anti-war activism. Compulsion, however, is an undemocratic process, and history does not support the claim that drafts prevent or end wars. The answer to a “volunteer military” disproportionately recruiting from economically disadvantaged communities is not to impose a universal draft but to work against the military’s targeting of underserved communities and provide more economic opportunities beyond military enrollment. No one should have to join the military to get access to a college education or skills training needed to get decent jobs.

Our nation must move away from endless war and its dangerous reliance on militarism. Let’s not expand draft registration but abolish it.

[Statement from CODEPINK submitted to the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, 24 September 2019]

Expanding Selective Service registration to women is not feminism…. Expanding the draft would merely expand a burden that has been unjustly placed on men for decades. The Selective Service takes away personal choice…, rewards militarism, punishes pacifism, [and] reproduces inequality….

Feminism is about addressing unjust systems, extending personal choice, and producing equal positive outcomes for individuals regardless of their gender…. In seeking equality and non-violent responses to global challenges, we support ending the Selective Service for both men and women, continuing voluntary, rather than forced, military service, and foreign policy approaches that emphasize de-escalatory and nonviolent conflict resolution, rather than military-first approaches.

Considering Selective Service expansion through the NDAA skirts past the necessary discussion and debate that this issue deserves. Instead, Congress must provide the space for all legislators to deliberate on this issue. To do so, they should consider expanding choice by debating the bicameral and bipartisan Selective Service Repeal Act (H.R. 2509/S. 1139) to end the Selective Service.

[A Feminist Take on the Selective Service, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), August 2021]

They do not have our consent! I am not your weapon! I am a womyn! A mother! A daughter! A sister! I am a student of life. We are #UNSELECTABLE.

[Calling All Womyn to Oppose Draft Registration! ¡Llamado Para Que Cada Mujer Se Oponga Al Registro Obligatorio De Servicio Militar!, by womyn in the San Diego Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft, Project YANO, Mujeres en Resistencia, San Diego City College Visionary Feminists Club, and Mujeres de Maiz, July 2016.]

We Won't Go
[“We Won’t Go.” Unidentified woman in the crowd at an anti-draft rally, Washington DC, 22 March 1980. (The Getty Images caption has the incorrect date of March 23, which may have been the day this photo was first published.) Photo by Leif Skoogfors, Getty Images.]

The argument that extending the [Selective Service] registration requirement to women is a way to help reduce gender-based discrimination is specious. It does not represent a move forward for women; it represents a move backward, imposing on young women a burden that young men have had to bear unjustly for many decades — a burden that no young person should have to bear at all. Even more disturbing, this argument fails to acknowledge or address the pervasive climate of sexism and sexual violence that is the reality of military life for many women who serve.

If the argument for requiring registration of women as well as men, often framed erroneously as an argument for “equal rights,” prevails, our society’s already swift move toward normalizing military violence for youth and young adults in general, will gain a particular focus on women’s participation in military violence. We believe that those responsible for military recruitment understand this very well, and that the push to extend the registration requirement to women is made — at least in part — because it will become a facilitating factor for recruiting more people to fight our current endless wars. At the very least, it serves as one more avenue by which militarism continues to invade civil society.

[Joint letter from antiwar organizations, December 2016.]

Selective Service System registration is ageist, in that it only targets youth; sexist, in that it only targets those identified male at birth; undemocratic, as it takes away the right to religious freedom; and immoral, since it takes away the choice to follow one’s conscience.

[Kate Connell, TruthInRecruitment.org, letter to the editor, Los Angeles Times, 5 March 2019]

As draftees, we would suffer a double servitude — like men, treated by the state as though it had a right to our bodies, but also but also treated by the men who would be our fellow slaves as though they had a right to our bodies too.

[Barbara Deming, Seattle Pacifist Newsletter, 1980.]

Including women in the draft isn’t actually feminist…. Feminists would stress that it’s important to examine the damaging, patriarchal values ascribed to the institutions that have denied female participation. Essentially, it’s not enough to provide equal opportunities if those same opportunities are rooted in — and further support — the patriarchy.

[Ellen Shippey, Including women in the draft isn’t feminist , The Breeze, James Madison University, 31 March 2019]

Draft registration for men failed: criminal enforcement had to be abandoned decades ago in the face of pervasive noncompliance…. Trying to draft women or get them to register to be drafted would be even more of a fiasco.

[Joint statement by anti-draft organizations in response to the report of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, March 2020.]

Selective Service registration for males is a pillar of the U.S war culture and economy. Expanding this system to include women is the opposite of what feminists should support; it strengthens a system and values that must be abolished, not expanded.

[Mary Lee Sargent, feminist peace activist and teacher of American history, New Hampshire Bulletin, 22 December 2021.]

I will not register for conscription, if conscription comes for women…. Instead, I publish my statement here, my declaration of purpose, and if it encourages other women not to register, I shall be glad at such increase in our numbers.

I shall not register because I believe modern war to be murder, incompatible with a religion of love. I shall not register because registration is the first step towards conscription, and the only way to do away with war is to do away with conscription.

“Nothing would sooner free the world from the scourge of war, the most deadly plague with which humanity is at present threatened,” wrote E.I. Watkins some years ago, “than the resolute refusal of a sufficient number to serve in the army. Even a small minority would prepare the way for the future refusal of large masses. All who are not willing to be conscripts from whatever motive, should unite in proclaiming this refusal.”…

“But why object to registering? Why not register and then refuse if your number is called?”

By little and by little we must resist. Why take the first step if we do not intend to go on? Why count on exemption… and so lose the opportunity to testify to the truth that we feel so strongly?

[Dorothy Day, If Conscription Comes for Women, “The Catholic Worker”, January 1943, p. 1 (while Congress was considering requiring women to register for a draft of nurses).]

Women's Pentagon Action: Stop the Draft
[“Stop the Draft.” Women’s Pentagon Action poster by Yolanda V. Fundora, 1980.]

We are in the hands of men whose power and wealth have separated them from the reality of daily life and from the imagination. We are right to be afraid. At the same time our cities are in ruins, bankrupt; they suffer the devastation of war. Hospitals are closed, our schools are deprived of books and teachers. Our young Black and Latino youth are without decent work. They will be forced, drafted to become the cannon fodder for the very power that oppresses them… We do not want to be drafted into the army. We do not want our young brothers to be drafted. We want them equal with us.

[Women’s Pentagon Action Unity Statement, 1980.]

Some have argued that since conscription affects more people than today’s wars fought by a small number of Americans, bringing it back might paradoxically make the U.S. more cautious about engaging in conflicts. When taking this stance, people will point to Vietnam. And yep, anger with the draft did help end the war…. after 60,000 Americans and two million Vietnamese died. *You don’t stop the runaway truck of U.S. foreign policy by throwing a man in front of it, and you definitely don’t stop it by throwing a man and a woman, just to make things equal.8

[Lucy Steigerwald, Antiwar.com, 2016]

There are important issues women continue to battle to achieve real, tangible equality. But finally giving them the right to fight and die under a policy they and most Americans disagree with is hardly a win.

[Kaitlyn Buss, columnist, Drafting women panders to true equality, Detroit News, 21 June 2016.]

Women: do not register for the draft. No one - man or woman - should register, or be required to register, for the draft. The draft should be completely eliminated…. Did Congress think that ‘women’s equality’ meant sending us off to war? Women’s equality is peace, democracy, economic justice, racial justice, environmental sustainability, restorative justice, ending mass incarceration, providing for all children of this country, caring for our elders, affordable healthcare and housing, and debt-free student education. Women’s equality does not - and never will - include forcing us to kill our fellow human beings in order to protect the patriarchal, oligarchic, racist, imperialistic interests of the greedy, war-profiteering few.

[Rivera Sun, Women: do not register for the draft, 17 June 2016, syndicated via PeaceVoice; also reprinted by CODEPINK Women Against War]

Tell Congress: Don’t Force Women to Register for the Draft, Dump the Draft Entirely.

[Petition initiated by Julie Mastrine of San Francisco, presented with more than 25,000 signatures to the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service at one of its public events in Los Angeles, 2018]

The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service is disguising an argument for militarism as one for equality.

[Maria Santelli, Drafting Women Into the Military Is Not Progres, Sojourners, August 2020.]

As someone who is anti-war and anti-expansion of the Department of Defense’s budget… I do have to wonder if those who fight for equality have been used to pacify the anti-war movement? Or some other agenda….

As an anti-oppression feminist, I also wonder if making more bodies available for wars that more often than not we have no business being in is the direction we should be trying to go as a country.

I mean really, why do we care about the draft now? And why not get rid of Selective Service altogether?

[Charing Ball, Why I Oppose The Inclusion Of Women In The Military Draft, Madame Noire, 21 June 2016]

We’ve served men for centuries. We’ve died for them, and defended them, and received their violence, and now we’re being asked to do it again. What is women’s liberation about if not the refusal to serve men any longer?… We cannot separate feminism from the desire for peace in formulating positions on drafting women. The two are integrally connected….

We cannot forsake women’s liberation by accepting patriarchy’s interpretation of “equality”. For accepting equality to be like them insures that we will never be ourselves, for we would have legitimized their authority….

To establish more equal relations between the sexes, “rather than women being train to kill,” wrote Helen Michalowski (WIN, 3/1/80), “let me learn to nurture life.”

True unity between the feminist and anti-war movements has at its roots the common goal of a society where personal and social relations are governed by nurturance, mutual aid, cooperation, and respect. These are the prerequisites for a society free of sexism, racism, and war.

By taking a position against registration for women, we are challenging patriarchal control. We are challenging the myth that the kind of “equality” being offered to us comes anywhere close to our pacifist-feminist goals.

[Donna Warnock, Sexual Politics and the Draft, WIN Magazine, October 1980.]

Lesbian Anti-Draft Action
[Lesbian Anti-Draft Action contingent in the West Coast mobilization against the draft and draft registration, Market Street, San Francisco, 22 March 1980. Photo by Chris Booth for Resistance News. The next banner, partially visible, is from the Oakland Feminist Women’s Health Center.]

No one, female or male, should be drafted…. Feminism does not imply role reversals. All institutions we live under were created by and for men. The military is no exception. We are striving for human alternatives. Putting us into fatigues is not going to free anyone….

Feminists must acknowledge militarism as a major women’s issue…. Not only are women the main victims of war and all its atrocities, they are also affected by the current priority given to the military budget.

[Lynn Stephen, Women Opposed to Registration and the Draft (WORD), “Making the Draft a Women’s Issue”, in “Women: A Journal of Liberation”, vol. 8, no. 1, 1981.]

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom strenuously opposes the conscription of men or women for war or preparation for war and we oppose registration as the first step toward conscription…. Sisterhood is international — it does not stop at international borders. If we embrace militarism and conscription as part of equality we will be declaring our sisters as enemies. That is something we as women and as feminists WILL NEVER do…. Sisterhood is powerful. Say NO to registration; say NO to the draft!

[WILPF statement in response to President Jimmy Carter’s proposal for draft registration, January 1980.]

It’s worth questioning why a policy change that is promoted using terms of gender equality has been championed by misogynists… while being supported by only 38% of female voters.

Gender inequality remains a major human rights challenge in the U.S. and worldwide…. It is women that bear a disproportionate burden in armed conflict worldwide. Seventy percent of non-combatant casualties in recent conflicts were women and children. And when livelihoods are disrupted by war, women face increased rates of domestic and sexual violence, trafficking, and child marriage.

[Drafting Women in the Name of Gender Equality Misses the Mark, Courage To Resist, 10 August 2020.]

There is nothing progressive about requiring women to register for the draft; women should never be bound by law to fight wars that are started by governments disproportionately controlled by men, for resources controlled by men —- especially while we’re still expected to do most of the child-rearing, paid less than men for the same work, and can’t get justice for sexual assault or domestic violence…. The argument that women must be subjected to the same rights violations as men in order to achieve gender equality is misguided and takes us further from achieving equality and personal freedom.

[Myra Pearson, Why Drafting Women Isn’t Gender Equality , BUST, June 2016.]

Opposition to war and militarism has been a strong current within the women’s movement. Prominent suffragists like Quaker Alice Paul, and Barbara Deming, a feminist activist and thinker of the 1960s and ’70s, were ardent pacifists. Moreover, feminist critique has often regarded the military as a hierarchical, male-dominated institution promoting destructive forms of power.

[Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, Feminists weigh in on draft registration for women, National Catholic Reporter, 28 July 2016.]

When masculinity is predicated on violence and military service is a man’s civic duty, then draft resistance becomes a doubly radical act. Men who refuse to take up arms for their nation threaten both the political and gender order.

[Green Berets and Gay Deceivers: The New Left, The Vietnam Draft and American Masculinity and American Masculinity, by Anna A. Zuschlag, PhD dissertation, University of Western Ontario, 2015.]

As a woman and a person who believes fervently in the right of every person to fulfill his or her humanity, I oppose conscription in any form. Not only does a coercive and destructive institution such as this stifle any progression towards humanistic and feminist values, it threatens a societal regression into the male hierarchical values of dominance, power, and control by means of violence.

[Julie Barnard, Stanford Against Conscription, in Resistance News, 1980]

Women have been resisting the patriarchy for hundreds of years…. The draft law is not the central problem. The root problem is the oppressive ideology which creates the economic and social conditions giving rise to militarism and war. An analysis of patriarchal thinking is the unifying thread which ties draft resistance to the other struggles for human liberation and self-determination. It is patriarchal thinking which makes possible the oppression of women, lesbians and gay men, black people, and anyone who is “other”. All of us must resist this mentality and its world view of dichotomies, division, and conflict….

Draft resistance must be placed in a context…. A feminist analysis gives us this context by connecting draft resistance to resisting the ideology of war and domination and oppression.

[Lisa Robinson, in Resistance News, 1982]

A case can be made that all war is basically war against women and children…. The ratio of civilian to military casualties in Vietnam was 10 to 1…. Women’s interests come into clear opposition to militarism. We are the civilians who are expected to “pay off” our warrior “protectors” by allowing them to monopolize resources, honors, and political power. We are the women who are no longer willing to make the payoff. The draft resistance movement encourage[s] men to opt out of the warrior system and join us in devising new ways to distribute resources, honors, and power. Our warrior “protectors” have never done a good job of shielding us from the dangers of war, except by fighting our wars elsewhere and endangering the women there. And, in the age of nuclear weapons, there is no “elsewhere”, and we are all equally exposed, equally unprotected, and equally unhonored…. The women’s movement and the draft resistance movement must work together to prevent that war, by undermining the warrior polity.

[Marian Henriquez Neudel, Feminism and the Draft, in Resistance News, 1983]

The draft and the patriarchy are institutions which support and uphold each other to such an extent that the struggles against them cannot be separated…. The draft law… is both a tool of the coercive state and of the patriarchal society….

If women were to be drafted into combat… I do not see that anything good can come out of twisting wimmin as men have been twisted. And supporting an increase in injustice can never be justified, whatever might result from it. Neither do I want wimmin to seize the power of violence for our own, to use it to coerce men as men have used it to coerce wimmin. What I want is to break apart entirely the power structure by means of which men dominate wimmin.

[Liz Davidson, Wimmin and Draft Resistance, in Resistance News, 1986]

As a feminist, I believe sexism is the model for all other oppressions. This world view is frequently referred to as “radical feminism.” So as a radical feminist, many people are baffled as to why I work in the anti-draft movement, which appears to be mainly of concern to men. I think this is a dangerous misconception, however, that desperately needs to be corrected.

To begin with, women may actually be facing a draft in the not too distant future. In 1980 President Carter wanted to register women for the draft, but Congress rejected this…. There have been repeated calls for a draft of health professionals (including women)….

It is also easy to forget that although men usually wage war, women are frequently its victims…. Both women and men are killed and injured when civilian populations become engulfed in a war (and women are often raped as well). It is important to remember that large numbers of women, as well as men, die in wars.

[Ann Wrixon, A Feminist Perspective on the Anti-Draft Movement, 1986]

If women as well as men are required to register for the draft, I will not register and will do all that I can to dissuade my peers from registering also.

[Skidmore College student, letter to the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors quoted in testimony to Congress, 11 March 1980]

Women Strike for Peace opposes draft registration for both men and women. We see such a program as a prelude to reinstating the draft…. The draft would furnish the Administration with unlimited numbers of bodies to carry out foreign adventures….

With a peacetime draft, the executive branch of government has a pool of manpower with which it can conduct unpopular foreign wars, wars not formally declared by Congress, wars whose purposes are obscure or unacceptable to the men and women who might fight and die in them.

[Ethel Taylor and Edith Villastrigo, Women Strike for Peace, testimony to the Subcommittee on Independent Agencies of the House Appropriations Committee, 27 February 1980]

[We] adamantly oppose[] draft registration for men and women. It… will only contribute to a national war climate….

Those few of us who warned against deeper U.S. involvement in Vietnam during the Gulf of Tonkin scare in the 1960s know that the best time to stop a war is before it begins. Any realistic discussion of draft registration must be based on the recognition that registration is a prelude to the draft, and the draft is a prelude to war….

Feeding our sons and daughters into the draft registration machinery can only have detrimental, divisive effects on our country. The terrible events in Iran and Afghanistan are not sufficient justification for the shift… into a new cold war campaign that would sacrifice American lives to back up our dependence on foreign oil and the shamelessly profiteering American oil monopoly. We should not be talking about sending teenagers to die in the Persian Gulf…

Women have always led anti-war movements, and we are speaking out know against efforts to make another war thinkable and acceptable. As feminists, we reject the male establishment’s war reflex as the solution to international problems…. Women know that when military spending goes up, the programs we care about most get lost…. Women… will again bear the brunt of wrong government policies….

The issue of whether women should be registered along with men has been used as another diversion from the real debate. The President’s statement that women must register for the draft to show that they deserve equal rights is as specious as his whole registration ploy. Women are not looking for special privileges on the basis of gender…. Women have made sacrifices, fought and died in every war our country has been engaged in. It is insulting to suggest that we must prove our patriotism or our dedication to equal rights by blindly accepting this ill-advised draft registration proposal. We insist on our right to debate and reject the premise that registration is necessary or desirable. Women, as well as men, have an equal right to refuse to be drafted, just as women have an equal right to volunteer for the armed services, if that is what they choose to do.

It is ironic but typical that the President wants to force young women into a system in which they meet the same kind of discrimination they encounter as civilians…

We do not endorse draft registration of women as the road to equality in the military, just as we do not endorse draft registration of men as the solution to male unemployment. The question we should all be asking is not whether women should be registered, but whether anyone should be registered. [Our] answer is an emphatic no.

[Former U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug, testimony to the Subcommittee on Independent Agencies of the Senate Appropriations Committee, 11 March 1980]

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This page most recently modified 23 June 2022. This site is maintained by Edward Hasbrouck. Corrections, contributions (articles, graphics, photos, videos, links, etc.), and feedback are welcomed.