Thursday, June 29, 2006

Taking off the kid gloves

Interesting article in the July 2 issue of The Week (now host to many of my illustrious former students!) -- "Suicidal chivalry," by R. Prasannan.

Rewind: A woman in the Indian Army Supply Corps, Sushmita, committed suicide on June 15; though 93 armymen did themselves in last year, this incident aroused an implicit call for women to be stricken from active duty.

So Prasannan, in this article, argues that perhaps the feminists and etc. are wrong, and that women are naturally weak and unable to keep pace in the demanding world of the military. Although he does make some good points about the Army being intrinsically patriarchal, the report presumes that women have the opportunity to be treated equally.

He expounds that it is this criticism "...which has made many in the Army wonder: do women expect to be treated with kid gloves in the Army? The fact is that they already are. Both as a matter of policy and in practice." The report highlights two case examples which are supposed to show that women are being given unfair advantages, soft jobs, and better treatment than men.

Even if Prasannan bolstered his credibility by naming his sources, the information still seems suspect. It seems that in lieu of rigorous reporting, he is relying upon a few individuals to make broad assertions about women as a discrete group. Yes, perhaps one woman was given a break -- an officer allowed her to continue flying after she had a bad landing. But why blame women here? Even if she was on her knees crying and begging, it was the male superior who caved and decided she needed another chance. This speaks more to the male perception of female weakness than to anything else. Furthermore, this is India -- it's not beyond the pale to imagine that these breaks have been afforded to cadets whose fathers were powerful generals and had a stake in continuing the family's military legacy, etc.

The report holds that " order to project a politically correct image and to attract more women to the services, the armed forces have been giving undue publicity to women's recruitment." I don't understand how this is a bad thing. In fact, I think this "undue publicity" is a prime means of combatting chauvinism in the Indian military -- for, if numbers of women continue to be low in menial positions and in positions of power, how can there be any hope of the Army becoming a more progressive, competitive organization that elevates the best candidates, male and female, and confines the least fit, male or female, to appropriate duties?

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