When asked by CNN's John King what he thinks about the Pentagon's recent decision to allow female troops to serve nearer the front lines of battle, Rick Santorum replied that this could be a problem because of the natural protective valor of men-folk:
I do have concerns about women in front-line combat. I think that could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved. It already happens, of course, with the camaraderie of men in combat, but I think it would be even more unique if women were in combat, and I think that's probably not in the interests of men, women, or the mission.
While it may seem at first blush Santorum is saying something here about lady feelings, he was in fact talking about dude feelings. In an interview on the Today show he clarified his earlier comment, saying:
When you have men and women together in combat, I think men have emotions when you see a woman in harm's way. I think it's natural. It's very much in our culture to be protective. That was my concern. I think that's a concern with all of the militaries.
The problem, then, is that men are too emotional. Santorum says both that "it's natural" and "It's very much in our culture" for men to be so protective. If its simply a cultural matter, then there is no reason why the culture of military professionalism cannot override our male soldiers' dangerous, mission-imperiling emotionality. But if it's natural and, as Santorum suggests in his initial response to John King, the instinct for spirited solidarity and camaraderie is inveterate in the male psyche, then perhaps men are by nature generally ill-suited for the cool professionalism required in the modern combat situation and ought to be replaced by the implacable coolness of the modern military woman.
After all, what better symbol of American supremacy and cultural confidence than an indomitable, steel-nerved, all-lady fighting force? Santorum naturally overlooks this enticing possibility, imagining pregnancy and perhaps sandwich-preparation as the natural and thus appropriate role of the twenty-something woman. But that which gives life can take it, too, with neither malice nor regret.
Seriously, though. Men and women both should be barred from military duties they can't perform at the necessary level of competence. If you can do the work, the job ought to be open to you. So good on the Pentagon, which no doubt has looked into the relevant issues of troop psychology and morale rather more deeply than the former junior Senator from Pennsylvania.
It's really is amazing how far we've come in such a short time, equality-wise. Within the span my own lifetime, it was thought that women ought to be barred from the Olympic marathon due to the inherent fragility of the female. Now we've got Haywire and an unreconstructed, full-on patriarchal, old-school Catholic, Republican office-seeker saying maybe women shouldn't go to the front-lines because men are too hopelessly emotional.