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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Is Donald Trump the Republican Party’s leading misogynist? Not this week.

That honor goes to California Rep. Duncan Hunter, who pressed forward a bill that would require women to register for a draft.

Don’t be confused. A former Marine, Hunter doesn’t think women can hack it in military combat. He’s hoping that Americans will agree and start a fight that will play out in Congress.

A slim majority of his colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee saw things differently. They passed Hunter’s interestingly titled Draft America’s Daughters Act by a vote of 32 to 30. Six of his fellow Republicans broke ranks to support it. Duncan voted against it.

Hunter wants a backlash. Sorry, bro, but you’re too late with this little ploy.

Women have already begun proving that they can make it through the elite training programs such as that of the Army Rangers. And, no, the physical standards weren’t lowered.

Two days before the House committee voted, Capt. Kristen Griest was given the OK to transfer into the infantry ranks. She’s one of three women who already completed the grueling training. Brig. Gen. Diana M. Holland commands West Point.

Women began flying combat missions in the mid-1990s. And the definition of a front-line soldier was blurred if not decimated by the realities of terrorism, IEDs and how ground forces operated in Iraq and Afghanistan. Women are already in harm’s way and they are serving willingly, bravely.

In fact, 160 women died serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, according to the Washington Post’s count.

In light of those female soldiers’ deaths, it was sort of an anticlimactic in January when Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the opening all combat roles to women, to begin this spring. He was following the plan first set in motion in 2013 under his predecessor Leon Panetta.

This directive hasn’t been undertaken lightly. Each branch of the military has studied it, surveyed troops and come up with strategies to meet the sort of “hell, no, not while I’m peeing standing up” attitudes of people like Hunter.

It may surprise many Americans that we still have draft registration, as no American has been drafted since 1973. All men aged 18-26 are required to register for selective service.

Because women were long excluded from applying for combat roles, they were also deemed not required to register. The U.S. Supreme Court decided this, arguing that it’s not fair to expect women to register and then tell them they aren’t eligible for most of the jobs.

However, that has been changing incrementally as more women are proving they can handle what men have always said we could not. There are definitely physical differences between men and women. But we’re talking elites here, from both genders. Most men couldn’t pass through the rigorous training necessary for some of these combat roles.

It should also be noted that the day after the House committee voted, two U.S. senators, Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced the bipartisan Military Retaliation Prevention Act.

It’s part of ongoing efforts to reform the military justice system to wipe out the retaliatory efforts of some men against female soldiers reporting sexual assaults. The bill is one of many necessary efforts to ensure that women can serve their country and also remain safe from those who are supposed to be on their side.

Rep. Hunter is banking on a strategy that’s been thrown into the path of women for generations. It’s the one that coos to women that they don’t really want to be treated equally, that they don’t really want to be afforded the same opportunities as men. He expects that women will shrink and run when actually confronted with the demands of combat.

“A draft is there to put bodies on the front lines to take the hill,” he said. “The draft is there to get more people to rip the enemies’ throats out and kill them.”

Women are supposed to cower and cover their eyes at the thought of it all.

But the route to forming the strongest, best-functioning military we can build is not to exclude half of the population. The answer is to allow qualified men and women to serve in all roles.

This is how women make progress in society: in increments. Change by change, bravely standing up to opposition like the tiny grenade Hunter tried to toss out this week.

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at msanchez@kcstar.com.

(c) 2016, THE KANSAS CITY STAR. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

Photo: Maj. Lisa Jaster becomes first U.S. Army Reserve female Ranger. Paul Abell / AP Images for U.S. Army Reserve

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