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  • N.M. Kane (University of Wisconsin Madison)

Women as an Asset: Requiring Women to Register for Military Selective Service (A Law Student’s Persp

The military is, in part, arguably the largest law enforcement agency in America, and its members engage in a type of policing at the international, national and even local levels- especially in emergent times. Elizabeth Kyle-Labell, a seventeen-year-old girl from New Jersey, is single-handedly spearheading the battle for gender equality in the military throughout the United States via her class action lawsuit against the U.S. Selective Service System (“Teen Girl,” 2016). Although the United States has not employed a military draft since the Vietnam War, the lawsuit is representative of significant progress in the pursuit of equality for all individuals regardless of gender or sex. The systematic discrimination of women based on gender for this country’s military simply reinforces the patriarchal stereotypes imposed upon women (“Women and the Draft,” 1980). Women should be required to register for the United States Selective Service as well as men, because with the implementation of gender equality the military will be able to secure the best possible force, if a draft is ever necessary in the future.

According to the Military Selective Service Act (2012), solely male residents of the United States are obligated to register for the draft. This duty is cited as an essential element to the strength and security of the nation, acting as an insurance policy contingent upon the necessity for additional persons to serve within the military when a shortage in voluntary force arises (“Women and the Draft,” 1980).

The rationale behind the “only men” clause within the Military Selective Service Act (2012) is fundamentally rooted within the perception of combat and military institutions as primarily masculine operations (Gustavsen, 2013). Evidently this ideal reinforces the gendered stereotypes of women and their inferiority to their male counterparts, nevertheless this exclusion of women has persisted throughout time.

Previously the United States Supreme Court has upheld the Selective Service System’s overt discrimination against women through the case of Rostker v. Goldberg (1981) as constitutional (The Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, 2015). This ruling was predominantly based off the Department of Defense’s restriction of eligibility on women participating in combat roles within the military (The Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, 2015). Because women were not allowed to serve in direct combat positions, the Selective Service was not required to include them within the draft, considering that they did not contribute to the “combat-ready pool” that the SSS was pursuing (“17 Year Old,” 2016). This decision fails to recognize the important roles women would be able to serve within a draft, while abiding by the Department of Defense’s ban. In order to definitely insure the availability of individuals to fulfill the “support” positions within the military it is crucial to expand registration to women in addition to males within the country.

As of December 2015, the Department of Defense’s restriction on women’s roles within the military was lifted and all combat jobs have been subsequently open to women (Rosenberg & Philipps, 2015). Although this decision’s codification is groundbreaking, many branches of the military had opened up these positons to women prior to Defense Secretary Carter’s announcement, this resolution is still pivotal to the battle for equality. Gustavsen (2013) explains this phenomenon as “the most profound break with tradition in two thousand years” (p. 362). Women are increasingly seen as asset within the armed forces and the removal of this ban is the sole mechanism for women to achieve equal opportunity within this institution dominated by males (Gustavsen, 2013). Albeit a counter to this claim is that this decision will not lead to the complete integration of women within the military (Rosenberg & Philipps, 2015), but this sentiment neglects the overarching intention. The significance of Secretary Carter’s decision is not that it will create concrete equality, but rather that this decision will act as expansion and thus create equal opportunity within the military, which is the first step to seeking gender equality (Gustavsen, 2013).

The freedom of opportunity for women within the military creates the perfect context in which people like Elizabeth Kyle-Labell are able to challenge the Selective Service System’s discrimination on the basis of gender (“17 Year Old,” 2016). Without the Department of Defense’s additional intervening policy of exclusion, Kyle-Labell and women across the country are able to optimistically challenge the violation of their fifth amendment right caused by the United States draft’s registration restriction (The Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, 2015). The controversial element of this possible case outcome is that not only would women be able to register for Selective Services, but if the policy is overturned, women will also be required to register. In order for women to be seen as equals with men, this requirement is a necessity. The military draft was created as a safeguard to insure that the United States military remains strong unremittingly (Military Selective Service Act, 2012), and since women have proven to be an asset to the strength of this force, it is crucial that women be included within this pool of registrants (“Women and the Draft,” 1980).

The removal of the Selective Service System’s ban on women registering for the draft is a vital element in the pursuit of gender equality across America. As late as 1980, even military officials concluded that requiring women to register for the draft is a necessary step to assessing the overall strengths of qualified individuals within the country (Women and the Draft,” 1980). Although the military as it stands is currently a volunteer force, the breakdown of this barrier to entry is a symbolic, as well as concrete achievement of equality (“Teen Girl,” 2016). The effort to actively include women within the military is one that may promote an increase in women volunteering for service, which is a continual success for gender equality throughout the U.S. (The Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, 2015). The inclusion of women within the United States Selective Service not only serves the best interest of the country’s national security forces, it also demonstrates the concrete importance that women serve within society when given the same opportunities as men.


17 Year Old Girl Sues Government for Her Right to Be Drafted into The Military. (2016). American Military News. Retrieved from

Gustavsen, E. (2013). Equal Treatment or Equal Opportunity? Male Attitudes Towards Women in the Norwegian and US Armed Forces. Acta Socioloigca, vol. 56, no. 4, pp.361-374. Retrieved from

Military Selective Service Act, 50 U.S.C. 380. (2012). Retrieved from

Rosenberg, M., & Philipps, D. (2015). All Combat Roles Now Open to Women, Defense Secretary Says. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Selective Service System. (2017). Registration: It’s the LAW. Retrieved from

Teen Girl Hopes to Open Selective Service to Women. (2016). Fox 10, Retrieved from

The Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. Selective Service System. (2015). Backgrounder: Women and the Draft. Retrieved from

Women and the Draft: The Constitutionality of All-Male Registration. (1980). Harvard Law Review, vol. 94, pp. 406-425. Retrieved from

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