Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's announcement that the Pentagon is lifting its ban on American military women in serving in combat is notable in so far as it represents another step in rolling back masculine privilege in a major U.S. public institution.

But does allowing women equal opportunity to kill in the name of "national security" amount to genuine liberation?

I don't think so.

In a country whose popular culture is as profoundly militarized as ours (think Junior ROTC in high schools, think B-22 fly-overs at the opening of the NFL season), it is all too easy to militarize even women's liberation.

Militarization happens any time that the protection of women's rights is either justified by appealing to military necessity or measured in terms of women's participation in war-waging.

Neither those women nor those men deployed in wartime combat should be imagined by the rest of us as "the real heroes" or the "real patriots." Infantry bunkers and fighter plane cockpits should not be where genuine "first class citizens" are cultivated.

This feminist caveat, though, does not mean that lifting the Pentagon's artificial ban is insignificant. The military remains one of the most powerful political and cultural institutions in contemporary America. Its influence can be seen in our lopsided federal budget, in our entertainment and sports industries, in our science and technology, in our schools and in our Congress.

An institution this powerful cannot be permitted to sustain its entrenched masculinized culture. This, after all, is the same institutional culture that has rewarded mid-level and senior officers for ignoring American male soldiers' sexual assaults on their female comrades (as documented in the Oscar-nominated film "The Invisible War,").

Furthermore, the U.S. is not a world leader in ending the male-only combat rule. Canada ended its ban in 1989; the militaries of the Netherlands and Australia have lifted their bans. The U.S. is just playing international catch-up.

Finally, the news coverage given to Panetta's announcement is misleading. The Defense Secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have not suddenly awoken to the evils of sexism of their own accord. They have been pushed relentlessly. The lifting of the ban is the result of 30 years of women activists' strategizing and campaigning.

Activists such as Lory Manning and Carolyn Becraft of the Women's Research and Education Institute, and Nancy Duff Campbell and Holly Hemphill of the National Women's Law Center, along with energetic members of the Servicewomen's Action Network deserve the credit for forcing the Pentagon's hand.

One should never imagine that any major change in any powerful institution happens without the work of determined, smart social movement activists.

Cynthia Enloe is Research Professor at Clark University and the author of "Maneuvers: The Militarization of Women's Lives" (2000) and "Nimo's War, Emma's War: Making Feminist Sense of the Iraq War" (2010).

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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