Perspectives on College, Military Service... and Sexism

Feature by Allison C., Concordia Applied Journalism

     Soldiers and police patrol the Singapore transit system.          (Image: Singapore Armed Forces)

Roughly one-third of the world's countries today have some sort of drafted military service. The durations of service range from 4 months to as many as 3 years. There are several reasons why countries have policies for such services, but these reasons vary depending on the population size and political situation of a country. While the Concordia community represents many parts of the world, the majority of the students here are not required to serve in the militaries of their respective home countries. But there are exceptions.


“As far as I can remember, my family has told me that I have to go to the army," says Concordia senior and Singaporean expatriate Calvin O. "I think I have just accepted that I have to go to the army, ever since I was young.”


Calvin and Justin, while they're from different cultural backgrounds, may both have a common experience ahead: military service. 

Aidan T., also a Concordia student with a Singaporean passport, gives a similar account. “[A]s I grew up, I figured out what National Service is,” he explains. In Singapore, every male citizen must undertake conscription at the age of 18. Depending on the vocation that is chosen, individuals can serve in different units within the Armed force, Police force, and Civil Defense force.


Since service is required starting from the age of majority, many students go on to enlist right after high school. “That means that I have to go to college 2 years later,” says Calvin. “I have to get into college first and defer my enrollment.”


It’s important to understand that sentiments toward military service differ from person to person. Aidan admits, “I am a little mixed on it [the National Service]. On one hand, I don’t want to, 'cause I want to go to college. I don’t want to be 24 when I graduate. But on the other hand, it’s something that I have to do. I was born into this country. It’s my duty to protect it.”


Junior Justin K. has also lived with the concept of mandatory military service. “For most of my life, I thought that I would have to serve in Korea for two years.” South Korea also requires male citizens between the ages of 18 and 28 to serve in the military for 18 to 21 months. He then explains, “but now I know that I don’t have to because I revoked my Korean passport.”


“Now, I am just an American citizen.” he continues. Yet, for Justin, there might yet be a uniform in his future. “I still feel obligated to serve in some sort of way,” he explains. “Since my family is a military family, I do believe that at some point in my life I should serve, so I am planning on serving during my college career.” Most countries have a military that draws from volunteers, and the USA is one of them.


     Female tank instructors of the School of Infantry                   Professions in 2013. Israel is one of the few countries           that has a law requiring service for both men and                 women. (Image: Cpl. Zev Marmorstein, IDF                         Spokesperson Unit, The Israel Defense Forces)

According to the Pew Research Center, only 11 of the 60 countries with policies requiring mandatory military service include women. This means that in most countries with required military service, only men are bound by the rules. This practice has been criticized by some to be a sexist policy which perpetuates gender-role stereotyping.


Responding to these gender-biased policies, Aidan expresses his reservations. “It is sexist because you're saying that only men can protect the country,” he says.


From Calvin’s perspective, the issues are complicated by social views. “The system is structured to promote the idea of the army and patriotism within Singapore; it’s very focused on [a] man and the male body,” He adds, “…for example, being gay is still illegal in Singapore, but being a lesbian is fine. And a big reason for that may be because males are part of the army. And as the status quo, you can’t have gay people in the army because it’s not 'masculine'.”


“I think the hyper-masculinity within the system is very toxic,” Calvin explains. “It definitely perpetuates a lot of sexist sentiments within society.”


“I think it’s sexist on both sides,” Justin says. “I believe that women have just as much to contribute to the military. Just having men is restrictive on the capabilities of the army or the military of any country. I think there are a lot of people out there pushing for the equality of women, which is great, but at the same time they don’t talk about ‘Why aren’t there more females in the military?’”


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Allison C. is a student of Concordia Applied Journalism.