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Endangered Women

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Yes, Lara Logan was sexually assaulted and badly beaten. Yes, that is a terrible thing. She is, however, reported to be in "remarkably good spirits." Indeed. She is alive, not beheaded, not held hostage, not any number of terrible things. Being raped is bad, but it isn't the worst thing. Not getting out alive is the worst thing.

In the 30 years since I first dared raise the issue as a young Senate staffer, I cannot begin to count the number of times that people have tried to explain to me that women cannot be on the front lines because this country could not tolerate the prospect of our women being sexually assaulted by the other side. "You gotta be kidding," I was told by some otherwise very liberal people. Look at the polls. The selective service legislation doesn't even require women to register. The man who sued to try to get it overturned on that basis lost; discrimination justified. No Lara Logans.

But I never got it. I know how bad rape is. But what I don't know is why the possibility, and sometimes the reality, that a woman could be raped should count for more than the fact that she is willing, able and oftentimes eager to face danger. I don't know why getting killed isn't the real thing everybody has to face. And I then wonder whether it is something more than women being vulnerable to rape that creates a double standard in law and in fact.

Being CBS' chief foreign correspondent, in this world, is a dangerous job. Logan has two small children. When I had two small children, I was nervous about flying. Heck, I was nervous about going any farther than the San Fernando Valley. I'm not sure how many other young mothers would want Logan's career, for all its glory, or would want to be on the front lines of combat, or would want to conquer space or mountains. But more power to those who do. The last thing anyone should do is judge their choices in light of the ones we make.

Everybody is trying to be careful given that talking, much less joking, about sexual assault can get you in trouble. (I think people should get in trouble for committing sexual assault, not for talking about it. Sadly, the opposite is more often the case.) Even so, does anyone doubt that gender counts when it comes to how we view risk taking and risk takers?

Imagine if the genders were reversed, and she was the astronaut (and mother of two) and he was the handsome congressman lying in a rehab hospital trying to learn to talk and move after being gunned down. Would America applaud her decision to return to her training in preparation for space flight in April? You think Cairo is dangerous. Space is really dangerous. I'm not saying he's wrong -- only that women should be respected when they make that same choice.

I don't know whether or not Logan will go back to war zones. That's a very personal choice that doesn't just involve one person, not at this point. She's still a hero for doing it in the first place, and she's an example to others, not only of a woman's strength, but also of her survival.

The fact that Logan is doing so "remarkably" well should not be taken to mean that you recover from rape in two days. (You don't. You just, if you're lucky, go home from the hospital.) But it might help those who still are held back by the horrible prospect that our young women might be raped if allowed to fight wars or cover them. Hopefully, they'll realize that, as awful as that risk is, young women are facing it and worse every day -- and not just in Cairo. We should salute their courage in doing so.


See Other Political Commentaries.

See Other Commentaries by Susan Estrich.  

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