Imagine you live in a world very similar to yours, except that there is a war that has been going on for centuries. The borders need to be protected against the Orks. As tradition dictates, this hard but honorable work is the realm of men and the epitome of manhood, and it has been like that for as long as society can remember.
Recently, things have changed a little. The military service has become less dangerous, and almost no men die in service anymore. It has also become voluntary. Men are not automatically joining the army as soon as they come of age. They can delay it. As a result, the numbers of men studying at university has risen dramatically; universities used to be the realm of women until about 50 years ago. Still, most men eventually join the army, often giving up their ambitions, and men who don’t are viewed suspiciously.
If you sign up for service, this changes your life forever. You cannot un-sign. You need to spend about 20 years in the army, and while the first five years are the most intense, it also requires hard work afterwards. Not surprisingly, this compromises the ability of men to pursue careers. They usually have to take at least a year off at the beginning of service, often more, to concentrate on learning how to fight. They might work part-time later, but this, some say, diminishes the quality of their service. Studies have proven that this is not really the case, but a powerful prejudice survives. Women, therefore, still dominate the professional world and make careers, as it has been for centuries. ‘Women are better suited for careers, this is clear from their brain chemistry’, many say. ‘On the other hand, men are made for battle. This has been like this since the dawn of time. It is better to accept this fundamental fact of life.’
Some women help their men in their service, which men are supposed to be grateful for. But they cannot count on it. Men are the ones signing up, and often women, who have promised to help, don’t really do it. ‘Too much to do at work’, they say.
Military service is a very physical thing in your world and there is no advanced battle technology making your life easier. To be able to start military service, you need to undergo physical examination. Young men mostly pass it, but if you are over 30, it slowly becomes more difficult, and at 40, many men do not pass it anymore.
You are a man of 33. You are an inherently peaceful person who was never really interested in battle. You did not play battle game with your friends when you were a child. Instead, you dreamed of the sea and the creatures in it. Soon you found out that you wanted nothing more than being a marine biologist. Your parents encouraged you to follow this dream even though all the famous marine biologist you read about as a child were women. You have worked all your life towards this goal, and today, you are working in your dream job and you feel that you are able to contribute something to the field. If you could continue in your field, you think you might become a professor of marine biology, or maybe you would write a book about the topic.
Of course, most people, especially advanced ones, in your field, are still women, since men have left for the army. And you sometimes miss the company of men. Are you really doing the right thing?
Yesterday you talked with your father on the phone. He is bitterly disappointed in you. ‘Don’t you have other dreams? Is the job really so important? You are already 33. For me serving in the army was the most important part of my life. You don’t really know what being a man means until you have been in battle, until you have experienced the camaraderie, the heroism! Did you know that your best friend from childhood joined army a few months ago? He’s been a successful architect, but he was willing to give this up. His parents are extremely happy.’ Your father almost starts crying.
These kind of conversations are getting really common recently. A few weeks ago, you were drinking a beer with a female co-worker with whom you get along well. ‘You know, life for a man is not complete unless he joins the army,’ she claims. ‘What?’ you reply. ‘This is nonsense. I know men who have not joined the army.’ – ‘True,’ she says. ‘But their life is not complete. That is just a fact of life. I am sure you will start hearing the famous battle call inside of yourself soon,’ She sips at her beer.
Around you, the number of men in your field is now dropping quickly. Many men that have started to work with you now have joined the army, or are preparing to do so. You think that the women in your field look at you with the expectation that you will quit. They treat you slightly unfairly, just not enough that you can openly complain. You suspect that they feel that you don’t belong.
Why does society even allow a man to train to become a marine biologist if they do not want him in the job, you wonder. Should you just throw it all away? Why do the women never consider joining the army if they think it is so fulfilling? Why is it that women are not doing half of the service? ‘Men are just naturally made for battle’, people say.
You meet with your childhood friend, the architect. ‘What is it really like?” you ask him. ‘It is hard to explain’, says the friend. He looks dead tired, with rings under his eyes. ‘Everything is so completely different. You know, everything I trained for, everything I learned at the University and in my job is completely useless now. I sometimes feel I getting dumber by the day. I really miss conversations about innovative hull structures of skyscrapers. You know how I loved architecture.’ Your friend blushes. ‘I know, I should not say this. I love my country. I love the army.’ A woman from the next table joins the conversation. ‘Love for the country and the army are the most important thing in life. You men do the right thing. You are more emotional creatures anyway. Only battle is true fulfillment for you. I just read an article about brain chemistry that confirms this. Look at a man raging in battle, and you can see that they are totally different from women, and that they should not do complicated work.’
You are angry and jealous of her. She’s just sitting here, so sure of herself, so sure that she has the right to use her brain all her life, while you don’t. ‘What the hell!’ you shout. ‘You are so wrong! I am better than many women in my job!’ She looks at you knowingly, shrugging. You know what she thinks: you just proved how emotional men are. And of course she does not believe you you are better than some women in your job. Delusions, she thinks. He will understand soon.