“Let them be sea-captains, if you will!” Thus cried Margaret Fuller in launching the idea of equality of work opportunity in Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845). Would that she had been a sea-captain herself. In 1850 this pioneering feminist—and her husband and child—were drowned off the coast of Fire Island through the male mismanagement of the ship on which they were returning from Europe.

Some women of course can be; and some want to be; but whether they should be sea-captains (or, gloriously, first mates) is a highly charged question which yet remains unsettled a century and a half later. Are there some tasks which women should forbid themselves, even if equality-of-opportunity laws do not? Probably so. Americans are on the whole, I venture to say, made quite uneasy at the spectacle of foreign women in combat fatigues, with AK-47 assault rifles, flak jackets, and a sling...


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