Lots of talk about reforms in the military that need to happen, or that sometimes are attempted with regards to integrating women into the forces. I can tell you some things about that, but I have to offer some caveats. My direct experiences in the uniform were about 20 years ago.
Women weren't regularly on ships back then, and we weren't really officially in combat back then. If you requested jobs like that, you were turned down. There were some test cases going on if memory services, but it wasn't until 1995 that they officially started putting females on Air Craft Carriers. Before that, it was all Hospital Tenders and things like that.
The military had big problems with the presence of women. So some aspects of military experience I am talking about are very different than how things are now. But some things haven't changed that much at all. How the military deals with rape, and sexual harassment, stalking, etc., If the stories that are still coming out from women in the service now are any indicator, then in many ways the military is still spinning it's wheels with that one.
Now I cannot speak for anyone else in the ranks, during my time in or other times. I can only tell you that because I tend to prefer masculine pursuits, and I tend to like a rough and tough crowd, and I like to be outside, that the military appealed to me.
There is nothing wrong with being a soft, feminine, nurturing woman who wears dresses and make-up--however that person is not me and never was.
I like to curse, and spit, and get my hands dirty. It's not that I cannot be more refined when I need to, but it's not really who I am, especially at this time, during my late teenage years. Granted I have mellowed out over the years, but I felt compelled to do that while raising my kids. Back to the story!
Perhaps it's because I grew up, with people who worked in garages and warehouses, and built things, I never much thought of the girly posters from NAPPA, or the vintage nose art that these men hung up in their establishments, as sexism. During that time, these were normalized. Women didn't hang out in places like that if given the choice. These were almost exclusively male venues. Of course these weren't hard core porn, so that might have had something to do with it too.
But that experience gave me part of my unrealistic expectations, when I joined the military. I thought it was going to be just like being in those greasy garages. No one messed with me in those places, because I was someone's daughter. At the time I assumed no one messed with me, because it would just be wrong. But when I think back to that time, it was because of my youth and the fact that my no-neck dad worked in there too and would probably cram wrenches down anyone's neck who looked at me sideways.
I went into the military thinking it would be like the garage. Only I never made the connections before to the lack of harassment in other venues. When I went into the military, I was considered an adult female. I had no mutant father figure to quietly threaten from dark corners with his glaring, silon mono-brow.
I was right there, and he and other male protectors were very far away. Are you sitting down?
The main method of finding a "male protector" was to find someone to sleep with. Gasping for air yet? Think back ladies, of being in college, or some other place where you were considered a catch or a target. At least that is how I see it now, looking back with some perspective.
Our culture has a very serious problem with women and sexual availability.
The notion of Open Season on women, that some people romanticize isn't really romantic at all. There is being pursued and then there is being mauled or stalked. The kind of attention that females receive upon entering the military is overwhelming, or at least it was for me.
And I don't mean that in a good way. We are a numerical minority, and that is exacerbated whenever we show up somewhere new which makes us also temporarily exotic.
You have choices: You can lock yourself in your room. You might live at the chapel, or you try to have something of a normal life. None of these answers are perfect or even close, because there was no way to address the total lack of rules. It was the wild west back then and by the documentaries coming out now, it appears that it still is.
I thought it was cool at first--wow guys like me? But I am practically a guy--who knew? That got old quick. This didn't just last for a week or two. It was nonstop. And I know for a fact that I wasn't the only one and I certainly didn't have the worst of it.
What I observed was that if you have a relationship with someone that lasts a while, then you will be fine, for a while.
If you have a sexual encounter with someone that you do not have a relationship then you will be labeled and pursued more.
Or worse, if people believe that the second scenario is true, even if in reality it isn't, then you will still be labeled and pursued more.
And don't be thinking that a wedding ring or an engagement ring is going to save you the trouble, because it won't. Your protector is far away. The person perceived as your owner is far away. Face it relationships make women into individual territories. It does this to men too, but the rules are sometimes different for them.
In fact, back then girls with rings were often suspected of being gay. Now it's not so big of a deal or so I hear, but back then, it was a big deal and a potential career ending issue.
People want to blame this on pornography, and cursing, and unlady-like behavior, on sluts, and how the boys will be boys, but none of those things are the driving factor here.
It's cultural. Even though we have dropped this legal notion that women are the chattel to be transferred from father to husband, unofficially this mentality still reigns, even if in a watered down form.
Basically you choose who owns you by sleeping with them OR you choose to be community property.
And honestly, neither of those choices suited me.
The military and our culture have consistently failed to have genuinely honest discussions about female sexuality and male sexual privilege.
No one asks why males, even young ones with no other power in the world, but their maleness, also have the power to declare any female a slut.We should start asking that question. What gives them the right? And then take that power away from them. It is not an appropriate power to have or to distribute.
The ways that the military tries to handle this matter? Like a person who is covering their eyes, mostly, trying not to see what is actually happening, reluctantly making decrees that don't even serve as a stop gap in many situations.
The higher ups are prudes. They represent a mighty generation gap that forces 1950s mentalities on women in a 21st century military. In their world the worst insult would be if one called them a woman. And now they have to work with us. We are no camp followers or girls dancing for their amusement. We are their equals and for some this is just unacceptable, and embarrassing. They are embarrassed also about sex, especially when women pursue it. So they don't deal with it, or they punish us or both.
Treating the ranks like naughty children will not solve this problem.
What the military needs are honest, frank, rules of engagement regarding how to properly pursue consensual sex with another consenting adult. Our culture does too.
What the military needs to do is partner with civilian agencies off the base to provide third party assistance for rape counseling and reporting. That would take some pressure off of the commands, and give some oversight.
We also need to have very frank discussions about what rape is. No more beating around the proverbial bush on this one. We need to talk about it. For example: If someone is drunk and cannot consent, then you should not have sexual contact with that person.
You can blame women who are out partying, but the truth is, they are doing what their male compatriots are doing. If she can't trust them under those circumstances, when why should she ever trust them at her back with a gun?
And if he waits til a woman is inebriated before he propositions her, or worse waits til she is passed out, then he already knows the answer is no and is being a predator.
Just because she said yes to your buddy, doesn't mean she has to say yes to you.
Ladies who work in exotic dance establishments get more protection than our women in uniform. There are bouncers there that will throw over eager patrons out. No one is there for our women in uniform.
I remember watching sexual harassment training films that tried to show through visual metaphor what happens when you harass a female. I got it. Most of the guys didn't get it or didn't care. Because the higher ups that gave the training made a stink at the beginning of the film:
"The old military is dead. We now have a new New Age military, all touchy-feeley, mamby-pamby, and they are making me give this training." Grumble, snort. "So everyone do their duty and watch this crap so we can get the hell out of here and get back to work."
What message would you get from that? The one I got, was don't take this too seriously. We are just going to follow the letter of the law, but otherwise ignore the "training."We should not mince words. Either the Military is going to truly embrace across the board equality for all members, or the Chain of Command needs to come clean about it's actual agenda. Any command figure that gives training with that caveat needs to be reported.
Basically the only way a woman could safely bring a complaint in my time, was if the offense were just incredibly obvious with multiple witnesses. And even then, that would be no guarantee.
Men and women need to really see each other as equals. That ownership is not implied through sexual contact. That no one can own another person period. That a woman desiring sex or having consensual sex is not a shameful act, and more importantly, that sexual activity, is not a chink in her social armor that allows other men to exploit her for coercive sex. Or otherwise destroy her career through sexual labeling as if sexual activity at all is an indicator of some professional lack, when the same is rarely true of her male counterparts.
Women need to be allowed to have the same freedoms as men. No more sexual double standards.
No more curfews for women only on the post.
What happens in the base club or on the weekend should not affect performance when one goes back to the job.
If a male or female says no to sex, that should not be grounds for any kind of retribution, professional or social, even if they say yes to someone else.
The worst moments I remember in uniform, were things that happened while I was literally in Uniform.
Being mildly harassed in civilian clothes sucked. But being whistled or yelled at, or propositioned while I was wearing my Uniform was the worst. It told me that I wasn't part of the team, that some people just saw me as a piece of ass, disguising myself as a military member. It would just embarrass me to no end and really piss me right off.
If you see a good looking person in uniform, keep it to yourself. You can tell a person they look sharp, but don't go ruining it by making sexually charged comments. That is really disrespectful and unprofessional. Anyone who did that never had a chance with me ever, because it was obvious that they didn't respect the uniform or themselves. Believe me it's not a compliment. It undermines my authority, because that is objectification, more than any picture or bad joke.
I will say that military members from other countries notice this, and sometimes they were sympathetic, and other times they took it as a thumbs up to be just as bad. Other people are watching and taking note. We tell other people, how to treat our American women in the Uniform.
So if you tell them or show them that we are sluts who need to be punished, then that's what we deal with. If you show/tell them that we are independent women, professionals and patriots, then that will help a lot, even in cultures that are not as open minded about female equality. If you show that we are accepted, and respected, then our differences are seen as cultural.
Otherwise, we are perceived as naughty girls whose fathers or owners are far away, and we know what that means.
Decide now. Are we on your team or just barely tolerated? Because that makes a big difference in how a career goes.
We need to teach our people in uniform how to be sexually mature adults. There is a way to do that without creating social scapegoats of women or anyone else.
I would start by dropping the notion that morality can be determined by the absence of pre-marital sex.
I would get rid of the notion of sexual purity altogether.
Because when those two paradigms are used, what that means is any female who falls short of them is deemed other. She does not receive the protections of society from sexual offenders, because she is impure and immoral and therefore gets what she deserves.
I would instead replace religious morality with social ethics.
An ethical person has encounters only with consenting adults.
And ethical person doesn't use the work space to find dates.
An ethical person doesn't use their rank or authority to coerce dates or sex from other members.
An ethical person, respects the privacy of other members.
An ethical person doesn't attempt to have sex with an unconscious or semiconscious person.
An ethical person realizes that all adults have the power and the right to say yes or no to an encounter without fear of retaliation.
An ethical person doesn't pursue encounters with people in committed relationships.
Etc and so on.
This would make the military's decrees more congruent with it's actions.
Throwing porn out, and forbidding cursing might look good on paper, but until the root of the issue is addressed, it isn't going to make the big differences.
The military needs to explore the axiom of the alternative sexual community:
Safe, Sane, and Consensual.
And when members are taught how to be ethical about sex, then I would offer that forcing pornographic images or thoughts on others will also go away. It would not fit into the notion of consent.
Two people who look at pornography together in private because that's what turns them on is one thing.
Forcing someone to look at it especially in the work place, in order to aggressively mark your territory and offer nonverbal offense or even threats, well that's not going to go over very well in a military that teaches sexual ethics and what consent means.
Outlawing all porn across the board, because it's considered dirty pictures, means you are also calling the females dirty and the sex dirty and that carries religious connotations that are not helpful to adult females who have to navigate this illogical, sea of mixed messages about sex. Organized religions have not historically been friends of women, especially not with free women or openly sexual women.
Sex is not dirty.
Women having sex are not dirty.
Women enjoying sex are not dirty.
We don't have these issues with men wanting or having sex. So we need to take the gender out of the discussion and put humans in there, so that the rules apply to everyone.
Forcing someone though--that is reprehensible.
Harassing someone is reprehensible.
Hurting a fellow military member is an act of betrayal, after all you are both in the same uniform. How is raping a fellow member, or harassing them until they are non-functional, not the same as fragging?
I use fragging as an example, because this is the kind of violence that men have committed against each other, when they felt no other recourse to remove a fellow military member. It is an act of betrayal, that often ends in death or maiming. Sexual assault and harassment are also a similarly, highly destructive acts of betrayal, that also can end in death and maiming. The end result is longer in the making, but no less devastating to the career of the target, their personal lives, their psychological health and over the long run, their physical health. It is simply a slower death in worst case scenarios, and in the very least a catastrophic event for people who manage to find their way after the fact.
Any changes implemented on the military, will not happen over night. It is natural for people to resist new rules, and persist in pushing back towards old paradigms. That is human behavior. But if we were to start teaching sexual ethics early on in a career, and make that continuing education through regular training, it would make a big difference.
It gives people rules, basic-rules that they can go by, when dealing with the complexities of sex and sexuality. These rules need to be based on humanity, and not on religion. Religious comportment should concern only the religious. That shouldn't be forced on people outside of that group, especially not the when consequences of noncompliance might end in sexual harassment or violation, or assault.
Because I believe it is obvious, and has been for years, that young men and women are not being given an adequate education with regards to sexual comportment.
I am not going to say that my suggestions will solve all the problems in the military. I will just say that I think a paradigm shift might help foster a stronger, integrated force of men and women.
It doesn't have to be all New Agey and Touchy Feeley either. If you portray women as unquestionable, irreplaceable members of the military force, if you train your new recruits to look out for each other because of their common bond as military members, that is not conditional upon gender, or perceived purity, then you can teach our military members to be better to each other and to be more cohesive. Their commitment to each other as soldiers will be based on more stable criterion. And if you make it clear that placing conditions that rely on gender or perceived purity is the sign of a dirtbag, you will make a difference in the mentality that drives this awful hostility against female members.
I could sit here and piss everyone off by telling the stories of the things that happened to me. I could upset myself til I am nonfunctional with the remembering. But I would rather take what I observed and use that to further a discussion that might produce real results.
Maybe you have other thoughts on the matter. You should speak up too.
Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 8:19 AM PT: It has occurred to me that some might not get the reference to sexual purity, so I thought I would add a little something to that.
When a woman is assaulted, raped, or harassed, often the first things that come up, are with regards to her part she played in this encounter. Was she dressed provocatively, was she drunk, was she "leading someone one," ad nauseum. All of these things go towards society's perception of sexual purity.
Someone who is virginal or is otherwise perceived as such, is gifted with the power to say no to sexual propositions or encounters without question. They are expected to.
But a woman who is perceived as sexually [read religiously] impure has no right to say no. That's why there is implied consent from society that it is okay to assault an impure woman, or shame her or harass her.
I feel it is very important to drop that notion entirely and make this about humanity and human rights. All human beings have an innate right to maintain their bodily integrity which means they always have the right, regardless of circumstance to say no to sex, even if they are a sex worker.
If we make rape and harassment about consent and human rights, and drop notions of sexual [read religious] [im] purity, then that changes everything. It changes the entire basis of the discussion and of the concept of violation.
All human beings, male or female, gay or straight, religious or not, because of their innate humanity have the right to say no with impunity at any time.
Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 7:54 AM PT: I get so caught up in trying to explain things that I forget the most important stuff. These occurrences of rape and harassment are the desire to correct the behavior of females who are seen as professional or social threats, or who are not displaying someone's notion of sufficiently feminine behavior. I have written about this before. The problem is, that even though these incidents can be traced back to a criminal element, I suppose what I am trying to find here, is a way to deprive that element of society's unconscious support or collusion. See this other diary for an explanation: Corrective Rape.
Once again, this is a group of very awkward topics, so I understand if there are people out there who vehemently disagree or have their own ideas. It helps if we just keep discussing the matter.