Gender in Security Roundup

Sexual Harassment in the US Military

Last Wednesday, the US Department of Defense released its first annual sexual harassment report (PDF with my annotations). Understanding sexual harassment is critical to preventing sexual assault because the two behaviors, though distinct, are intimately connected. A 2012 DoD study found that 30 percent of women and 19 percent of men who were sexually assaulted reported that their attacker sexually harassed them before or after the assault (PDF). In the sexual harassment report, repeat offenders account for 11% of complaints. Upon investigation, sufficient evidence was found to substantiate 72% of these repeat offenses.

The most striking finding is that the report overwhelmingly implicates male non-commissioned officers and senior non-commissioned officers in sexual harassment of female junior enlisted servicemembers. In formal complaints, 95.5% of offenders were male and 52.5% were in paygrades E-5 to E-9 (equivalent to sergeant to sergeant major in the Marine Corps). Paygrades E-1 to E-4 (private to corporal in the Marine Corps) clocked in a distant second at 23.2% of offenders. In contrast, 87% of complainants were female and 62.7% were in paygrades E-1 to E-4. This is what institutionalized sexism looks like.

My only other remark on the report is that the four military branches have been allowed to retain their own reporting and categorization systems for sexual harassment. DoD claims that the report is a baseline for comparing sexual harassment rates in future years but without a standardized DoD-wide reporting policy, this report provides us with an extremely flawed baseline that doesn’t allow for valid interservice or cross-year comparisons.

Canadian Armed Forces

I recently wrote a guest blog for Carrying the Gun on the Canadian Armed Forces (CF)’ remarkably sophisticated gender-neutral occupational standards. These standards were devised following a judgment of the Canadian Human Rights Commission that the CF must integrate women into their combat arms while ensuring that all military occupational standards are based on bona fide occupational requirements.

In accordance with the Employment Equity Act, the CF are required to meet quotas for minority representation in the force. These quotas are quite ambitious: 25.1 per cent of full-time military personnel and reservists should be female; 11.7 per cent should be “visible minorities,” and 3.3 per cent should be Aboriginal Peoples  (i.e., native Canadians). However, despite concerted recruiting efforts, women comprise just 15% of the CF. The Ottawa Citizen reports that the CF are mulling their options in light of their persistent failure to meet the quota.

The Canadian Defence Department, pointing to internal studies, is reportedly considering whether to request reduced quotas of 17.6 per cent for women, 8.2 per cent for visible minorities, and 2.6 per cent for Aboriginal Peoples. Since there appears to be considerable political opposition to such a reduction, CF leaders have little choice but to double down on outreach and recruiting. Writing to his subordinate commanders, Canadian Chief of Military Personnel Maj-Gen David Millar warns of the consequences: 

“If reasonable progress towards these goals is not deemed to have been made, the (Canadian Human Rights Commission) auditors can potentially impose conditions upon the (Canadian Forces) to comply with recruitment of (women, visible minorities and aboriginals) over a timeline and in a manner which would unduly stress our organization.”

This ominous-sounding note suggests to me that Maj-Gen Millar feels the heavy hand of true human rights oversight, so yay for the Canadian government.

Kansas University’s First Female Ground Combat Officer

Female ROTC cadet Madeline Wilcox is set to graduate from Kansas University and enter the US Army as a field artillery officer. Since the Army recently opened virtually all field artillery positions to women, Madeline will be KU’s first female ROTC graduate who can serve in a unit that directly engages in ground combat. Congrats to her.

Hooters Announces Its Intention to Profit from National Observation of Our War Dead by Objectifying Women and The Military in General

We’re supposed to take this for a news article but it’s obviously sponsored content from Hooters of America.

Veterans Day, Hooters. That’s the day when it’s logical to objectify women and the military for profit. Still a blight on our cultural landscape, but at least not profiting from death itself.

James Fallows on Comparisons to the Remsburg Moment

James Fallows has posted several blogs about Cory Remsburg’s acknowledgment during the State of the Union address focusing on “what is right about this young man, but wrong about the spectacle.”

I think the spectacle should make most Americans uneasy.

The vast majority of us play no part whatsoever in these prolonged overseas campaigns; people like Sgt. Remsburg go out on 10 deployments; we rousingly cheer their courage and will; and then we move on.

Last month I mentioned that the most memorable book I read in 2013 was Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. It’s about a group of U.S. soldiers who barely survive a terrible encounter in Iraq, and then are paraded around in a halftime tribute at a big Dallas Cowboys game. The crowd at Cowboys Stadium cheers in very much the way the Capitol audience did last night—then they get back to watching the game.

In his latest piece, Fallows invites readers to find the most apt comparison with the Remsburg event in popular culture. One reader nominates Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now:

I agree that the spectacle of oblivious war supporters applauding and completely missing the point is disconcerting. War lovers also applauded at the ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’ part of Apocalypse Now, but that doesn’t make the movie a less powerful antiwar statement.

I never watched Apocalypse, but I have seen A Few Good Men similarly abused.

War lovers go gaga when Colonel Jessep barks that he has “neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it.” They do so even though the line comes as testimony that, seconds later, leads to Jessep’s arrest for extrajudicial punishment resulting in the manslaughter of a Marine.

Given how well the line sans context overpowers the film’s message in popular culture, Apocalypse Now might be an apt comparison to the Remsburg event if we assume that the powerful antiwar statement will be mostly lost to cultural memory. But I hope the discussion we’re having will prevent that.

One Less Bit of Evidence Against Combat Integration

In July 2012, Marine Captain Katie Petronio made waves by publicly opposing integration of women into the infantry (is she supposed to be on CNN in uniform making a political argument like that?). Petronio’s argument was largely based on her health problems following an intense deployment to Afghanistan. She drove the point home by noting that stress-induced polycystic ovarian syndrome left her infertile.

Well it turns out that after fertility treatment, she’s quite fertile. Pregnant, in fact.

Captain Katie Petronio: Fertile. Credit: The Evening Sun/Shane Dunlap

Captain Katie Petronio: Fertile.
Credit: The Evening Sun/Shane Dunlap

She hasn’t changed her view on integration of the infantry, which is of course her right. She’s free to think that her experience is representative of her sex, or that female injury rates can’t be brought down to manageable costs, or that the costs for all women of sex-based discrimination in the Marine Corps are worth what she believes are the infantry’s gains. But she’s not infertile. Congrats to her.

Support for Integration of Women Dips in German Army

The German army (Bundeswehr) opened all combat positions to women in 2001 after Tanja Kreil won her lawsuit against Germany in the European Court of Justice. The Court found that Germany was in violation of EU Directive 76/207/EEC, which prohibits EU member states from discriminating on the basis of sex with special mention to “access to employment, promotion, vocational training and working conditions.”

Since then, Germany has conducted several surveys to measure the success of integration. The latest study found that, compared to six years ago, women report less satisfaction with military service and men report less support for integration of women into the combat arms.

According to [a 2011 survey], only 57.3 percent of women serving in the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, say they would choose their job again. By comparison, the figure was nine percentage points higher in 2005. Additionally, only 34.6 percent said they would recommend this path to a female friend.

Of the surveyed men, 34 percent think that women aren’t suited to the “[harsh] conditions” in the field – in 2005, it was just 28 percent. Over half of the males also stated that women are not suited to physically challenging activities. And only 77 percent are convinced that men can work well together with women in the army – a drop from 83 percent. More than half of the male respondents also said that women are evaluated too positively and receive preferential treatment. Many men in the Bundeswehr feel that women should not take part in armed combat.

I sure would love some insight into why attitudes have shifted since 2005. I wonder if there’s a relationship to the Bundeswehr’s experience in Afghanistan. Germany has been the third largest troop contributor in Afghanistan since at least 2007.

In any event, German women still support integration:

Around 88 percent [of female soldiers] believe that all army sectors should be open to women – in contrast to just 62 percent of men. Among the males, 40 percent would like to see women excluded from combat operations, but only 28 percent of the women call for the same thing.

Sexual harassment continues to be reported at very high levels.

A big gap could be observed in the answers to questions concerning sexual harassment in the workplace. Every second female officer claimed to have experienced it, whether in the form of jokes, contact with pornography or unwanted physical contact. Sexual assault and rape, however, were only reported by 3 percent of the women. The men, on the other hand, did not report having experienced any sexual harassment.

Interestingly, a German national working in the defense sector suggested to me today that this issue is facing more public scrutiny in Germany as a result of the recent publicity given to military sexual assault in the United States. So military equality advocates like the Service Women’s Action Network may be having an impact beyond national borders.

When Freaking Out Over ‘Lone Survivor,’ Please Don’t Widen the Civil-Military Gap

Mark Perna fought in a Marine Corps operation associated with the events of the upcoming movie Lone Survivor. Perna is not pleased with the movie trailer:

I watched thirty seconds of this Hollywood Drama and I almost puked at this line:

Shah killed 20 Marines last week.

Go fuck yourself, Peter Berg. I believe you said this about the film: “I wanted to make it as real as possible.”

There were 5 Marines killed by hostile in Afghanistan during the ENTIRE WAR at that point (and a total of 20 Marines if you add non-hostile fire incidents—most of them not even in Afghanistan—casualty information can be searched HERE at A friend, Kevin Joyce, was the only Marine killed the week before Operation Red Wings. He drowned in the Pech River and he was the first friend of mine lost in war.

Your film narrative—your Hollywood Hero image—denies the reality of what I experienced in favor of something “more compelling.” Not to mention that it disrespects the lives of the 19 sailors and airmen who were killed in Operation Red Wings themselves. Their loss had to have some greater meaning—and of course, if 19 SEALs died, then 20 Marines must’ve died right?

So here in the real world, 19 Navy SEALs lost their lives and Marines went in and destroyed the enemy who did it. That’s a pretty compelling story.

Your story, however, shits on Marines. On me. On the four Marines of 2/3 who lost their lives in Afghanistan during those 7 months.

Now, I can understand where Perna’s coming from: Five dead Marines isn’t compelling enough? There’s humanity in that. Where he loses my sympathy (aside from his own use of sensationalist claims like “shits on Marines”) is in the next section of his essay:

If you want to know the real command decisions and struggles of what happens in the real world, pick up a rifle. Certainly not Peter Berg’s movie.

This is not an attempt to close the civil-military gap. It’s anti-intellectual self-justification.

In the real real world, reasonably intelligent human beings can understand that it’s scary to be shot at and painful to run up a mountain without experiencing these firsthand. You can tell them, “it was agonizing to let a sheepherder walk free knowing he would alert the Taliban to my presence, endangering the lives of the men for who I felt responsible” and they can understand why you’d say that even if they don’t experience the same depth of feeling.

If we take Perna literally, he wants the common citizen seeking to understand or make commentary about the Afghanistan war to enlist in the military’s combat arms and experience the war firsthand. But it makes little sense to join a deadly cause unless one already strongly agrees with it. By Perna’s logic, it’s impossible to know enough about the cause to agree with it until you’re already risking your life.

(Add the fact that the implications of the war in Afghanistan for the security of the US citizen are imperceptibly small. Perna may have found all the motivation he needed in avenging the deaths of his fellow Marines but the 13-year occupation is not expected to accomplish much else.)

Nor do members of the combat arms actually want average citizens to pick up a rifle. Especially in the Marine Corps, validation is derived from the fact that most other people don’t do it. Marines are not like “nasty civilians.” But if everybody joined the Marine Corps, what would distinguish the two categories?

Civilians are thus damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The net effect is to drive them away from examination of military sacrifice, to block them from asking questions about a war raging in their name, to undermine democratic governance at its roots.

Thank goodness for the intrepid efforts of servicemembers like Don Gomez who seek to channel civilian curiosity toward a healthier relationship between military servicemembers, civilians, and the Constitution that binds them. We need more of them.

Occupational Fitness Standards Are More Than a Good Idea For the Military

Last year, the Marine Corps introduced a policy requiring female Marines to pass the version of its physical fitness test (PFT) currently used for males. The change was supposed to take effect this month. However, 55% of female Marine recruits in the first boot camp class to graduate under the new policy failed to meet the male standard of three pullups. In response, the Marine Corps delayed the three pullup requirement for female Marines.

In “Lowering Standards for Female Marines Is Not Gender Equality,” Brian Van Reet argues that the Marine Corps should replace its generic physical standard with occupation-specific standards:

This kind of job-specific system is already in place to match recruits with a suitable MOS, according to their mental abilities. The most mentally demanding jobs are only open to those recruits who score well on a standardized intelligence test. Similarly, fitness tests should be written to specific outcomes as opposed to specific genders. In the end, a job-specific fitness regime would simply codify what everyone in the military already knows: the average infantry troop is way more physically fit than the average satellite repair technician. So why not write a separate physical fitness standard for each?

I have a couple preliminary responses.

The first is to the way the essay’s headline frames the policy debate. Female physical fitness standards are not being lowered; they are being kept at their current gender-biased level. The Marine Corps’ stated intention is to raise the standard by requiring female Marines to meet the current male standard at an indeterminate future point. Van Reet’s doesn’t devote much of his essay to the supposed lowering of the standard, so I suspect the headline and byline were an editorial clickbaiting decision.

The second is that occupation-specific standards are more than just a good idea–they are already policy. When the Secretary of Defense lifted the 1994 Combat Exclusion Policy last year, he stipulated that the armed services are required to examine the physical requirements of each military occupation and create gender-neutral standards specific to each:

Validating occupational performance standards, both physical and mental, for all military occupational specialties (MOS), specifically those that remain closed to women. Eligibility for training and development within designated occupational fields should consist of qualitative and quantifiable standards reflecting the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for each occupation. For occupational specialties open to women, the occupational performance standards must be gender-neutral as required by Public Law 103-160, Section 542 (1993).

I don’t point this out as a knock on Van Reet. I am merely trying to show that we tend to give the services (in this case, the Marine Corps) a lot of benefit of the doubt in their good-faith implementation of national policy. I’ll have more to say about this later but for now, the Marine Corps’ insistence on maintaining the male-centric three pullup standard for all Marines doesn’t strike me as the result of a very introspective look at its occupational requirements.

Studying War and Gender, Cont.

Last September, I wrote a piece about Joshua Goldstein’s academic survey of the relationship between war and gender. I finally finished reading the book.

It’s a fantastic piece of scholarship, even if for no other reason than its cross-disciplinary approach (which I found sorely lacking as a student in Columbia’s political science department).

In summary, Goldstein argues that the gender constructions of masculinity and femininity evolved as a social response to the ever-present possibility of war. After reviewing the evidence that more than 99% of all warriors in observable history are male, he argues that the genetic and biological differences between male and female homo sapiens are too small to account for the virtual absence of women in combat.

[Read more…]

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