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.

Gender in Security – Inaugural Post

I’ve been wanting to make a regular practice of writing about gender issues in security. However, regular readers will know that my promises to write about a given thing rarely pan out.

So I’ve decided to start doing a recurring roundup of issues that deal with gender in security but with no claims to regularity or comprehensiveness. I know myself enough to know that promising either would make the whole thing just another source of stress and no fun at all. When other refuges have come and gone, this blog will remain the place where all that I don’t feel like doing can go directly to hell.


The UK Royal Navy announced on May 4th that it has admitted its first three women sailors on board a submarine. Another milestone for a social movement that is rapidly changing the face of military affairs:

Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral David Steel said: “Women have been serving in ships at sea with the Royal Navy for more than 20 years and integrating them into the Submarine Service completes their inclusion into all seagoing branches.”

The Royal Navy first allowed women to go to sea in 1990.

The US lifted its ban on women in submarines in 2010. While fourteen of the US Navy’s 70 submarine crews are integrated at the officer level, enlisted submarine integration is still waiting on a task force to “develop details” (PDF). Integration of future submarines is limited by the additional cost of constructing permanent female-only berthing facilities on board. This is the classic integration problem for naval forces that won’t simply live in coed circumstances.


Local Afghan police leaders met with officials in Victoria, Australia to discuss the protection of women after the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdraws from Afghanistan:

Najibullah Samsour, the chief of police of a part of Kabul known as District 10, said the goal was to win the support of the Australian government in combating an expected increase in violence against women after the forces withdraw. 

I’m actually a bit surprised to hear that an Afghan official would go out of his way to deal with such an issue. Hopefully their discussion was a serious one–Western reports do not bode well for the future of women’s rights in the country.

 Transgender Service

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has gone on record stating that the US military’s ban on service for transgender individuals “continually should be reviewed.” Secretary Hagel went on to state that “every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it.” Hagel’s point may sound obvious a cool two centuries after the Age of Enlightenment, but to hear a defense secretary embrace equality of opportunity would have been unthinkable a few short years ago.

 Women Veteran Services

Finally, Stars and Stripes reports that women veterans are under-seeking Veteran Affairs services relative to their need. This is another classic problem faced by government service providers–just because the resources are there doesn’t mean people use them or are even aware of their existence.

Why is Rape Common in War? Ctd

Kim Murphy considers the notion that Victorian gender norms prevented rape in the US Civil War:

Historians, Murphy says, largely had the idea that the Victorian era was characterized by restraint, and therefore there was little rape. For example, she mentions a passage from Reid Mitchell’s book, The Vacant Chair: The Northern Soldier Leaves Home, which reads:

“Few northern soldiers raped…True manhood was characterized by sexual restraint not sexual assertion; even mutually agreeable intercourse would have threatened masculine identity. Letting anger toward women break out in unsanctioned violence against women would have been unmanly.”

“There were 109,397 cases of gonorrhea, and 73,382 cases of syphilis—and that’s just among the U.S. white troops; we don’t have the records for the Confederacy,” Murphy says. “Quite frankly, that doesn’t suggest restraint.”

Murphy thinks the Civil War rapes were largely crimes of opportunity:

[Read more…]

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.

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.

Reading About the Biology of War

Following a tip from a commenter on Josh Goldstein’s podcast about the influence of gender constructs on war, I’ve taken to reading Judith L. Hand’s 2003 book, Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace. Word is that Hand argues for a much stronger biological influence on war than does Goldstein. I’m only three sentences in, but Hand knows how to get me hooked:

Can humans create a future without war? Many people don’t think so.

What if “many people” are wrong?

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