Military Missive: Part Two

So, as you know from Military Missive Part One, I’m having an adventure in military life and culture this week. Through out the briefings I’ve attended, the facilities I’ve toured, and the panels I’ve observed, a few things have been foremost on my mind–first among them my interest in holding the military accountable for the epidemic of military sexual assault that takes place.
First I have to admit that this whole experience has been far more trees than forest. In other words, we’ve focused much more on the nuts and bolts of military training, protocol, and infrastructure than we have on bigger social, organizational, and moral questions. Thus, it’s been sort of hard to figure out when to ask various military leaders about my concerns. (For official military speak on the issue, go to thise site.) In any case, you know that a little awkwardness can’t keep me quiet, so here’s an account of my attempts to get answers:
First I questioned a strategic communications officer–a likable guy who told us all about the army’s changing philosophy of “engagement.” According to him, the priority is to become “an agent of change” (yes, they are using this exact language) and shift the army’s reputation from “cumbersome and bureaucratic to coordinated, collaborative, and cooperative.” Great, I asked him, then what is the army doing about the military sexual assault problem. His answer:

I personally have never experienced an issue with gender.


I questioned two female drill sergeants on Fort Leonard Wood who are in charge of initiating the brand new recruits in their first few days. They claimed that sexual assault prevention is a key part of the entire training process, including at the very beginning, when recruits are told that there is no tolerance for that kind of behavior.
When I asked for clarification on what the recruits are told, one of the more senior officers told me that she likes to do a little role play where she pretends to be speaking inappropriately to one of the male recruits and then has the whole group tell her what’s wrong with what she’s doing. And that’s it. As she explained this educational tactic, she laughed, obviously finding the whole task to be an opportunity to have fun with the green recruits. My guess? Not. Very. Effective.
Finally, I asked Major General Gregg. F. Martin, one of the most senior leaders around. His response, while more savvy than the other two sources, was nonetheless unsatisfying. He admitted that there was a military sexual assault problem, and said that the leadership was aware of it and doing anything they could to prevent it. “One sexual assault,” he said, “is too many. We have no tolerance policy.”
Unfortunately, his conviction wasn’t backed up by much. He mentioned that the increase in deployments that the overtaxed soldiers experience raises stress and results in things like domestic violence, suicide, addiction, and assault. All of this is being lumped together and treated with increased attention to the mental health of soldiers, most notably the new Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program and the Resiliency Training.
I’m super excited about these programs, don’t get me wrong, but it’s clear that the army still isn’t specifically addressing the gender dynamics that play out in such egregious ways in the contemporary military. Grouping drug addiction and sexual assault, for example, is not going to shift a culture that still largely accepts sexual harassment and sexism, in general.
Overall, a disappointing first-hand experience of military leadership and their understanding of these issues. It only inspires me to keep writing more, keep questioning, and keep supporting organizations like the Service Women’s Action Network that are supporting women veterans directly.

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  1. cattrack2
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I can see the military being susceptible to a general charge of sexism…but its the sexual harrassment that really catches my eye. Do we have any proof that the Military accepts sexual harrassment despite having “zero tolerance” policies for sexual assault? Are there stats that back this up? Or is this a perception based on the military’s sexism?

  2. Malcanthet
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Speaking as someone from a military family who lived on a military base for the last 6 years I agree that there is a lot of sexism within the military and there is sexual harassment that goes unaddressed…that is sexual harassment as I would define sexual harassment. The main problem, I believe, the military has a different idea of what sexual harassment is and then, maybe, according to their definition, there is a zero-tolerance thing going on and they feel that they are taking care of the problem. I think they are probably focusing on overt sexual harassment, i.e obvious inappropriate touching (like a male solider intentionally and obviously grabbing a female soldier’s breast) or violent sexual harassment (like a male solider throwing a female solider against a wall in anger for rejecting him or something along those lines). What I think the military has a problem recognizing is the subtle stuff, like name-calling that can be disguised as teasing, jokes and other things that may seem innocuous but can create an environment were more overt sexual harassment seems ok or even expected.

  3. Hara
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Great work! I’m so glad you are there!

  4. jane
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Oh, is it “clear that the army still isn’t specifically addressing the gender dynamics that play out in such egregious ways in the contemporary military”? I’m glad to know that my conclusions, based on my five years of service including a deployment to Iraq and my undergraduate research for my honors thesis, are clearly false. I had thought that the amount of sexual assault and harassment prevention that I was getting from the Air Force dwarfed the amount (basically none) that I got from my Ivy League university. I had thought that the statistics I had from the yearly reports, inquiries, surveys, and audits on the status of the military’s progress on preventing and responding to assault and harassment showed me steadily declining statistics, particularly in the Air Force and the Marines, and rates comparable or lower than on college campuses. I mean, I had thought the Air Force’s rate of harassment, around 30%, compared favorably to the rates shown in the ONE STUDY of harassment on college campuses which gave a figure of 60%. Apparently I was just not aware that the military is clearly not specifically addressing gender dynamics!
    I guess I just needed someone from feministing with NO experience in the service who has “recently” taken an interest in military women’s issues (by which I’ve come to understand are ONLY sexual harassment, assault, and PTSD resulting from same–we don’t have any other contributions to feminism, or anything else to say, about anything, apparently!) to correct me! And from a supervised visit with the press to view training for ONE SERVICE (which is clearly representative of all five) and a discussion with FOUR WHOLE PEOPLE, one of them a PA officer! I’m SO GLAD to get this information.
    I guess I shouldn’t re-enlist next year; I mean, it seems impossible that I could be a feminist activist in the service, knowing what I know now. Certainly the hundreds of thousands of dollars of education assistance I’m going to get in medical school next year so that I can become an abortion doctor are not worth it; nor are the fantastic medical and life insurance benefits for me and my partner, cheap groceries, and sense of community, identity and satisfaction worth it. In fact, the military seems to not do a goddamn thing except harass and assault women; SILLY ME! I had reveled in the history of military women’s acheivements and progess, and the work they do every day to destabilize gender stereotypes and raise awareness of women’s issues.
    I have posted a lot of my objections to y’all’s coverage of military women in the past, with as much civility and courtesy as I could manage. Do not even start bringing a tone argument with me; I KNOW I am being super-mean and sarcastic, but I am literally shaking with rage. I thought feminism was about listening and responding to women’s experiences, not fucking telling us what our lives are no matter what WE may think. There are a lot of problems in the military, just as there are EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD, and I’ve seen more progress and more EFFORT in the military than I have seen anywhere else.
    You may not like the military, war, violence, guns, fighting, the government, or god knows what, but I would like to be able to believe that you are going in to your “investigations” with an open mind, not with your conclusions ready in hand. Perhaps if you actually wanted to know about women’s experiences in the service, you could get in contact with some of us, or read a goddamn book. I recommend The Few, The Proud: Women Marines in Harm’s Way by Sarah Sheldon, Love my Rife More than You by Kayla Williams, Arms and the Enlisted Woman by Judith Stiehm, Sound off! Military Women Speak Out by Carl and Dorothy Schneider, among several others: my thesis’ bibliography had about 50 books and articles. I can also email you the rough draft of my thesis.
    As a final note, I don’t think that we would see the kind of silencing of women’s voices in favor of a feminist activist “speaker” with other groups of women–we feminists have tried to get away from that kind of behavior after just criticisms from bell hooks and Spivak, among others. Military women deal with the patriarchy more directly than many others, but that does not mean we do not have voices and cannot speak for ourselves and our culture.

  5. tomorrowshorizon
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    You do have a voice, and you are speaking. Hopefully we are listening. I really hope your experience is typical of women serving in the military, and it’s great to hear that the armed forces are making progress! The last time I read in any kind of depth about this issue (a few years ago, I’ll admit) the data and reports from women in the military did not seem so positive.
    I mean, “lower rates of assault than a college campus” probably shouldn’t be our bar for deciding that ongoing prevention/outreach efforts are sufficient, but any decline in abuse is a good start. It does sound like the training Courtney described and the constantly low-level harassment Malcanthet described are both problematic. Perhaps this isn’t unique to the military – the civilian world is pretty sexist and fucked up too, and certainly college campuses are uniquely dangerous places (at least at times) for young women. But I happen to agree with the official line here – NO sexual harassment or assault is acceptable. Being in the military is hard enough, I would imagine, to also have to deal with that kind of shit.
    Also, what about the women in the places where the US military is deployed? Are you aware of the statistics or have you observed anything about assaults on Iraqi civilian women? What role do sex workers and/or trafficked women play in this big picture of war?
    I’m just saying, just ‘cuz progress has been made doesn’t mean we’re there yet. It’s good to praise successful improvements, but I have a hard time believing the military has managed to kick the rape culture entirely when our civilian society seems unable to do so at all.

  6. jane
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Oh, totally. There’s a lot of work to be done. I am trying to do some of it myself. Being similar to college campuses is the lowest of low bars, but I think the comparison brings out how differently feminists view the military. We don’t universally condemn college, do we?
    I like to point out one particular study, of African American women in the Navy who said that though they did experience harassment and discrimination based on both their race and their gender, they felt that it was much better in the military than it was in the civilian world, and thus they stayed enlisted. This is not always the case, but the military can sometimes be better (it has often been in the past; regulations about who gets rank when have been good, in general, for promoting women) that comparable civilian situations.
    My impression has been that the situation of women in areas where we’re deployed has gotten better, but is still not ideal by any means. A lot of the regulations re: harassment and assault have started to change the culture, particularly the “official” one, e.g. what kind of things are approved or allowed officially. We also all get training annually on spotting human trafficking and how we are liable to be convicted and jailed if we participate in it (re: brothels and sex trafficking). It’s a start, I think, but it’s not my area of expertise, so I can’t give a lot of information. You should check Cynthia Enloe who does a lot of work on military-industrial complexes and their effect on third world women, particularly near bases.
    I worked with a few Iraqi civilian women who were translators in the hospital at Balad. They wore US uniforms with Iraqi nametags. They were awesome, and we loved them. But obviously, that’s a limited sample; I worked at the hospital and was, as they say, a Fobbit; I didn’t go off base.
    The point I want to make is that there are a LOT of people in the military who are paying attention to these issues and working very hard to improve things, some as their official mission and others, like me, as their passion. We’ve gotten a lot done, in some cases more than in the civilian sector. Plus, to my mind, the military and the identity of soldier is central to the current dysphoric masculine ideal in the US; if we can change how soldiers view sex and sxuality, there are potential ripple effects throughout some of the most conservative and anti-feminist groups in the country. The military turned my father from a chauvinist to a feminist; the military supports me in a lot of my feminist work.
    Also, the military is a very insular, defensive community, and we don’t take very well to being judged by outsiders who we feel don’t have the experience to evaluate us honestly or fairly. Our training and our work, and therefore our culture, if sort of unique, although we share a lot of things with the police and emergency response communities.

  7. LexiconLuthor
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I’m enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard (yes, we’re part of the military. Yes, active duty.) and I figured I’d weigh in on this.
    I’m inclined to agree with Jane…I mean, sexual assault prevention classes for us are a bi-annual requirement, and it’s an all day class. New recruits have it literally drilled into their heads that no sexual harassment (or any harassment, really) is going to be tolerated.
    Compare that to the life you live. How many jobs have had such stringent requirements? How many jobs post framed copies from your CEO about how diversity is valued and harassment is not? Every single CG workspace is required to post this nice poster with the names and faces of our complaint department along with the steps you need to take should something happen to you or another member.
    This isn’t to say I haven’t seen crappy things happen. A friend of mine stumbled back drunk to the boat once, and a guy snuck into female berthing and groped her. When she brought it up to the command, they gave her an alcohol incident (two of those and they kick you out) and masted her. 45 days restriction, 45 days extra duty, and the shitbag got 10 and 15. So yeah, crappy things happen.
    But I really do believe there is a solid movement to dissuade these kinds of things. There are good men in our military. Men who tell you which men to avoid. Men who know that only your girlfriend gets to drive you home. The problem is that the military is HUGE and some problem people slide right past the radar and do a lot of damage before some one puts their foot down.

  8. jane
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Exactly on the requirements and the training. It’s totally unique and unheard of in the private sector.
    Hello from the AF! I grew up down the street from the Charleston Coast Guard base; it’s where I had my first drink :)

  9. jumpcannon
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this comment. It’s not that Courtney’s post didn’t have useful things to say, but for the exact reasons you list, I was uncomfortable reading it. No post on feministing is ever all-encompassing or perfect (and I don’t expect them to be), but I’m glad that you brought these things up.

  10. Lily A
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I’ll leave the debate about sexual harassment in the military to people who know more about it (ie not me)…
    But I do want to say this: ROCK ON for studying to become an abortion doctor. I’m sure you already know how desperately you are needed and how much women will and do appreciate your incredibly important work… but it never hurts to say it again!

  11. Courtney
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m not even sure where to start here Jane. Clearly I’ve offended the shit out of you and I apologize for that. As a journalist, my job is to investigate issues that I may have no personal experience of. That’s what I was doing here–interviewing people that I encountered about an issue I’ve grown to care about and sharing the results with this community. It was certainly not meant to be representative of all there is to say on the issue, nor was it meant to replace women in the military speaking on their own behalf. In fact, that’s the beauty of this blogging community is that you have now written a very substantive and informative response (which yes, could have done without the nasty tone) that all of the readers can benefit from (including me).
    For the record, I’ve read quite a bit about military sexual assault over the last year, done an in-depth profile on a Navy veteran who was sexually assaulted, and done a lot to get to know and support a women’s veteran group that is doing activism on this issue and many others. I’ve also written columns on veteran’s benefits that has nothing to do with MSA. If that doesn’t mean shit to you, then I would encourage you to reflect on what it is that you’re expecting from civilians and journalists in terms of interaction with military issues.

  12. harchickgirl1
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Where si the link to Part One?

  13. jane
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the light touch on the “I don’t like your tone” response.
    We discussed this already a bit, you and I, back on the Combat Within: Military Women and PTSD post and most of my frustration comes from the fact that I don’t feel you took any of my criticisms into account when embarking on this project or writing this piece. Most (though not all) of the military women commenting there (and now here) agreed with me and felt there is a systematic lack in the way military women’s issues are described. Some of my rage may also have to do with the sensitivity military people feel about outsider critique. This is why I think most of the people who write on military women do so through collecting first person narratives and extensive quoting; examples are the Sheldon book and the one by the Schneiders; Steihm does some quoting but also a lot of surveys and statistics; Williams’ is a memoir.
    I think I am also infuriated by the idea that it can be clear to anyone not living in the military that the military isn’t doing jack shit about sexual assault and harassment. I want the training and emphasis on reporting and response the military has exported TO schools and other workplaces and organizations, not the other way around. I think it is totally true that the military has a huge problem, but they are aware of this (no matter what they were willing to say to journalists on a press junket) and have made and continue to make great strides. I think your contemptuous dismissal (because it’s military?) of possibly the biggest and most effective and thorough training program on sexual assault and harassment is both shortsighted and offensive.
    It would delight me if instead of seeming to condemn them as failures, you framed your posts and writings as monitoring the (often slow and sometimes problematic) progress of these programs; journalism does a lot of good in its function as a check on bureaucracy and a monitor of change. Certainly there is a lot of work to be done, but your attitude and descriptions imply to all of these people with no personal experience of the military that either nothing’s being done, military people just don’t care about assault, there’s been no progress, or there is nothing positive to report. This is false. What’s more, it actively offends, puts off, or disagrees with many military women who read it, just going by the comments on the last post and mine, LexiconLuther’s, and jumpcannon’s here, and I suggest to you that this is indicative of a problem.
    I am glad to hear of your work with the Navy vet and with the veteran’s group. It’s important work. But I would like to say, as I did on your previous post, that focusing on the sexual assault and little else of a group of women is not a comprehensive (or appreciated) way to interact with/help that group. For example, check out the article in the NYT about military mothers, and particularly the cesspool of biological determinism and misogyny in the comments. That is what military women are taking on and changing, and it is worthy feminist work; we need back up, not pity or contempt for the support our organization is trying to give us.
    Anyway, I’m not going to apologize for my tone because I was (and still am, really) apoplectic about your post. It may be the fault of the people you talked to, but I see no mention of the SARC program, SANEs on every base/post, the MEO office, mandatory yearly training on both assault AND harassment, DEOMI, the DWHRP, DACOWITZ, or several other offices and programs I would expect you to be conversant with when researching and writing about military women specifically re: sexual assault. If your point is that the people you talked to at the Forts didn’t know what the hell they were talking about, well, then, point taken.
    If I thought you’d be put off by my criticism, I’d add something about how I’m pleased you’re paying attention even if I have serious problems with how and what you’re saying, but since my previous comments seemed to be so lightly-taken as to 1. not have any impact on the style or substance of your reporting or 2. be remembered, I’m not so worried that I’ll discourage you. If you want to know what all those acronyms I threw out mean, or background on what each org does, feel free to ask. I swear I won’t tear you a new one if I feel like you’re approaching the issue with an honest interest, which is not what I feel right now.

  14. jane
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Hey, thanks! When I’m done with school, I hope to do exactly what I do now: be an Air Force reservist, and work at Planned Parenthood otherwise.

  15. monkey_doc
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    The training you’ve both mentioned is probably rare even in the non-military public sector. I can only speak for my own job at a major public university, but I can attest that sexual harassment “training” is a once a year, online “test” that probably takes about 10 minutes of time to complete. There is no all-day class taught in person, let alone a biannual exposure. I’m pretty certain the whole exercise is a CYA type of thing for the university, not a major commitment to reducing sexual harassment.

  16. Vio
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Let me first day that I think the army’s new sexual assault training is the best I’ve ever seen. It emphasises that prevention of sexual assault is a leadership and community responsibility, instead of the usual stupid “females don’t go anywhere without a battle buddy” crap. I recently attended WLC (the first course in the Noncommission officer educational system) and was pleasently surprised to find that the mandatory sexual assault training also included a discussion of how as junior leadership it was our responsiblity to keep an eye out for situations that had the potential to become a sexual assault. There was even discusion about male on male rape. (Most people think a fair amount of this happens, and it’s almost never reported parcially because of don’t ask, don’t tell.)
    I think as an organisation the army is headed in the right direction. However there are some units out there, that are just not up with it. If the leadership at any level isn’t with the program then that unit is pretty much going to a bad place to be a female. I can tell you this from personal experence. I think the army’s biggest challenge right now is going to be reigning in the people who, for whatever reason, don’t buy into the official policy.

  17. Courtney
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    “I swear I won’t tear you a new one if I feel like you’re approaching the issue with an honest interest, which is not what I feel right now.”
    What other kind of interest could I have Jane? I spent a week out of my comfort zone, trying to learn about the Army, and by extension, the military, so I could write more intelligently about these issues. My interest is in making sure that women who defend this country (on my behalf, whether I like it or not) are safe. I know some women have amazing experiences in the military. Many do not. I’m interested in making sure that I do my part in speaking out about issues affecting those who do not.
    I will continue to learn as much as I can, and speak as accurately as possible. Meanwhile, I would feel way more inclined to reach out to learn more from you (and it sounds like you have A LOT to teach, no sarcasm meant) if you didn’t act like I’m such an asshole for even trying to understand these issues. It’s truly alienating.

  18. jane
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    I’m acting like you’re an asshole because in my opinion, you’ve been acting like an asshole. All of the information I cited is on the web and in the annual defense reports on the military’s progress; you could have found any of it. Most of the information about I know about how the prevention and response systems work is from getting my annual briefings, which every. single. member. of the military gets, by definition. The fact that you don’t know about SARCs or MEO, etc makes me very suspicious–how many people have you talked to? How recently? How could you have missed all of this?
    When I started looking for an advisor for my thesis, most of the professors in my fantastic Women’s and Gender Studies department had exactly the same opinion of the military as you seem to: “Oh, isn’t rape a huge problem?” That was all they knew and all they seemed to care to know. I worked my ass off explaining my experience, and was able in the end to convince some of them that military women were interesting beyond their rape rates’ confirmation of the evils of the US military. The only people who were receptive were a historian of war, who knew what the military had done for women in the past, and a scholar of Afghan women, who knew what revolutionary movements could sometimes do for women (see the women in film The Battle of Algiers, for example; or histories of women’s participation in basically every resistance movement). So that’s what I’m getting from you, and what I think your interest might be related to: distrust and dislike of the military, either in the post-Vietnam academic anti-military tradition, or in the tradition of feminists who view the military as some kind of personification of the patriarchy. Or fascination with the bizarre: women in the military are like fish on land, or Jews for Jesus, or pigs with wings.
    Which is also why I’m baffled at why you’d go play BMT at an army post without trying to talk to a SARC first; a SARC is who you’d want to talk to, and though she (or he) may need a PA officer for guidance with dealing with the press, I’m sure you could get an interview. I don’t know why any military woman (or man in power; or man who pays attention in briefings) wouldn’t have told you that straight off. Which, again, rings my “disinterested tourist” alarm. I know the Army has SARCs since I dealt with one (very unsatisfactorily) when I was deployed; some of the programs I know might be specific to the AF, but most (MEO, DEOMI, SARC) are Defense Dept level or cross-service.
    So that’s why I’m mad. Because your posts have rung alarm bells, you don’t have some of even the most basic information, you’re drawing terrible and offensive conclusions, and, somewhat more personally, you didn’t ask me or the other military women on feministing to help; you knew we were here from that Trauma Within fracas. I’m going to go right now and write a primer on the assault and harassment prevention and response system in the AF (and military wide, as far as I’m able) in the Community, if I can figure out how to, and link it here. But jesus effing christ, I would have rather told you all this BEFOREhand and not had to absolutely lose my shit over this post. Or my sleep; I keep thinking of other bits to the story and I’m trying to save my ambien for when I really need it.

  19. jane
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Exactly. I went to Dartmouth and the only reason I even know we HAD people working against assault was I was in the Women’s and Gender Studies department, and lots of my friends were into that. My parter, who did post-colonial studies, and whose these advisor was in the WGST department, got exactly no information, no training, and had no idea there were even programs.
    I don’t know anyone who gets assault/harassment prevention training, ESPECIALLY geared to men, which would make more sense: they’re the ones who rape, shouldn’t we train THEM?

  20. jane
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Yes, exactly! I know your video must be different from ours, since ours had the SECAF and the AF Chief of Staff, etc, but it was the best I’d ever seen, too. It taught me things, and I’m a WGST major and I work at freakin’ Planned Parenthood.
    I think the latter thing, the command thing, might be addressed with the climate survey. Does the Army do a climate survey? They must, everyone loves CBTs and forms and shit. The AF survey is anonymous and asks about command culture re: assault, harassment, gender issues, and commands with poor grades may get the thump. Well, in theory, I guess.

  21. jane
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    Okay, so: I wrote a giant, enormous, too-much-information community post, and I suppose it’s in the queue? You can keep the information for yourself alone if you prefer, or publish it; either way.
    I didn’t know how to do the feministing-style cut tags to cut for length; I can edit it if need be to include a cut.

  22. jane
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    Oh my god, I just pasted the text of the post I wrote into Word, and there are about 10,000 typos. Please tell me I can edit it? If so how? That’s what I get for staying up late and typing without previewing a thousand times.

  23. OuyangDan
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    Not since I left the Navy have I had a single job that focused so much on sexual assault prevention training. Or diversity sensitivity training. The policies aren’t perfect, but the training is constant. When we weren’t attending bi-annual day-long briefings we were doing monthly trainings to remind us of policy. Our Plan of the Week had reminders, and or Petty Officers in Charge would quiz us on the snippets we had heard from weeks previous. I realize that I was a luck one, I was never sexually assaulted or harassed in my workspace. But the training is good. And the one female sailor that I knew who was had her case handled well and to her wishes.
    Now, the military has a lot to learn in areas where things like DADT are concerned, and those of us veterans who are trying to make the right connections and write the right letters are doing it and making noise…but the military is doing all it can with sexual assault training. The next option, I think would be babysitting. We don’t do this much in the civilian workforce.
    Where the military intersects w/ feminism is a narrow margin and an important one, and I think that it is too important to gloss over, and way too important to alienate people who are doing hard work by silencing them with things like tone. That really surprised me.

  24. Marc
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Here’s the thing: the Army tries its very best to try to make things equal, but unfortunately, a lot of it misses the mark, simply because Army people are quite simple.
    It has diversity training and observations – yet, at each of these celebrations, the message is dumb down. “We’re all equal – look at what non-whites and women have accomplished.”
    What it lacks is an honest dialouge of equality, and how our personal experiences shape the way we view the world. But, of course, I can’t expect to see feminist consciousness raising groups or college lectures in a military institution, an organization with the goal of “fight and win our nation’s wars.”
    Here in Iraq, sexual assaults is dumb down. “Walk with a battle buddy,” senior leaders will tell you, and we young leaders are expected to curb sexual harrassment, something the Army correctly sees as a link to sexual assaults. But often times, it’s the young leaders who are doing the sexual harrassing.
    It’s heading in the right direction, though. Along with classes and commercials talking about how sexually assaulting someone will land you in jail (as if that helps), it’s also contracted Men Can Stop Rape and Sex Signals to talk to young Soldiers, ages 18-25 about consent. In fact, one field grade officer I interviewed a while ago said, “Masculinity and violence do not have to go hand-in-hand with sexual assaults.” He is tbe lead coordinator of sexual assaults here in theater.
    When I was going on leave and was flown to Kuwait to start the paperwork process, we were all shown a mandatory video about sexual assaults, and interviews with victims. In the end, however, the message is still a bit less than feminist. “We Are We A Member of A Team and An Assault On One Is An Assault On All,” it pretty much says. Again, this is probably as feminist as it’s going to get.
    I am sorry for the rant. For more information on these programs, and to get a rich analysis of gender from them, I suggest
    Also, google the “I.AM.STRONG” campaign the U.S. Army is currently running.

  25. Marc
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 1:54 am | Permalink

    You know as well as I do that such trainings are never taken seriously, and the contents of the training is just sad. Most Soldiers end up sleeping or making inappropriate jokes at these training events, because let’s face it, “Do Not Sexually Harrass People,” isn’t a very effective message.

  26. Marc
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Let’s be fair here – the military shouldn’t just get a pat on the back because it’s doing the training. It should only get a pat on the back if the training actually works.
    Most EO representatives are clueless, lacking in education and experiences to serve Soldiers, and given the military’s lack of feminist perspective (as well as race and other perspectives), equal opportunity training doesn’t work. It almost seems as though we need to contract EO jobs out to civilians who actually care, rather than some bored E-6 who just got appointed the position.
    As for civilian sexual assaults training – I worked for a while in the civilian world, both with the Democratic Party and a liberal non-profit, and we both had sexual harrassment training.

  27. Marc
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    Jane (and we’re Facebook friends) – thanks for talking about monitoring the progress of sexual assault prevention program, as clearly, the military has taken an interest and putting out a lot of money doing it. What matters is whether these programs are working.
    The issue here, I think, is patience. Only recently has the military taken the drastic steps to curb sexual assaults, as previous to before, where it was taken seriously, but treated as an “in house” problem.
    With the contracting of several pro-feminist organizations that are engaging military men in sexual assaults prevention, I’d like to see how things change in the next few years, not with just the number of incidents, but also human relations and how military men view the women they serve it.

  28. Marc
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    Sorry for the multiple posts – but this issue means a lot to me, mainly because of my profession, as well as because of my feminism.
    Any social movement takes time – and quite frankly, I think we’re asking for too much, too soon. This is not to say we are not right in doing so, but that there is a clear plan in place, and it’ll take time for this plan to work out.
    As I indicated earlier, DoD has contracted Men Can Stop Rape to work with servicemembers in trying to debunk myths of masculinity. But it will take time before the program actually gets put into effect.
    That’s next year. This year, the focus is on changing a culture, and having servicemembers make a commitment to stopping sexual assaults. The plan this year, dubbed the “Year of the NCO,” is for every young leader to step up and stop sexual harrassment, and rape jokes and such. Once these young NCOs have made that commitment, the next step is to actually talk about gender and focus on what we feminists have been saying all alone – to stop sexual assaults, focus on men’s behaviors, not women’s.

  29. Marc
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    The public affairs officer who told you that he’s never experienced gender issues should probably stop and consider that perhaps it’s because …wait for it …he’s a man!
    As a non-commissioned officer, I see gender issues everyday, because I work closely with Soldiers. I’ve seen female Soldiers having to change their lifestyles, where they go, what they do, and a lot more, just to ensure they aren’t sexually assaulted.
    Sometimes, I wish those who are in charge of making policy would actually stop and interact with and observe the lives of young Soldiers. Because sitting there and getting answers from surveys, and making policies out of them, isn’t going to do jackshit for young Soldiers.
    This is one of the reasons I will never, ever wear a butter bar.

  30. Marc
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    Last post on this, I swear to God – at least for this morning.
    I wanted to share a heartwarming/scary story about sexual assults.
    A couple of months ago here, it was reported that a female Soldier went on leave, and after discussing the dangers of sexual assaults with her husband, she bought a knife and brought it with her everywhere she went.
    One night, as she was going to the shower (we have communal community showers here in Iraq), she heard the door of the shower trailer open after she’d gotten into one of the shower stalls. She called out to see who was there, and after not getting a response, she dried herself, got out of the shower, and with knife in hand, started looking in individual shower stalls.
    In one of the stalls, she found a man (another Soldier) hiding, waiting for her. Of course, she stuck the knife on him and screamed for help.
    He was arrested and as it turns out, he confessed to multiple other rapes.
    What’s most striking about this story is that this woman has to take steps to prevent herself from being raped. As a man, I don’t even take my weapon to the shower, and don’t even think twice about walking to the shower at night.
    But, rather than talking and looking at this from a gender perspective, the Army gave her an award and a pat on the head.

  31. Sway
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    While I do enjoy checking out this blog, this is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to comment (congrats!).
    Jane had every right to get angry about this post.
    I can see how the author might feel surprised about such a reaction, but if she viewed the article again with clear eyes it becomes quite obvious. What really surprised me was, looking back at the first entry on this subject, that the author is participating in a college journalism workshop. Every single quotation is leveled with judgement and the tone shows quite obviously that the author entered into this project with a set conclusion. If you read this article again and try to find any plain facts or even simple, objective sentences, well, you won’t find many.
    There is a reason why newspapers and other such publications don’t typically run articles like this (and not only because they don’t want to get slapped with a lawsuit, but that is sometimes a reason), it’s because it’s simply not professional.
    Now I don’t know too much about the subject of the military in particular but I am disinclined to take the author seriously simply because it is far too suspicious. If this is an opinion piece then say so (this is a blog, not a news sight, so I rather expect it). Now it is impossible for there to be perfectly objective journalism but this piece shows no effort to. If this is supposed to be taken as journalism then it is a bar lower than Fox News. It pains me to say it, really…

  32. Marc
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    In Courtney’s defense, she can only write what she’s given, and from the looks of it, she was not given much.
    There are great programs out there – and I suspect that if Courtney were to get hooked up with a public affairs officer who knows what the hell he’s doing, she’d actually get the information regarding sexual assaults and gender. I used to work in public affairs before branching out, and it’s our mission to tell the Army’s story.
    As it were, Courtney was on a military familiarization visit, which is far different than how she’d be given attention if she were a reporter, asking for a story.
    So, in the end, it’s not her fault – she’s only writing what she was given. And in part, I find some truths in her reporting.

  33. Marc
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Since we’re on the subjects of military sexual assault training, and a few have wondered what the program comprises of, the link below, to a Powerpoint presentation, should explain.
    Mind you, this happens twice a year, and as well as pre- and post-deployment.

  34. jane
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Dude, I don’t know about “only recently”: do you mean in the last two years, or the last ten? If you look at the stats in the annual reports starting in the 1990s, they’ve dropped by more than half once you get to 2002. The abso-fucking-lutely awesome prevention video I saw was made in 2005, and while I’m not sure who they had contracted to make it, they had some serious psychological and academic expertise. I link to an article on it in my mythical and poorly edited community post: try here. It may be that we have different perspectives on it because of our service affiliations: when I came in in 2004, I got good training that made me sit up and take notice of how the AF was doing it better than Dartmouth was.
    But other than that quibble, yeah, it’s going to take time. But I think this is part of a long, long history in the service, of fighting unhealthy cultures (some imported from the civilian world) and doing civil rights work. Before assault we had women’s integration; before that we had women able to serve at more than 1% of our manning and capped at Colonel; before that… So I think with effort, we can continue the trend and get stuff done.

  35. jane
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    That’s the thing though–as a journalist, shouldn’t she do some outside research? The DoD SAPR site (which has SARC awards and the annual report on the front page) and the Army SAPR site are the first hits when you google “sexual assault prevention military.” I found all the information and statistics I could ever use by just googling the programs, and basically all of them are listed/described on the SAPR website, as you can see. I mean, yeah, she talked to a PA officer who doesn’t pay attention in his yearly, day-long briefings, but I guess that’s the only person she’s talked to? I’m not willing to foist the fault for her ignorance totally on failure PA guy, honestly.
    And that’s why I flipped my shit here, really. Last time they wrote about military women, in April, I was really cordial in my arguments that the authors should take a closer look at how the military is preventing SA/H, and that there are a lot of good, feminist things that it does, shitty things notwithstanding. And so she announced her trip, and so I waited, and then this is what we get.

  36. livinginthefridge
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Amen Sister! As in most large organizations, and the world at large, there is work to be done towards gender equality in the Military, but they’ve undertaken the work. They offer documentation to COs and their people detailing what is and is not acceptable and what methods of recourse there are… The military actually has a procedure and structure set up to deal with sexual assault cases which is a lot more than many institutions both public and private.
    Part of why I visit Feministing is the editorial bent (I like a little moral outrage sometimes!) but I agree it is frustrating when such editorializing is presented as actual journalism.
    Good try Courtney, but you didn’t have enough information to write anything of value. Write with your head, instead of your heart next time.

  37. jane
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Okay, here it is. Pay no attention to the fact that a huge paragraph is monster link. I can’t edit that, can I? Oh well, at least all the information is there.

  38. sporty070882
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    OMG I don’t even know where to start. First let me give a little background on myself before I get started. I served four years in the Army and an EOD technician (AKA bomb squad). I served the majority of my time being the ONLY female and when I got out I was a contractor teaching Combat Engineers explosives for 18 months as the only female yet again. (PS I wish I would have known you were here Courtney! I live on FLW!)
    While I was in the Army (I will leave out my contracting experience), I was physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or sexually assaulted daily. While on deployment, my team leader harassed me and assaulted me on a daily basis for over 4 months. I was also raped by another service member I worked with.
    Since then I have done mounds of reading and research into the social aspects of military based mysogyny, the female/male combat debate, accounts of women in all services that have been assaulted and their struggles with miltary leadership to take them and the issues seriously and I can add my own story to that list.
    When in garrison (the US), yes we go thru training every six months on rape and sexual assault. This is just a personal observation but I feel it can be applied to most of the male dominated environments since I have been in many of them over the past 5 1/2 years, but not once was that training ever taken seriously and unless it was conducted by an outside source, the training was completely inadequate and just one of those blocks you have to check. Most of the time, asses were grabbed jokes were made and in one instance one of the guys stripped totally nude and gyrated on the table with the leadership looking on and laughing. The same individual was later made our EO representative to try and teach him sensitivity. Needless to say that didn’t work and he bragged about he would crucify anyone that came to him with an issue. Basically we were all “big pussies that needed to shut the fuck up and just deal with it. Grow some fucking skin for Christ’s sake.”
    Deployment was even worse. There are really no resources for victims in most places. I was caught in a Catch 22 as my team leader could make my life difficult(er) than it already was if I pissed him off and my chain of command didn’t give a rats ass about anything.
    When I returned to Ft. Riley, I filed restricted reports thru the SARC and while I like the concept of restricted reporting, there are still major issues to overcome in male dominated areas since the chain of command receives a notice that a report has been filed. Hello, I’m the only female so let’s think about that one. I have also found that while there are many great programs in effect on paper, they do little to change to mentalities that the military saturates its ranks with. It’s all a bunch of lip service (IMO).
    Don’t get me wrong, the military has made major strides in ATTEMPTING to combat sexual violence but I have seen very little in the way of actual results. And statistics can always be schewed to show whatever the military wants you to see and think.
    In discussing just the mentality of most military men I have come across, the double standards are still alive and very much kicking. I was a slut if I did anything sexually based no matter if it was just verbalized and I have to be 10 times better than any man just to be taken seriously by anyone. Most of the response I said to anything was “All I hear is Blah Blah Blah. You’re a dirty whore.” Throw in the concepts that all I wanted to do was live peacefully with these guys and get along with them and that as a young soldier I had no idea how to manipulate the system or who I could tell these things to and it made for a very hostile situation for me for a very long time. I had no basis in feminism and didn’t know what to do except just try to deal with it.
    Jane, while I understand your arguments and some I agree with, some I don’t mostly based off my own personal experiences. Kudos to the Army for developing programs that the civilian world hasn’t come close to implementing but programs won’t change mentalities and attitudes. They can only try to make people to conform to a standard; they can’t change the way they think.

  39. A female Marine
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    What I hate the most about non-military people “researching” the problems of military women is that they NEVER talk to or quote women who did NOT get raped, did NOT get harassed every day, and did NOT get out because of gender issues. They always seem to begin their “research” by talking to hospitals and support groups or by only talking about sexual issues: OF COURSE SEX PROBLEMS WILL SEEM OVERWHELMING IF YOU START THERE AND ONLY THERE!
    All my problems with the Marine Corps have NOTHING to do with gender, rape, or harassment,and I’m sick and tired of people assuming my life in the military was a giant harassment-fest.

  40. Vio
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    The army actually doesn’t do videos, at least in my experiance. It’s all classroom discusion led by the unit victim advocate in accordance with a standardised curriculum. Although I did see an air force video (probably not the same one you’re talking about) a few years back when I was at AIT on an air force base and was required to go to “wingman day.” Actually I kind of like the idea of a video, because even if a unit is full of misogynistic assholes (I’ve been in that unit) at least something postive is guaranteed to get out to soldiers. It’s kind of hard to contradict the general or high ranking whoever on video.

  41. OuyangDan
    Posted September 30, 2009 at 2:52 am | Permalink

    OK, let’s be fair.
    What civilian job goes to those kind of lengths to do that much awareness (that are not feminist foundations or with liberal organizations, because you are very privileged to have had that good fortune)? I haven’t had one, and I have worked in several fields. Now, my experiences are not universal, but there are other women veterans on this very thread saying the same thing.
    Each branch has it’s own culture, and every job within that branch the same. I give the military credit for the effort. The numbers still shock me, because, while we are being fair, women in the military are about .24% (about one in four of less than one percent of the overall US population), and the numbers of SA are pretty high compared to the civilian sector. But do you know the difference between a woman who is raped and a woman who isn’t? The presence of a rapist. The military is making great efforts (even as a civilian I am a military spouse now and I still see the efforts everywhere), but the hyper-masculine culture fostered by those kinds of numbers and by society (kill! destroy! be a man!) still seems to prevail. I am not giving them a pat on the back. I am giving credit where credit is due. There is an good effort being made, and I don’t think that Courtney’s experience is at all indicative of that. Like I said on the Part One, I think that more interaction with actual veterans would be a better sampling. All this will do is give her the Army-stamped, pre-approved sanitized version.
    But, again, the intersection of feminism and military issues gets neglected at a lot of bigger blogs, so I am glad to see it getting covered (for the record it is something I write about, so I am not demanding anyone cover it, it is merely an observation).
    Also, did I miss an apology for the anti-feminist silencing tactic?

  42. Marc
    Posted September 30, 2009 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    But that’s just the thing – those who have not been sexually assaulted or harrassed do not offer the unique perspective that is required for social change.
    An example: it’d be hard to talk about the lives of slaves when we talk to the masters, because their lives are different, and the lived experiences are different.
    If journalists were to write stories about how the military can serve women well, then those who have not been raped, harrassed or otherwise had bad experiences ought to be interviewed. But this – this is about women who have been assaulted.

  43. jane
    Posted September 30, 2009 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    On the contrary, Marc: those who were not assaulted, not harassed, and who had fantastic experiences re: gender are EXACTLY the people we should be talking to, though of course not to the detriment of talking to survivors, whose stories are important. It’s from the women who had fantastic command cultures, whose male comrades were supportive, non-sexist, and dare I say feminist, that we might be able to learn how to DO social change–if something has ALREADY worked, we should figure out how and why!
    Because since some women have had good experiences, there were things that WORKED– was it the videos, the things commanders said, the behaviors by leaders, or subordinates, or some unknown factor that caused one unit or group to diverge from the rape culture and misogyny so prevalent in the US and the military? We need to be finding these things, understanding them, and trying to replicate them on a large scale.
    Discussing what has worked and the experiences of women who have found their service empowering and feminist does not necessarily demean and dismiss the experiences of those who were assaulted or harassed. We need to be figuring out how to make more experiences like mine and a female marine’s, and doing so requires studying our experiences and their contexts.

  44. jane
    Posted September 30, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I know that my experience isn’t typical, and I know that a lot of bad shit is going down. I just think it’s important to recognize that there is a big effort happening to try to improve things. It may not have eradicated a lot of the bullshit–yet–but things have gotten better, at least by a lot of different measurements. That isn’t to say that they’re good, or that there isn’t a lot of work yet to be done, or that we’re not going to need bigger and better mousetraps.
    Mostly I think that reporting on the military should be accurate: there’s a lot of programs, a lot of people and a lot of money working on the problem, and people should be aware of this.

  45. littlefoot
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    In how many private sector jobs do you live 24/7 with the people you work with?

  46. A female Marine
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Also, when you give the impression that the military is a giant horror pit for all women, all the time, that’s unfair to everyone in the military who isn’t part of the problem or hasn’t suffered any problems. Including men.

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