Military entertainment promoting rape?

This upcoming Christmas will be the 2nd holiday season I will have been deployed overseas in support of this so-called War on Terrorism. The first time I was here, I was a younger Soldier, and did not know much about the feminism that I eventually found and grew to love.
This time, back and armed with a feminism perspective (among other things), I am starting to see a lot of the things that should have bothered me, and things that I see as being a big contribution to the incidences of rape in the military.
Each holiday, those “appreciative” of the services rendered by military personnel often come into our areas of operations to entertain us; these include pro athletes, celebrities and comedians. But each year, it seems, these Morale, Welfare and Recreation events also include entertainment that’s questionable – cheerleaders, Hooters girls and other scantily-dressed women, whose purpose is simply to entertain Soldiers (need I say male?) and be eye-candy.

While I am not in favor of censorship, and most certainly, do not believe there is direct connection between watching scantily-dressed women dance to turn men on, and rape. What I do believe is that the objectification of women – that is, the separation of women’s bodies from their humanities, can lead to rape.
Yet, each year, this happens over and over again – conventionally beautiful women entertain sex-starved Soldiers who are already working in an environment in which traditional masculinity runs amok. Is it too much of a stretch, then, to think that these males, watch these women and objectify them, and then, in turn, objectify their own sisters in arms, making it much easier for them to rape?
It’s not just rape that’s the problem, though – while that number is high, and as the latest Stars and Stripes study showed, on the rise, this also contributes to sexual harassment, which has an effect that, at times, can be just as harmful to women. Of course, I am not comparing rape to sexual harassment, but I am saying sexual harassment also makes it difficult on women to perform the job well, and given the power dynamics in the military ranks, can make it very difficult for women to report these incidences.
By bringing in these entertainers, the military acknowledges that it sees women as simply entertainment for men – and what happens when these women leave after their week of being in theater? Soldiers turn to entertainment by observing, talking about and degrading other Soldiers. Degradation and the objectification of human beings, we know, is one of the passages of sexual assaults.
There is no other organization in the world in which it would be acceptable for the heads of companies to bring in what I would consider “adult entertainment” to entertain its employees, yet this culture is almost the norm, and perfectly acceptable within the Army. At times, I’ve wondered if it’s my tax dollars – the same money that the military pays me each two weeks that is supporting these MWR activities. If it is, then it is my own tax dollars – and yours, too, that are implicitly contributing to the sexual assaults and harassments taking place in theater.
On a more theoretical point – the military also apparently thinks that Morale, Welfare and Recreation, in this case, is limited to male entertainment. Not that I am advocating the Army bring male dancers in theater to entertain women, because it’s just as wrong, but I cannot help but think the lack of male entertainers, whose goal is to whet women’s sexual appetite (and the Play on Word award goes to me!),is a result of two things: a denial and acknowledgment of women’s sexuality, and the subtle hint of homophobia, in that if gay male Soldiers saw other men, they would be turned on, and then God knows what will happen in the shower when they see a straight man they are attracted to!
For all its problems and the way it’s scrambling to try to stop sexual assaults in theater, the very least the military can do is put a stop to these peep shows. The unfortunate thing, however, is that those responsible for many of the programs taking place in the military for troop morale, and indeed, for their own safety, are neither equipped to deal with these problems from a gendered perspective, nor do they have the experiences to understand the various dynamics being played out.
At some point, somewhere, someone with enough rank (I am talking about senior officers) will bring up these issues, and they will take the step necessary in curbing the rape culture that the military – no matter how implicitly and innocently – is promoting. But I am not holding my breath.

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    The upper ranks really do resemble one another closely across services, for one thing because once (and if) attaining that bird, a senior officer will be heading to a joint command or the Pentagon, to learn how the other 3/4 live.
    As to the issue at hand, as a servicemember who served in the Box, and went to (well, guarded) one of these USO girly-shows, I have to say I was deeply embarrassed, both on behalf of the girls who struck me as willing to be objectified for patriotic reasons, and naive enough to think it was a good idea, AND on behalf of my fellow servicemen, almost half of them married, who just wanted to do their service and go home to their wives or girlfriends (or boyfriends; there were not a few ladies in the crowd.) I will say I was only proud of the young men and women not on the stage, who kept their cool, had a good time, drank a (mandated limit) couple of brews, and then went back to their jobs, still looking forward to going home to wives, girlfriends, and boyfriends.
    As to my personal impression of the show? It was fun; there was comedy, dancing, some very, very pretty girls, and I enjoyed it some, but probably would have enjoyed it better if the girls hadn’t been there simply as eye candy. I’m not comfortable with that, as it makes my job in middle management harder, knowing as I do, that however much common sense and esprit de corps they may possess, young men and women are still young men and women, and feelings of attraction between them can go badly wrong. Distracting spectacles of flesh are fun distractions, but presenting some women as objects, and others as brothers-in-arms, is an unnecessarily confusing complication to an already-complicated thing: trying to relate well to people you don’t know all that well, thousands of miles from everyone else you can relate to except in the broader sense of human community.
    I will say, I had the privilege of talking over the show afterward (technically we were just bullshitting, but the senior NCO in the back of my head never turns off) with a couple of the boys and one of the girls in my squadron, and they all enjoyed it, even though one of the boys thought the eye-candy was a bit much for him and made him kind of uncomfortable on behalf of the ladies in the audience. The female corporal said it hadn’t bothered her, since she couldn’t relate well to cheerleaders anyway, which had the ring of truth, but I was glad to see the subject broached and dispensed with maturely and comfortably, and professional relationships nurtured and maintained by a bonding experience, which anything fun in a place you work 12 hours on and 12 hours off ought to be.

  • nella

    Thank you for writing this. My boyfriend is in the military and he is also a feminist. I’m sure he would agree with you on these issues. I hope this aspect of military culture will one day change.

  • Airtight

    Marc, and those who agree with the premise, why do you single out the military for these actions? It was my understanding that Hooters and cheerleaders are a part of most big towns and cities all throughout the US. Children are even familiar with them both. -So why exactly is this a major problem when the military does it?
    If you argue that society as whole is male centric and highly sexualized (which I don’t disagree with), then why again should the onus be on the military to take up the cause to stop offending women when mainstream society itself finds little issue? If your theories are true, men wouldn’t need to wait till getting into the military to start raping women- if that’s what watching cheerleaders and going to Hooters makes men do, as it seems your topic is not so slyly suggesting. I’d think you guys would be more ticked at the idea your little brothers, your sons, your neighbors sons seeing women on tv being presented as sexual objects than you would of adult military personnel. The idea that you direct your complaints strictly at the military makes me question your cause.

  • Airtight

    *And why would you guys claim the objectifying of women as ‘entertainment'(cheerleaders are in no way considered “adult entertainment” btw) is ultimately a contribution to uncontrollable urges and psychological desensitization in men which will eventually lead to them committing rape — then go on to counter the ideal that allows ‘boys to be boys'; as you argue that men do not have uncontrollable sexual urges of some sort, nor do they have a higher ‘sexual drive’ than women? If men are not animalistic in their sexual desires, then these adult men should have no problem separating the entertainment provided by female cheerleaders and Hooters Girls and the real live human virtue of their female compatriots. Seems you are playing both sides of that argument here.