Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gender Biased Reasoning behind DADT

This was motivated by a discussion on Facebook, in light of the ruling to repeal DADT. We were talking about how McCain had mentioned that soldiers didn't need such "distractions". I found that interesting, and the more I thought about it, I began to see a pretty frustrating double standard of the way sexual assault and aggression is dealt with in the military.

It's interesting that all of this "no gays in the military" concern is often based in some sort of fear of aggressive sexuality, of unwanted advances, etc. To that I would say- take a gander at the sexual abuse, rape, and harassment that our female service members go through already. That's not something that "might" happen that you're afraid of, it happens at a rate that is higher than for civilians- much higher. One in three women report being raped while serving, and 14% of those rapes are gang rapes. So while everyone is wringing their hands worrying that a gay man is going to hit on someone he is stationed with and offend someone, female service members are actually, in real life, not theoretically, getting sexually assaulted and harassed. And yet instead of dealing with the the REAL, ONGOING, PROVEN problems when it comes to sexual harassment/aggression/assault in the military and the women who have to deal with it, there is all this projected hand wringing over maybes.

This mentality seems to imply that it's just par for the course for a woman to be raped or harassed, but apparently it's just sick and unnatural and terrible and far worse and "distracting" for a dude to get hit on by another dude, or worry about a guy having a crush on him. By all this talking about thinly veiled sexual aggression fears over what MIGHT happen, the fact of the real problem that is already going on is being either ignored, or is seen as being not as bad as potential male on male situations.

Just so I'm clear, it is NEVER ok for anyone to have to deal with unwanted sexual advances. It's not "easier" or "better" or "harder" being a man versus being a woman in those situations. I'm just saying this whole line of argument about "distractions" makes no sense to me. If these kinds of "distractions" are so terrible for unit cohesion, then why hasn't the military done more to protect its female service members? And to give them adequate counseling and care after being raped? Or to make it more difficult for this kind of thing to go on? This problem of military sexual abuse is so rampant, in fact, that the military now allows a woman to anonymously report a rape, without having to formally charge her attacker. This way, if she is afraid of accusing her attacker she can report the incident so that she can get medical care afterward- but often the doctors are untrained in rape trauma, which furthers the damage. All this is to say that if we're going to hand wring over the men having to suffer unwanted advances in a hypothetical future world, we damn sure should be doing more to address what's already happening now.

Which brings me to a logical conclusion question- if "distractions" or possible sexual advances are terrible enough to prevent gays from serving openly, shouldn't those who are against gays serving openly also be against women serving? At least their concerns would be consistent. Because right now, it kind of sounds like people are saying "the current sexual harassment and assault problems we have are ok, 'cause, you know, it's hetero-normative. But potential gay sexual harassment problems are wrong because being gay is wrong". It also sounds like they care more about men being protected from sexual abuse than about women being protected from it. Lastly, let's not forget that women can sexually harass men, stalk them, act violently against them, etc. We already have a mixed sex military, and thousands of cases of sexual abuse, so the concerns about sexual tension or problems with gay people serving are, sadly, redundant. If people want to think that such problems will only begin to exist when gay people serve openly, then they are willfully ignoring reality and being hugely insensitive to the experiences of those in the military who have been victims of abuse.

One of hundreds of articles on the issue of military sexual abuse can be found here-


  1. First, how awesome that they passed the bill! It was overdue and I am so glad that we get to see this policy come to an end.

    Second, I am so glad that you brought up the sexual harassment that almost all women who serve have to face. And, horribly, how many of them are victims of sexual assault. With all the attention this bill has drawn it would be great if some of that momentum could carry us through to conversations (and action) about women's well being in the armed forces.

    A lot of the same anti arguments were used about women serving. And, sadly, a number of the people against gays serving openly are also still displeased that women can enlist. So I guess some of them have followed their logic through to the end, not that they should be commended for that.

    Oh, and one last thing. All the imagined concern about gay men hitting straight men and how upsetting that would be blah blah blah, largely ignores the fact that many homosexual service members (and would-be service members) are gay women. They just get cut out of the conversation like they don't even exist. Also, it sadly ignores the fact that many of these men and women are already partners in committed, long-term relationships.

  2. Wow. That comment came out long.

  3. If you want to better understand these issues, homophobia and the mistreatment of women, read "Honor Betrayed: Sexual Abuse In America's Military."

  4. Gogo- No worries about the length, I really liked the points you made. Especially about gay women serving, and how that is largely ignored, or the fact that gay men and women are no more likely to be crazy sex fiends than straight men and women, and as you said many are in committed, long-term relationships. I've been reading for the past few years now about women and their experience in the military, and it is at times pretty saddening, and also shocking. Some of the stories I've read of the way women are treated after a sexual assault are so terrible they make me rage.

    @Anonymous- thank you so much for the recommendation! I always appreciate a good book to help me learn more.

  5. S and I LOVED this post. Inspired a great discussion for us, and we're also horrified regarding the number of women who are sexually assaulted. If we had a daughter who wanted to enlist, we would seriously discourage it unless some changes are made and these numbers go down.

    1 in 3! It's just devastating.

  6. Jenna it means a lot to me that you loved it! Really and truly :) It had been rattling about in my brain a bit, and I was kind of surprised I hadn't thought about it in this way before. Considering you're usually the one giving *me* thought provoking posts to ponder I'm glad I could return the favor.

    And I agree, the numbers are just staggering. I was so taken aback when I first started reading about it.

  7. I agree with you, Cortney.

    It drives me nuts that the "distractions" are based on the idea that every gay guy is going to automatically be attracted to the straight guys, as if they do not have preferences. Now it must be open season for the gay military service men and lesbian service women! Give me a break.

    Anyway, one of my female friends is considering enlisting. She is not able to get a job and she would be able (hypothetically) to get experience in her field. She has two master's degrees in psychology/criminology/CSI-type stuff. She wants to be in the FBI someday. But the rampant misogyny in the military, among other things, makes me worry for her.

  8. Mandy- You're totally right. The way people talk about unbridled/uncontrollable homosexual lust reminds me very much of the way black men were stereotyped in regards to their sexuality as well. The idea that their sexuality is uncontrollable and will be forced upon anyone around them- man it really emphasizes how much fear and othering there is in this issue :(

    I would be concerned about my friend as well. I do hope that she will be able to get the experience she wants. I have a female friend who serves in the Nat'l Guard reserve, and she loves it, so there are definitely good experiences. But those numbers make military service for women a scary prospect in terms of personal safety, one that would still make me worried for myself or my friends.