Sexism in the Military

In early 2014 the BBC released a report exposing the subculture of sexism and sexual violence that exists within the British and American military services.

They confronted the military’s failure to address the severity of the situation, and their inability to make any changes to the support given to female officers who find themselves in several precarious and threatening situations.

Since then more cases have come to light where women have been forced out of their position within the military, or given dishonorable discharge because of the complaints they have made.

The frequency with which these events happens, and the way in which they are dealt, with responsibility and blame falling on the women, presents the broken and dire picture of the military and shows that the need for people to fight for women’s rights and equality  is needed more than ever.

All too often within contemporary society Feminism is tossed around as an ugly word, because the connotations attached to it have spread false ideas and bred misunderstanding surrounding the true values behind the concept.

Feminism is not a word reserved for a group of lesbian high-top wearing man hating women; it is about the entitlement for women to have equality, the same rights as men have always had within our patriarchal society. We are beyond the time of the suffragette, we do possess voting rights, we are allowed an education: but this does not mean that these days Feminism is redundant.

Too many have fallen prey to ignorance of the crimes and abuse still occurring within today’s society. We have entered an age dangerously close to ‘rape culture’ and an acceptance of exploitation of the female body. We still pressure young girls to look a certain way and be the ‘ideal woman.’

Cat-calling, ‘prick tease’ vocabulary and the condemnation of a woman’s libido are very real events existing in our world. These are issues that need to be carefully considered, but also more severe is the other behaviours that they lead to and that is the idea that it is ok to use a woman’s body however you like, even if they do not consent.

This is not ok. This is rape.

The military, a respected public service profession full of traditional upstanding values, that claim to breed moral and respectable citizens that abide by the strictest honours and codes; are being taught that these things are ok.

And what is worse is the women involved in this service are being left vulnerable, with nowhere to turn.  They are being backed into a corner, where most who become the victims of this kind of behaviour are too afraid to come forward because they believe it may cost them their careers.

The issue has strangle held the military after a series of profile cases came to light involving key high-ranking generals within the institute who were accused of committing sexual abuse with female academy students. It has finally resulted in justice for the women officers involved, when the media attention led to the issue needing to be addressed.

Following this the issue was taken up by several female senators that published a pentagon report tackling the misogynistic attitude residing within the U.S military training academies, and the revelation of disrespectful attitudes existing within students and teaching staff in the schools. It highlighted the long history of sexist attitude that is deeply bedded within the military education systems.

Obama in response signed the defence appropriations bill in December of 2014 that has since tightened the rules of how sexual assault cases are dealt with, within the military’s justice system.

However it has since been criticised that more needs to be done to tackle the true origins of the problem. The military is still very much a man’s world, and the behaviours and strict obedience policies taught in the military currently exist to only further indent the inferiority of a women’s position within these young men’s eyes. They are the same expressions of devaluation and objectification that underpin capitalist society as a whole.

According to a study conducted by the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Centre, that interviewed more than 500 female veterans, it was found that many workplace factors, such as the way in which Superiors addressed the female cadets, contributes to risk of sexual assault women receive during their period of military service.

The hype surrounding the media has not addressed the thousands of women that have become victims to the outdated and patriarchal structures that make up military culture. It is these beliefs that need to change if any true justice or improvement is to be achieved.

For the majority of the women affected by sexual harassment and abuse cases, the problems begin in the academies, often the female cadets are met with conditions of openly tolerated hostility, uninvited sexual advances and abusive incidents of hazing.

A recent survey has revealed that 70.9 % of women currently in service with the military have been on the receiving end of various forms of sexual harassment, and what is more is that the affected personnel come from all ranks of the military.

The problem is particular bad in areas of Iraq where women have been forced to adopt tactics of a “buddy system”  where they remain in pairs at all times, because they fear being raped by fellow soldiers and their superiors.

30 % if the 70.9% who have dealt with incidents of sexual harassment have at some time in their service experienced either attempted or full incidents of rape. In comparison to the figures acknowledged by the military, these percentages are much higher.

Several years ago the provost of the naval war college was asked in a Command climate survey whether or not women have complained about sexism within the service. He responded by saying that even though they had, the numbers were not statistically significant seen as the number of women within the institution was so low. In their eyes this equated to there been no problem.

At   a Department of Defence lab facility in America, an Equal Employment Opportunity survey was conducted and found that men working there believed gender was in no way an obstacle for promotion or choice assignments. The women interviewed contested this view. However again, because the number of female staff members was proportionally trumped by male employees, the statistical conclusion was skewed and the issue once again brushed over.

It is due this ignorance that many female officers are too afraid to report when they have assaulted. For the few who do, it is covered up by higher officials. Some of the women are then removed from the service due with other reasons been documented as to why they have left. There have even been cases of the falsification of medical documents that have resulted in the medical leave of the female officer involved.

The victims who did remain after submitting a complaint often received next to no medical treatment or counselling in the aftermath, and they are forced to continue working alongside the men responsible.

It seems to me that while the government may have signed a bit of paper requesting better judicial action when addressing the issue, this in no way makes up for the thousands of women that have been failed by the military. It is only the very beginnings of what changes need to be made in the structuring of our westernised military systems, and the actions that need to made in order to properly address this issue, and the larger problems it highlights concerning our society’s view of women.

In fact it only acts as further proof that gender is in no way equal. It is still just as much of a problem as it has always been and more people need to start paying attention to that fact and doing something about it. Feminism is just as relevant today as it always has been.

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