Sexual Harassment Begins w/ Objectifying Women
Today, I followed the heated discussion on Army Wife 101′s facebook page about the page “Knockers for the Troops.” This page purports to support “the troops” by posting images of women’s breasts (mostly covered, depending on the image) for “the troops” enjoyment. Army Wife 101 and others suggested that this is totally fine because “the troops” aren’t “getting any” on deployment. The commentors on the discussion accused women who felt this page was inappropriate must be “insecure” in their marriage and that “it’s just their [men] nature to look.” (i.e. “boys will be boys”)
Army Wife 101 posed the question: “How does this affect anyone?”
Let me answer.
Many of my female friends are in the military. They are “troops” too. I fail to see how “Knockers for the troops” supports their interests and I would argue that it undermines women in the military by reinforcing the idea that women are sexual objects to be objectified by men.
I, like these female troops I know, work in a male dominated workplace. When I was recently hired to my new job, someone actually said to my boss, in front of me, “She’s a girl” in a shocked tone of voice. Beyond the PhD level women are a rarity in academia, especially in the physical sciences (except biology). And I have experienced more than my fair share of sexism, as have my female colleagues.
One of the things that contributes to sexism and sexual harassment is the view of women in general. In workplaces where porn, sexual pictures (not necessarily porn), sexual jokes and language, etc is tolerated, women are much more likely to be abused by their male counterparts, under the guise of “boys will be boys” (aka the Captain Honors scandal). This type of behavior leads to a culture of permissiveness toward mistreating women. In the case of my sisters in arms, sexual harassment and abuse leads to high rates of PTSD, which is an absolute travesty. I don’t want my sister’s downrange having to experience that type of behavior.
The likelihood is that they will. Many female servicemembers experience sexual harassment. Many are sexually assaulted in the workplace. These behaviors stem from a workplace that condones treating women as sex objects. And put quite simply, the objectification of women begins with simple things, like sexualized images of women being accessible in the workplace, and make no mistake about it, Afghanistan is a workplace, as are Navy vessels. If a man or woman chooses to engage in viewing such material, it must be confined to personal quarters (i.e his/her rack) and not public forums, including social networking sites.
The solution to sexual harassment begins not with the top brass issuing an edict (which they’ve done, only to not really have it change things), but at home. Military spouses need to value themselves enough to not condone the sexualization of women’s bodies. They need to do this for “the troops” they support, including the 15% of female troops who are negatively impacted by military culture that objectifies women. Military spouses also need to do this for themselves. Domestic violence also stems from the same source, objectification of women. Therefore, preventing sexual and domestic violence in military families begins by working to change the way men and women view women’s roles.
Let me be clear, I support free speech and I believe that there should be little constrain on the exercise of it (with clear exceptions); however, I also believe that military spouses supporting a culture of objectification of women’s bodies is wholly and entirely inappropriate. Arguing it helps our deployed servicemembers is faulty logic that devalues the very fundamental and important role female servicemembers and spouses play in the military and generates a culturally permissive attitude toward sexual harassment and sexual assault. When we see COs and whole commands basically fired for sexual harassment, civilians ask what is wrong with our military and why these things aren’t corrected long before they get out of control. The answer is that they could be, if we all stood up and said that we would not tolerate objectifying behaviors, if we stated that “boys will be boys” is not an acceptable argument for abuse, and most importantly if we truly stood shoulder to shoulder with our sisters in arms and valued their sacrifices as highly as any man’s.