Big kafuffle. After going public last year with a flat-out denial that there was any kind of problem, the Chief of Canada’s Defence Staff was wiping egg off his face this week when the study he commissioned revealed a culture of misogyny in our military.
And We’re Surprised?
Check out any police force or other bastion of male power and violence. While a certain number – perhaps even the vast majority, nowadays – of people become soldiers, police officers, or firefighters to help and serve others, it cannot be denied that a certain number of individuals (mostly men, but not all) join these organizations because they get to do violent things and play with guns. It has been thus since time immemorial.
The problem is that these oranizations run on pride, and pride is a two-edged sword. While most people are proud of what they are and what they have accomplished, others measure their pride by how many people they feel superior to. And this last group includes the ones responsible for the bullying, the harassment, the sexual assaults that take place in the whole of society. Our more macho organizations are only the most obvious examples.
I was particularly unimpressed at the density of the CBC reporter interviewing people on this topic the other day. He kept asking, “How could this attitude develop?” and, “Who is responsible for allowing this to happen?”
Answer #1: It was always there.
This attitude hasn’t developed. It’s always been there, especially in the armed forces. After all, it isn’t so very long ago that one perk of being in an army was the chance to rape the enemy women after you won the battle. Still happening all over the world.
The report termed the military “a pervasive macho culture where the leadership tolerates abuse.” Well, duh. That’s how armies have always functioned. What do you think Basic Training consists of? Subjecting new recruits to unbearable abuse, on the premise that this will toughen them physically and mentally into good soldiers. It isn’t difficult to see how, with certain people, this institutional abuse can slip over the line into the nasty kind. And an organization that has always valued “toughness,” (read: insensitivity to the feelings of yourself and others) is going to attract the sort of person that has those values already. We are training these guys to kill people; we’re bound to attract a few killers. Well, the same applies to sexual predators and control junkies of all sorts, who are drawn to organizations that give them legitimate power over others.
If It Was Already There, What Changed?
What has caused the problem is the insertion of women into these organizations. I was interested to hear a policewoman state that when she entered her first squad room in the 1980s, the walls were decorated with Playboy and Hustler pinups. I can recall about that time going to pick up a piece of equipment from our AV Repair Department and noting similar adornment on their walls. And I worked for the local School District!
So it isn’t the attitude that has deteriorated. A bad attitude that was already there has become highlighted because of a change in personnel. As long as there were no women around, the boys could indulge in their adolescent behaviour without doing too much damage (unless you’re gay or bi, of course). But once we introduced large numbers of women into the mix, we provided both potential victims and a potential threat. After all, the kind of man who indulges in this sort of activity doesn’t usually have the most secure of psyches. He might feel quite resentful when Mummy comes around and tells him he can’t act like an idiot any more.
Where To Next?
Viewing the problem as part of a developmental process gives us hope that this is a necessary and logical step in the development of our society. We have a problem. We discover it. Then we fix it.
And let’s not get all bent out of shape with the military. It has long been an observation of mine that any group that is segregated from the population suffers from a slanted norm, as the opinions of the group get re-circulated, over and over, and the morals and ethics of normal society get pushed aside through inattention. The fascinating part is that often what shows up is an ugliness that exists in the rest of society as well, just not so overtly.
This is the main reason why policies such as apartheid are so damaging. Introducing any sort of segregation, whether on the basis of skin colour, gender, age or what-have-you, must be considered very carefully; the disadvantages usually outweigh the advantages.
Answer #2: Bureaucracy
The other non-shocker in the military situation was the complete ignorance of the upper staff to the presence of the problem. If you can believe that they really didn’t know, and the head-in-the-sand approach wasn’t just spin.
The major stupidity that permeates bureaucracies is the practice of allowing lower and middle management to regulate their own problems. This is sort of like allowing resource extraction companies to monitor their own cleanup operations, or police forces to investigate their own death-in-custody events. What province of Lala-land are upper level management living in? Who do you think causes these problems? Who is responsible for discipline? The very person that the victim is supposed to report to. And then the Chief of Defence whines that nobody comes forward to complain; how is he to know there is a problem?
When Will We Grow Up?
As far as the military, the police forces, and the fire halls, we can only hope that the introduction of women will result in the maturing of these organizations to the point where a more balanced ethos prevails. Then we might turn our attention to the proliferation of “office politics” and the other misuses of power that occur in our society. Because when we look at the military, we’re talking the tip of the iceberg.
But nobody in power knows anything about that. Just ask them.