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.