Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sexual Assault in the Military: The Washington Times Take

You should read the op-ed by Mackubin Thomas Owens, a Marine infantry veteran of Vietnam, on the topic first.  If you don't care to give the Washington Times (a heavily subsidized right-wing paper) more clicks, the gist of his argument is this:

If women are strong enough for some combat roles, how come are they frail weaklings when it comes to sexual assaults?  And why are we trying to emasculate our fighting men?  And why are we trying to objectify our fighting women?

The answer:  FEMINAZIS.

Hmm.  I don't think the Times will offer me a writing gig any time soon, though I'm both clear and concise. 

What's fun about Owens' piece is how many of the assumptions he uses are disguised in an interesting way. 

For instance, as Media Matters for America points out, more than half of those who reported having been subject to unwanted sexual contact in one study of the military were men.  The percentage of men who report that is much smaller than the percentage of women who report that, because there are many more men than women in the military.  But the point Owens makes disappear is that unwanted sexual contact is not just a problem for women in the military.

Then there's the whole language of anger, aimed at people who believe in gender-equality, the insinuation that concern about sexual assault in the military is just so that we can get our gelding shears out of the pink handbags earlier and turn the military into a group interested in false eyelashes and group hugs and countless other horrors.  I'm pretty sure that this language comes from Mr. Owens' own mind, not from actual people.  But it is a language picked on purpose and its goal is to make sexual assault look like a non-existent problem and perhaps even a victim!

Most importantly, the false dualism Owens sets up between women as strong enough for some combat roles and then frail flowers which need to be protected from sexual assault (which Owens says doesn't happen anyway and if it happens, it is just courting behavior) deserves to be dissected:

First, note that being attacked by a comrade-in-arms is  different from being attacked by an enemy.  There are certain steps one takes in the latter situation and soldiers are trained to take those steps.  But if your assaulter is, say, your military superior?  Are you supposed to throw him/her over your shoulder and then stomp on his/her throat?*  Get him or her in a stranglehold?  What are you supposed to do?

My point is that even a brawny and very fit soldier might have difficulty reacting to such an assault in some way which would later be deemed "correct."  To exert only the minimal amount of physical restraint required is tricky to determine, and, once again, if the assault comes from your superior, most likely a very bad plan to begin with.  Even if the person inflicting unwanted sexual contact on you is not a superior, can you later prove that your physical response wasn't all that happened?  Perhaps you are the one who will be punished.

That's why Owens' dualism is false.  The reason I talk about only physical responses is that those are what Owens really talks about.  If women are not strong enough to repel a rapist, say, why should they be in any combat roles?
*I'm using martial arts ideas here, though I fully understand that most soldiers don't have that kind of training.  The training in itself wouldn't help, however, because of the problems I discuss in applying it in real-world situations.