That’s only one year of victimization in what military brass admitted before Congress was a “cancer.” If it weren’t for the seven women on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I’d expect such reports to be buried.
Hearing so many of the old Congressmen respond to this with stupidity, sexism, and pseudo-science, even surprised those of us who expect so little out of right-wing politicians. And blaming the existence of women in the military ignores the fact that 14,000 of those victims were men.
In one of the most insightful analyses of this epidemic, Ana Marie Cox of The Guardian concludes: “it’s something about being in the military today, at this moment in history, fighting the kinds of wars we’re fighting with the kinds of troops we have.” [“The Real Roots of the US Military’s Epidemic of Sexual Assaults”]
“It’s a truism among feminists – if not senators – that rape is a crime of violence, not of sexual attraction…. Could it be that the real crisis in today’s military is tied to not who these soldiers are, but the nature of what we’re asking them to do?”
Today’s military with a growing number of soldiers and veterans diagnosed with mental illness and chemical dependency, with the tactics of modern warfare and the length of troop service, exacerbates what we’ve taught our men culturally and our military men in particular.
It starts with what we teach our boys as they enter puberty about what manly sex is. In Scared Straight I called that conditioning, the “Nine Layers of Getting Laid,” a paradigm that continues to dominate junior high and high school male gender roles idealized in the studs of contemporary media.
This cultural conditioning is often excused as the male sex drive. Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss said in the Senate hearings: “Gee whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.”
But the third of those layers is that “Getting Laid” for high school boys is impersonal. “It is best if a boy isn’t otherwise acquainted with, or a friend of, the sexual object. One does not marry the girl who is the best lay…. Getting laid, therefore, is not about the person.
The more that this impersonal layer is internalized – the more it’s felt that the sex isn’t done to a person but an object – the easier it is to deny that there’s violence involved. One isn’t really hurting another person.
Add to this the seventh layer – that “Getting Laid” is self-centered, that it’s done to someone on the agenda of a real man – and the sexual act becomes an act of power over another. One can see this in the raping of men by men who identify as heterosexual in our prisons – a situation that’s often taken as a joke.
Now, most of our boys know that something like this conditioning is there in their teen years but they fight it silently, internally and seemingly alone because men don’t talk about their deviation from manhood. But what happens when we add the conditioning men encounter in the military?
A key goal of the military’s basic training is turning recruits into warriors who’ll be ready to kill others if called to do so. But a man can’t do this if he thinks of the enemy personally.
That’s why enemies must be turned into stereotypes and described with phrases such as: “human life isn’t valuable to them.” The face of the enemy must be inhuman or it would be hard to destroy it.
Military conditioning thereby adds another layer to thinking impersonally of others. Other human beings are objects, not living, loving human beings who are sons and daughters of real people.
But it also de-humanizes the warrior himself. His own value comes to be understood as contingent upon not only is ability to kill others but his willingness to be killed defending the system.
A true warrior expects violence. He could even use its presence to finally provide value for his own insecure manly self-worth.
He can earn a medal from real men at the top for killing another man, after all, but be killed for loving one. Valuing oneself for such violence turned inward has spurred a record level of suicides among those who serve and veterans, so that in the past twelve years more have died by their own hand than by enemy fire.
What’s actually surprising is that these figures aren’t much higher. The conditioning is doing everything it can to encourage sexual assault as an act of power and violence over some object so as to assert one’s manhood and worth.
But they’re not, because men aren’t inherently like this. They’re not naturally driven by testosterone and hormones, no matter how we might use these as excuses.
It’s not that “boys will be boys,” for a lot of abusive manhood conditioning software has to be installed in our little naturally loving, caring, feeling boys to make them killers and sexual assaulters. And enforcing that is the fear that if they don’t act tough, hard, cold, and object-oriented enough, they’ll be put down as girly and fags.
Add to this their impression that society has given up on men. It’s not challenging their conditioning but sending them to anger management, drugging them, or finally throwing them away in prison.
This conditioning is all learned, and what is learned can be unlearned. But do we have the courage to lead that charge?