Jan 252013
 

Since Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that women will now be allowed to serve in combat, the argument has been made from liberals and conservatives and from military brass that this move will help stop the epidemic of sexual assault in the military.  As I pointed out yesterday,

It is also hugely ironic that Panetta’s announcement came the same day that Congress was holding yet another hearing on the intractable problem of sexual assault in the military.  The truth is that women are more likely to be attacked by other members of our military than by any enemy.  The New York Times’ Gail Collins makes the unfortunate suggestion that having more women rise in the ranks might,

make things better because it will mean more women at the top of the military, and that, inevitably, will mean more attention to women’s issues.

Sexual assault in the military is not a woman’s issue.  It is an epidemic and a national disgrace that is a direct result of the misguided notion of militarism that posits that strength comes from asserting power over others.  Militarism has never been good for women because, among other reasons, it places them in harms way by armies that rape and assault women as a de facto military strategy and because women are more likely to become refugees, unable to support themselves or take care of their families and placing them in further danger of physical and sexual attack.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also makes the argument that more equality will lead to more respect and hence less sexual assault in the ranks,  but the military is still a top-down power over structure and women who do serve in lower ranks will continue to be vulnerable.  And let’s face it, we live in a country where Congress just failed to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act and where we still don’t have the Equal Rights Amendment and the Senate has yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  The disrespect of women’s rights, safety and well-being is a de facto national policy in the U.S.

A compelling argument can be made that women in positions of authority and power are likely to be a constructive influence in addressing this problem.  But getting there is a slow process and let’s be real–women are a minority in the military and the odds of them being a substantive part of leadership any time soon is nil.  There is also an argument to be made that when women and men are treated equally as a matter of policy then men are less likely to treat women as less than equal.

But in this case, we need to take a very hard look at what kind of equality we are granting to women and in this case it is the equal right to participate in a system that perpetrates and perpetuates violence and creates an atmosphere where women are highly likely to be victimized.  That should not be the kind of equality we aspire to reach.

As I have said numerous times, I do not think the problem of sexual assault is truly solvable in a power over, dominator system such as the military, and as Holly Kearl’s recent reporting of the Congressional hearings into sexual assault in the military make clear, the Pentagon is not at all willing to take the necessary steps to address the issue or to even listen to the victims.

Just like the other military branches, however, the Air Force does not want to change the authority commanders have over the reporting and disciplinary process in these cases, even though clearly there are commanders who abuse their authority.

During the Q-and-A portion, I was shocked to learn from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) that not a single survivor who had come forward was interviewed during the Lackland investigation. Speier said she even wrote a letter in November requesting that survivors’ voices be included — and she was ignored.

If the military is not prepared to listen and to take very doable action now, telling women that going into combat is going to solve the problem is an outrage.  The notion of going into combat and risking our lives and our health when the military has demonstrated time and again that they don’t want to act decisively to stop sexual abuse in the ranks should really give us pause to consider just how little they value women’s lives.

———-

I also want to share some additional thoughts in response to my earlier piece on why I don’t think women in combat is a step forward.  I am fully aware that women are all too often already in de facto combat positions and they do deserve to be compensated accordingly.  That does not mean we should aspire to that as a way achieve equality.  As someone recently pointed out to me, we need to take into account the context in which we are achieving equality, in this case a system that has traditionally seen women’s bodies as weapons of war and/or regrettable collateral damage.  Nor am I persuaded by the argument that there will always be war so therefore why shouldn’t women participate equally.  There doesn’t always have to be war and better we should work to stop that from happening.  Nor should we consider the military to be a way to get an education and job training.  That isn’t the purpose of our armed forces, only an incidental necessity.  If we want better job training and education then we need to fund those programs and make them affordable instead of sinking our money into the military.

 

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 January 25, 2013  Posted by on January 25, 2013 2 Responses »
Jan 242013
 

Crucial as it is for women to have the same opportunities and benefits as men who do comparable work, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s announcement that women can now serve in combat positions in the military should not be misconstrued as a step forward for women.

As the women’s rights advocacy group AF3IRM GABNET said in a statement on their Facebook page,

The Pentagon lifted a ban on women in combat, stating that women can now serve on the frontlines. We in AF3IRM know that this is already common practice and that women of color and transnational women are already disproportionately over-represented in the US military. They are pushed into military duty due to poverty and lack of other options.

We do not celebrate this new “elimination of a gender-based barrier.” We do not celebrate sending us women overseas to kill other women and children in someone else’s name. (emphasis mine)

According to a study by the PEW Research Center, women now make up 14% of the enlisted ranks and 16% of the officer ranks.  A look at the racial breakdown of those numbers is instructive,

While 71% of active-duty men are white (including white Hispanics), only about half of active-duty women (53%) are white. The share of white women in the military is also significantly smaller than their proportion in the civilian female population ages 18-44 (78%).

More than three-in-ten (31%) military women are black (including black Hispanics). This is almost twice the share of active-duty men who are black (16%), as well as more than twice the proportion of civilian women ages 18-44 who are black (15%). In addition, more women in the active-duty force than men in the active-duty force and civilian women ages 18-44 are of mixed racial background or some other race.

The share of Hispanics among women and men in the armed forces is similar (13% vs. 12%, respectively), and the share of military women who are Hispanic is smaller than that of Hispanic women ages 18-44 in the U.S. civilian population (16%). But the number of Hispanics enlisting in the active-duty force each year has risen significantly over the last decade. In 2003, Hispanic women and men made up 11.5% of the new enlistees to the military; just seven years later, in 2010, they made up 16.9% of non-prior service enlisted accessions.

Further,

More than eight-in-ten post-9/11 female veterans say they joined to serve their country or receive education benefits (83% and 82%, respectively). Fully 70% say they joined to see more of the world and almost as many (67%) say they joined to gain job skills.

However, there is one key difference in the reasons that men and women joined the military. Some 42% of female veterans say they joined the military because jobs were hard to find, compared with one-quarter of men.

The take away here should be that we need to take a good hard look at the ways in which we are failing these women in regard to job training and  job availability in the civilian world because as it stands now, we are effectively asking the most disenfranchised among us to fight our wars, and this move only makes it  more dangerous for them, regardless of rank and benefits.

It is also hugely ironic that Panetta’s announcement came the same day that Congress was holding yet another hearing on the intractable problem of sexual assault in the military.  The truth is that women are more likely to be attacked by other members of our military than by any enemy.  The New York Times’ Gail Collins makes the unfortunate suggestion that having more women rise in the ranks might,

make things better because it will mean more women at the top of the military, and that, inevitably, will mean more attention to women’s issues.

Sexual assault in the military is not a woman’s issue.  It is an epidemic and a national disgrace that is a direct result of the misguided notion of militarism that posits that strength comes from asserting power over others.  Militarism has never been good for women because, among other reasons, it places them in harms way by armies that rape and assault women as a de facto military strategy and because women are more likely to become refugees, unable to support themselves or take care of their families and placing them in further danger of physical and sexual attack.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also makes the argument that more equality will lead to more respect and hence less sexual assault in the ranks,  but the military is still a top-down power over structure and women who do serve in lower ranks will continue to be vulnerable.  And let’s face it, we live in a country where Congress just failed to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act and where we still don’t have the Equal Rights Amendment and the Senate has yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  The disrespect of women’s rights, safety and well-being is a de facto national policy in the U.S.

It is being said that  drafting women will inevitably follow and I am not in favor of that any more than I think drafting men is a good thing.  Let’s be honest about the mission of the U.S. military.  It isn’t to defend this country, there hasn’t been a war for that purpose in my lifetime.  Instead we have repeatedly engaged in military operations for the sole purpose of  asserting empire and domination.

If the purpose of the military was truly to defend the citizens of this country and make it strong, they would be protecting women from violence in their own ranks and in every city in this country.  They would be building up our shorelines to protect us from the inevitable further flooding of climate change.  They would be re-building our tattered roads and utilities and installing solar panels so that we do not depend on  non-renewable resources (of which incidentally they are one of the biggest users).

But instead, our military serves as the global bully, taking swings at whomever we don’t like at at any particular moment, with little heed to the negative impact that has on us all.  And every time there is a war, civilian women who live where the war is being fought are victimized.  And here at home more money is poured into the military while social services, education and health care are desperately underfunded and for poor women and women of color we perpetuate the cycle that propels them to join the military for reasons such as getting an education and job training.

So yes, equal rights and benefits are necessary, but not at the expense of condoning  a system that requires us to kill and destroy for empire and perpetuates a myriad of harms against women, against men too, and against Mother Earth.  That is a false and harmful premise of equality that we must reject.

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 January 24, 2013  Posted by on January 24, 2013 6 Responses »
Jan 212013
 

What can we do to end rape?  It is a good question and one that Lauren Wolfe asked recently on CNN and on Women Under Siege’s website,

…there’s a lot to try to end: global legal failings that allow rapists to commit crimes with impunity; attitudes that blame the victim, leading to suicides and honor killings; misogyny that conditions men (and women) to view women and girls as less than human, as objects to be controlled.

But there are ways we can change each of these circumstances—a man-made problem is not inevitable.

A number of thoughtful answers have been offered on Women Under Siege’s website (although I strongly disagree with Roseanne Barr’s dangerous suggestion that women arm themselves–the odds of weapons being turned on the women themselves or being used to kill someone else are unacceptable).  While many of the ideas suggested can and should be done, the bottom line is that as long as we live in a patriarchal society, rape is going to continue.

Nowhere is there a better example of this than the U.S. military where despite numerous hearings, reports, commissions, etc. there is a huge problem with sexual assault and the military just recently made clear that they really do not intend to make  changes in the way these crimes are reported that would make it more likely that these crimes would be prosecuted.  And as I have pointed out numerous times before,

(S)exual assault has always been a de facto way of asserting military power over, and allowing a change in control over soldiers would open a significant pandora’s box of culpability for the military and for those who wield violence everywhere.

Add to that a recent AP report that sex is what gets many military commanders fired.  Reprehensibly, the AP uses “sex” to describe both consensual and non-consensual acts, as if they are one and the same, which unfortunately, many men, especially those who wield power over others, seem to think is true.

At least 30 percent of military commanders fired over the past eight years lost their jobs because of sexually related offenses, including harassment, adultery, and improper relationships, according to statistics compiled by The Associated Press.

In the civilian world, it can literally take decades to get rape kits processes while perpetrators go free and the Senate has taken action to change this, but after the House’s recent refusal to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to join the Senate in rectifying this huge human rights atrocity even though, as The New York Times quite rightly says, there should not be anything ideological to discuss about this, it is necessary and urgent legislation.

The point I am trying to make is this–we live in a country (and a world) where rape and sexual assault is allowed to happen by governing bodies that refuse to take action to stop it.  And the reason they do so is the key stumbling block to ending rape, this year or anytime soon, namely that to do so would be to put a stop to a significant form of power-over and in a patriarchal world, that isn’t going to happen.

So if we want to end rape, we need to make some huge changes in how we do things.  That the House refused to re-authorize VAWA is appalling, but even worse than that is the fact that more than 30 years after it was introduced, the Senate has yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and we still don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment in this country.  Those two measures would go a long way in codifying women’s human rights in the U.S. and in rectifying the patriarchal structures that allow systemic human rights abuses against women.  And that of course is also why they have languished.

Things like addressing the socialization of boys and educating law enforcement and the media about better ways to address sexual assault and rape is important, but for that to happen in a sustained and meaningful way requires far larger systemic changes and in the U.S. measures like CEDAW and the ERA would be a huge step in that direction because they would make women’s human rights a national policy.

It is excellent that Wolfe has raised this question because it needs to be answered and we need to let our elected officials know that it is a priority issue, not just in the U.S. but throughout the world.

 

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 January 21, 2013  Posted by on January 21, 2013 Comments Off
Jan 182013
 

Lather Rinse RepeatThe recent horrific assaults on women in Steubenville and New Delhi require a strong response.  Yet as happens all too often, our horror seems to make it difficult for us to fully recognize the pandemic nature of the problem we are addressing.

It is, as other writers have said, essential to make the connection between these incidents. But while they are particularly ghastly, it is a lot more shocking that horrendous violence against women takes place every minute and it is so common place that perversely, we don’t see it as shocking any more.

There is a war against women that has been raging on this planet since the dawn of patriarchy and it continues unabated today.  Women are sold into slavery they are killed as babies because they are female, they are killed to preserve ‘honor’.  Just a few days ago, a report came out about significant numbers of cases of sexual assault in war-torn Syria.  Hardly a surprise because rape and sexual assault have always been defacto tools of war.  We’ve seen it in the DRC, in Rwanda, in Bosnia and in so many other conflicts.

And in the U.S., as Monica J. Casper points out,

While we reel from spectacular violence that horrifies and makes headlines, mundane violence that harms, terrorizes, and kills women (and often their children) goes largely unnoticed. Domestic violence, with three women on average murdered every day, is more than a silent epidemic; it’s a public health emergency.

Rape kits languish unprocessed in evidence lockers for years  and a small number of mostly white male people known as the GOP members of Congress can block critical legislation such as the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and block ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for more than 30 years.

In our military, the problem of sexual assault continues despite numerous hearings and commissions and reports.  As Holly Kearl reports,

Only 8 percent of reported military sexual assaults are prosecuted, and only 2 percent of those end in convictions. Overall, reporting is very low.

Many believe that the way sexual assault is reported in the military is a significant part of why sexual assault is rampant and convictions so low.  Yet, according to Kearl,

When members of the commission asked the military leaders if they would be open to changing the reporting process and removing the discretion that the chain of command has over rape reports, the military leaders said no. They felt it was important for commanders to retain control over the reporting and discipline process.

And that is precisely the problem.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve written about hearings and reports about sexual violence in the military.  But little real change comes from them because naming the problem isn’t sufficient– sexual assault has always been a de facto way of asserting military power over, and allowing a change in control over soldiers would open a significant pandora’s box of culpability for the military and for those who wield violence everywhere.  And so reports keep being written and hearings held and nothing much changes.  As Kearl so aptly labels it, what we have is a cycle of lather, rinse, and repeat, which is unfortunately also the perfect descriptor for most of the war that is being waged on women in so many ways.

It is also disheartening but predictable that just a few weeks into 2013, the right-wing attacks on women’s rights in this country are quickly beginning to sound like the same vile misogyny that we’ve been enduring for much too long.  A few days ago Rush Limbaugh told a caller, “You know how to stop abortion? Require that each one occur with a gun.”, and Rep. Phil Gingrey weighed in by doubling down on the now un-elected Todd Akin’s disgusting suggestion that women could shut down pregnancies caused by rape.  The GOP is also not wasting any time re-introducing an ugly assortment of bills that would restrict a woman’s access to abortion, birth control, etc.  In other words, it sounds like 2012, rinse, repeat.

There are a lot of amazing women’s human rights advocates working full tilt to stop the perpetual assault on our lives and to promote constructive and useful changes with the usual assortment of activist tools.  Multiple petitions cross my desk every day, hearings and meetings and rallies are held,  a lather, rinse and repeat response in kind.

These things serve a purpose but they are not sufficient.  The current way of doing things on this planet is failing women miserably and no amount of petitions, hearings and reports is going to change that.  It will require something bigger.  Much bigger.

If there is one woman who knows that and knows how to set such a change in action, it is Eve Ensler, first with the VDay movement that she started and now with her call for 1 Billion Rising which she frames as:

  • A global strike
  • An invitation to dance
  • A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends
  • An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers
  • A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given
  • A new time and a new way of being

There will be 1 Billion Rising events in many locations on February 14, or start your own, check the link above for more info.  It’s time to end  the lather, rinse, repeat cycle of misogyny and violence.

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Many thanks to Holly Kearl for inspiring the title of this piece with her brilliant rinse, repeat analogy.

 

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 January 18, 2013  Posted by on January 18, 2013 Comments Off