Small Wars Journal

Military Culture Still Refuses to Include Women

Military Culture Still Refuses to Include Women by Major General (USA Ret.) Robert Scales, Washington Post op-ed.

... But then came the news a few days ago that the officer in charge of preventing sexual harassment in the Air Force was charged with sexual battery. How, I wondered, can a culture that has been instrumental in advancing social change be so regressive when it comes to gender equality? Women accounted for about 2 percent of the military in 1972. Nearly 40 years later, it seems as if we are going backward.

I asked my two daughters, who are Army veterans, what they thought. Their answers were sobering. As with the military’s acceptance of African Americans and gay soldiers, the issue does not lie with observing regulations or executive orders. This is about culture. The rank and file have yet to accept women into their community. Women have fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are no longer excluded from combat zones. But the military has yet to fully accept women or their contributions...

Read on.


Bill C.

Fri, 06/07/2013 - 11:12pm

Regarding the proposal to have prosecutors make the determination on how to handle sexual assault -- and/or other cases -- rather than the unit leadership/commanders.

The thinking on this, in my view, is screwed up.

Commanders generally know what they need to do and do it re: matters that effect combat readiness -- and related good order and discipline -- within their commands. Those commanders that do not -- just like with anything else that is within their responsibility -- are no longer allowed the privilege of command.

Generally speaking, the leadership within a unit knows (sometimes with a little assistance from above -- assistance that does not rise to the point of "unlawful command influence") what the unit needs (inspiration, kicks in the ass; pats on the back, etc.) and acts accordingly.

The prosecutor, unlike the unit leadership, most often resides in and does her/his work at the JAG Office. She or he frequently has little or no exposure to (a) everything that is going on down at Company B, at 1st Battalion, and/or at whatever Brigade and, accordingly, has little or no idea what single thing is needed -- or multiple things are needed -- to keep things running smoothly, to get stuff squared away and to excel.

Prosecutors, I believe, are frequently concerned with their case loads and with winning the cases that have been assigned to them. (Herein, might we have a conflict of interest with this new proposal; in which the prosecutor may not wish to dramatically increase her or his case load and dramatically increase the number of cases she or he must win?)

Thus, the prosecutors, it would seem, unless they are:

a. Relieved of their prosecutorial responsibilities,

b. Placed in charge of the unit, and

c. Made to work down at the unit.

Do not have sufficient time and resources; sufficient incentive; sufficient knowledge, training, skills and ability; and sufficient exposure to the unit and, thus, context with which to work -- so as to make decisions of such magnitude as (a) achieving and maintaining good order and discipline (of one, more, and/or many unique and particular units) and (2) achieving and maintaining combat readiness therein.

So how to fix the sexual assault problem? As with any other instance in which a leader/commander has shown that she or he is unable to do the job.

We don't, I believe, and as with any other matter, change the entire system just because we have a leadership/command problem.

Herein, might the JAG Office provide the commanders with a complete and concise list of any and all administrative and legal measures -- and develop and make available to the unit leadership a "JAG Task Force" devoted to this cause (preventing sexual assault) -- both of which unit leaders/commanders might access and utilize to help them perform their jobs better and achieve the desired results? This, it would seem, is the proper role for the JAG.

All of the recent stories about military men assaulting or harassing women is not a military cultural problem. These men are criminals and if they were punished severely enough, the word would get out. Is the rate of harassment in the military that much higher than a similar demographic in general society? More likely the military has a better system of reporting and the ease of accusing someone facilitates both real and false claims of harassment. If the military really wanted to cut down on violations against women, put the next five flag officers convicted of adultery or harassment in Leavenworth (not the CAC 3 star billet) for a few years. That would scare some of the overinflated bad apples to act appropriately so that the rest of us can stop being bombarded with EO.


Fri, 06/07/2013 - 3:06pm

In reply to by Vitesse et Puissance

From what I've read here and other places, the military has tended to treat men as interchangeable parts since about 100 years ago. I worry that that can't be changed sort of a severe shake up, a defeat in really big war type of shake up. Hopefully the nation could stand it. I worry about that too.

Vitesse et Puissance

Fri, 06/07/2013 - 1:46pm

In reply to by Sparapet

It never ceases to amaze me how much effort the US military puts into making itself into the realization of the American Dream - the idea that we can all succeed at anything if we just try hard enough and no one stands in our way. The facts suggest something quite different. Whether or not we want diversity, what we get in the end is a bell curve. You can increase the performance mean by raising standards, applying positive and negative incentives for meeting - or failing to meet those standards. And in the end, when you've weeded out the losers, the weak and the indifferent, you just get another bell curve. What you don't get is a cohesive unit that works as a team, and where individual excellence is appreciated and rewarded. That takes leadership. It is tiresome, really tiresome, to watch our military treat those who serve in uniform as interchangeable parts, as if they were just a set of tires that you can wear out and throw away with that Gaussian distributed frequency. It is the very egalitarian nature of our military culture that inhibits military justice and blinds us to the danger signs when something is going bad wrong with a soldier or in that unit. Speed and Power Down.


Wed, 06/05/2013 - 11:20pm

In reply to by former_0302


By all means, please attack. A defense can only be improved upon if it is challenged!

I think you are on the money with describing the differing valuation of diversity at the inf squad level vs. the staff planning level. That is precisely the type of value judgement on diversity that I argue for, and it is what I think is fundamentally missing from most any discussion on diversity I have yet seen.

The Diversity Commission that issued the report about repealing the combat exclusion policy, for example, prioritized the following values: equal opportunity for career advancement and equal opportunity to perform given reasonable standards. Ironically, those two values had little to nothing to do with the theoretical argument for diversity that comes out of complex systems studies or case studies of board rooms. The <a href="… Diversity strat plan</a> defines diversity as:
<i>"Diversity is all the different characteristics and attributes of the DoD’s Total Force, which are consistent with our core values, integral to overall readiness and mission accomplishment, and reflective of the nation we serve."</i>

This definition renders diversity as an intrinsic good that is a matter of principle, and that is essentially the depth of the diversity discussion. This is very different from assessing the value of diversity of opinions, approaches, points of view, skill sets, etc. My scouts needed to know how to scout. Having finance corps troops as part of my recon mission would not add any value I care to have, just like having my scouts try to do payroll would have been a disaster. Diversity should be recognized as malleable and measured, not absolute.


Wed, 06/05/2013 - 8:58pm

In reply to by Sparapet

Correct me if I am mistaken--isn't the entire point of basic military training to effectively quash diversity? Everybody wears the same clothes, everybody does the same things, everybody responds to impetus in the same way. Right? It's extremely challenging to get a platoon of recruits to all look the same, do the same things, and respond to stimuli in the same way.

Fast forward to fleet time. Same thing in an infantry platoon. Immediate action drills all need to be done the same way, for instance. Additionally, as I think about it I personally don't want diversity in an infantry platoon--the less, the better. I don't want diversity in PFT scores (I want them all great), I don't want diversity in marksmanship ability (I want them all great), I don't want diversity in basic skills capabilities across the board. I also still want them all looking the same as much as possible (if for no other reason than to make sure squad leaders/ROs aren't more likely to get shot than anyone else), wearing their gear more or less the same way (so they know how to get at each other's IFAKs etc. if necessary)... I can go on, but you get the idea.

At the lower levels, diversity is not something we have traditionally striven for, and there are a myriad of very good reasons for that.

At higher levels, maybe there's more use for it. For guys who sit around in staff rooms/FOB CPs and want to try to figure out a better way to do things, it probably helps to have diverse viewpoints... as long as they're also competent/realistic ones.

Don't mean to attack your points, Sparapet--in reading what you wrote this just occurred to me...


Wed, 06/05/2013 - 11:20am

In reply to by tomkinton


There is plenty of evidence, theoretical and practical, that diversity increases the value of propositions. That is, if you have a more diverse team than not, your organization may well allow for greater novelty and effectiveness. But that is where the argument gets hijacked. I do not believe it is possible to take at face value the statement "diversity adds value". To understand how diversity generates value you must first understand 1. what kind of diversity would add value 2. at what point diversity increase starts to show diminishing returns or even negative feedback 3. what outcome you want for your organization...that is, what is it that you are trying to "improve".

None of these questions are asked most of the time, especially when gender is on the table. These two analogies may illustrate:

1. Adding cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, and cream may make your coffee taste better than black. Doing so may make your coffee easier to pair with other foods for breakfast, altering the flavor to better match the sandwich or omelette. However, if you value the flavor of the coffee bean, then you will lose it. So adding diversity to this "system" is entirely value based.

2. Introducing a CA team to a maneuver company patrolling a large OE, where the CA team acts as an adviser and regular planning partner of the Command team, will open COA's that the command team would simply not be likely to think of. The diversity impact of the different training and mindset of the CA team and the fact that their contributions matter makes that possible.

These two examples illustrate the impact of diversity. But the key is that it is ALWAYS value based. The CA team's input may not have the same bang-for-the-buck if the infantry company is executing a force-on-force maneuver. It may still prove surprisingly useful to have an outside opinion, but its value is significantly less relevant than in a stability op.

With gender what you have is more a kin to the diminished value of the CA team. It may well be that a woman's perspective in the boardroom would be significantly distinct by the virtue of her womanhood rather than her other individual traits (e.g. a lawyer in a room of engineers, or a financier in a room of logisticians). But the literature on this can often be criticized on value-based grounds. Women in product design that targets women makes sense (e.g. Peggy on Mad Men Season 1). But concluding from this observation that women in ANY circumstance increases effectiveness is not logically substantiated. However, that is where we are with the gender integration arguments.


Wed, 05/15/2013 - 6:03am

In reply to by tomkinton

First google page for: objective data supporting the value of diversity

Ten hits for 'our great diversity programs' but only one hit for objective data in support of same. And here is what Credite Suisse says:


1)While it is
difficult to demonstrate definitive proof, no one can
argue that the results in this report are not striking...

2) Our research suggests that a
specific consequence of greater board diversity for
shareholders is one of reduced volatility – manifested
as enhanced stability in corporate performance and in
share price returns.…

So: an organization that accrues profit through claiming value (revenues after expenses on risk) says, in their own corporate report, that diversity reduces volatility........

I'm at a loss.



Wed, 05/15/2013 - 5:52am

What is the obsession with diversity?

Are there objective data supporting increased organizational efficiencies trending with increased diversity?


Mon, 05/13/2013 - 6:39pm

In reply to by major.rod

Just read this article which has fortuitous timing...…

the "money" quote...

"From 2009 to 2012, the number of sexual abuse reports rose from 3,244 to 3,374 — a 4 percent increase.

During the same period, the number of what the Pentagon calls “unfounded allegations” based on completed investigations of those reports rose from 331 to 444 — a 35 percent increase."

Then there's this the unrelated but interesting tidbit

“Females, compared with males, had a significantly increased incident-rate ratio for becoming a [disease or noncombat] casualty,” the doctors found.

Of 47 female soldiers evacuated from the brigade and sent home, 35 — or 74 percent — were for “pregnancy-related issues.”

BTW, the military doesn't keep deployed pregnancy stats. Too much ammo for debating female integration?…


Sun, 05/12/2013 - 3:27am


The majority of the hullabaloo about women and the service is due to how PC has infected the ranks of flag officers and has steadily made its way down.

Next time someone tells you the military is a rapefest explain to them that in the civilian community where the sexes are represented almost equally about one in five women are accosted by men. In the military, where women serve at a one to five ratio, if they were accosted as much as the civilian sector the higher density of men would assure EVERY female servicemember was raped and in the Marine Corps, TWICE each (women only make up 5% of the Corps vs. the approx 15% average in the other branches). BTW, one of three military women are actually accosted. Still unacceptable but much less than their peers given the overwhelming density of men in the service.

Even one rape is unacceptable but much of the noise is by those with an agenda or others bending over the desk to demonstrate how "diversity friendly" they are. The latest iteration of "go along, to get along and get promoted" that is part of modern officership it seems.

Want to fix the problem? Put abusers in jail (like the Air Force is doing over Lakeland) and stop allowing women to use their sex to advance and then cry "rape" when they get caught (or it's no longer beneficial).

Examples? 82nd General's aid has an affair for three years with the General and then claims assault coincidentally when he attacks her after she finds out he has other girlfriends.

The there's the newly commissioned former midshipmen that corroborates a "rape" occurred during the threesome she had with her Marine Major boyfriend when she was a midshipmen and brought her drunk girlfriend along to his apartment where they played strip poker. BTW, she also had a threesome with the Major's LT friend on a separate occasion.

Then there are the multiple incidents that involve getting drunk into oblivion and suddenly embarrassment = rape.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for punishing the males above but there's something wrong when so many cases of sexual harassment/assault involve a level of inappropriate behavior by the woman that is never addressed. No I'm not saying she "asked for it" (as some misandrist will try to misconstrue my argument) but that men aren't the only ones that need to raise their standards of performance and what is acceptable.

There are plenty of jobs women can do in the military, but if they are not completely accepted its because they are not combat soldiers, nor should they be. They may find themselves in a gun fight, but they didnt get there on purpose.


Sat, 05/11/2013 - 7:02am

Many senior officers have said things along the lines that "Diversity is the most important goal of the military." It used to be killing people and breaking things of people who are our enemies. Until the enforced double standards are discarded, acceptances will never come, nor should it.

"But so long as the culture of the rank and file rejects the presence of women as their professional partners, nothing will change."

I suggest that part of this problem can be traced to the existence of two standards for the genders......APFT standards as well as overall physical performance expectations (changing a "two-man lift" to a "four-person lift"). Perhaps if we went to one standard, that would help reduce or eliminate this lack of acceptance.