Small Wars Journal

The Dangerous Non-Evolution of the Military (Gender Integration)

Tue, 11/03/2015 - 4:40pm

The Dangerous Non-Evolution of the Military (Gender Integration)

Kate Germano and Jeannette Haynie

Originally posted at the Like A Women Blog. Reposted here with permission of the authors.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, once said, “What’s dangerous is not to evolve.” The Department of Defense should remember that the concept of “evolve or die” applies to the Services even more than it does to entrepreneurs, since the stakes are higher. The heavy use of “dog whistle” politics in a recent Small Wars Journal op-ed by someone identified only as “Anonymous” highlights how severely current senior leaders miss this critical point. The Services, especially the Marine Corps, need to recognize ending gender bias in the leadership and in the ranks while simultaneously leveling the playing field for all is an evolutionary requirement. To our leaders, we say: take a look around you at America. Can’t you see it? Change is coming, whether you like it or not. Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Continue to evolve.

Yet, strikingly, few of our present leaders seem to see this change approaching, and even fewer attempt to lead. And therein lies the danger. Regardless of Secretary Carter’s imminent decision on combat arms integration, it is always dangerous for insiders to view their organization as flawless and beyond the need for improvement. Doing so risks smugness, complacency, and eventual defeat. And yet, that is precisely what is happening in the Services, especially the Marine Corps, right now.

For months conversations have focused on the “should they or should they not” question of women in the infantry, with advocates on both sides exercising rhetoric and exaggeration while swaying few. Much of the commentary has been relegated to the physiological aspects of the debate, while the social aspects get largely overlooked. The aforementioned SWJ article brings it right back into the mix, but does so while painting any who advocate for cultural or social change within the military as “outsiders” with mysterious networking abilities. Specifically, “Anonymous” asserts that these “outsiders” are using military integration as a soap box to drive a broader cultural change. Put plainly, “Anonymous” infers that our culture does not need to be changed. Stating that the sexual assault problems in the military (and wider America) have attracted outside attention from those who want to transform society at its core, he uses dog whistle politics to signal to readers that only military insiders know what is best for the Services. And yet, many in the services do believe change is necessary. Instead of understanding that there are opposing views within the military, the author signals that those who advocate for integration are ignorant and deceitfull “outsiders”. “Anonymous” argues that this is a power struggle for the core of what it means to be American. In doing so, he or she completely misunderstands two things: one, why outside groups—specifically Congress and the civilian leadership of the military—feel compelled to step in to enforce changes; and two, the criticality of evolutionary change.

So how has the DoD embraced evolution in the face of greater American societal change in the past? What’s the track record?

Overall, DoD was ahead of the country on racial integration in the 1950s, but each of the Services did not demonstrate the same degree of commitment to the change. And the hue and cry over ending DADT and countless “the sky will fall” comments about how the change would impact cohesion are a potential indication of the current leadership’s ability to lead from the front on new social changes. The Marine Corps in particular has consistently been on the wrong side of history when it comes to bringing about cultural change from within whether in terms of desegregation, working with homosexuals, or the equal treatment of women. Unfortunately, senior leader reticence to embrace change as a necessary part of evolution then trickles down to the youngest private, leaving thousands of Marines without the backing of their own leadership. Without supervision from the highest levels of DoD “forcing” racial integration and DADT evolution, we would still be running “experiments” on the abilities and impacts of African-American and homosexual Marines and denying them opportunities as a result.

The truth is, yes, we need outside micromanagement right now, because the Marine Corps is unwilling to acknowledge that any evolution in how it deals with gender is necessary. Why change if you perceive your culture as perfect? Make no mistake, though, gender bias in the Marine Corps is alive and well and female Marines have felt it for decades. Bias toward women impacts how male Marines perceive and treat women because of the double standards employed by the “leaders” in charge of us all. The double standards and lowered expectations for performance create friction, harm cohesion, and destroy trust between Marines. We are a Service adrift in need of a steer and a strong leader to step up, embrace change, and drive our evolution.

Let’s use the “Anonymous” point about sexual assault as an example of what happens when we fail to recognize trouble and foster change on our own. Why were new sexual assault policies foisted upon DoD by “mysterious outsiders”? According to Anonymous, “Hyping sexual assault statistics, making women fearful of men, and building a system that finds men guilty until proven innocent are simply means to the greater end of ‘cutting male advantage.'” Yet these policy changes were forced on us because the military historically refused to acknowledge that it might need reform. Organizationally, the majority has consistently demonstrated that they believe our culture is so superior that we never need to change, an appalling demonstration of hubris. Did we really think that if we ignored behavioral issues, no one holding the purse strings in Congress would force us to change? We clearly drank our own Kool Aid.

Ironically, sexual assault and existing gender bias combine to teach Marines that women are always victims in need of protection while men are brainless predators waiting to attack. We enable a victim mentality among women by failing to teach them how to mature, make good decisions, and be accountable, and we enable a predator (and adolescent) mentality among men by expecting them to be unable to separate their genitalia from any task at hand.

This method of indoctrination has so diluted the bonds of trust between female and male Marines at every rank that it has crushed our culture and deeply damaged the Marine Corps. Men question why they are always viewed as perpetrators and grow afraid of having to lead women and women question why they are perpetually viewed as victims and view all men as possible threats. Men suspect all women of having less ability, while women suspect all men of misogyny. We fail to teach that factors such as alcohol consumption and a lack of respect- for self and others- play critical roles in sexual assault and then equip Marines to better handle these threats. Instead, we have blindly instituted a train wreck of a system that allows accountability to fall by the wayside and institutes a mind-numbing set of gender-based roles and double standards for Marines—Marines!—to abide by. Because we did not fix our issues internally by holding servicemen – and women- accountable for high standards and performance, Congress and the civilian leadership got involved. And that is what happens when an organization fails to evolve.

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the USMC, DOD or any other entity.

About the Author(s)

Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano has served for over 19 years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. A combat veteran, she has participated in numerous operational and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief deployments and has been assigned to numerous challenging positions, including a year as the Marine Aide to the Secretary of the Navy. She was selected for command twice, most recently as the commanding officer of the Marine Corps’ only all-female unit, the 4th Recruit Training Battalion.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeannette Haynie is pursuing her PhD in political science at The George Washington University focusing on gender, conflict, and terrorism. She is a cobra pilot by trade, a combat veteran, and has served in multiple overseas deployments.


I agree with the points about distrust between the sexes in the last paragraph. Indocrination plays a role, but so does the toxic influence of political correctness. If both genders had confidence that standards would be maintained and equally enforced, the majority of this debate would evaporate. Unfortunately, the historical record reflects a different reality. One where standards are enforced unevenly to promote a political correct agenda. If that behavior ceases, then maybe we can move forward. Failure to separate the agenda from the standard will not result in an evolutionary process based on war. Instead it will put our military at risk.


Sat, 12/05/2015 - 8:46pm

Germano, karma has finally caught up to you. In '97 you were a lying piece of shit...nothing has changed.


Thu, 11/05/2015 - 3:04pm

Why can't we face the fact that men and women are different and nature wants it that way. Instead of following some radical political ideology that not to long ago would have been clearly seen as nothing but Communist subversion!


Fri, 11/06/2015 - 2:50pm

In reply to by Sparapet

Let's add another caveat: VA claims. It's a statistical fact that military women sustain serious injuries, up to and including those that end with chronic disabilities, at a higher rate than their male counterparts. Putting aside all of the other controversies, does the alleged benefit of gender integration in the most dangerous military occupations outweigh the increased strain on medical services for active and veteran personnel? People rightfully react with outrage over the disconnect between sending troops overseas to fight, then failing to adequately take care of them when they're done fighting. The idea that we're compounding that problem seems to be completely omitted from the discussion.


Thu, 11/05/2015 - 10:23am

I find myself at once nodding along with the argument here and balking at the implications. I must be tone deaf (figuratively) because in my 13 years in all male and in integrated units I can't point to anything that marked some sort of inherent sexism that was distinct (and worse) than what exists in civil society. I have had to deal with sexual assaults and harassment as a leader, both male/female and male/male. But again, I had never interpreted those cases or other cases that I was incidentally familiar with as extraordinary compared to civil society. So, I agree that our martial sub-culture should be one that engenders (no pun intended) respect that is extraordinary to civilian eyes. I do not, however, agree that the military is inherently susceptible to extraordinary misogyny and sexual misconduct by virtue of its "lagging" culture.

That is the part of "Anonymous'" article about the Macho culture attack in the guise of gender integration that strikes a chord with me. I do think that our martial sub-culture should be macho in a sense of unusual tolerance of violence and aggression, circumscribed by a morality of in-group respect and self-sacrificial group loyalty. I do want my troops to be able to summon uncommon aggression and to execute their tasks with a sense of fanatic fervor and explosive violence. But I also want a martial culture that can deal with those traits, so valuable in battle, without creating a person who would be totally dysfunctional in civil society (like a modern day Berserker). Indoctrination (which we barely do in any Service) and cultural consistency (which we often complain about in things like differential punishments based on rank) are absolutely critical pieces of that. And that culture would naturally be an anomaly compared to civil society where violence, aggression, fervent loyalty, and self sacrifice are not virtues.

But...but....but...what does any of that have to do with gender bias in the leadership ranks? LtCol Germano's other published arguments about keeping female troops to high standards rather than separate female standards are strong. A female standard is a form of benign sexism. But a natural result of higher standards may mean a lowered percentage of women in uniform. Is that an ok outcome or is that still (unacceptable) sexism? Also, if a study demonstrated that all male maneuver units consistently defeated integrated units in training, would that be acceptable "objective" evidence that integration is not advisable? I don't get the sense from this article that the authors have made up their minds beyond the idea that integration is an inherent good. Yet the entire weight of history is against them at the moment...against them in a way that it is not when it comes to race (many armies have existed of many races), sexual orientation (sexual mores have varied across cultures), or any other non-gender based integration (poor men have made up armies just as rich men have, etc). The only evidence in history of gender integration in combat formations come from examples of desperation not design. I find my otherwise liberal mind dissuaded by this seeming anomaly, and feel that evidence for changing this must rise above ideological preference.


Wed, 11/04/2015 - 7:57pm

My two cents, if you really want to fix this, then start with the indoctrination process. Respect for the individual as an equal starts there. All basic training and boot camps need to be coed. Otherwise you are trying to fix a problem that is ingrained in the service member from the start.

J Harlan

Wed, 11/04/2015 - 3:26pm

Women will be in the combat arms and in the end it won't really matter. Very, very few women will want to serve in the combat arms. Those that pass MOS training will gravitate or be exiled away from rifle platoons and gun crews to jobs in command posts or as drivers etc.

This is what has happened in Canada where their Human Rights Commission (HRC) has actually set quotas for female participation in the combat arms. The Canadian Army has never met it's targets. It did eventually manage to get the HRC to allow a combined combat arms regular and reserve number to be set rather than the initial target for each arm in each component. That was clever because it allowed them to pack reserve armoured "regiments" with female soldiers. None of these regiments have more than a couple hundred troops. None have AFVs- they drive Chevy pickups and Mercedes G-Wagons- so there is little heavy lifting and no extensive cross country movement.

The major downside of having females in the combat arms is that it makes raising official physical fitness standards difficult. Any attempt to institute a tougher fitness test is seen as a plot to get rid of the girls and ambitious generals want no part of being accused of that. The result is that official tests become a joke and the intensity of fitness programs is left to the discretion of bn and co commanders.

It's unfortunate we choose to participate in a discussion about something which was decided at the time the ban was lifted. The only thing holding women back is physical and like in the civilian world that will be ignored for the greater good. There will be female SEALs in the near future. Will they have to meet the same standards as the men - no, but it doesn't matter. They will meet a standard, but most importantly they want to be SEAL. We have been watching this trainwreck for years with police and fire services. I get it. They want to play. Why should the boys have all the fun. Except people die in this business. Ronda Rousey may dominate female UFC, but she would get her ass handed to her by men. No doubt in my mind. Let's have all female pro football teams play all male pro football teams. Or make some co-ed and play against all male teams. I know how these games end.

I'm of the Martin Van Creveld camp and believe this will wreck the military. But, inclusion of females in the combat arms and special ops may bring about some benefits. First, greater R&D and bigger push to lighten the soldiers load. Second, a greater emphasis on better tactics. Third - an unwillingness to send U.S. troops into every s-hole in the world.

This is a tough one because these women are our sisters, wives, friends, and even moms, and we all know you do not hurt mom.


Wed, 11/04/2015 - 5:06am

In reply to by Hector_Paris

....and just to clarify for the uninformed, the Army's present state of shambles has nothing at all to do with a lack of optempo $s. And everything to do with bad leadership and worse accountability.


Wed, 11/04/2015 - 5:01am

I question if there is any real value in countering this.

We have such a weak foundation, philosophically and intellectually to debate this issue. The pro side is coming from a post structuralist PC fantasy world where what we used to call nature has been deemed a social construct. No further evidence to this point is needed than the constant equating of skin color, sex, and sexual practice all in one linear frame of reference.

The con side knows it's wrong but lacks the same philosophical foundation to understand why it's wrong. Like Gen Pace said, "I wasn't raised that way." Or something like that. No understanding of telos.

But the danger is not simply the loss of teleology, but reason and empiricism too. Anyone who believes this is all about setting a standard and allowing the chips to fall where they may, regardless of gender is either a fool or a liar. GEN Dempsey made it clear the standards are themselves under examination if they are too high for women.

We're at the point now that it's time to pull up a chair and a bowl of popcorn and watch it all come crashing down. Anyone with true knowledge of the Army should now the dire state of our capability to perform large scale land warfare. Why this fact doesn't consume the brain power of everyone associated with military affairs will be a question for historians.


Tue, 11/03/2015 - 9:10pm

This is not evolution it is moral devolution, which will lead to leaders being unable to properly identify reality and loose their ability to use sound military judgement!