Semper Fi? Sex, Social Media, and the Marine Corps

Defense Secretary Mattis should take the lead on fighting misogyny in the Marines.

As partisan rancor continues on the Hill, one group of lawmakers joined forces this week to speak out against harassment of women in the  Marine Corps.  Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and Annie Kuster (D-NH) spearheaded a letter  to Defense Secretary James Mattis urging him to facebook-346725_960_720take action, including authorizing another investigation into current and former Marines soliciting and posting  nude photos of their female colleagues on Facebook.   Thomas James Brennan , who broke the story, reports that some of the women were followed and photographed without their knowledge.  The Facebook posts drew
thousands of comments, some urging sexual violence, such as:

“take her out back and pound her out,” as well as graphic suggestions, like penetrating women  in the “butt.  And throat. And ears. Both of them.  Video it though…for science.”

According to Brennan, the photos first appeared within a month of women being assigned to the first Marine infantry unit.  

The timing is no coincidence. The Marines, which has been the most resistant branch to gender integration, also is widely regarded as having a culture in which traditional masculinity reigns supreme.  In fact, the Marines sought an exemption to new rules opening up combat positions to women, based on its research suggesting that women, on average, did not perform as well as men.  Then-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus took to the editorial pages of the Washington Post to disagree with the findings and urge that individual women be given the opportunity to be part of “the few, the proud.”

Enduring FreedomNow, that gender integration is to be a reality, the recent Facebook scandal shows that hostility to women is a serious issue. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) is considering new legislation  that would amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to bar unauthorized posting of nude photos.  But more needs to happen. Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), as a retired Air Force colonel and former A-10 pilot should know:

“From my experiences in the military, there is a deeper cultural issue that needs to be addressed because you are not going to be able to police people 24/7.  The long-term solution is this deeper cultural issue and that’s where I’m going to be on them and all the services pretty aggressively.”

The military long has been identified with traditional masculinity. It’s the place to prove cadet_nurse_corps_posterone’s manhood.   The opposition to LGBT people serving no doubt had its roots in the notion that only “real” men should be in the armed forces.  But gender roles are not natural, even though they’re deeply ingrained from the time babies are wrapped in pink or blue blankets.

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As combat becomes another avenue for women to show their dedication to the country, our leaders must take concrete steps to remove  barriers that rest on tired stereotypes.  In addition, they must eliminate the toxic reliance on misogyny as motivation–such as referring to young men as “pussies” when they struggle with a task.

Women have served in our military from the very beginning and done so honorably. This current scandal demonstrates that Defense Secretary Mattis must ensure that our sisters, daughters, and mothers will be able to do so without fear of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or other gender-based misconduct from their colleagues.   The more Secretary Mattis does to demonstrate his expectation that women can and will meet the exacting standards of the Marines, the sooner such scandals will be history.

Author: Verna L. Williams

Interim Dean, Nippert Professor of Law, co-founder and co-director of Cincinnati Law's Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. Professor Williams joined Cincinnati Law's faculty in 2001. She teaches Constitutional Law; Gender and the Law; and Family Law. Her research examines the intersection of race and gender in law and society.

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