Discrimination in the Military


Yes, the military does have sexual harassment and 
discrimination against women in the nineties. "Firestone and 
co-researcher Richard J. Hurns analyzed a 1988 DOD Survey of men and 
women in the military and found that 51.8 % of men and 74.6% of women 
reported either experiencing or knowing of sexual harassment. Amoung 
the women surveyed, 70.1% had experienced "sexual talk or behavior at 
the work place [that] created an offensive, hostile or intimidating 
environment." Amoung the men, 36.9% gave the same answer."(1) The 
percent of women being sexually harassed is much higher than the 
percent of men being harassed. Even though it is not tolerated, it 
still happens regardless of the consequences, even in the nineties. 
While some women's experiences have been similar to those of black 
men, their integration into the military has also differed in several 
ways. Because of our society's fundamental belief that protecting the 
home and going to war are a man's work, men from minority groups have 
often been accepted more readily in the military than the women. Women 
have been viewed as outsiders in a male environment. Discrimination 
and harassment occurs for women because we are entering an all male 
dominated area. Some areas are still restricted because of it. For 
example: serving in direct combat capacities such as armor, infantry, 
and special forces-branches from which much of the senior leadership 
is drawn. "In 1994, the annual Navywide Personnel Survey included 
questions on women's role for the first time. Some 65 percent of 
officers and almost 50 percent of enlisted respondents said they did 
not think women were fully accepted in combat roles. While 
approximately 80 percent said harassment was not tolerated at their 
command, almost half of all respondents disagreed that everyone is 
treated equally in promotions and advancements."(2) Some of this is 
bases on the presumed physical and psychological characteristics of 
women which may interfere with their performances of some military 
jobs. For example: the physical strength of women. People believe that 
women are not strong enough to lift and carry heavy equipment or 
wounded fellow soldiers and that we lack endurance to perform these 
tasks over a lengthened period of time. Also, there is the idea that 
women can not perform strenuous tasks quickly, like loading heavy 
shells into a weapon. And combat is not for the weak and slow. 
Although allowing women in combat remains a top priority, women are 
now serving in virtually every other occupational capacity in all four 
branches of the military. A large number of previously restricted 
areas to women have been opened in the Army and Marine Corps, and the 
Air Force has women training now for all previously closed career 
fields. Even the Navy is improving, which is a shock on its own. Even 
with increasing sexual harassment cases, the rising number of women 
being recruited is not due to any idealistic vision of the right of 
women to serve their country in uniform. One might say this trend is 
driven by the need to recruit an increasingly intelligent, 
well-educated, and fit military in the face of data that reflects the 
shrinking amount of qualified male candidates. "By current estimates, 
there are 191,399 women on active duty in all four branches of the US 
Armed Forces, accounting for approximately 12.7 % of all active duty 
Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Personnel. As of September 1995, 
women accounted for 13.2 % of all officers and 12.6% of all enlisted 
personnel. Approximately 16 percent of all active duty Air Force 
Personnel (officers and enlisted) are women, followed by 13 percent of 
the Army, 12 percent of the Navy, and about 4.6 percent of the 
Marines."(3) Sexual harassment is believed to be increasing, but one 
must remember a lot of sexual harassment goes unreported. It is a 
shame women are afraid to report cases for fear of being thrown out of 
their job, or just plain lack of knowledge on where to go or what to 
do. Women can get the feeling of not trusting anyone in the military 
command easier than women for two reasons. One, 99 percent of 
commanding ranks are taken by men, and two, men are more likely to 
help men than women. A woman can not get help from a commanding 
officer that's a woman, because the commanding officer is probably in 
a rut of her own. Women should join forces and overthrow the men in 
charge. The US would see a dramatic difference in sexual harassment 
cases reported. "A Pentagon Survey of 90,000 service members showed 
that, overall, sexual harassment in the military is declining, but 
still common, involving over half the women in the military. The 
number of women reporting any type of sexual harassment in the 
previous twelve months dropped from 64 percent in a 1988 survey of all 
the services to 55 percent, according to the report. The unreleased 
documents indicated that amoung the individual services, the Navy 
improved the most over that period. For 1995, that number had dropped 
to 53 percent. The Air Force, as in 1988, continued to show the lowest 
overall percentage of harassment amoung women surveyed, dropping from 
57 percent to 49 percent."(4) The Navy has made a strong and 
thoughtful effort towards the declining of sexual harassment since the 
Tailhook scandal. In fact, all the services have. Beginning this year, 
equal opportunity training is to be received by everyone. Everyone 
should strive for not tolerating discrimination or sexual harassment. 
Each person is valuable to the military, and what happens to one 
affects many others. Here are some key task force recommendations: 
Evaluate each service member's commitment to equal opportunity and 
document deviations in performance reports. Train leaders on their 
roles and responsibilities for equal opportunity programs. Ensure the 
chain of command remains an integral part of the processing and 
resolution of complaints. Strongly encourage commanders to conduct 
periodic equal opportunity assessments. Insist senior officials and 
commanders post statements declaring their commitment to equal 
opportunity. This shows that even though harassment and discrimination 
still occur, it does not go unchallenged. People are waking up and 
saying "Enough is enough." After a certain amount of complaining, 
anyone would say "Enough is enough". What is ment by that is that it 
takes a lot of cases and re-occurring problems for it to finally get 
the notice it needs. "Basis trainees are learning that at all levels, 
the word is getting out that discrimination and harassment have no 
place in the military profession and will not be tolerated, Air Force 
officials said. The recent focus on sexual harassment in other 
military services has also raised attention in this area as well. "The 
Air Force can not isolate itself from these social trends," states the 
pamphlet. "Despite commanders' involvement and education programs, 
people will occasionally behave inappropriately. It takes a strong 
continuing commitment by everyone to minimize these behaviors and 
their effects."(5) Once men can get over their male ego-trips, they 
will start to see the women in a new light. Men could actually 
accomplish more working with women instead of against them. What an 
amazing concept! Too bad men have not recognized it yet. Even with the 
good news that sexual harassment is declining in the Navy, it still 
happens by the thousands. Radios are constantly broadcasting that the 
Pentagon had to stiffen regulations because so many women said they 
were the victims of reprisals for filing complaints. There's this 
story that many believe is the cause of sexual harassment in the 
military, especially the Navy. Sailors have always been known for 
their bawdiness, but the officers were at least gentlemen. Then 
Vietnam came. Being in south-east Asia and increasingly frustrated by 
a losing war, a whole generation of naval officers began carousing in 
the sleazy bars of Bangkok and the Philippines. The Vietnam vets-and 
the exploitative sexual attitudes they developed in Asia-arrived home 
in the 70's just as women were beginning to move into the ranks. This 
resulted in a declining of manner and morals with the arrival of 
female sailors and officers. For the men, this has ment careers 
wrecked by lewd indiscretions. And the Navy's women have been forced 
to learn how both to go along and to fight back-with very mixed 
success. One has to wonder if we could go back in time, and erase 
Vietnam, would this still have happened anyway.


1.) Archives of Family Medicine. "Women Veteran's Experiences with
Domestic Violence and with Sexual Harassment While in the Military." 
Vol.4. May 1995

2.) Capital Online. "Survey Finds Sexual Harassment in the Navy and
Other Services Declines". July 3, 1996 

3.) Donegan, Craig. "New Military Culture: do women, blacks, and
homosexuals get fair treatment?". CQ Researcher. April 26, 1996

4.) Military Women Profile. "Military Women by the Numbers." 
September 30, 1995

5.) National Academy Press. "Recommendations for Research on the
Health of Military women." September 1995 

6.) Navy Times. "Are Women OK as Combatants? Not Really Says Navy
Survey." September 4, 1995

7.) Vistica, Gregory L. "Anchors Aweigh." Newsweek. February 5, 1996


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