Sacrifices on the Alter of PC
A beer executive was once asked why their commercials showed so much T & A and wasn’t this excluding a large women’s audience. The non-PC reply was beer is mostly drunk by men especially the 18-34 age group. In the business of beer, why would they target a demographic which just is not that interested in their product?
Private companies can flirt with disregarding PC driven decisions and otherwise operate on a market driven model. However, peace time Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) policies post-Afghanistan have been in full blown PC-mode.
I have thoughts on a few examples of where the military has rushed to respond with PC-motivated responses. This particular blog will focus on the military’s response to the latest spotlight on sexual assault and misconduct.
I see three main reasons for the military turning itself inside-out over this issue:
- Primarily, doing the right thing
- Demonstrating to women that they will be safe and the military is a desirable workplace
- Showing the political masters and the Canadian public that the military is an institution worthy of continued funding and support
Assault, sexual or otherwise, should never be tolerated in the workplace. Military members committing these type of crimes can be punished both under the Code of Service Discipline and the Criminal Code. Sexual assault allegations go to a special branch called the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS). The unit, created in 1997, is a reincarnation of the old Special Investigation Unit.
The latest spotlight on CAF sexual assault/misconduct arose mostly from a Maclean’s and L’Actualité May 16, 2014 article titled Our military’s disgrace by Noemi Mercier and Alec Castonguay. I haven’t met a French Canadian reporter yet who was pro-military and Noemi Mercier’s list of articles contain a significant number of women’s issues. I would say she had an axe to grind and may have had some bias. But people are free to write on what they feel like.
To compound matters, issues with abuse at the Royal Military College (RMC) popped up. There were allegations of a number of sexual assaults on campus. As part of the response to show they were addressing the issue, RMC asked a lady, Julie S. Lalonde, to come and lecture the cadets on the topic of sexual harassment. Looking through her bio, most people could assume she wouldn’t have much good to say about the predominately male military college culture. Someone should have predicted the inevitable outcome when she had a rough time with the third years. I know from inside sources that the cadets took umbrage to her assertion of ‘all men are rapists’ and engaged her in discussion over her lecture points. After that session, when it came to the fourth year’s turn, they were told to sit down, shut up and listen. No discussion, period. These cadets are some of the brightest, hard-working, critical thinkers you will find anywhere in Canada and they were told to put up with an over-the-top feminist who denigrated every male present. Imagine ordering a whole year of Queen’s students to shut-up and take a mandatory weekend lecture from a hostile speaker.
No matter the biased attitudes of reporters and activists, military leadership rightly took the issue seriously and quickly responded to the reports of sexual misconduct and assault plaguing the military.
The military commissioned Madame Marie Deschamps to conduct a study of the issue. Reading through her bio, the French Canadian judge had no ties to the military but participated for years in University of Montreal advocacy classes. I will give her the benefit of the doubt that she was impartial but I would say she would have no idea of what a military life is all about. For example, in her report, she determined that there was a sexualized environment in the CAF, particularly among recruits and noncommissioned members, characterized by the frequent use of swear words and highly degrading expressions that reference women’s bodies, sexual jokes, innuendos, discriminatory comments with respect to the abilities of women, and unwelcome sexual touching. No kidding, NCMs and the officers (men and women) are a little crude. The name of the operation almost immediately morphed into ‘Hop On Her’. Quickly, finger wagging, I told you so stories popped up in the media causing the Ottawa Public Affairs Officers to go into damage control mode. But this type of crudeness, black humour and being rough around the edges is not limited to the military. Spend some time with nurses and you will see how foul-mouthed and stomach churning their language can get. The judge was seeing the service through the eyes of a government bureaucrat and advocate, not as a military member. The military world is generally incomprehensible for civilians who do not have the proper context or shared experiences. Ask any MARS Subbie about the denigration and harassment they have to put up with from both genders. Ask any military member to explain Basic Training to a civilian. They can’t because you have to go through it yourself to understand. Civvies and military live in two separate worlds and we should be careful about having the former judge the latter. But unwelcome sexual touching leads past venting mechanisms and crosses the line.
The Dechamps report was released April 20, 2015 and started a flurry of news conferences and initiatives. The military moved quickly and the CDS, General Tom Lawson appointed MGen Christine Whitecross to head up the newly formed CAF Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct. She and her team crisscrossed the country holding mandatory townhalls to educate and inform military members. Ships had their crew sit through Powerpoint sessions and had discussions on the matter. New door plates reminding sailors to loudly announce Male/Female on Deck went up. 120,000 Do No Harm cards were issued. The military is regularly issuing stats and updates through the Response Team site. The military can be quite thorough when tackling a problem.
But was all of this recent self-flagellation warranted?
Maclean’s ran a series of similar articles on the same issue back in 1998. Women at the time were just starting to develop solid careers in the combat arms trades and reports of harassment and rape were trickling out.
Rape numbers were reported as high, stories of abuse were told and the government and military vowed to stamp out the problem. In 1998, military women did not appreciate the magazine’s assertions. “It’s so unfair of the men to be thought of as predators and us to be thought of as playthings,” says Cpl. Karen Westcott, a 15-year veteran who has served on both army bases and aboard naval ships. “We don’t deserve this. As for the morale of the military, I think that Maclean’s has really set us back.” Eerily familiar sentiments were echoed by MGen Whitecross 17 years later. If you were a man such as Gen Lawson, talking about the issue, then you were on thin ice with no leeway for misinterpretation. One bad interview with CBC and he was gone.
The RCMP, fire departments, male dominated industries and even female dominated industries all report higher incidents of sexual harassment/misconduct towards women. Gen Lawson may have awkwardly used the term ‘hard-wired’ but there is evidence that this issue is wide spread in the whole of society and not specifically a military problem.
My point is the military is the perennial whipping boy and due to their special civilian/military apolitical relationship are not allowed to speak out. Instead they are forced to over-compensate to show they are dealing with a problem. The leadership is fond of saying their members need to be held to a higher standard. Higher, yes but a perfect standard, no.
It is commendable for the military to take a leadership role in regards to stamping out sexual misconduct and harassment but I believe the furor has unfairly targeted all military males as predators and all military females as victims. It just serves to drive another needless wedge between the sexes and stirs up the ‘females in the military’ pot. One person raping another is not to be tolerated, condoned or explained away and the military has always had severe mechanisms for adequate, timely punishment. But the ‘crudeness’ of military culture comes from the process of producing warriors not snowflakes. I reject that acting politically in-correct, being off-colour or having some nudie pics up of women (or men) inevitably leads to sexual misconduct or assault. It just means you’re a boor and you’ll make the dainty souls blush.
I would rather take a foul-mouthed boor (male or female) into battle than some sensitive office snowflake.
Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.