Last week, my husband’s unit underwent one of its periodic trainings resulting from the rise in sexual assaults and sexual harassment in the military. This is an issue he shows deep concern for; last year, he volunteered to launch a task force at his unit to provide resources to the victims of sexual assault, identify and publicize the warning signs of ongoing sexual harassment.
From what I have read and studied on the sexual assault problems in the military, addressing it is not just a matter of punishing individual creeps, but changing the culture in which they are allowed to flourish. I realize that, for good leaders in our military, with all their experience fighting overseas, they are also fighting what John’s military books would call “a desperate rearguard action” within the military and larger society. In the sad breakdown of traditional restraints on behavior, they are fighting to keep one last beachhead of morality, to keep alive the hope that no, the weak need not always be the victims of the strong.
There was a time when there was a sense of a chivalrous ideal in mainstream American culture. While often only acknowledged in failures to attain that ideal, this ideal still existed as a rallying point around which we poor sinners could try to anchor our moral wanderings. Among other guidelines, this ideal prescribed protection of the weak (of both sexes) by the strong. Then, certain branches of feminism arose in opposition to the chivalrous ideal as reinforcing patriarchy. Unfortunately, other ethos rushed in to fill the vacuum created. One apparently replaced chivalry with machismo, placing a man’s worth not on number of those he protects but on number of those he dominates, exploits, and victimizes. It is this Imperial Machismo Ideal that seems to be contributing to a culture, both inside and outside the military, that allows sexual harassment and sexual assault to flourish.
Unable to restore the chivalrous ideal throughout society at large, banned even from invoking the Golden Rule within their ranks, lest they invite unwarranted accusations of establishing a State Religion, my husband and leaders like him must fight to keep a basic level of decency within their units. This includes everything, down to the small talk.
All of this is a result of the casual treatment of all things remotely related to sexual morality. When people’s own sexual desires come to rule their entirety and they fail to see any other fulfillment in life apart from sex, it leads them to do awful things. This mentality of using sex selfishly is what leads to things like the “rape culture”. It’s behavior like that that leads to people (male and female) treating each other like sexual objects, instead of fellow humans.
Sometimes those who are the most weak are those who’ve been protecting all of us on the battlefield. We need to promote a culture where the weak feel protected by the strong. How about women acknowledge the unique dignity of men and men acknowledge the unique dignity of women? How about we focus on respect instead of being political correct? How about we treat each other primarily as humans, instead of members of the opposite sex?
By acknowledging the dignity of every man and every woman in the way we conduct ourselves, taking sex seriously, we make a very real difference in the culture. By refusing to accept and take any part of a person being used solely for sexual gratification, we set a higher bar for how our society understands sexuality.