"Does the Military Continue to Have Sexual Harassment and Discrimination
Against Women in the 90's?"
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
-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
-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
"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
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.) Donegan, p.363
2.) Navy Times, p.1
3.) Military Women Profile, p.1
4.) Capital Online, p.2
5.) Air Force News Service, p.1
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
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