I am in a relationship with a member of the US Air Force.
About 5 months ago he left Chicago to begin pilot training in Oklahoma. I recently went to visit him for the first time. While I was there, we went out bowling with a group of officers from base. I want to start by saying I have a lot of respect for the members of our armed forces. I respect much of the work that they do BUT I don’t think it’s a flawless institution. For example, there are not nearly enough females in the Air Force.
The lack of female and other minority presence has a harmful effect on the Air Force as a whole (I think), but also on these guys as individuals.
I read the AF demographics somewhere…and even just being on base for a couple of days it seems apparent that the overwhelming majority of the AF (officer population especially) is comprised of caucasian males.
Not that there’s anything innately wrong with caucasian males BUT lack of diversity is a problem… Because when you have a group of people from similar backgrounds, you have a group of largely like-minded individuals who aren’t questioning each other nearly enough. It’s also true that white males don’t have to spend any time whatsoever thinking about less-privileged groups of people… They may, but they don’t have to because weather they like it or not, they’re the benefactors of inequality and that’s how privilege works.
When I went bowling with these AF boys in Oklahoma, I certainly noticed the effect the lack of diversity has had on them. To be fair, I only spent one evening with a very small group of gentlemen representing the AF and they were genuinely good people. I enjoyed their company and nothing they did was THAT bad. I look for examples of sexism around me in hopes that pointing it out will make a difference.
Here’s what Happened:
My boyfriend introduced me to one of the guys as his girlfriend…Before this boy said hello or acknowledged me as a human in any way… he nudged my boyfriend and said “nice job man”… in front of me. If that’s not objectification I don’t know what is.
Next my boyfriend started slapping me on the ass every time I got up to take my turn bowling. Nobody reacted except me. I promptly insisted he keep his hands to himself. He doesn’t usually behave this way so to me it seems apparent that the influence of these other guys has made him feel the need to act a certain way to impress them even if it means treating me like livestock.
It’s also clear that he did not see it this way. To him it was no big deal. I know he didn’t mean anything by it BUT I had to explain to him that in my opinion he was virtually peeing on me, marking his territory, showing off, and treating me like an object rather than a person. He’s an intelligent and rational guy who understands that his privileged white male brain misses things like this sometimes. So he is very good about hearing me out and adjusting his thinking when needed.
“pussy” and “fag” were commonly used insults throughout the course of the night….. GROSS. There are better (and funnier) ways to express your self and your intelligence. Just ask Shakespeare (shameless theatre plug). Even my partner noticed these comments and glanced at me to see my reaction. Eye roll. Since then i’ve encouraged him to say something to his friends when they talk like this. Not to start an argument but just point out that they don’t need to talk that way to express their sentiments. And he has.
Again these are RELATIVELY minor offenses that may go unnoticed by many, but clearly the problem is that they don’t have enough women around to tell them when they’re wrong, or to point out when they’re being stupid sexist douche bags (Just like I need my partner to tell me things like “air force is two words…”). After this two hour encounter I feel I have a slightly better understanding of why there are so few women in the air force.
My partner said that most of the men he’s met in his lifetime at some point have seriously considered joining the armed forces. I find this fascinating because that is certainly not true of most women I’ve known. I wonder why that is. I’m sure it has something to do with how we are socialized and the gender roles we are taught (Gi Joe vs Barbie). I’ve never seen a war movie about female soldiers (not that I watch many war movies). It may even be because women feel less of a sense of ownership over their country, WHICH HAS NEVER HAD A FEMALE PRESIDENT and still has a draft that only applies to able bodied male citizens. But I am sure it also has a lot to do with the culture the military has bred. and It’s a bad cycle because the less women there are, the less conducive to women the culture becomes, and the less women want to join.
The Unofficial Airforce Song Book Lawsuits… I am just saying this intolerable monstrosity could have potentially been avoided if these men were being held accountable by some kick ass Air Force ladies.
In short I think we are all better when we have people around us who have had different life experiences and who belong to various groups. Diversity is good for everyone because we all need someone to tell us when we are wrong or to make us think long and hard about the way we conduct ourselves around others. The way my partner talks about the military… he’s really proud to be a part of an institution that is comprised of the finest our nation has to offer. I feel that if it were really comprised of the finest our nation has to offer it would better reflect the diversity our nation prides itself on (or ought to anyway). I’m not saying the military is terrible i’m just saying they have the potential to improve. We could all do better than that freaking song book. So why not be better?
I don’t know much about the military aside from what i’ve learned from my partner and I’ve actually been continually impressed by some of the diversity initiatives they and our policy makers are creating. For example my partners base held a seminar for the officers which featured a presentation about diversity and inclusion. He was really excited to share that with me because he enjoyed the presentation and felt it was the sort of thing they could use to help educate people. Plus he knew I would be glad to hear they were doing something like that.
I am also told that in the coming year the military is supposed to open many positions to women that have previously been unavailable to them. According to my partner this may even open up the draft to women. It’s certainly a start, but this male dominated culture still exists and as many women who have pioneered male dominated fields know, it’s not an easy task.
What Should We Do?
I think that the military as a whole could do a better job recruiting women. The advertisements that i’ve seen, though they don’t exclude women, aren’t geared towards them either.
I think that more of these diversity education lectures would be so beneficial. My partner said that although some of the guys in the lecture seemed receptive, others were resisting. Perhaps it’s because they need to hear it a few more times or hear it in a new way. Either way it wouldn’t hurt for them to see that the military as a whole and many of their peers support the cause.
I think they could do little things like highlight women who have been successful in the armed forces. I am told that they do this and I’m sure that even just printing their stories in the papers is a big help in giving women visibility and a voice.
Lastly and most importantly…I think that individual males could do a better job of considering the perspectives of women and minorities. I think they could do a better job of holding themselves and those around them accountable for the things they say and do. Like I said my partner has since said something to his friends that use words that are degrading to women and members of the LGBTQ community. I don’t think he’s convinced anyone to change their behavior but he’s pointed out something that they probably weren’t thinking about and that’s a great start. In these small ways individuals in the military can help the diversity and inclusion cause.