Women Marines Are Marines, Too — Same as Men
End of story
by MATTHEW GAULT
In early March 2017, news broke that a 30,000-member Facebook group called “Marines United” trafficked in nude photos of female Marines and wives. Facebook took action and Marines United removed the offending material.
But users simply downloaded the photos and shared them on other online platforms. At an anonymous, 4chan-style message board called “AnonIB,” service members from all the military branches trade pictures of military women. As of March 11, 2017, AnonIB was still up and running.
The military disavowed the photo-sharing groups. Leaders have promised to crack down. But don’t hold your breath. The Pentagon doesn’t exactly sanction sexism and misogyny — but these things are part of U.S. military culture. And they’re not going away any time soon.
“None of this surprises me,” a former Marine told War Is Boring on condition of anonymity. More than 40 years after the armed forces began integrating women on a large scale, the military — and the Marine Corps, especially — remains predominantly male. Women make up just seven percent of the Corps.
“They’re Marines, too,” the former Marine said of the women he served alongside. He singled out a woman Marine we’ll call “K,” who the former Marine said “pretty much saved my life in deployment in Japan.”
“She was just there when I needed. As a friend. To help me get away from the idiocy.” But their friendship apparently made some male Marines jealous.
“[K] was my friend. We spent a lot of time together. One of the guys was pissed at me and called her my ‘barracks whore.’ I stopped the formation, made everyone stand at attention facing me and told him to step out and say it again. He didn’t move. He did mutter something after a long silence. I ignored it, turned everyone front and kept marching. It was more about showing intolerance to that behavior.”
“The [Marine Corps] culture is all fucked-up, man,” the former Marine said. “It’s a fucked-up situation made up of fuck-ups from all over this fucked-up country and they’re all fucking 18. The Marines is a place for people who don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. [The Corps tells] you what you’re doing. Problem solved.”
“If you survive, sane and retain an identity, you might come out stronger,” the former Marine continued. “Or you might adopt that culture as your identity. Is there gross, sexist misogyny? Fucking yes. Was it done before other women Marines in front of me? Not on my fucking watch.”
His point — only the rank and file can stop institutional misogyny.
“Even describing it as a scandal about the sharing of nude photos fails to capture the multiplicity of ethical violations and problems detailed in the story about the Marines, and now more broadly, members of the other services, veterans and others,” military ethics expert and Pacific Lutheran University philosophy professor Pauline Kaurin told War Is Boring.
“It is not clear what we should call these actions — there was sharing of photos but other actions, words and threats to the women, their defenders and now investigators have been detailed. In the words of my students, ‘I literally can’t even.’”
She’s right, the problem goes beyond soldiers, sailors and Marines sharing intimate photos online. People who reported the databases of naked photos faced harassment from Marines and others. Reporters who broke the news received death threats. Some of the women involved got nasty phone calls. To explain this, Kaurin pointed to a concept she called the “entitled warrior.”
This is the idea that a society’s warriors deserve special treatment — and that people who fight to defend a country automatically feel superior to those who, say, grow the food.
It’s not an idea most in America fight. “In addition, sexual permissions have historically been seen … as one of the permissions that one is entitled to as a warrior,” Kaurin said. “This has been part of military life and is part of the reason for the resistance to integration of ‘feminine’ groups like women, homosexual and transgendered or non-binary persons.”
However, such ‘traditional’ ideas run afoul of contemporary understandings of military professionalism in all the military branches in the U.S. The actions and especially the responses by Marines United and their allies are a direct challenge to the ideas of respect, trust, good order and self regulation of the moral community of the profession.
I would argue that some of what is going on in this case is the idea of sexual permissions combined with the Entitled Warrior complex. In this case the manifestation is through shared nude pictures, humiliating, degrading and even persecuting of women who are supposed to have their respect and be part of their team.
When challenged, the response reflects this sense of entitlement and justification in terms of this dynamic and a refusal to admit that there is any unethical or unprofessional behavior here, deflecting the blame to the women and to others who are clearly not real ‘Warriors’ and therefore, do not ‘get it’ and therefore are not real ‘Men’ and not entitled to membership in the brotherhood.
Which, as the former Marine pointed out, is complete bullshit. Woman Marines are Marines. There should be no qualifiers. “What should have happened here,” he said, “is some responsible, senior Marine should have seen this, found the bastards responsible … commit them to a month of sensitivity training and shut the bastards down.”
“Respect and trust are basic foundations to the military and failures with respect to those in one area are risking those behaviors in another,” Kaurin said.
“While many will not like the comparison, I cannot get the photos of Abu Ghraib out of my mind. Humiliation, degradation, mocking and persecution of those that one deems as a subgroup or lesser in relation to oneself, which reflected larger cultural and ethical problems. Not a case of a few bad apples. If we are honest with ourselves, its is rarely a case of a few bad apples.”
“There have been calls for firm and clear leadership on this issue, which is right and understandable, but this is not just a leadership issue nor an issue of failed personal morality,” Kaurin said. “This is an issue of military culture and ethics problem and must be dealt with as such.”
Kaurin said that strong words from leadership are great, but will only go so far. For this to really change, all warriors — from the lowly enlisted to the elite general — must call out bad behavior when they see it. The culture has to change from within.
That starts with a basic concept the former Marine understood but so many of his colleagues have trouble with. A woman Marine is a Marine. End of discussion.