November 1st, 2015
by LtCol Kate Germano and LtCol Jeannette Haynie
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, once said, “What’s dangerous is not to evolve.” The Department of Defense should remember that the concept of “evolve or die” applies to the Services even more than it does to entrepreneurs, since the stakes are higher. The heavy use of “dog whistle” politics in a recent Small Wars Journal op-ed by someone identified only as “Anonymous” highlights how severely current senior leaders miss this critical point. The Services, especially the Marine Corps, need to recognize ending gender bias in the leadership and in the ranks while simultaneously leveling the playing field for all is an evolutionary requirement. To our leaders, we say: take a look around you at America. Can’t you see it? Change is coming, whether you like it or not. Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Continue to evolve.
Yet, strikingly, few of our present leaders seem to see this change approaching, and even fewer attempt to lead. And therein lies the danger. Regardless of Secretary Carter’s imminent decision on combat arms integration, it is always dangerous for insiders to view their organization as flawless and beyond the need for improvement. Doing so risks smugness, complacency, and eventual defeat. And yet, that is precisely what is happening in the Services, especially the Marine Corps, right now.
For months conversations have focused on the “should they or should they not” question of women in the infantry, with advocates on both sides exercising rhetoric and exaggeration while swaying few. Much of the commentary has been relegated to the physiological aspects of the debate, while the social aspects get largely overlooked. The aforementioned SWJ article brings it right back into the mix, but does so while painting any who advocate for cultural or social change within the military as “outsiders” with mysterious networking abilities. Specifically, “Anonymous” asserts that these “outsiders” are using military integration as a soap box to drive a broader cultural change. Put plainly, “Anonymous” infers that our culture does not need to be changed. Stating that the sexual assault problems in the military (and wider America) have attracted outside attention from those who want to transform society at its core, he uses dog whistle politics to signal to readers that only military insiders know what is best for the Services. And yet, many in the services do believe change is necessary. Instead of understanding that there are opposing views within the military, the author signals that those who advocate for integration are ignorant and deceitfull “outsiders”. “Anonymous” argues that this is a power struggle for the core of what it means to be American. In doing so, he or she completely misunderstands two things: one, why outside groups—specifically Congress and the civilian leadership of the military—feel compelled to step in to enforce changes; and two, the criticality of evolutionary change.
So how has the DoD embraced evolution in the face of greater American societal change in the past? What’s the track record?
Overall, DoD was ahead of the country on racial integration in the 1950s, but each of the Services did not demonstrate the same degree of commitment to the change. And the hue and cry over ending DADT and countless “the sky will fall” comments about how the change would impact cohesion are a potential indication of the current leadership’s ability to lead from the front on new social changes. The Marine Corps in particular has consistently been on the wrong side of history when it comes to bringing about cultural change from within whether in terms of desegregation, working with homosexuals, or the equal treatment of women. Unfortunately, senior leader reticence to embrace change as a necessary part of evolution then trickles down to the youngest private, leaving thousands of Marines without the backing of their own leadership. Without supervision from the highest levels of DoD “forcing” racial integration and DADT evolution, we would still be running “experiments” on the abilities and impacts of African-American and homosexual Marines and denying them opportunities as a result.
The truth is, yes, we need outside micromanagement right now, because the Marine Corps is unwilling to acknowledge that any evolution in how it deals with gender is necessary. Why change if you perceive your culture as perfect? Make no mistake, though, gender bias in the Marine Corps is alive and well and female Marines have felt it for decades. Bias toward women impacts how male Marines perceive and treat women because of the double standards employed by the “leaders” in charge of us all. The double standards and lowered expectations for performance create friction, harm cohesion, and destroy trust between Marines. We are a Service adrift in need of a steer and a strong leader to step up, embrace change, and drive our evolution.
Let’s use the “Anonymous” point about sexual assault as an example of what happens when we fail to recognize trouble and foster change on our own. Why were new sexual assault policies foisted upon DoD by “mysterious outsiders”? According to Anonymous, “Hyping sexual assault statistics, making women fearful of men, and building a system that finds men guilty until proven innocent are simply means to the greater end of ‘cutting male advantage.'” Yet these policy changes were forced on us because the military historically refused to acknowledge that it might need reform. Organizationally, the majority has consistently demonstrated that they believe our culture is so superior that we never need to change, an appalling demonstration of hubris. Did we really think that if we ignored behavioral issues, no one holding the purse strings in Congress would force us to change? We clearly drank our own Kool Aid.
Ironically, sexual assault and existing gender bias combine to teach Marines that women are always victims in need of protection while men are brainless predators waiting to attack. We enable a victim mentality among women by failing to teach them how to mature, make good decisions, and be accountable, and we enable a predator (and adolescent) mentality among men by expecting them to be unable to separate their genitalia from any task at hand.
This method of indoctrination has so diluted the bonds of trust between female and male Marines at every rank that it has crushed our culture and deeply damaged the Marine Corps. Men question why they are always viewed as perpetrators and grow afraid of having to lead women and women question why they are perpetually viewed as victims and view all men as possible threats. Men suspect all women of having less ability, while women suspect all men of misogyny. We fail to teach that factors such as alcohol consumption and a lack of respect- for self and others- play critical roles in sexual assault and then equip Marines to better handle these threats. Instead, we have blindly instituted a train wreck of a system that allows accountability to fall by the wayside and institutes a mind-numbing set of gender-based roles and double standards for Marines—Marines!—to abide by. Because we did not fix our issues internally by holding servicemen – and women- accountable for high standards and performance, Congress and the civilian leadership got involved. And that is what happens when an organization fails to evolve.
Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano has served for over 19 years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. A combat veteran, she has participated in numerous operational and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief deployments and has been assigned to numerous challenging positions, including a year as the Marine Aide to the Secretary of the Navy. She was selected for command twice, most recently as the commanding officer of the Marine Corps’ only all-female unit, the 4th Recruit Training Battalion.
Lieutenant Colonel Jeannette Haynie is pursuing her PhD in political science at The George Washington University focusing on gender, conflict, and terrorism. She is a cobra pilot by trade, a combat veteran, and has served in multiple overseas deployments.
The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the USMC, DOD or any other entity.