Does the hyper-sexualization of female soldiers in the MTV generation contribute to the unprecedented epidemic of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) in today’s military, where a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to get raped by a fellow soldier than she is to be killed in combat?
MST is often dismissed as the “logical outcome” of women in combat, with 11% of soldiers deployed in OEF/OIF being women. Veterans from Vietnam, Korea, and World War II often downplay the issue suggesting that women don’t belong in the military to begin with.
The military links MST to alcohol abuse, launching an absurd campaign called “Wait Until She’s Sober.” In spite of this campaign, in 2008, the Pentagon reported a 9% increase in MST, with female soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan experiencing a shocking 25% increase in MST. So, perhaps we need a more nuanced exploration to understand the recent surge in peer and command rape in our military.
Go to a photo website and put “male soldiers” into the search engine. You get pretty much what you expect: men in camouflage, guns, tanks, and flags. Put “female soldiers” into the search engine and you get page after page of buxom vixens pouting behind their big man-guns, leaving you wondering if they would be just as happy to seduce you as shoot you.
True, our World War II soldiers had Lauren Bacall and Carole Lombard. Vietnam had Sophia Lauren and Julie Christie. But, these pin-up girls were clearly idealizations of femininity and female sexuality. The lines between sex and war were clearly defined. And, while sexual assault and rape are never justified, war rape has historically been confined to the rape of enemy women as part of a strategy of psychological warfare, not the rape of fellow female service members.
The crisis for our girls and young women is so severe that in 2007 Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, director and senior fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, urged the United Nations to address the hyper-sexualization of girls. She suggested that “the dangers to girls from the worst of American culture can be just as destructive as the cultural practices that are recognized around the world as harmful to girls and women.” Yes, you read that right. The United Nations needs to address the hyper-sexualization of women as a form of oppression and exploitation. Britney Spears, meet the burqa.
So, is our crisis of MST really surprising for a generation that grew up on beauty pageants where pre-pubescent girls are tarted up like hookers, bad-boy rappers who glorify violence against women, and video games where female avatars are more seductress that soldier? Have we so blurred the boundaries between sexuality and violence that we have created a culture that actually encourages sexual violence against peers, even among the “band of brothers?”
More important, if the hyper-sexualization of girls and women in our culture contributes to MST, how do we address this in the military? It’s one thing to “wait until she’s sober.” It’s quite another to shift attitudes so that female soldiers are seen as peers in the band of brothers, not temptresses who hide behind their guns with a wink and a nod, secretly hoping big brother will take her in the barracks.