Rape is not something that “just happens” in the military. It is an inevitable product of military training. Unless and until we understand this and change the way soldiers are trained, we will never be able to stop rape in the US military or any other military system.
The right to rape women of the enemy has been considered one of the “prerogatives” of warriors since the beginning of warfare. Could “military training” which “turns boys into men” by calling them “girls” or “women” or “gay” in order to break down their self-esteem and remold their “character” as soldiers be one of the reasons rape is such a pervasive problem in the military? Are “boys” being taught that the only way to “prove” their “manhood” is to replace “identification” with women—their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives—with a new “identity” as a “dominant male” who “dominates” women and weaker men? I fear that if we fail to address the “core issue” of “military training,” we will never get to the root of the rape culture that pervades the military.
Unfortunately the model of training boys to be men by humiliating them with taunts that they are “girls” or “gay” is not limited to the military but is also a regular part of sports training. In both the military and sports, terms like “sissy,” “wuss,” “pussy,” “faggot”–and worse–are regularly used by male authority figures in order to “spur” boys “on” to feats of “physical achievement” that require “punishing” their own bodies and the bodies of others. The use of these epithets in the context of humiliation makes it clear that “a man” is not “a woman” or “a gay”: “a man” is someone who has eradicated all of his “feminine” qualities while learning to dominate and humiliate women and effeminate men.
Is it any surprise that rape of women and effeminate or gay men is pervasive in the military and in sports culture?
Boys who submit to sports training or military training “suffer” physically. They are taught that “punishing” their bodies by “going the extra mile” when their bodies are exhausted and begging for rest is what will make them a “man.” In this process they are taught that to “listen to what your body is telling you” is what girls and faggots do. If boys are to become men, they must ignore the messages their bodies are sending them.
Is it any wonder that boys who are taught to punish their own bodies find it “acceptable” to punish the bodies of others?
Boys who submit to sports training or military training “suffer” psychological humiliation. They learn that emotions and feeling are “girly.” At a vulnerable time in their life, they learn that if they express emotions or feel for others, they may be viewed as “less” manly—or worse, as a woman or a gay. “During basic training, the recruit’s sense of individuality and agency is broken down through strict discipline, strenuous work, humiliation, insults, and irrational and arbitrary punishments. The sense of self is then rebuilt as a soldier, so that by the end of basic training, soldiers have replaced their old identity with a new one relevant to their new social world. Old loyalties to family and community are replaced with a loyalty to the soldiers’ new primary group, their military unit (Cooley 1909; Manning 1991; Morris 1996; Moskos 1970).
Should we find it mystifying that those who have been humiliated seek to humiliate others?
Their moral orientations change also, as killing another human being, the most prohibited of all immoral acts, becomes not only permitted but praiseworthy in the context of warfare (Bourke 1999; Grossman 1995).” In military training, and in the sports training that is modeled on it, another of the “the most prohibited of all immoral acts”—the rape of women and girls—”becomes not only permitted but praiseworthy.”
Should we be surprised that soldiers and athletes rape?
If we understand that not only soldiers but the whole military chain of command has been “reprogrammed” in basic training to view “manhood” as intimately tied to the domination of “girly” or “womanly” traits in oneself and others, we also should not be surprised to learn that the military chain of command is turning a blind eye to rape.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is right to insist—and to keep insisting—that the military chain of command has shown itself incapable of dealing “the problem of rape” in the military. Unfortunately, “Siding with the Pentagon’s top brass, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved legislation Wednesday to keep commanders involved in deciding whether to prosecute sexual assault cases, rejecting an aggressive plan [proposed by Gillibrand] to stem sex-related crimes in the armed forces by overhauling the military justice system.” The rejected bill, which was co-sponsored by Barbara Boxer and Susan Collins, builds on precedents established in the UK, Israel, Canada, and Australia which take felony crimes out of the hands of military authorities. This bill would insure prosecution of a larger proportion of military rapes (don’t forget the massive failures of the criminal justice system in dealing with rape), but it does not address the “rape culture” of the military which is a major source of the problem.
The problem to which the rejected legislation points is not simply the problem of the military protecting its own. The problem goes back to the way the military trains boys to become men. This problem is not as old as time, but it is as old as patriarchy and war.
To date the connection between “the problem of rape” in the military and in sports and the degradation of women, girls, homosexuals, and anything viewed as “feminine” in military training and in sports training, has not become a matter for widespread public discussion. I suspect that until this “cat” is “let out of the bag” we will not be able to address the deeper reasons for “the problem of rape” in the military and in sports culture.
We have to stop teaching boys that “becoming men” means learning to punish their own bodies, to suppress their natural human feelings, and to learn to dominate others, especially women, girls, and gays. Until we change sports and military training, it is unrealistic to think that we can solve the problem of rape in the military or among athletes.
Dare I suggest that we also need to transform images of God and Goddess that have been shaped by warfare and domination?
*Note the not very subtle phallic symbolism in the Navy recruitment poster.
Carol P. Christ has just returned from a life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she led through Ariadne Institute. The culture of ancient Crete, the last flowering of Old Europe, was not based on warfare and domination. Carol spoke on a WATER Teleconference recently. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.