Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cultural Sensitivity and Male/Female Soldiers

This blog entry is going to be some thoughts based on the recent interaction I've had with large groups of combat arms soldiers in all-male units.  Just some opinions I've had recently, and I know they could be completely off, and I really have no scientific evidence/research to back any of these thoughts with, but I like to speculate... 

First, I have to say I had forgotten how different it is being surrounded by males, as my branch has quite a few females... In my current unit, we are almost 50% female, which is quite rare in the Army.   I have to say, the dynamic is quite different in our unit as opposed to all-male units.  The dynamic in our unit between males/females is probably more similar to what you would see in a civilian work place.  You have some men and women who are just hard to get along with and are inconsiderate, no matter what, but from what I have seen,  people are not as rowdy/disrespectful/blatantly sexist/inconsiderate in units with a higher percentage of females (at least not around me!)   Of course, I have never been in an all-male unit, but I did spend four years in a male-dominated military academy (ahem, only 15% of our student population were women), which is pretty darn close to all males.  I don't think I realized it as much as a cadet,  because I thought that maybe male cadets were just a rowdier bunch than most men, but based on what I've seen, it would seem most men just act completely different when they are surrounded by almost nothing but other men.

 I bring this up because recently I have been around quite a few all/mostly male units, and the way they act is quite similar to the way cadets tended to act.  They tend to be rowdy, don't seem to care at all that there are at least a couple of women around when they talk about sex/women in general, and are generally much less considerate of other people.  One of the other female lieutenants in my unit and I were talking about it while we were on the bus with several guys, and it got me thinking of all the recent issues we've had with Soldiers doing things on deployment that aren't exactly conducive to building strong relationships and building good impressions (ahem... burning Qurans/massacring civilians/etc.)... And I have to wonder, would it be different if there were more females in these types of units? In the military in general? It's not that women don't do things that are completely wrong - I mean, look at Abu Ghraib, and women sure can be mean if they want to - but if you had more of them around and people (or men, because they are the majority of the military) were forced to deal with a different "culture" (women) on a regular basis, would it make any difference in their actions? If they were forced to be more sensitive to other people on a regular basis, would it be easier for them to relate to a foreign culture?  I'm not saying just a couple of women scattered around, as West Point DID have women, but the men STILL acted different from what I've seen in units that have larger percentages of women, but a force where women are the norm, rather than the exception.  Even when I was enlisted, when I was on a temporary duty with ALL guys, they started acting much rowdier/raunchier than how they acted when they were around a higher percentage of women.  These guys were decent men who treated their families well, and when they were in a normal setting, were considerate people, but I will tell you what, they had me pretty upset, and I have fairly tough skin.  They felt pretty terrible when they realized it too, but because they didn't really think about it (being around a bunch of people just like themselves), they kept building off of each other to the point where their "jokes" got pretty bad (not directed at me persay, but I was THERE).  And these guys weren't even in COMBAT... there was no stress of bullets flying... they were just a bunch of dudes spending 12-16 hours a day together working, with only a couple of females around.

So, I guess what I am curious about is whether or not increasing the percentage of women in the Army - in combat units, more specifically - would reduce some of the types of issues that we have had with cultural insensitivities?  I know we have female engagement teams that deal with local women, but what about having more females in male units in general?  I realize that the same reasons a higher percentage of women would be good for the military could also present other challenges such as distractions and new logistical considerations, and I also realize my examples are not entirely relevant, as both units I have been in were non-combat units, so the stressors are different.  However, seeing the similarities between how males in all-male units act compared with how cadets at West Point acted (who also had no combat stress, and many of them wouldn't have to worry about it for a few years) makes me question how having more women would influence culturally sensitive behavior in male soldiers.  

1 comment:

  1. I think this is definitely possible. You see this type of behavior in any training environments. I think another issue that contributes to these behaviors is allowing it. This goes for peers and superiors alike. How many times have we seen complaints get sent up just to be swept under the rug? Maybe with more females, there will be a greater voice against injustice and stupidity. Maybe shit will actually get done. Who knows.