Anti-DADT activist Dan Choi, a former infantry officer, is under attack for using sexist language to lambaste Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Choi may be persona non grata in the military these days, but his comment reflects a negative current in the services.
Choi tweeted an apology for telling the Village Voice Reid was a “pussy” who will be “bleeding once a month,” after the Senate majority leader’s compromised “Don’t ask, don’t tell” strategy failed to pass.
Neither Choi nor the military have a monopoly on vulgarity, but when as many as 28 percent of serving women have been sexually assaulted (according to a 2003 VA study), and fewer than 20 percent report it (according to the Pentagon), don’t words like these carry an especially toxic sting?
Journalist Helen Benedict, prolific on the topic of women at war, writes in a 2008 article that demeaning or sexist language is a component of military culture that makes violence against women acceptable.
This is from a 15-year-old Duke University study. We think the Army has aimed higher since then, but some of this persists.
Morris and Burke both show that military language reveals this “unabashed hatred of women” all the time. Even with a force that is now 14 percent female, and with rules that prohibit drill instructors from using racial epithets and curses, those same instructors still routinely denigrate recruits by calling them “pussy,” “girl,” “bitch,” “lady” and “dyke.” The everyday speech of soldiers is still riddled with sexist insults. “
An essay from the 1st Tactical Study Group (Airborne)’s Combat Reform Group gripes that the institutions aren’t the problem, it’s the people in them.
That Soldiers can see themselves in different colors than Army “Green” shows that individuals with private personal agendas have assumed Army positions of responsibility without changing from the inside and adopting Army cultural values-which are not prejudiced-as their own. One of the first steps towards this change is supposed to take place at basic training, yet some of those in charge of initial entry training are clearly themselves unreformed and spoiling the chance for new recruits to see that we can all work together as part of the U.S. Army. That sexual abuses have occurred should come as no surprise, since verbal abuse has become everyday accepted routine. If you get used to abusing people at IET, and you think it was “good” and “HOOAH” when does it stop? Why should it stop? You think its the ideal Soldier relationship.
If you don’t buy that words pave the road to deeds, consider that sexist language is exclusionary at a time when the military is attempting to be more egalitarian.
In any case, the ironic kickers are twofold. Choi is taking flack from within the gay community he’s been championing, and he almost certainly heard some painful slurs himself when he was in the service.