When I was 19 I went to Europe to go backpacking and just travel around. My original intent was to hang out in France and put those 4 years of high school French to some use but when I quickly learned that Parisians have no use for Americans with lousy French accents and that they would rather just speak English my plans changed. I had met a guy from Germany on the plane on the way over and I went to hang out with him on his houseboat on the Lahn River. While I was there an American girl he’d made friends with at some other time showed up and we hitchhiked to Amsterdam to hang out there. While I was there, staying at a youth hostel, I met people who had gone to England and gotten work papers and jobs. By then I was low on funds so off I went, across the Channel in search of money and yet another experience.
And thus it was I ended up living in a seedy Bed and Breakfast in Bayswater working as a chamber maid. All of the other live-in employees were from Egypt and I worked all day with a guy whose name I forget but let’s just call him Ibriham. Ibriham kept grabbing at me every chance he got and I kept slapping him away and telling him to stop it and then I finally just looked him in the eye and asked him if Egyptian men were always so rude with women. He looked a little stunned and told me he would never do that with an Egyptian woman so I asked him how he felt at liberty to do that with me and explained that he understood that it was okay to do that with American women – that they liked it. I told him he was wrong and then pressed him to understand where he got that idea. From the movies, of course. In particular he had seen a film called ‘The Secret Life of An American Wife” (this was a Walter Mathou film, no less) and he understood American women to be promiscuous and ever willing. I got him straightened out and we had no more issues but I never forgot that when one culture gets a view that constitutes only a very thin slice of another culture problems can ensue.
The New York Times reported today that there is a dance troupe of sexy women called “The Purrfect Angelz” traveling to Marine Bases around Iraq. They dance a little in fairly provocative clothing and then hold photo sessions, letting the boys pose with them. Seems innocent enough and why not do something nice for the boys serving our country? You won’t get an argument out of me that these men deserve some entertainment and some relief from the rigors of war but I do take issue with this particular format.
First of all, given that we recently had to arrest 5 soldiers for the forcible rape and subsequent murder of a 14 year old Iraqui girl it seems a little inappropriate to use women and the explicit implication of sex with women as a form of entertainment and a sort of ‘spoils of war’ reward. I know the primary perpetrator was a sociopath but he managed to get 4 other guys to help him out. I also know that men like women and that being around beautiful sexy women who give a come on routine probably provides a lot of relief for these guys but at it’s fundament, to associate one’s just rewards for being in combat with hot women strikes me as very inappropriate.
Second of all we have this quote A small group of Iraqi Army officers who are being trained by the marines were so enthusiastic they all but rushed the stage and filled their digital cameras with this sampling of American culture. Of course I immediately flashed back to my days in London defending myself from my Egyptian co-worker when I read this. As a woman I’m not happy with idea that men oogling women constitutes “American culture” and I know just how easily that association is made . Just because it is what all men do and what no man is allowed to do openly in a fundamentalist Islamic country, doesn’t mean I want that behavior stamped “American Culture”. Freedom, including the freedom to have sex between 2 consenting adults is one of the better parts of American Culture but using women as a reward system is not. Appreciating beautiful women is fine but it’s not like they brought in a bunch of attractive female poker players and blackjack dealers and let everyone enjoy a co-ed casino night.
When will the military wake up to the issues inherent in using sexy women as a reward? How many female cadets and recruits have to be sexually harassed before that message gets through? For how long are women going to be blamed for male behavior*? It is up to strong, self assured, stand up people like you to speak out against these behaviors and quit justifying it as ‘boys will be boys’. The unfortunate reality is that some boys will be everything from obnoxious to dangerous under the guise of this behavior being treated as normal and justified.
Again, I am specifically responding to the American Military providing sexy women to soldiers as a form of entertainment and reward. It isn’t appropriate and it needs to stop.
* the argument is often made that these women were drinking with the guys and ‘just asking for it’. Let me assure you that wanting to have fun and wanting some guy to force himself on you are not the same thing.