by: Luke Cummings
I’m sure you don’t keep up with all the latest scandals involving the military, so here’s the latest one:
A private group on Facebook entitled “Marines United” was outed as a place where there occurred the sharing of nude or partially nude photos of female service members or female partners of service members, many of which included names and ranks of those pictured. The group has been shut down multiple times by Facebook administrators but continues to reform under new names.
Of course, the web has exploded with outrage about the issue. It has even been addressed by the commandant of the Marine Corps on national news stations, so I would be surprised if you haven’t seen at least a blip about it somewhere. On the internet, one side argues that boys will be boys, and that these women should have more self-respect and think twice before they take pictures of themselves naked; the other argues that this was not the fault of the women, and that it is indicative of a larger problem of sexism within the ranks of the military.
Well, first of all, I need to say that the posting of nude pictures is absolutely detestable and I do not condone it in any way, shape, or form. If the Marine Corps, or any other branch, is able to discover who perpetrated some of this sharing, they should handle it within the military justice system, as they do all cases involving sexual crimes, such as assault or harassment. You might ask, why keep it in-house? Because the military is meant to be separate from the rest of society; that’s how it works best. They will be most effective on the battlefield if they are left to do their job without the influence of political winds or public agenda. And, we are seeing military leadership handle this situation very well.
Having said all of that, and recognizing that we live in a nuanced society in which people are generally allowed to make their own choices (debatable on many fronts, to a degree), who is really at fault for the sharing of these pictures? Does the blame rest fully on the male sharers, who, in their testosterone-filled world, often make stupid, disgusting, dishonorable decisions? Does this blame rest fully on the irresponsible females who made poor decisions and sent away some of their dignity with the click of a phone camera and the tap of a touchscreen? Or is there some place in between where both sides share the blame? Is there something we can put our finger on that will show us the way out of this kind of situation?
What can social-justice movements or political speeches or congressional legislation do to curb these types of decisions and actions? Certainly, we live in an age that allows women to be more empowered than they have ever been before, and I praise anyone whose efforts have contributed or continue to contribute to this freedom – and in our desire to achieve a more equal society where everyone is treated with respect, surely we don’t want to tell men that they are destined to be pigs their whole lives and there’s nothing they can do about it – but what have we missed along the path in our noble attempt at free society?
It won’t be a popular notion, but I argue that this is an individual character issue, and not one that can be solved by passing more laws, waving a clever sign at a rally, or even by shaming the perpetrators. This is an issue that comes down to influence; influence that starts at a very young age. What are parents teaching their kids about their bodies and the bodies of others? What are boys being taught about respect? What are girls being taught about self-respect? What are the adults in kids’ lives doing that is worthy, or unworthy, of emulating? What do we expect to happen when our marketing, media, and entertainment worlds are full of sex and violence, and it bombards our children at all ages? Are children’s minds not moldable? Are teenagers’ minds not impressionable? The average female brain doesn’t stop developing until the age of 23, and the average male brain doesn’t stop developing until the age of 25. At the age of 18, when most laws in our country allow teens to “become” adults and do things like vote, join the military, or watch X/R-rated movies, the brain is only halfway on its journey from puberty to adulthood, when new processes like impulse and behavior control, risk-taking, and rewarding develop. Yet, I have friends who allow their young children to watch mature movies or television, have full access to the internet – which includes pornography, and listen to music with questionable lyrics. What do we expect when our entire culture, through its various entertainment and marketing outlets, makes women appear as sexual objects, intentionally or not? Are we surprised that so many of our young boys grow up to be men that treat women as objects, and that so many of our young girls grow up to be women that attempt to act out their perceived role as objects?
No amount of excuses can justify the actions of men against women; we can’t just explain it away and not hold the perpetrators accountable. What we can do, in order to address this problem as a culture, is start instilling values of respect and kindness in our children from birth, strive to teach them right from wrong, be good role models, call out the unacceptable behaviors that children see around them, and make sure the media they are soaking in is at a level appropriate for their age.
This is something we can all start working on now, whether we have our own kids or not. Somewhere in your life, you have influence over a child or teenager or young adult; you can make a difference. We all can.