11/11/15

Veterans Day: The Political Equivalent of Valentine’s Day

Please don’t thank me for my service. Saying thanks is what you do when someone holds the door open or passes the salt. It is not engagement.

Saying you support the troops is not actual support. It’s a description about your actions. Saying I paint houses, doesn’t make it so. It’s a statement about the actions I do, namely painting houses. So if you want to support veterans, then actually do something. Join habitat for humanity and build a house because homelessness is an issue for veterans. Vote for social welfare programs that provide food, housing, schooling, training, mental health and legal support because many veterans and service members are on the supplemental nutrition assistance program. Veterans are dealing with mental health struggles. Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide. Veterans require job training, work assistance, and improved access. Veterans are students, and programs that assist all college students assist veterans. Improved access to healthcare not tied to a job or ability to pay for everyone will also help veterans. Social welfare programs are veteran welfare programs. 

Pulling out a gigantic flag at a sporting event while we applaud veterans is not helping veterans. Sports are a distraction and when we attach political engagement about veterans and issues about war fighting to sports we equally turn these issues into distractions. Much like “thank you for your service” and “I support our troops” are distractions. Just like strong, lasting relationships are not accomplished by a box of chocolates and flowers once a year on February 14, but are built and forged through the difficult and fruitful work and love enacted each and every day, so too it is with veterans. Superficial displays of patriotism and support will not accomplish the job. Hallmark cards and edible arrangements will not do the work. We don’t need another parade. Stop having me stand before kickoff. 

Get informed. Vote. Learn about world affairs and the wars we are fighting. Don’t just thank me for the wars I have fought in. Get involved when wars begin and prevent them from happening. If you don’t, you’re only response to me should not be “thank you,” but “I’m sorry.” And you can’t just say it to me in a greeting card.

Some places you can go to learn more, get involved, and contribute to change

National Coalition for Homeless Veterans – learn about legislation directed at reducing veteran homelessness: http://nchv.org/index.php/getinvolved/

Service Women’s Action Network – learn about issues surrounding military sexual assault and service equality: http://servicewomen.org

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America – learn about ways for veteran empowerment, not just support: http://iava.org

Veterans for Peace – learn about peace movements and ways to prevent the creation of future veterans: http://www.veteransforpeace.org

12/2/13

Women in the Infantry: Rape Victims in the Making?

TRIGGER WARNING – DISCUSSIONS OF RAPE, ABUSE, AND BULLYING

Recently three female marines completed infantry training as part of the lifting of the restriction of women serving in direct ground combat units earlier this year. However, these women will not be assigned to actual infantry units despite completing the required training. You can read more about this here, here, and here. But why the hesitation to allow these women to serve in the units for which they qualified?

What is striking, if we pay attention to it, is the vast amount of comments on social media sites, many by current and prior military service members, claiming that if these women were allowed in actual infantry units, they would be violated and raped in a matter of minutes. Whenever the discussion of women entering all-male combat units arises, whether in casual conversation, on social media, or in formal political or governmental hearings, someone will inevitably bring up the great risk to the women of being harassed, abused, or raped. If we stop for a minute and think about this all-too common concern, it teaches us a lot about the current state of masculinity.

The fact that we can all talk about, hear, and respond to this obvious risk of rape to women in all-male units without really stopping to think about it, shows how rape is simply thought of as an occupational hazard for women. Everyone just states it as a given. Rape just happens. Duh. What do you expect from a group of male soldiers? Get over it. This type of thinking is dangerous, wrong, and displays a fundamental aspect of rape culture.

The military is filled with talk of honor, integrity, selfless service, courage, etc. When I was in Army infantry basic training we had to memorize the Ranger Creed, which has lines like:

Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight.

And…

I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.

There was constant talk of duty and never failing to complete the mission. These core values are portrayed as the foundation of unit cohesion and effectiveness, and what separates the soldier from the civilian. Why then would a woman, who has been deemed by the command part of the unit and thus a fellow comrade, run the risk of sexual violence and rape?

This must either make us question the claims held up by military units about honor, integrity, duty, and loyalty or make us realize that maybe some other motivation overrides these responsibilities, namely the protection of a space for men to prove their manhood.

get back to the kitchen

The message seems to be, this is our place, and the pervasive “obviousness” of the threat of sexual assault and rape functions as a warning that expresses this “fact.” Stay where you belong, or face the consequences, which is not far from this:

WomenDeserveEqualRightsAndLefts

We are told to protect our comrades and never let them fall into the hands of the enemy. However, a woman in a combat unit is not viewed as a comrade. Rather the woman is seen as the enemy, which threatens this tenuous, insecure idea of masculinity. This is the true threat.

 

 

10/9/13

The Case Against the P-Word

“When you men get home and face an anti-war protester, look him in the eyes and shake his hand. Then, wink at his girlfriend, because she knows she’s dating a pussy.”

I have seen this quotation a number of times online, and while it is usually attached to a picture of retired Marine Corps General James N. Mattis, I have been unable to find any actual, proper citation linking it to him directly. However, the more important point is not whether he said it or not, but the comment itself, the meaning behind it, and the fact that many look up to and agree with the message behind the statement.

What is this statement saying? And more importantly what are the words in this sentence doing? Let’s break it down a little…

The term ‘pussy’ has become so common that we probably never even think about it when we use it. It has even lost the label of being a swear or curse word. But we must not forget from where this word comes. We have so associated the term ‘pussy’ with being cowardly and weak that we forget who have pussies, namely women. So, what is really being said in the above statement is that the anti-war protester is a woman. The anti-war protester is not simply a coward, he has been made into a woman. The comment is not just labeling soldiers and anti-war protesters, with statements like the above one, we are defining men and women.

The logic of the statement seems to go like this: The war protester is made to seem like a woman, and no man wants to be a woman, thus if you want to be a man, you should be a soldier. And if you are already a soldier, you can feel good about the fact that you are, in fact, a man. So, what’s the problem? Isn’t courage, bravery, and a willingness to fight all good qualities and ones any man should be striving for?

When I was in the infantry, many of my fellow soldiers were unsure about the value of the particular war we were in or were simply indifferent to the rightness or wrongness of the conflict. But somehow, someone from the outside speaking out against the war is seen and felt as a threat. Why is this so? We should all be war protesters. It should be difficult to take the country to war and every one of us, if it is needed, should be reluctant. And that doesn’t make us weak; it makes us involved, conscious citizens, the very strength of a democracy.

We need to stop using the insult ‘pussy’ to describe people. If boys are growing up learning that being a ‘pussy,’ a woman, is bad, then we are teaching boys and men to not value women. By trying to make sure boys become “men” by making sure they don’t turn out to be women, we are not creating good human beings. We are hurting women and harming men. We all are worse off.

10/4/13

Welcome to The Critical Veteran

TRIGGER WARNING – DISCUSSIONS OF RAPE, ABUSE, AND BULLYING

“I’m gonna make him a man.”

“You don’t want to be a pussy, do you?”

“What are you a fag?”

We have all heard these before at some point, and most of us have dismissed it as part of the normal way we talk to each other in society. We probably never even think about statements, where they came from, what they mean, or most importantly, what these phrases are doing when we use them. Words have effects. Christopher Kilmartin, professor of psychology, tells us: “The worst insult you can give to a boy is that ‘you run like, act like, look like, dance like, throw like a girl.’ So when we tell little boys that being like a girl diminishes you, what kind of attitude are we building? We are teaching them to disrespect women.” This abusive push for manhood hurts both women and men, to the point where here in the United States, “being a man” means a constant anxiety about achieving and defending one’s manhood, a manhood that is defined by aggression and violence. Man up! Be Tough!

Both men and women experience the negative effects of the violent standard of masculinity. Women (and some men) suffer through sexual harassment, sexism, economic inequality, and rape, among many other things. Men suffer by being denied the freedom to be a full human being. This constant pressure to ‘Man Up’ prevents feeling and showing emotions and forces men to follow a strict script of what is acceptable.

One of the most dangerous aspects of the requirement placed on men to defend and prove their manliness is the constant show of strength, power, and aggression, which limits critical reflection. Admitting that you may not have the answer is not allowed. Anyone that questions the accepted standard of masculinity gets labeled as unmanly, a pussy, a fag. For masculinity to thrive, it must crush any negative criticism, keeping men imprisoned with anxiety to either follow or be thrown out of the “boy’s club.”  This is anti-human and anti-freedom.

I wish to challenge this anti-critical masculinity, and The Critical Veteran is this challenge. A little bit about me; I was an infantry paratrooper at the 82nd Airborne Division. I have served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I have been a high school and middle school teacher. I have been a bartender. I have been uncertain about choices. I have been certain. I have been a bad boyfriend. I have been a good boyfriend. I have been to strip clubs and watched porn. I have enjoyed firing a gun. I have questioned the 2nd Amendment. I am not perfect. I strive for understanding.

An important point right from the outset is realizing that I am not above the pressures and influences of our culture, which strongly pushes to divide and label genders. Many of the jokes, words, activities, and practices investigated here, I have participated in at one time or another. However, our complicity cannot cripple our current ability to critique. Like addiction, no change can be made until we admit there is a problem and come to terms with the fact that we are not above the problem. I write from the position of a human being situated within a culture that constantly pushes masculinity. This space, this blog, is a vehicle for me to explore my own understanding of masculinity and its effect on me as a person. My hope is that by peering into my process, the act of questioning masculinity, instead of just trying to achieve and defend it, will become easier for others. The process of “becoming a happy human being” should be a free and unrestricted journey, not a pre-scripted, oppressive one.

Welcome to The Critical Veteran.