Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Military Madness


The blogosphere is arcing up in reaction to the recent review on the treatment of women in the ADF.

That’s not surprising. After all, all the ingredients that reliably offend conservatives are present.

Change is likely, the myth of the noble warrior class is under threat, and the old order of things is being challenged.

I won’t pretend that two years in the military makes me an authority, but I reckon I have as much right to hold an opinion on the subject as anyone else.

I don’t recollect any harassment of the sexual kind in my time in the army, but it was an all male context. There was harassment of course – part of the deal in rookies is 24 hour harassment, but it had a purpose and was semi-institutionalised.

If you had enough backbone to deal with it, you probably also would be able to manage whatever other military madness came your way. It was however, never over the top, and managed well at platoon level.

Besides, whilst the power balance was always lopsided because of the hierarchy, the average platoon of Nashos had its own way of dealing with dimwits in authority. There were a few, and they didn’t last.

Harassment is difficult to define – it takes many forms – but you always know it when it’s happening. To my simple mind, the basic solution to the problem is to call it when you see it, and act on it.

The hierarchical structure of the military in theory should help this. After all, there were some behaviours in my time that were simply not acceptable.I assume they still aren't.

Insubordination was one of those.

Another was mishandling a weapon (UD – unauthorised discharge).

There was no give or take with these issues. As a consequence of this clear and set hierarchy an A4 (a charge) would inevitably follow – no grey areas – no tolerance.

Sexual harassment should have the same consequence.

The problem is, of course, that the culture in some units creates a situation where turning a blind eye is acceptable. Imagine if you will that the sexual harassment was male on male. I doubt a blind eye would be turned to that – it is outside the cultural norm. I’d expect that the perpetrator would probably never live it down, if charged.

On the other hand, male on female harassment would by some be characterised as boys being boys. Male on female harassment is, unfortunately for some, culturally acceptable. Sexual harassment, irrespective of gender is out, or should be.

It's about the abuse of power, not sex, and those who engage in it are from the same breed of no-hopers as paedophile priests and teachers. It’s not, and never can be OK. Nor is it ever boys being boys (or girls being girls for that matter, since harassment is not gender specific).

So it has no place in the ADF. It is destructive to team cohesion, demeaning, and cowardly. None of these results are acceptable in the military.

The solution rests with unit and sub-unit leadership. Charge the offenders, and get them out of the military. The existing rules and regulations are there – they simply need enforcing.

Conflation of this issue with the drive to improve female recruiting is muddying the waters. Weeding out the sexual harassers won’t “feminise” the military.

Relaxing physical standards to increase the ratio of females would not however make sense. These standards should be based on a functional task analysis of the physical performance necessary to perform each and every role. Different roles require different standards.

The bottom line should be whether or not the person meets the standard, not that person’s gender.

19 comments:

Richard Sharpe said...

You're close on this one, but not quite there. The issues are a bit more complex than just "from each according to their ability". As has always been the case, the ADF is the product of its personnel. It is now 2012, and the current generation of the ADF have been brought up in the world after the sexual revolution, women's lib etc. The concept of gender equality is not an alien one, even in what have been bastions of testosterone fueled blokiness like an Infantry Battalion.

For the past several decades, the ADF has been slowly moving towards removing all of the artificial barriers that have prevented progress on equal opportunity. This has gone hand in glove with other policies designed to keep Defence in line with competing employers in areas such as Equity & Diversity, Workplace Bullying, and OH&S.

The old days of strippers at the boozer after sporties are long gone. Women are now employed within their trade in all units. I don't know of any unit that would allow a culture of turning a blind eye to harassment of any description to develop. It's just such a career ending mistake for any leader to even be perceived to condone that sort of thing, that even the most intense warrior monks of my acquaintance wouldn't hesitate to act on the slightest hint of impropriety.

As for the recent decision by the Minister to use the ADFA Skype debacle to implement revolutionary change within Defence, sadly he won't be in the job long enough to reap what he's sown.

As with all artificial social engineering, the law of unintended consequences is at work in this instance. Behind it is the decision to justify the change on the basis of physical standards in line with job requirements. By declaring that women will be able to be employed in combat roles, with the caveat that they meet job specific physical requirements, the number of women overall in the ADF will drop significantly over the coming years.

That might seem counter-intuitive, but allow me to elaborate. Currently, physical fitness standards in the Army are discriminatory on the basis of age and gender. These standards are based on civilian research out of the US, and accommodate the biomechanical differences between men and women, and the deterioration in physical ability that comes with age. In order to comply with the ministerial direction to employ women in all roles based on the job requirement, the ADF commissioned the CAIRO to quantify the physical requirements for every job and trade. The results were surprising. It turns out that for years most women have been employed in roles for which they were not physically suited. As an example, a mechanic should be able to manually unload a prop shaft from the back of the repair parts truck in the field. What had happened in the past is that a female mechanic lacking the upper body strength to do so would enlist the assistance of a burly man nearby to assist. Now that the ADF has been directed that no-one is to be discriminated against on the basis of gender, and all are to be assessed only against their specific job requirements, many women now find themselves physically unable to do the jobs they've been competently doing for years.

More to follow, over....

Richard Sharpe said...

The CAIRO study investigated both trade specific requirements as well as general soldier requirements across all trades. As an example, every soldier should be able to participate in a work party and be able to load a full water jerry into the back of a truck. This requires the strength to lift 20kg to a height of around 1.5m. Again, in the past, this has been one of those jobs the men do just because they can. Now, as a result of the implementation of the new policy, a 20kg dead lift to a height of (from memory) 1.5m, is to be included in the new fitness test to be implemented sometime in the next 12 months. Trials of the new test have resulted is some frightening statistics. Failure rates for females are staggering, and even with extensive remedial fitness training are still very poor. Unless the decision is reversed and some form of gender discrimination implemented, these women will no longer be employable.

When that attrition rate is measured against the few women who will be able to meet the standards required for combat roles, and of those the few who will actually want to, the question must be asked. Is it worth reducing the overall female participation rate in Defence to open up the four jobs from which they are currently excluded?

Richard Sharpe said...

CAIRO should read CSIRO. Damn autocorrect!

1735099 said...

It would be interesting to commission a longitudional study to substantiate your assertion that military culture has kept pace with wider social changes instigated by the sexual revolution.
Recent events shed doubt on this.
"As with all artificial social engineering, the law of unintended consequences is at work in this instance."
Would you describe conscription as "social engineering"?

Anonymous said...

In the event conscription were to be re-implemented at some stage does the new ruling mean that 20 year old women would then be targeted along with the men? Of course the children of both sexes/genders of poiticians will be exempt for whatever reason.

Richard Sharpe said...

So, rather than actually address the problem, you've coughed up the the now very ripe red herring of conscription. I'll give it the attention it deserves, and return to the 21st Century and the practical ramifications of the Ministerial Directive. Here are the key questions:

1. If you accept the premise that physical standards should be based on quantifiable job requirements, is it acceptable to lower the overall female proportion of the ADF to achieve equality of opportunity to all trades and corps?

2. If that outcome is unacceptable, is it acceptable to lower the required standards across the board so as to make them more achievable for women, with the aim of increasing the overall female proportion of the ADF?

3. If lowering the physical standards across the ADF is unacceptable, as is lowering female participation rates; would it be appropriate to retain some negative discrimination against women in physically demanding roles do as to be able to employ positive discrimination in favour of women in other roles, thus maintaining the current physical standards whilst also maximising the number of women able to be employed in uniform?

1735099 said...

"does the new ruling mean that 20 year old women would then be targeted along with the men?"
I've long held the belief that some form of compulsory social service (not necessarily military) should be instituted for all at the end of secondary schooling.

1735099 said...

Option 3 is rational, and if common sense prevails, is what we should end up with. When two principles clash - sensible compromise is necessary.
I've answered your question - now you answer mine.....

Richard Sharpe said...

Option three is the status quo. Defence has been forced towards adopting option one by the Minister who specifically discounted option two. So, when you can put emotion to one side and address the key issues, not all good ideas are workable. At work, we call it having a visit from the good ideas fairy. It sounds good on the surface, but is entirely impractical and unworkable.

And, no; I won't indulge your martyr complex by addressing an unrelated topic.

Anonymous said...

"I've long held the belief that some form of compulsory social service (not necessarily military) should be instituted for all at the end of secondary schooling"

Ah! We have common ground.

1735099 said...

"And, no; I won't indulge your martyr complex by addressing an unrelated topic."
Translation - I'll take a cheap shot and avoid the issue.

Richard Sharpe said...

No, I am staying on the issue. Conscription is a red herring and you know it. Your obsession with trying to link it to any topic is more than just a little obsessive.

So, back to the issue of gender equality in the ADF. Let me just be clear on your position. Through compromise and common sense, we should move to a rational situation exactly like it was before the Minister intervened. Is that right?

1735099 said...

"a rational situation exactly like it was before the Minister intervened"
Tell me what is "rational" about sexual harassment.
The situation "exactly as before" is not acceptable.

Richard Sharpe said...

OK, seeing as you seem to have gotten lost along the thread here, likely because you tried to disappear down an irrelevant rabbit hole, here’s a quick recap.

As you rightly pointed out in your post: The existing rules and regulations are there – they simply need enforcing.

I pointed out that in the current environment; no leader thinking of remaining employed in Defence is going to turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct.

I don't know of any unit that would allow a culture of turning a blind eye to harassment of any description to develop. It's just such a career ending mistake for any leader to even be perceived to condone that sort of thing, that even the most intense warrior monks of my acquaintance wouldn't hesitate to act on the slightest hint of impropriety.

Look at what happened to the Commandant of ADFA, and he followed the rules! It also took an inquiry with terms of reference going back to the 1950s to get the shock value needed. As Jim Molan pointed out on the ABC, about 33% of women in universities in this country currently experience sexual harassment or assault. Look at it this way, the cadets involved in the Skype incident had been there for six weeks, that’s hardly long enough to get all their inoculations, let alone be inculcated into a culture of denigration of women. They were university students first, and a long way from resembling anything military second. Perhaps we should expand the inquiry to cover all adult learning environments where young people of both genders suddenly find themselves away from home?

Looking at the employment of women, I presented three options. Here’s option three to refresh your memory:

If lowering the physical standards across the ADF is unacceptable, as is lowering female participation rates; would it be appropriate to retain some negative discrimination against women in physically demanding roles do as to be able to employ positive discrimination in favour of women in other roles, thus maintaining the current physical standards whilst also maximising the number of women able to be employed in uniform?

That was a little bit cheeky of me, because that was the policy prior to the intervention of the Minister. Here’s your response:
Option 3 is rational, and if common sense prevails, is what we should end up with. When two principles clash - sensible compromise is necessary.

Hence, after refusing to follow your tangential distraction, I used your own words to clarify where we’d gotten to at that point:
Let me just be clear on your position. Through compromise and common sense, we should move to a rational situation exactly like it was before the Minister intervened. Is that right?

Could you please highlight where, in any of that, sexual harassment could be construed as rational, and are you going to retract your previous approval of the old policy now that you know that’s what it was?

1735099 said...

I don't know of any unit that would allow a culture of turning a blind eye to harassment of any description to develop.

Let me quote from the DLA Piper report –

The Review has had before it specific allegations within scope from 847 different people (sources). Many of these sources have more than one allegation within scope.

I guess that means that the 847 are suffering from false memory, or that they were part of some kind of phantom organisation, not really part of the ADF.

Also –

We have allegations across every decade from the 1950s to date. The earliest date of alleged abuse is 1951 (on a 13 year old boy, now a man in his 70s). We have allegations of events during 2011.

I’m wondering how that sits with –

It's just such a career ending mistake for any leader to even be perceived to condone that sort of thing, that even the most intense warrior monks of my acquaintance wouldn't hesitate to act on the slightest hint of impropriety

2011 was last year. Your “warrior monks” must be the exceptions.

Could you please highlight where, in any of that, sexual harassment could be construed as rational

It may not be rational, but is obviously embedded in the culture, and is still happening.

What this discussion reveals is the belief held by some in the military that a kind of exceptionalism exists. The creed goes something like this –

“I am a member of the ADF. As a soldier I’m set apart, because in times of conflict, I have to act in ways not acceptable to ordinary society. Because of this, I’m excused from routine social mores”.

Irrespective of the gender balance in the ADF, that culture is inacceptable in 2012. That is the nub of the issue. You’re telling me, and anyone else outside the military, that they have no business making judgements of the behaviour of ADF personnel.

In your case, (since you’re fond of remote and ill-informed psychological diagnoses,) there’s something else happening.

You believe that nobody outside the ADF has any right to use personal anecdote to illustrate a point, when it applies to military matters.

I haven’t come across a name for that particular syndrome. Care to come up with one?

And BTW – the “old policy” as you call it, is fine. The “old behaviour” isn’t.

Anonymous said...

"it's just such a career ending mistake for any leader to even be perceived to condone that sort of thing, that even the most intense warrior monks of my acquaintance wouldn't hesitate to act on the slightest hint of impropriety"

It appears to me that Richard speaks in the present and you continually draw references from the past. Have another read, numerically imbalanced, and try and attack it from another angle. It may even appear differently than you now perceive it.
Having red and green lenses in your sunnies gives a shit coloured view of everything.

1735099 said...

Richard speaks in the present
So does DLA Piper.

Richard Sharpe said...

As we have both noted, DLA Piper went back to the fifties to get the numbers they needed to make the point they were tasked to make. An inquiry into any organisation going back that far will come up with a significant quantity of dirt, particularly when all that is required is allegations.

They did have some recent allegations. It would surprise me if they didn't. Nowhere did I suggest that it never happens. I just said that it is an absolute career ender to turn a blind eye to it, and that none of the officers I know are so stupid as to not act on the slightest sniff of anything untoward. The "warrior monks" of my acquaintance are not the exception, they are the rule.

It should be noted also that there is no scope in the DFDA for sexual assault committed in Australia to be dealt with under service law. It must be referred to civilian police. It is a side note, to be sure, but one of which not many outside the system would be aware.

As I noted at the very beginning, the ADF is a product of its people. The rate of sexual harassment/offence/assault is much lower in the ADF than in institutions of comparable demographic, eg. Universities. In both examples, young people are away from home in an environment where they are constantly in one another's company, often in a stressful environment interspersed with periods of partying and alcohol consumption. In both examples there are also older people in positions of power, able to take advantage of them. Until it can be completely eradicated from institutions with such lofty egalitarian ideals as Universities, it is hardly reasonable to expect it to be completely absent in the ADF.

But that is not the point, any instance is one too many. As you rightly pointed out, the rules are in place. They just need to be followed. Over the last 20 years, I have witnessed significant change in the organisation. While that sort of behaviour was ingrained in the culture when you reluctantly served, that is no longer the case. It started with creating the rules, and went through a phase of education, and now the culture is different. That DLA Piper had to go back sixty years to build their case proves that. If it was as bad as it has been made out, there would have been no need to go back that far. 847 people over sixty years works out to just over fourteen cases per year. In an organisation of over 60000, those numbers don't seem quite so catastrophic. Although, as I said, one case is too many. The other question to ask is how many occurred recently, and how many from the "bad old days" when your generation were in charge?

Richard Sharpe said...

To continue, over many years Defence has been moving towards achieving better outcomes for women. The incident that prompted the current panic was committed by people who had only been in since Mornoes. It was handed to the AFP in accordance with the DFDA. This government knee jerked out of all proportion because it hit the press. To back up their position, they initiated an inquiry going back to the fifties to make the point they wanted it to.

Sadly, the decisions they have made will have exactly the opposite effect to what they hoped. Fewer women will be able to meet the required standards to enlist. Women currently serving will no longer be able to meet the new standards, and will have to find employment elsewhere. The affirmative action plan for women in senior positions will disadvantage high performing men who would otherwise contribute positively to the organisation, and will create the impression that any woman who does achieve advancement only did so because of her gender.

I'd hate to be a woman in the ADF now, life just got so much harder for them.

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