Women suffer more under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

A few weeks ago I posted about the ongoing problem with sexual assault against female service members. The issue represents but one of the hurdles facing women who take it upon themselves to serve and sacrifice for our country. The controversial Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, for instance, has a much larger negative impact on female service members than male, and serves to maintain sexism found in every level of the armed forces.

Although women made up only 15% of the armed forces in 2008, 34% of service members discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) were women. This dynamic varies greatly between the various branches of service. For instance, women make up only 20% of members in the air force, yet made up 62% of Air Force discharges under DADT (2008).

While DADT has a larger impact on gay women than gay men, the policy actually has a negative impact on all servicewomen, regardless of sexual orientation. “Lesbian baiting,” “the practice of pressuring women for sex and sexually harassing women by using the threat of calling then lesbians as a means of intimidation,” is common in all levels of the military.

This harassment reflects the attitude that women do not belong in the military, which is perhaps an even more widespread opinion than the opinion that homosexuals do not belong. One must wonder if the policy is simply an effective way for the military to maintain the status-quo when it comes to discrimination against women. Consider these statistics:

  • 58-79% of the American public believes that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.
  • A 2006 survey of members who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars found that almost 75% are personally comfortable interacting with gays and lesbians.
  • A majority of junior enlisted members believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.

Despite these attitudes, the struggle to overturn DADT has been an uphill battle, leading one to wonder the true motivation of those who want to keep it in place.

What living in the closet means for service members:

  • DADT prevents domestic partnerships from being recognized; therefore, service members cannot list their partner as “next of kin.”  Life insurance cannot be given to partners of LGBT service members. Imagine what this means for service members in active duty.
  • Partners of service members are banned from receiving health benefits, housing subsidies, and family support services.
  • LGBT service members are prevented from talking openly about their sexuality.
  • LGBT service members live in constant fear of having their orientation exposed.
  • LGBT service members may hesitate or put off seeking medical attention for fear of having their orientation exposed.
  • Those suspected of “homosexual conduct” risk having their masculinity or femininity challenged, a very intimidating dynamic in the military context.
  • LGBT service members cannot show affection to their partner in public.
  • LGBT service members cannot take time off to care for spouse if necessary.

So what is being done?

In my last post about service women I highlighted the wonderful work that the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) is doing to address the issues facing female members of the military. DADT is one of the primary advocacy issues that SWAN focuses on. Their current work on DADT includes:

  • Working to educate policy makers about the negative impacts of DADT.
  • Running a helpline for LGBT service women, staffed exclusively by veteran women caseworkers.
  • A speakers bureau that allows staff members, clients, affiliates to speak about DADT.

I recently spoke with SWAN and was informed that they are in the process of establishing further support services for gay service women and veterans. While initially their plan was to establish in-person support groups in large cities, they have found that there is a real need for such services to reach deployed service women who are unable to attend the meetings. Therefore, the organization is currently exploring how social media can be used as a means of communication for such women.

To find out more about how Don’t Ask Don’t Tell impacts the lives and work of service women click here.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics have been taken from SWAN fact sheets.

About Janice:
Janice is a Virtual Assistant, aspiring doula, and long-time feminist activist with a passion for women's history, nonfiction, nature, and wearing flowers in her hair. She is the Founder of The Feminist's Guide, a women's history travel website, which can be found at www.thefeministguide.com.

Comments

  1. thank you for this blog, i often bring this up when debating DADT.

  2. Awesome post, Janice!

    Issues like this make it harder and harder for me to justify why any woman would join the military – much less a LGBT woman. Militarism isn’t exactly a feminist/humanist idea.

    I would urge our readers to check out and support OutServe, the first underground organization of LGBT servicemen and women. Our co-founder, JD Smith, is an active duty, openly gay officer.

    This organization exists to provide resources and support for LGBT men and women who are being harassed/intimidated. If you or someone you know is active duty and gay, please have them contact OutServe.

    http://www.outserve.org http://www.facebook.com/OutServe

  3. Thanks for the information, Amy.
    I am so glad this post has generated a lot of interest. A huge shout out to SWAN for informing of this issue at the recent NOW national conference in Boston.

  4. I have to agree with you that the military is full of mysoganistic male chauvinists who are incapable of seeing women as anything more than just objects to satisfy sexual lust…And it would seem logical that they would use D.A.D.T. among other methods to achieve their ends.

    Im just glad that not all of the military personel is like that and not because theyre gay but because they understand whats right and wrong.

  5. Good article. People in the dominant culture always listen up when you make it clear to them that THEY would benefit from equal rights, too. And straight people are affected by DADT all the time. But it’s mostly women, I believe — who I don’t think are even the main culprits in this anti-gay movement.

    When I’m (covertly) on base with my partner, I’ve noticed that every time I overhear something homophobic, it’s a guy saying it.

    I think anti-gay sentiment and anti-lesbian sentiment in the military are related in their effects but not their causes. I wish someone would study that — but the Pentagon can’t even execute a survey without screwing it up. So I don’t have high hopes.

  6. Feminists have criticized traditional marriage as an oppressive and dominating institution against women, feminists have also supported sexual freedom. Supporting gay marriages would mean that feminists would be supporting the very institution that perpetuates women’s inequality. Now why on earth would you support something that works against your cause.? I just dont understand why you think marrying is an institution. Why do you feel that it it beneath you? for you to love a man does not mean that you have to bend over backwards to do whatever he says. When you marry someone you become one and everything is done together. the stereotype of man rules all is long gone yet feminists still pursue ways to persecute men.

    • Not all feminists believe the same things, Trevor. Yes, some have criticized the institution of marriage. But some haven’t. Not every gay person believes in marriage, either.

      As for your stereotypes of feminists being man-haters, you’re totally off the mark.

  7. Serena i apologize for the sterotype remark of manhaters. But explain to me why there are those that have critized the institution of marriage. Aside from their personal experiences i dont want that as an answer, i mean from a feminist perspective as a group. I know the social norm is to get married. And i know that every group or perspective has of course its own view. which is okay. But as far as DADT being removed i dont agree. Do you? Aside from sexual orientation the military has its own set of federal laws that are much different than civilizans. As a sailor i have to conform to both military law(UCMJ) and civilian laws. Why is it ok for civilians to try and change the way armed forces do things? We serve this country well most of us do some are just there sadly,dont you think that our code of ethics and morals and good order and discipline should be left to the military? I have an open mind but i dont agree with DADT being repealed. Maybe you can provide some insight?

    • Trevor, for a good read on feminist critiques of marriage, I recommend the book “White Weddings” by Chrys Ingraham. Her book gives a history of the institution of marriage, and she breaks things down based on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.

      The DADT issue is separate from the marriage issue. It’s a basic question of equality and job discrimination. If the military prevented African Americans from openly serving in the military, I don’t think there would be much disagreement that this is discriminatory. If someone wants to serve in the military, they should be allowed to serve their country. Seeing as the military has a hard enough time meeting its recruitment goals these days, it seems counterproductive to exclude people from being able to sign up to meet those goals.

      Like I said in the previous comment in regards to the same sex marriage debate – not all members of the queer community agree on everything. There are lots of queer folks who think that LGBTQ folks shouldn’t be so eager to defend a government that treats them as second class citizens. These folks believe that the military should be abolished altogether.

      Gay people come from all walks of life – so it’s hard to say all gay people believe this or that, just as it would be hard to say all Christians believe this or that – there is much disagreement within Christianity. And the same is true for feminism – feminists come from all walks of life, and we don’t agree on every point. However, the underlying thread of feminism that all of us can agree on is that feminism is about equality – for everybody – and that feminists pursue goals that improve women’s lives. We might disagree about how to accomplish those goals – but we can at least agree that this is fundamentally about equality.

      I hope that answers your questions. I really hope you take a look at Ingraham’s book. It will give you a lot to think about – whether you agree with her arguments or not.

    • Why is it okay for civilians to try and change the way the armed forces do things? Seriously?

      Correct me if I am wrong, but don’t the armed forces represent this country? If so, then I think equality for all should be the goal.
      Isn’t it supposed to be an honor to serve and defend America? Shouldn’t everyone have a right to this honor? If you really are as you say, a sailor, then I find your question about us civilians having the nerve to question and care about the policies of our country’s armed forces to be shocking.

      And if you really do, as you say, have an open mind, then I find your statement about not wanting DADT repelled to be an obvious contraction.

  8. Serena thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and better help my understanding of feminism. I will definitely keep that book in mind. Thank you for providing a better perspective from which i can view things. Look outside the box if you will you know. I am thankful. Have a wonderful day.

    • You’re welcome. Feel free to stop back and let me know what you think of Ingraham’s book when you read it. It definitely has a lot of points for discussion.

Speak Your Mind

*