Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Time Magazine's Latest Gender Fail: The Sinking of "The Sea Witch"

It's not often that Time magazine writes entire articles devoted to female military personnel. I've been subscribing to the magazine (thanks to a gift from a relative), for several years and I can't remember a single article about a female soldier or officer that comes anywhere close to the masturbatory articles written about male military leaders. I'm not surprised by this, given that this is the same magazine whose dude editor declared that women have now become "dominant" in society because..... we are still under-represented in positions of power and authority?

Needless to say, I was quite surprised to find that a recent issue highlights Captain Holly Graf, "the first woman to command a Navy cruiser." My surprise turned into that old familiar feeling of disappointment when I saw that the article was actually all about the "stunning fall" of a "verbally abusive" "Sea Witch."


Although the online version of the article is titled "Sexism and the Navy's Captain Bligh," the print version's title is "The Sea Witch."

First off, it's amazing to me that people act surprised that when women assimilate into hyper-masculine institutions they might also acquire and subsequently display hyper-masculine traits, even if they're women. Thus, behavior that goes unremarked-upon when done by men, suddenly calls for collective pearl-clutching when women do or say the exact same things.

Indeed, in rhetoric reminscent of the character assassination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor wherein anonymous comments like "she has an inflated opinion of herself" were considered totally legit reasons to oppose her nomination, writer Mark Thompson cites the accusations of anonymous Navy crew members. These transgressions included "Graf repeatedly dropp[ing] F bombs on [the crew]" and acting "particularly withering toward females." In one instance, a chaplain allegedly informed Graf that some of the junior officers were "concerned and upset" about her tone, and get this, "[the chaplain] said that [Graff] wouldn't talk to him for the rest of his stay." Can you believe it?! *Faint* What a bitch. Somebody get out the smelling salts!

But seriously. I don't think it's appropriate for those in positions of power and authority to be verbally abusive. I certainly wouldn't want to work with somebody like that on a daily basis, whether they're male or female. (Also, I thought it was sort of routine for military superiors to be somewhat verbally abusive to subordinates. Although, thanks to that pesky ban on gays in the military, I do admit my military "experience" is limited to media portrayals of the institution. Anyone who can clarify, feel free...).

Thus, my main issue with this Time article is not whether Graf was or was not sufficiently verbally abusive to result in her dismissal, but that Thompson tries really hard to create a narrative wherein Pesky Political Correctness Ruins Everything. He does this by arguing that the Navy's fear of appearing sexist was why the Navy couldn't dismiss this Sea Witch sooner that it did, writing:

"A better explanation [than Graf being removed for behavior that would go unnoticed in a man] is that the Navy failed to move on Graf earlier not in spite of her gender but because of it. Following the Tailhook scandal- in which Navy aviators assaulted dozens of women at a 1991 convention- the service rushed women to sea to show it was no longer locked in the Dark Ages."

Thus, the desire for diversity and politically correct appearances ruins everything by not allowing male-dominated institutions to get rid of bitchy sea witches. Thompson's article seems to yearn for the day wherein a person is promoted or kept around without regard to his or her gender which, yes, is also a feminist goal. Yet, this same article, starting right with the title "The Sea Witch," places primary importance on the female gender of this military leader, effectively suggesting that her gender is an explanation for her verbal abuse.

A story about a military leader behaving badly is hardly as exciting as one about a female military leader behaving badly. And that's why Graf's gender had to be front and center in this expose. Likewise, a story about the masses of male military personnel who behave badly by raping their fellow soldiers is even less exciting than that, as lady journalist Nancy Gibbs' mere one-page opinion piece devoted to that travesty in the previous Time magazine aptly demonstrated.

When men do bad things, their entire gender is not indicted and the fact that it is they, men, who do horrible things is hidden in passive-voiced statements like "a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire." Yet, when a woman does something bad, we get a multi-page spread whose entire undertone screams This Is What Happens When We Let Women Lead The Military!

That the mainstream media is incapable of reporting on an unfortunate instance of (alleged) abuse of power without simultaneously building a case against gender diversity in positions of power demonstrates how Not Over sexism against women actually is. That the mainstream media rarely highlights the positive accomplishments of female military leaders and personnel only exacerbates this illusion that women contribute nothing good to the military and are unfit for leadership. And, as always, I continue to question the appropriateness of male Time writers mansplaining that the opposite of sexism against women is happening.

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