Symptom of the Disease

Anthony Williams, Veteran

Anthony Williams, Veteran

I was not surprised when I learned that the Marine Corps’ nude-photo-sharing story proved to be just the beginning of an even bigger problem – encompassing all the major branches of the military in a sexual scandal that has rocked the nation. I thought back to the time of my own Army service when a new female colleague’s “hotness” was instantly up for debate and where pornography was enthusiastically collected – “I’m almost at a terabyte!” – especially during deployments.

This is not just a military problem to be solved by administrative action against a few rotten apples. The nude-photo-sharing scandal is something I both understand and abhor. There’s a lack of respect among colleagues that showcases what my wife told me the day after our most current election. “The world is more sexist than racist.” I immediately scoffed at that comment because as a Black man who has experienced his fair share of discrimination I did not think that was possible at all. I began to think about things I have seen and things I have said and done and came away thinking that my wife is right. This scandal is just a symptom of a much larger disease that has always been with us.

Denigrating women is something I am no stranger to. Once puberty hit, the opposite sex became second to none as far as priorities were concerned. I remember thinking about females 24/7 and dreaming about how I would like to “go out” with the pretty girls who fluttered their angel wings and flew down the hall at school. I didn’t know it then but that began my descent into thinking of woman as objects; objects that are desired, talked about, and possessed. That’s why I’m not surprised that obtaining a photo of an exposed female service member was referred to as a “win.” The dictionary definition of win is to “be successful or victorious,” and to “acquire or secure as a result of a competition.” To think that obtaining a nude photo of a fellow service member and exposing the most secret parts of her physicality as a “win” to be shared with strangers shows how deep this mentality runs.

It seems as if all of the branches of service involved have released some sort of statement decrying the release of these photos as “inconsistent with (insert service branch) values.” I understand the sentiment but that’s bullshit. It is very much consistent with (insert service branch) values because military values are men’s values and men have always dominated the military. The statements are lip service to pacify a public that expects a stronger moral fabric from our service members. But in a country where a man can talk about sexually assaulting women days before an election and win the presidency, can we be surprised that this happened? There are human beings inside of those uniforms and we need to realize that there needs to be a mind-shift, a complete reset in the way men think in order to solve this problem. Do we combat a few millennia of social conditioning by finding and kicking out the few rotten apples? They will only be sacrificial lambs to distract the masses so we can pretend that the military is back to upholding their“values.”

I began to change after I got married and became a father to a beautiful young lady. It becomes more difficult to engage in sexist and deplorable words and behaviors when you are thrust into the responsibility of caring for and protecting a female who you would die for. It becomes more difficult, but, sadly, it is not impossible. I still slip in that regard and men (myself included) have this incredible ability to compartmentalize actions and not see it as part of a larger picture. We’ll share a naked photo of a woman and if we find out someone did that to our mother, sister, daughter, we’ll lose our minds and even go as far as to use threats of physical violence to protect our loved one’s purity and innocence. This will happen with absolutely no thought of the hypocritical nature of our own thoughts and deeds. I’m certain that relationships develop among male and female colleagues that are based on respect and they view each other as family. But our society is so steeped in viewing females as sexual objects that it overrides our better nature, particularly if we don’t have a deep preexisting relationship with that person. It may be another symptom of this social media age we live in. It’s so easy to forget that picture is of a real person. The screen takes away all culpability. That, along with the rampant sexist attitudes we carry needs to end. And this state of mind begins way before the military.

I went to a Hooter’s restaurant one day after work to bring home food for the family. I sat down and placed my order with a waitress. After writing down my order she smiled at me and asked if I would like something to drink while I waited. “No, thank you Ma’am,” I replied while looking back down at the phone I laid on the counter. The guy next to me leaned over, the way people do when they have a juicy piece of information that’s for your ears only. “I bet that’s the first time she’s ever been called ma’am in her life,” he says, left eye half-mooning me in a conspiratorial wink. I remember thinking what an ass the guy was. Just because the young lady worked at Hooters you automatically assume she hasn’t been treated with respect or dignity; that she does not even deserve respect or dignity? I felt mildly disgusted but that was as far as my rebuke of this casual form of sexism went. I’m ashamed to admit that I performed the ritual of laughing uncomfortably while turning quickly away: enough laughter so the guy would not think I was shitting on him while quickly looking down to show I did not really want to engage in further conversation. I was wrong. I should have stood up for the waitress. By doing that I would have stood up for my wife, my daughter, and the strongest person I have ever known, my grandmother, and shown some type of guts in the face of real discrimination. I should have stood up for the women who loved me the most.  But I didn’t. I took the easy way out. I should have done better. I need to do better.

We all do.