Let’s talk about the nude photo scandal “rocking” the Corps, and let’s do it in an unpopular, but logical way.
First, it has nothing to do with masculinity, toxic or otherwise. Second, the main solution the critics propose — integrating Marine Corps boot camp — won’t work. Men love images of nude women, putting them in the same room as women won’t stop that.
Third, the actual solution has everything to do with simply paying attention, letting Marines know you are paying attention, and clearly communicating the consequences should they be caught breaking rules.
Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier recently turned inside out in public because the members on the House Committee on Armed Services wouldn’t call the problem “cultural.” They insisted, oddly enough, that the policy guidance for social media behavior was not as firm as it should be.
She insisted in return, as many of my fellow veterans in media also did quite loudly, that the problem was cultural. The problem with the “culture” assertion is that it is just nebulous enough to propose literally any solution without regard for the problem itself: Marines, active duty, sharing revenge porn photos of colleagues on Facebook.
I will admit, there are some cultural issues. Wook is a terrible word. I used to tease my ex-wife about it when we were both in the service. (I assure you that’s not why we divorced.) It is a good ol’ boys club in a lot of ways. There are plenty of sex and race jokes tossed around seven-ton trucks in mixed company (most often, believe it or not, by the mixed company). And, while we shouldn’t water down standards, we should provide opportunities.
I get it.
Regardless, the most “toxic” thing about “masculinity“ in the Corps is the kind of metal used to kill radical Islamic terrorists. Jim Mattis, current secretary of defense and the most revered Marine in modern history, once told me he didn’t mind killing the “kind of scum” that won’t allow “young girls to read.”
A Marine friend of mine, both female and gay, recently remarked on Facebook that she had worked in infantry units spanning multiple continents over the course of many years and never once felt anything short of safe and welcomed.
To be clear: The problem. Isn’t. “Culture.”
The problem — Marines sharing nude photos of colleagues without their consent — is about attention, as in, paying it to what Marines do on Facebook.
The popular solution — integrating boot camp — sits upon a foundation of fundamentally flawed thinking: Males aren’t exposed to women in boot camp, therefore they foster anti-women attitudes. Carry the one and voila, male Marines do mean things to female Marines.
(If we integrate boot camp, it shouldn’t be about Facebook. Similarly, if male drill instructors are teaching their recruits to be anti-female, they need proper instruction.)
Put bluntly, Marines don’t discover women after they graduate from Parris Island. The vast majority of Marines have already encountered women in the wild prior to stepping on the yellow footprints. I enlisted because my mother, the matriarch in my family, insisted I get out of her basement. Point being: At 19, the average age of enlistment, if their families and mentors have done well, they will mostly have a decent mind on how to treat women.
Like women, male Marines aren’t exposed to much marijuana in boot camp either. Still, their incidence of usage and abuse is vastly lower than civilians in their age group.
Why is that? They mostly live in dorms that are not fundamentally unlike those found on Big 10 campuses. They abuse alcohol at a rate higher than the civilian population. Where’s the discrepancy?
Well, for starters: The first thing drilled into your head as a Marine recruit is that you will not, under any circumstances, use drugs. And, most importantly, if you do, the Corps will swiftly kick you out — potentially even ruin your life.
Following up the numerous briefs about drugs and usage and consequences, there is what recruiters call the “moment of truth.” Recruits, newly on the island, shuffle one by one into a room where “interviewers” hit them with every psychological trick in the book to get them to divulge previously un-divulged drug or criminal infractions.
The platoon is invariably smaller after the moment of truth, and the reasons why are made abundantly clear to the ones who remain.
Now let’s carry the one: When one of the top leaders in the Marine Corps at the time, Kate Germano, took over the female recruit training battalion on Parris Island, she noticed a few things. She saw that nobody had bothered to notice women recruits were failing on the rifle range at a rate much higher than historical statistics could justify.
(At this point, it should also be noted that the welfare and training of women recruits is also the direct responsibility of women drill instructors.)
Now, perhaps it was culture that got leaders to ignore women recruits on the rifle range. At the time, all women were non-infantry. Non-infantry are basically second-class citizens in the Marine Corps, derogatorily referred to as “pogues” (Personnel Other than Grunt). All pogues learn the rifle as a matter of course, rather than primary job proficiency. As a result, anyone who isn’t a grunt isn’t a “real Marine.”
In any case, Germano’s execution was simple: Demand higher standards and then hold Marine recruits and their instructors to those standards, and rightfully punish and retrain those those who fail to maintain.
As a result, suddenly – perhaps strangely, to so many in punditry – female rifle scores dramatically improved. (Germano was relieved of command for her trouble, but that’s a story for another time.)
It seems clear then, the course for Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller is to stand up a headquarters element of social media-savvy Marines, likely public affairs (PA) Marines, to watch popular social media pages. Such an element already exists, so, perhaps add a few more Marines to the personnel quota there and add social searches to their duties.
These PA Marines would report to Naval Criminal Investigative Service any evidence of Marines behaving badly on Facebook. Those Marine perpetrators of the updated guidance on social media use would get processed for separation, or incarceration, depending on their infractions.
Those cases are then broadcast as statistics to the public. They’re also packaged internally with more specifics for presentation to incoming Marine recruits and active duty Marines as a form of annual or semi-annual training. Marines should hear the horror stories of other Marines going to the brig for laughing publicly on Facebook about their victims’ nude selfie pics. They should hear in no uncertain terms about how the behavior affected the victim’s life, and how the perpetrator ended up.
The problem isn’t actually nebulous, it’s straight-forward and solvable. The best thing we can do for women when it comes to illicit nude photo sharing is to pay better attention to the men.
Geoffrey Ingersoll is the managing editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation. He served four years in the Marine Corps, deployed twice to Iraq, and worked with both male-only and mixed-gender units.