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Tom Lawson’s comments prove sexism is ‘wired’ into our military

Anne Kingston on how Gen. Tom Lawson’s Stone Age comments highlight the way sexism can become boiled into a culture


 
General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, speaks at a news conference in Ottawa on April 30, 2015. The country's top soldier is facing questions this morning about how serious the Canadian Armed Forces are about tackling sexual harassment in the military. In an interview with the CBC that aired Tuesday, Gen. Tom Lawson, the chief of defence staff, said some male soldiers are "biologically wired in a certain way" to make them believe it is OK to force themselves upon female soldiers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, speaks at a news conference in Ottawa on April 30, 2015. The country’s top soldier is facing questions this morning about how serious the Canadian Armed Forces are about tackling sexual harassment in the military. In an interview with the CBC that aired Tuesday, Gen. Tom Lawson, the chief of defence staff, said some male soldiers are “biologically wired in a certain way” to make them believe it is OK to force themselves upon female soldiers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

In 2013, the Australian army posted a powerful  YouTube video of David Morrison, its chief of army lieutenant general, addressing its members amid an investigation into a group of officers posting “inappropriate material demeaning women” online. Morrison is direct and uncompromising. He tells the troops that sexual harassment or sexual assault stands “in direct contravention to every value the Australian army stands for,” and that there would be zero tolerance for it: “I will be ruthless in ridding the Australian army of people who cannot live up to its values, and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this,” he said.

Morrison’s comments, which immediately went viral, serve as a baseline for every civilized institution, one in which there is no black or white in the matter of sexual harassment. The army has to be “an inclusive organization in which every soldier—man and woman—can reach their full potential and is able to do so,” he said, adding that those “who think it’s okay to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place.” His words were not minced: “If that does not suit you, then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable, but I doubt it. The same goes for those who think toughness is built on humiliating others . . . If you’re not up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you among this band of brothers and sisters.”

Morrison’s unequivocal stance stands in sharp contrast to the Stone Age comments made by Gen. Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff of the Canadian Army, in a CBC interview yesterday. When asked about sexual harassment in the Canadian military, a situation described as “endemic” in a scathing April 2015 report by retired Supreme Court judge Madame Marie Deschamps, Lawson admitted sexual harassment was a “terrible issue,” before excusing it as biologically hard-wired: “It would be a trite answer, but it’s because we’re wired in a certain way, and there will be those who believe it is a reasonable thing to press themselves and their desires on others,” he told Peter Mansbridge, before throwing up his hands. “It’s not the way it should be.”

Lawson’s claim that men have an innate trigger that causes them to harass or abuse women (or, as he quaintly put it, “press themselves and their desires on others”) is bunkum, of course, the ultimate “boys will be boys” excuse commonly invoked to justify unacceptable, even illegal, behaviour. But it also offered rare insider insight into the way sexism itself is “wired” into military thought and structure, beginning with a focus on a double standard that can arise when evoking biological differences between men and women, which, of course, exist. It’s an attitude that covertly justifies the very humiliating, demeaning and, ultimately, institutionally demoralizing behaviour that David Morrison so eloquently condemned.

Lawson’s comments elicited predictable furor and calls for his resignation. The general, due to retire this summer, issued a backtracking statement that referred to his “awkward characterization” and said the Army would be addressing the problem with “an action plan based on the 10 recommendations provided in Madame [Marie] Deschamps’ report.” Exactly how that action plan will detonate hard-wired attitudes isn’t clear.

Examining the diametrically opposed attitudes expressed by David Morrison and Tom Lawson is instructive. It provides a reminder that every breath spent excusing or explaining away inexcusable behaviour, or soft-pedalling its damage, shrouds the issue in grey. And that takes us further away from confronting sexual harassment and assault in black-and-white, you’re-with-us-or-you’re-not terms. Morrison didn’t waste a moment explaining why sexual assault occurs in the Army. He treated it as a military strategist would: as an enemy of institutional values that needs to be eliminated. The battle can’t be won without widespread engagement, Morrison said: “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” They’re words to ponder, in light of the “trite answer” offered yesterday by Canada’s top soldier.

 


 

Tom Lawson’s comments prove sexism is ‘wired’ into our military

  1. Women put their lives on the line for our country….and get attacked by fellow-soldiers and that’s okay?!

    We need a real man….like David Morrison….in charge.

  2. His ‘wired in a certain way’ simply meant that we’re sexual beings. Not that we’re wired for sexual misconduct. The fact that some take this too far is not acceptable, and he made this abundantly clear. Why can’t you fucking people read or understand anything?

    • What you can’t seem to understand, Kevin, is that rape is about violence, not about us as “sexual beings”. You are the one who can’t understand anything.

    • The highest value of any military organization is discipline. Discipline in its soldiers and its officiers. Discipline means one must have control of ones’ faculties and urges at all times. Men who can’t control their d#$# should be dishonourably discharged. Men, like Lawson, in leadership positions should be dishonourably discharged.

  3. Perhaps it has something to do with the idea that women should NOT be in combat roles, as very few have. At least that was my perception after 25 years there. There was not a negative reaction to women in the RCAF in roles such as clerk, med aid, or even mechanical work and so on. But there was a definite antipathy to women sent into danger. When I was there it was said that about 50% married other air force servicemen during or after their 3 year hitch. The other thing is that I think women in an inferior position in civilian businesses are just as vulnerable. if not more so.

    The shoe is often on the other foot: women use sex to get ahead. Finally, sexual harassment isn’t only rape: it could be any unwanted attention.

    • Of course they don’t want women in the military….makes them look bad if women can do the job just as well as they can.

      So they attack the women themselves.

      • Don’t worry Emily, they wouldn’t harm you.
        No, you don’t get it: they don’t want women in militarily dangerous roles as I think the instinct to protect women not encourage their risk of danger.
        Emily, you come up with the most out-to-lunch statements – particularly about things you know nothing or next to nothing about.
        I think I said there was no problem in having women in supportive non-combat roles, not exposed to danger. And there will be a blue moon when trained women can do combat roles as well as trained men. Even Israel doesn’t put women in the front lines anymore as they did in the beginning of their recent national history c 1947-50

        • LOL oh yeah the men want to protect women and be chivalrous to them…..so they attack them?

          It’s not me making the out-to-lunch statements, pal.

          I was in the air force so enough with the crap

          Israel, Norway etc do have women in combat roles.

          Women have always been on battlefields…..even in your beloved Victorian era.

          We were just usually the unarmed ones.

          No more.

          • Aha! Now that explains everything.

        • Nope….you can get those women-in-the-military ideas out of your head as well.

  4. I am a former Second Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Air Force. I am a victim of harassment and discrimination. I filed Grievances, and General Lawson “ordered” that everything was done fair, and “ordered” that I was treated fairly, stating platitudes and grandiose statements and ignoring virtually everything I have raised in my Grievances. I have made contact with the offices of the NDP Defence critic, Jack Harris and the Liberal Defence critic, Joyce Murray. If you don’t believe me, ask a public affairs or media contact within DND/CAF, my name and service number is: Justin Kent Morris, T61 612 933. Go and ask, and confirm everything I have said. I have also emailed documents to the CBC, CTV, and others.

  5. Many of these comments indicate just how impossible it is to have a rationale debate about important issues in Canada today. I heard the comments of General Lawson live and reviewed the transcripts and can only come to the conclusion that although awkwardly presented they clearly represent truism about the difficulties of purging biology from rational and appropriate behaviour. The General did not condone this behaviour but merely stated the obvious that you can not eradicate unacceptable acts and attitudes with the waving of a wand. Shame on the Prime Minister for so little sensitivity to what is really happening here.

    • It has nothing to do with biology…..it has to do with power and dominance.

      • Actually, we’re just waiting with a club to grab a female by the hair and drag her off to our cave.

        • Every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her partner.

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