Micro-Macro Connection

Sexual Harassment in the Military

The U.S. military has been almost exclusively male for most of its history, except for female medical, clerical, and logistics personnel. In 2013, the Pentagon lifted its ban on women serving in combat positions. But men still make up the vast majority of the armed forces and hold all the highest positions of authority. Even today, depending on the branch of service, women make up a small, albeit growing, percentage of our active military force. In 2013, more than 214,000 women were on active duty in the military and another 590,000 were in the reserves or National Guard (Statistic Brain, 2015). That represents a higher number of women in the armed services than at any other time in history (during the Vietnam War, for instance, women made up 2% of active-duty military) but still accounts for a little less than 15% of all U.S. military personnel.

Misconduct against women is pervasive in the entire military system. About 6% of active female service members and over 8% of female cadets and midshipmen in the military service academies said they had experienced sexual assault or some form of unwanted sexual contact at least once in the past year (U.S. Department of Defense, 2013, 2015). Perhaps as many as one in three female soldiers has been sexually assaulted at some point over the span of her military career (cited in Risen, 2012). To put it another way, female soldiers are statistically more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat (Ellison, 2011). And such figures don’t even include the countless number of female soldiers who regularly face degradation, hostility, and loneliness instead of the camaraderie every soldier depends on for comfort and survival. Many female military personnel end up waging what amounts to two wars—one against the enemy and one against their fellow soldiers (Benedict, 2009). But the Pentagon estimates that less than 20% of sexual assaults are ever reported (cited in Cooper, 2014).

The problem goes beyond individually violent soldiers. As far back as 2004, the Pentagon concluded that the root cause of the problem was a decade’s worth of failure on the part of commanding officers to acknowledge its severity (cited in Shanker, 2004). Things got so bad that in 2005, the Department of Defense rewrote its rules so that female soldiers could report sexual assaults confidentially and gain access to counseling and medical services without setting off an official investigation. It now pursues complaints more aggressively and sponsors a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Web site to provide “guidance and other information for victims of sexual assault, unit commanders, first responders, and others who deal with this sensitive issue.”

However the military chain of command and the way alleged victims are treated during investigative proceedings continues to deter them from filing formal charges. Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice allows defense lawyers to ask aggressive questions of alleged victims that would not be allowed in civilian courts. For example, in 2013 a female Navy midshipman who accused 3 Naval Academy football players of rape was asked whether she wore a bra, how wide she opened her mouth during oral sex, and whether she’d apologized to another midshipman with whom she’d had sex for “being a ho” (Steinhauer, 2013). And under Article 60 of the Code, the convening authority in a sexual assault case has the power to reduce or even dismiss sentences entirely regardless of a jury’s decision. In many situations, this individual is the commanding officer of or works closely with the defendant (Draper, 2014).

To address these problems, President Obama signed into law a modification of Article 60 that takes away a commander’s power to overturn jury verdicts. However, a bill, which would have allowed victims to bypass the military chain of command and go straight to military prosecutors when reporting sexual assaults, was defeated in the Senate.


Can Media Images Be Hazardous to Your Health?

What is especially troublesome about media images of female beauty is that they are largely artificial and unattainable. The average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 165 pounds. The average fashion model is 5’10” and weighs 107 pounds ). Researchers at Johns Hopkins University compiled data on the heights and weights of Miss America pageant winners between 1922 and 1999. They found that the weights of these women steadily decreased, reaffirming the cultural value of thinness (Rubinstein & Caballero, 2000). Recent winners have had a height-weight ratio that places them in the range of what the World Health Organization defines as “undernourished” (Martin, 2010).

Nonetheless, television, magazine, and Internet images of sticklike models and celebrities continue to appeal to young women who equate thinness with popularity and success. It’s not surprising, therefore, that girls and young women who regularly view these images spend a great deal of time and energy trying to emulate them through extreme dieting and other disordered eating patterns (J. L. Wilson, Peebles, Hardy, & Litt, 2006). The following statistics were compiled by the National Eating Disorders Association (2011, 2015):

  • Forty-two percent of first- to third-grade girls want to be thinner, 51% of 9- to 10-year-old girls feel better about themselves when they’re on a diet, and 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.

  • Ninety-one percent of college women attempt to control their weight through dieting.

  • On any given day, about half of American women are on a diet, even though 95% of them will likely regain the weight they’ve lost within one to five years.

  • 20 million American women suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their lives.

Although many people view such figures with alarm, others see them as benign or even positive. An Internet movement, called “pro-ana” (for pro-anorexia) or “pro-mia” (for pro-bulimia), encourages young women to view eating disorders not as dangerous medical conditions but as positive lifestyle choices. Hundreds of pro-ana Web sites and blogs provide young women with dieting challenges, discussion groups, and inspirational messages or “pep talks” about the desirability of limiting food intake and the appeal of extreme thinness. Some contain declarations such as “Food is Poison.” Pro-anas also post their messages and pictures celebrating extreme thinness on social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr. Other sites, like YouTube, provide “thinspiration” (or “thinspo”) videos, visual celebrations of skeletal women, including some celebrities and models. Soundtracks to these videos include songs with messages like “Skeleton, you are my friend” and “Bones are beautiful” (Heffernan, 2008).

Supporters of this media movement argue that they are simply providing young anorexic and bulimic women a place to go where they can get support and not be judged. However, critics worry that the movement glorifies dangerous and potentially life-threatening conditions. Research seems to support this position. A study of 10- to 22-year-olds with diagnosed eating disorders found that those who frequented pro-ana Web sites remained sicker for longer periods than those who visited prorecovery sites. About 96% said they’d learned new tips for purging and weight loss from the pro-ana sites, and two thirds used these methods (J. L. Wilson et al., 2006). Another study found that 84% of college women reduced their caloric intake within 90 minutes of being exposed to pro-ana sites (Jett, LaPorte, & Wanchisn, 2010). The potential for harm is so great that the Academy for Eating Disorders (2006) has called on government officials and Internet service providers to require warning screens for pro-ana Web sites much like the warning labels found on cigarette packs.

Incidentally, girls aren’t the only ones who may suffer as a result of dangerous media images. The popularity of male celebrities with lean, muscular bodies like Channing Tatum, Ryan Gosling, and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson have led more and more adolescent boys to become obsessed with weight lifting and body fat percentages. One study found that over 40% of middle school and high school boys regularly exercise to increase muscle mass, 38% use protein supplements, and 6% have tried using steroids (Eisenberg, Wall, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2012). And, like girls, they too have their social network sites—dubbed “fitspo” and “fitspiration” (Quenqua, 2012b).