Mandatory Air Force Female-Only Meeting Reportedly Featured Slut-Shaming


Someone at Sheppard’s 82nd Training Wing recently approved a mandated gathering of female airmen at a base community center, where they were to participate in a guided discussion about being a female in today’s Air Force.

Before sharing some of the reported content of the forum, it’s useful to grapple with a couple of threshold issues.

First, it’s arguably dubious to hold such a meeting, because it serves to reinforce gender-driven divisions between members of the same fighting team. Better to have both men and women in the audience to listen and participate, because all perspectives are relevant when it comes to figuring out how to make this combat team optimally harmonious … which is the key to optimum lethality.

It’s also socially and ethically questionable to exclude men from such a meeting, raising the question what might be discussed that they’re judged incapable of absorbing or understanding. This is a particularly relevant question given that men supervise women (and vice versa) in our Air Force, and therefore must understand one another. As a litmus test, we might ask ourselves how it would be taken if a male-only meeting were called and females were excluded. If the answer is that it might be construed as discriminatory, then in the name of equality there should not be a female-only analogue.

Beyond these issues is the question whether anything like this should ever be mandatory. Here, the test is clear and so is the answer. The test is whether listening to five NCOs and the base’s chief of Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) deliver remarks on the female Air Force experience is tethered to a valid military necessity. This being more like an episode of a talk show than a mission-related briefing, the answer is clearly no, which means whoever made this mandatory exceeded her or his authority. Airmen disinclined to attend were within their rights to steer clear, and it sounds from some reports like that would have been a good idea.

According to comments posted on Steven Mayne’s Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook forum, the content of the forum was at times bizarre and even offensive, with the MEO chief using her pulpit to generalize about and critique the private sexual conduct of female airmen.

One commenter professed “I sat and listened [to the] EO lady call us sluts.” Pressed to clarify her meaning, she added “[s]he was saying that we will give it up to anyone.”

Another attendee said the women were advised to tone down their personal appearance and de-emphasize their sexuality in order “to gain respect from male counterparts.”

“It was along the lines of one of them telling us not to wear that much make up, or look too nice … [n]ot to be too feminine.”

Here’s a screenshot of the redacted comments, which Mayne eventually had to remove because the thread was threatening to spin out of control:

If these allegations are true, they reflect absurd and outrageous malpractice by Sheppard’s leadership.

Comments like these commit the very sin they purport to prevent by reducing female airmen to sex objects and obsessing over physical appearance rather than addressing how airmen should leverage their talents and abilities to create and add value to the Air Force mission.

Such comments also unfairly discriminate against male airmen by pretending they are incapable of properly functioning as teammates of attractive women. This is a ridiculous idea, and one the Air Force fought long and hard to overcome over the past four decades in order to fully integrate women. To discover that fossilized notions like these are being re-introduced to a new generation of female airmen … by female airmen … is a crushing setback demonstrating that sexism is baked more deeply into the social fabric governing our service than even the most hardened of cynics could have believed.

But maybe the most distressing element of this mess is that someone in a position of responsibility — an NCO looked upon for advice by a majority of younger and less experienced military women in the audience — would stereotype them as promiscuous. It is deeply offensive and unacceptable to make such a remark in any situation. Not only does it reinforce an inaccurate and unfair stereotype, it unprofessionally comments on the private conduct of airmen, passing close to the inference that how such airmen choose to behave in the privacy of their own homes is linked to their professional capabilities and value to the organization. This is wrong. It is itself discriminatory. It also has nigh on zilch to do with being a successful military woman, which reflects just how much this forum was designed for NCOs to hear themselves talk rather than intelligently engage their teammates.

If NCOs who believe they understand the world and have bottled its wisdom want to impart their sage advice to junior colleagues in full candor, there are proper venues for it. Informal venues. Voluntary venues.

Forcing people to sit in an audience and listen to a slut-shaming sermon that is as full of false judgement and ignorance as it is offensive and discriminatory has no place in any professional organization, least of all one struggling to recruit and retain women.

We need badasses to join us and to stay with us, period. We can’t care who they choose to sleep with or what plumbing they carry around. When we get past unhealthy focus on the divisions between us and focus on the common passions that make us a lethal fighting team, we will kill more enemies more efficiently … and waste a lot less focus on distractions like the one chronicled here.


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