The Power of the Virgin:
Psychodynamics of Sexual Politics and the Issue of Women in Combat


Howard S. Schwartz
School of Business Administration
Oakland University
Rochester, Michigan, USA 48309-4401


Part One
Dimensions of Sexual Scandal


Third Draft
Comments Welcome
Revision Date: September 14, 1997


Presented at the CSOC Colloquium in Organizational Psychodynamics, University of Missouri-Columbia, September, 1997




The idea of using women in combat positions in the US military has little support among those who would be affected by it, but it seems powered by inexorable force. This paper addresses the question of where the power comes from. It explores some of the unconscious dynamics of the feminist response to the Tailhook scandal of 1991, then develops a psychoanalytic model that would account for them. According to this view, extreme feminism arises from an identification with a primitive image of an omnipotent, sexually self-sufficient mother, which renders men helpless, infantile and emasculated. Some of the implications of having these dynamics operating within the military are discussed. The prognosis for the military, if this analysis is correct, is exceedingly grim.



The Power of the Virgin:
Psychodynamics of Sexual Politics and the Issue of Women in Combat

Part One
Dimensions of Sexual Scandal

The notion of placing women in combat roles [1] has the appearance of an idea whose time has come, but it is difficult to understand why. Assessed in terms of our usual ideas of the bases of political power, it should not have much strength behind it. A presidential commission recommended against it (1993) [2]. Military men don’t want it [3]. More interesting, the women in the military who would be most intimately involved don’t want it either, at least for themselves [4, 5] . The countries that have tried it have abandoned it[6]. The consequences of making a mistake in adopting it are incalculable. Yet it keeps gaining ground like an inexorable and unstoppable force. Thus, in a study of military personnel, sociologist Laura Miller (1997) reported;

When I asked men who opposed women in combat roles what they thought would happen in the future, they all asserted that integration was inevitable. They concluded that women eventually would "have their way" despite any reasonable objections. (p.48)

The question, then, is why? What power lies behind this apparently inexorable force? And if this power is of a different sort than we customarily encounter in political decision making, what are the consequences one may expect from its emergence? These are the questions toward which this paper is directed.

Miller’s research provides a number of different approaches to answering the question. To begin with, her female research subjects have no doubt about who is pushing the issue. They think it is the feminists, a group they see as different from themselves, especially with regard to class and race, and as illegitimately claiming the right to speak for them:

Army women in my survey … hardly agree on the issue of women in combat. Enlisted women and women of color particularly are likely to oppose assigning women to combat military occupational specialties (MOSs). Many express resentment toward officers and civilian activists who are attempting to open combat roles to women. They argue that the activists do not realize the hardships associated with those roles on the enlisted level. Some, like one white NCO [ i.e. non commissioned officer] with Desert Storm experience, were obviously frustrated: "Who does that Pat Schroeder think she is? Has she ever talked to me? To her? To any of us? If she came here, I’d sure give her a piece of my mind." (Miller, 1995: 14)

But while Miller’s subjects may be correct, the question of who is pushing the issue does not entirely resolve it. For the source of the feminists’ power itself is an issue. If Miller’s subjects are representative of the fact that feminists are often detached from the lives of most women (also see Sommers, 1994), and if they therefore would have a hard time mobilizing the power of most women within the conventional political sphere, how is it that they are able to effect such drastic change in the area of military policy? Surely, most of the holders of politically powerful roles within the government are still men. How do the feminists get their way among them? Why do men fall down in front of them?

In her more recent paper, Miller (1997) provides another way of approaching the question by offering insight into the tactics of the feminists. Discussing what she calls "gender harassment," which she defines as "interactional, indirect forms of protest" engaged in by men who "object to women’s increased participation in the military," she says:

Gender harassment is an attempt to push women back into their more "natural" roles, restore the meritocratic order of the organization, and ensure that all soldiers on the battlefield can do their jobs and assist the wounded in times of battle. Certainly these views are considered sexist by many, and potentially could cause problems for any soldier who expresses them openly in mixed company. (42)

This gives us another piece of the puzzle. The idea of women in combat gets power from the fact that the arguments against it, even when they are based on such obviously relevant considerations as restoring the meritocracy and ensuring that soldiers can do their jobs and assist the wounded, are "sexist" and, therefore, "politically incorrect" and unmentionable.

Yet saying that does not so much answer the question as it shifts it to another level. For where does "political correctness" (PC) get its power? What is there about calling an opinion "sexist" that stops the expression of that opinion in its tracks, and that does so even when that opinion points to consequences that should be considered in making an important decision? We customarily think of PC as influencing speech and etiquette, not as determining policy in important matters. When it operates at an institutional level, it seems to do so among institutions whose functions consist in speech, such as the university (Schwartz, 1993, 1997). The idea that it could have a major impact on policy in a matter that affects life and death, and that it could do so in an institution whose concern for the lives of its members is legendary, seems almost fanciful. But there it is.

My field is not military policy, but organization theory. My concern in this paper will not be so much with the substantive issue of women in combat, but rather with the way PC, as wielded by certain feminists, affects the determination of whether they will be in combat. Elsewhere, working within a psychoanalytic framework, I have tried to gain an understanding of the primitive, unconscious forces underlying the power of certain forms of feminism (Schwartz, 1995, 1996) and PC, seen as an administrative process (Schwartz, 1993, 1997). These forces are very much at work in the issue of women in combat. Indeed, I shall argue that, in the end, the real danger of women in combat comes less from their presence there, which may very well never to amount to much, than it does from the damage done to the military through the operation of these primitive forces. My point will be that these forces are directed against male sexuality and masculinity. I will also argue, from a related perspective, that if masculinity is undermined, military organization will be emasculated. If that happens, it will not be able to fulfill its mission, no matter what the sexual composition of those who occupy its ranks happens to be.

Before proceeding, a word needs to be said about the use of the term "feminist." Ordinarily, I would wish draw a distinction between what Sommers’ calls "equity" feminists, who simply want equal opportunity with men, and "gender" feminists, who see all of life as a war between the sexes, and identify women as being the side of goodness and virtue (I have elsewhere (1995) called this Manichean feminism). Because of its concern for equality, the present matter appears to be an issue for equity feminism. But the presence of PC indicates the operation of gender feminism, which represents the manifestation of the primitive forces with which I am concerned.

The key to understanding what form of feminism operates in this case lies in the primitive character that is of concern. Primitive forces are always immoderate, always absolute. The forces that move the mature psyche are more balanced, nuanced, capable of comprehending many sides to an issue. There is nothing wrong with primitive forces. Primitive forces are the basic building blocks of psychic life. But we need to understand that they are primitive and integrate them into our mature understanding. Our times, however, are characterized by the upwelling of unintegrated primitive which have themselves taken more mature understanding as their target.

Many of the women I know identify themselves as feminists, to some degree or another. In this case, it is precisely the degree that is at issue. As we shall see presently, an absolute identification with the primitive feminine force requires a denigration of whatever is not feminine and, especially, what is not primitive. This is where its danger lies. Many of the women I know, while still identifying with this force and seeing its virtues, can also see its limitations. One can talk with them about it without encountering the rage that is the sure sign of identification with the primitive; they are not PC. They are feminists, but they are not just feminists. Their feminism is integrated within their mature understanding, and they are the richer for it.

The point I wish to make in this paper, however is that the power of feminism, as it operates within the issue of women in combat, is due to these primitive forces in unintegrated form. For our present purposes, then, I will simply stipulate that, subject to the provisions above, this is the way I am using the word "feminist." I believe that this usage corresponds to what Miller’s research subjects meant by that term.

In the course of this paper, I will elaborate the framework of this analysis. First however, it will be useful to get a feeling for the way feminism has operated in this connection. For this purpose there is no better place to start than with the Tailhook scandal.


The drive to place women in combat roles gained much of its momentum from the scandal over the Tailhook convention of 1991. Tailhook, a convention of naval aviators with Navy support, had been an annual event since 1956. Valued by the Navy because if afforded the opportunity for frank communication among ranks (Vistica: 1995: p.234), it was also well known for its raucousness. Following its origination in the northern Mexican town of Rosarita, it moved to San Diego, where it was thrown out of most of the local hotels. Finally, in 1963, it settled in Las Vegas where, according to Vistica (1995)[7], "nobody seemed to mind the men launching couches and other items from hotel windows." (p.233) The 1991 convention, which followed the US triumph over Iraq, billed itself as the Mother of all Hooks, after Saddam Hussein’s boast. By all accounts, it left nothing to previous conventions in the way of drunkenness, sexual debauchery, or other sorts of wildness.

The difference between the 1991 Tailhook and previous ones was largely due to a charge by a Naval lieutenant named Paula Coughlin that she had been sexually assaulted by a group of Naval aviators, who had arranged themselves in a "gauntlet," and that her superiors had not responded promptly to her complaint. Out of this emerged a series of charges and investigations that shook the entire institution of the Navy. Taking place in an election year, and following the lurid charges of sexual harassment in Clarence Thomas’ nomination hearings, the scandal gave overwhelming momentum to one side in what had previously been a fairly balanced debate over women in combat. As Vistica (1995) put it:

If there were two issues that every candidate either feared or was talking about, they were sexual harassment and lifting the ban that restricted women from combat. Tailhook had combined those two into one extremely powerful mega-issue. Advocates for lifting the ban claimed that until the Navy – indeed all of the services – gave women the same jobs as men had, the sexual harassment and abuse so prevalent at Tailhook would continue. (p. 348)

With regard to Tailhook, it may be stipulated that some men behaved in a disgraceful fashion that was unacceptable under any reasonable standard of behavior and certainly worthy of punishment [8]. This was a fact that was recognized by Naval personnel in their own sobriety, and is represented in a letter whose disclosure was a major starting point in the controversy. Written to all aviation squadron commanders by Captain Frederick "Wigs" Ludwig, a Navy fighter pilot who was president of the Tailhook Association, the letter said, in part:

… just a few specifics to show how far across the line of responsible behavior we went … definitely the most serious was "the Gauntlet" on the third floor. I have five separate reports of young ladies, several of whom had nothing to do with Tailhook, who were verbally abused, had drinks thrown on them, were physically abused, and were sexually molested. Most distressing was the fact that an underage young lady was severely intoxicated and had her clothing removed by members of the Gauntlet.

Tailhook cannot and will not condone the blatant and total disregard of individual rights and public/private property!… We in Naval Aviation and the Tailhook Association are bigger than this. (Cited by Vistica, 1995: pp.:333-4)

But seen in this way, the misconduct at Tailhook may simply be seen as a breakdown of discipline, and while such breakdowns are regrettable, ordinarily they are understood to be within the purview of military organizations’ disciplinary apparatus and dealt with there. The enforcement of discipline, after all, is the core process in a military organization. Enforcing discipline would have been an affirmation of military culture. But the events at Tailhook gained their significance because they were not seen as a disciplinary problem within the culture; rather they were seen as a problem of the culture itself.

This consideration also applies to the scandalous behavior on the part of the Naval command, who, as Vistica shows, attempted to deflect criticism from themselves by blaming the breakdown of discipline on younger officers, rather than acknowledging their own, very real, contributions. Here again, if they had accepted real responsibility for real infractions, this would not have been in violation of naval culture, but in support of it.

Former Naval Secretary James Webb (1996) drew this distinction very clearly in a speech at his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy. In that speech, Webb lauded the traditional virtues of the Navy and the role of the Academy in preparing officers to embody them:

And so I resolved to prepare myself so that when the time came I could honor this heritage by showing the same physical and moral courage, the identical dedication to my country and to the people whose lives were being entrusted to me. I wanted more than anything to have the courage to do my duty, to take care of my people, to speak the truth no matter how it hurt, and indeed no matter what the consequences. And I was not alone. In the messhall, on the parade field, walking to class, I could look around me and see thousands who felt the same way I did.

But he contrasted the maintenance of the Navy’s traditional ideals with the corruption and demoralization that has developed in recent times, largely due, in his view, to the aftermath of Tailhook, and held the Navy’s highest officials accountable:

The aftermath of Tailhook was never about inappropriate conduct so much as it was about the lack of wisdom among the Navy’s senior leadership…. Those who were to blame for outrageous conduct should have been disciplined, and those who were not to blame should have been vigorously defended, along with the culture and the mores of the naval service.

The important point here is that this speech differentiated sharply between the culture of the Navy and its leadership. In fact, it excoriated the leadership precisely for its failure to uphold the culture of the Navy. Yet it received a standing ovation at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Tailhook as a "cultural problem"


Largely through the direct involvement of assistant secretary of the Navy Barbara Pope,), the problem at Tailhook came to be seen as the Naval culture itself (Vistica, 1995). In that context, attitudes toward women in combat were seen as part of the problem, and placing women in combat roles was seen as part of the solution[9].

The problems of Tailhook were seen as a cultural problem. This means that they were not a problem within the culture, but rather, were a problem as seen from a vantage point outside the culture. But what was the point from which the culture of the Navy was seen as problematic?

I think it would be using the term too broadly to say that this vantage point must be another culture. The idea of a culture brings with it connotations that are far wider than a specific interpretation of Tailhook would support. Looking for a term that is narrower, it seems to me that the idea of a "perspective" is about right. It implies a partial view of a circumstance, a view that is partial because it is from a certain location. The implication is that the characteristics of the location must be understood if what the perspective reveals, and what it leaves out, are to be understood.

Having said that, it must also be said that there are only locations. We always see from a point of view, and cannot do otherwise. Some locations may afford us a broader perspective than others, but breadth is not necessarily the same thing as truth, and at any rate what appears to be breadth from one perspective may not seem to be breadth from another. And if, in the end, certain ideas and ways of seeing things prove more adequate than others, that determination is one that can only be made at the end. Up until that time it is best to do the best one can, and to hold one’s views with some humility.

But if one should hold one’s views with humility, that does not mean that one should not hold them, or that one should not express them boldly and forthrightly. Boldness and forthrightness do not necessarily mean that one is saying "finally, this is the way things are." It may mean, "this is the way things look to me and I want to express myself as clearly and strongly as I can." That is want I intend to do here.

My purpose will be to try to understand the power of feminism. I will try to understand it by looking at the feminists perspective, and by trying to understand what it tell us about where feminists are, about what is the location from which the perspective of the feminists makes sense. In doing this I am doing no more or less than the feminists have done in trying to understand Tailhook as a "cultural problem."

Trying to get at the feminist perspective, I need to be able to register the difference between those of their observations that are unproblematic and those that are odd, and therefore need to be explained. In order to do this, I have to take my own perspective as the measure of oddness. I will do this boldly and forthrightly, because I think that is the obligation of the thinker and writer. The reader may be assured, however, that my ultimate confidence is not in the specifics of my case, but in the capacity of thought, in the end, to take what it needs and leave the rest. Perhaps that will make do for humility.

My purpose, then, will be to try to understand the force of the idea of women in combat by trying to understand feminism, the agent that is pushing the idea. For this purpose, it will be useful to reexamine the question of Tailhook, trying to ferret out the dynamics of feminism by understanding its perspective on the Tailhook incidents.

Thus, in order to see what was involved in the idea that the events at Tailhook represented a "cultural problem," what we need to look at are these questions: First, over and above the acts of sexual molestation engaged in by the participants, what were seen as the sins of Tailhook for which the Navy needed to undergo a cultural change? Second, what does the response to the Tailhook events tell us about the feminist vantage point from which the traditional military culture is being criticized, a vantage point that is evidently intended as a replacement for that military culture, and whose power is represented by the apparently inexorable force of the idea of women in combat.


The crime of male sexuality

Trying to understand the feminist response to the events of Tailhook, what stands out to me above all else is that while attention focused on the relatively rare instances in which women were handled against their will, by all accounts most of the sexual activity that took place at Tailhook was consensual. This was true even for the famous Gauntlet. Thus, Vistica reports:

… for every woman who resisted, there were many more who couldn’t wait to walk down the Gauntlet and be manhandled. (p: 335)

The consensual nature of some of the activities was apparent in their very nature. For example, one of the events was "leg shaving," in which there was not even a hint of coercion or force:

According to the witnesses and the officers involved, the leg shaving was a rather elaborate ritual that included the use of hot towels and baby oil, as well as the [sic] massaging the woman’s legs and feet. The entire process took between 30 and 45 minutes per shave. (Inspector General, 1993: VII: 1)

and which ran to great general approval:

… the Barber of Seville, Lieutenant Rolando "Ghandi" Diaz, had set up his leg and pubic hair shaving chair in room 303. Outside, a fifteen foot-long banner proclaiming "Free Leg Shaves" hung on the pool patio of the suite, and women had lined up to have Diaz "make them see God." (p: 327)

What is interesting from the standpoint of analysis, though, is the way the acts in which women participated enthusiastically were responded to with the same outrage as the acts of patent abuse, as if the two were equivalent to one another. Thus, Leg Shaving gets a chapter in the Inspector General’s report on the horrors of Tailhook (Vander Schaaf, 1993), as do Streaking. Mooning, and Belly/Navel Shots. From this it appears that the apparent crime at Tailhook was not so much sexual abuse, but sexuality.

Now, the obvious response is that such public displays of sexual behavior by its officials tend to bring discredit upon the institution and, in that respect, represent "conduct unbecoming an officer.[10]" Certainly such behavior constitutes "indecent exposure." These are, of course, offenses in their own right. In fact, the rationale for the Department of Defense Inspector General’s investigation, was that earlier investigations "should have been expanded beyond the assaults to encompass other violations of law and regulation as they became apparent." (Vander Schaaf, 1992: 1)


But even putting aside the question of whether sexual assault and leg shaving should be regarded with equal opprobrium, this point brings into focus another aspect of the matter, which is close to its heart. It is that while sexuality was seen as being criminal when it was engaged in by men, the women who engaged in it were seen as blameless. Thus, Vistica (1995) observes:

It was an easy story for the press to trumpet: drunken military men sexually assaulting innocent female victims. The networks, CNN, and the major newspaper dailies easily latched on to that theme and avoided the more complex issues of women as aggressors and men as victims. There were several cases of women grabbing men’s crotches in a "package check" or other male officers having their pants pulled down by women. (p. 347)


In one suite, a female Navy lawyer, who is now a naval judge, was serving drinks in a suite while topless. (p. 234)

Perhaps the most ironic example of this was the fact that Paula Coughlin, whose complaint brought the whole investigation into being had herself had her legs publicly shaved, (Donnelly, 1994).

The crime of Tailhook, it thus appears, was male sexuality itself. But if that is the case, it puts an entirely different slant on the matter. For if what was exceptionable about Tailhook was sexual behavior that passed a certain point on a line between permissible and impermissible, one could imagine stamping it out, as I have said, by a simple tightening of discipline. But if the crime was male sexuality itself, that would mean that the problem arose not from behavior that passed a point on a line, but from the line itself. And that, arguably, might go to fundamental considerations of motivation and meaning that would, indeed, put the whole "culture" of the military into question, with potential consequences of the utmost seriousness. [11]

That the seriousness of these consequences should not be underestimated is revealed by what it seems to me is the second most striking feature of the Tailhook scandal, which was the disproportionality of the response to the events that caused it, and the extraordinary degree to which the lens of sexual abuse was used to examine the entire range of military affairs.

Disproportionality in the Response to Tailhook

As I have said, there is no denying that some of the activities at Tailhook were disgraceful, but it should also be said that the very worst of them were not felonious. No one was hurt, let alone raped, yet the level of outrage in the response was extremely high-pitched. There is no way that, without a failure of proportion, these incidents by themselves could have resulted in what has been called "The Navy’s worst disaster since Pearl Harbor." (Vistica, 1995: 355)

The lack of proportion is shown in the very prominence of the Tailhook scandal itself, and certainly in its consequences. As James Webb put it, in his 1996 speech:

Tailhook should have been a three or maybe a five-day story…Instead, we are now at four years and counting, and its casualty list reads like a who’s who of naval aviation.

Trying to understand this lack of proportion, what is especially interesting from my perspective was that much of the opprobrium, and the official punishment, was directed against individuals whose actions were quite tame. Thus, by all accounts, only a relatively few men were accused of assault, but the careers of all of the men at Tailhook were put in jeopardy simply on the basis of their presence there.

Perhaps the most egregious case here was that of Commander Robert E. Stumpf, an F-18 pilot who was a former commanding officer of the Navy’s prestigious Blue Angels. He was at Tailhook to receive an award, on behalf of the squadron he commended, as "best in the Navy" during the Gulf War. Yet his promotion to Captain was blocked because it was rumored, though never proved, and despite his denial, that he was in a room at the same time a stripper was performing. As a direct consequence of his treatment, left the Navy. (Vistica, 1995)

Perhaps most central to the disproportionality in the response to Tailhook was the loss of recognition that non-sexual matters should have a bearing upon the formulation of naval policy. The entire institution of the Navy was seen through the prism of a few acts of sexual abuse, and a readiness to subordinate every aspect of the Navy’s activity in the attempt to eliminate sexual abuse was demonstrated. The most obvious instance of this was the rampant disregard for the fact that Naval aviators, among the most rigorously selected and highly trained combatants in the history of the world, were allowed to have their careers jeopardized, en masse, with no apparent regard for the consequences it would have for the Navy’s capacity to carry out its mission [12, 13].

Vistica (1995) relates an incident concerning Barbara Pope, who was at the time dissatisfied with the results of the Navy’s investigation, that illustrates this disregard:

Pope wanted the investigators to go back and interview the several dozen commanding officers whose squadrons had taken part in organizing the hospitality suites. They were commanders and captains and, in the case of one suite, a rear admiral. Something had to be done to make them cooperate, she said, and she threw out ideas like grounding them or docking their flight pay. Hold a board of inquiry or a blue ribbon panel. If necessary, use your secretarial right, she said to [Navy Secretary] Garrett, to remove them from their jobs. "I’m not saying you fire them, I’m saying you remove them for lack of confidence. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have confidence in these people’s leadership abilities." (p. 345)

A particularly striking example of this sort of lack of proportionality is present in the case of Lieutenant Rebecca Hansen. Hansen, who had joined the Navy in response to an ad for woman who wanted to become pilots, had a history of marginal performance. She also had a history of believing, rightly or wrongly, that she was a victim of sexual harassment. (Frontline, 1996) During the course of her flight training, in which again her performance was marginal, she formally charged her flight instructor, Lieutenant Larry Meyer, with sexual harassment. Meyer was investigated and found guilty of "inappropriate remarks." He left the Navy a year later, but, before he did, he made threats that he would see to it that his friends would cause her to wash out of helicopter training.

In the event, when she went up for helicopter training, her performance was found sub-standard and she was indeed washed out of the program. Believing that it was Meyer’s vendetta, rather her inadequacy, that had caused her downfall, she enlisted the power of her Senator, David Durenberger, who took an interest in the matter and brought it up with the Navy.

The Navy assured Durenberger that Hansen was, indeed, incompetent as a pilot but he was not to be convinced and wanted to see the actual investigative report. The Navy, however, would give it only to the Armed Services Committee, who maintained that the report contained confidential information and would not give it to Durenberger. The Navy did, however, offer to have the matter reviewed by Admiral Stanley Arthur (Vistica, 1995: p.390).

Arthur, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, veteran of 500 combat missions in Vietnam, winner of eleven Distinguished Flying Crosses, commanding officer of U.S. air forces in the Gulf War, and soon to be nominated by President Clinton to be CINCPAC, commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, was widely regarded in the armed forces as a fair and honest man. He called Hansen, then an Ensign, in to hear her side of the story. Later interviewed for Public Broadcasting System’s Frontline (1996), she made it clear that she was not impressed by him:

REBECCA HANSEN: He was likable, in a_ in a_ I guess, a meeting sort of way. Was he wanting to get down to facts and business? No. He had his mind made up. He was patronizing to me.

In any case, Admiral Arthur, when he had investigated, found that he could not recommend her. This again is from Frontline, here narrated by Peter Boyer:

PETER J. BOYER: Admiral Arthur looked at these documents_ her failing grades, her marginal performance evaluations. He says what he saw frightened him.

Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR: No, she was not going to be a Navy pilot and I knew this was an accident waiting to happen, that at some point in time there would be a failure and the failure could well be tragic.

Again, Ensign Hansen was not impressed:

REBECCA HANSEN: When you have someone of the_ that has the rank and the respect of Admiral Stanley Arthur declare that you're an unsafe pilot, it doesn't matter that he doesn't have anything to back it up with. Just the fact that he has 11 Distinguished Flying Crosses_ that's all anybody needs to_ he's a war hero and he's a known quantity and I'm_ nobody knows. I'm just some_ some junior officer and on top of that_ not just some junior officer. I'm a woman. I'm a woman who filed sexual harassment charges. I must be a bad pilot. Why else would I do such a thing?

Of course, Arthur did feel that he something to "back it up with":

Adm. STANLEY ARTHUR: If you had to explain it, you could take 10 years to try to explain it, but you get this feel. You've had the feeling before. I've watched people die when I had that feeling, saying, "Maybe this individual shouldn't have been here. Why were they here? This is an accident waiting to happen." And then the next thing you know, it's an accident that happened and you say, "Should I_ am I responsible because I didn't say anything?" You know. And I know today that that was the right call, in my mind.

But these sort of considerations did not register with Senator Durenberger, who put a hold on Arthur’s nomination. This began a process which culminated in Arthur’s being called in by Chief of Naval Operations Jeremy Boorda, who made it clear that Arthur would not have his backing in a sexual harassment scandal, leading to Arthur’s retirement. Here, returning to our subject of disproportion, was Hansen’s response:

REBECCA HANSEN: I had no agenda to take him down, but if he can't deal with the facts, then maybe it is time for him to move on and maybe we're better off not having him in charge of a very heated area in North Korea if he is not able to deal with things in a balanced way.

Another form of disproportion consisted in a failure to distinguish between behavior and attitudes. The fact is that many of the "crimes" at Tailhook did not involve behavior, as such, but rather what the behavior was thought to indicate about the attitudes of those who engaged in the behavior. Thus, for example, wearing T-shirts with slogans, making jokes or even standing for their making [14], even asking questions at a public meeting, were greeted with the same horror as overt sexual abuse. The crimes, that is to say, were not behavioral crimes, but attitudinal crimes. It was a belief in the widespread character of these criminal attitudes that constituted the belief that the problem revealed by Tailhook was a "cultural" problem.

So what were these criminal attitudes? To the extent that these attitudes were limited to the belief that sexual abuse was justified, one could grant credence to the feminists’ belief that there was a cultural problem in the Navy. But, as we have seen, Naval authorities understood perfectly well that disgraceful actions had taken place. James Webb, for example, in the speech referred to above, observed that "Those who were to blame for outrageous conduct should have been disciplined…", yet his speech was given a standing ovation.

The fact that there was something deeper going on is exemplified, for example, by a speech made by Dan Howard, a former spokesman for the National Security Council who had been appointed acting Secretary of the Navy. This is from Vistica’s (1995) account:

On July 1, four days after he took over the helm of the Navy, Howard sat some three hundred senior officers down in the Pentagon’s auditorium and held what he called a "Come to Jesus" truth meeting. "I think it’s important to underline the fact that what happened at Tailhook was not just a problem with the integration of men and women in our ranks," he told the admirals and generals, who felt as if they were being lectured. "It was just as much a problem with the toleration of stone age attitudes about warriors returning from the sea, about Navy and Marine Corps people who think the rules of civility and common decency can be suspended at will, and most of all about alcohol as an excuse for disgraceful behavior." (p. 356)

Now, as has been said, to the extent that Howard had confined his remarks to the suspension of discipline and the abuse of alcohol, there would not have been anything exceptionable in his remarks on this occasion. But "toleration of stone age attitudes about warriors returning from the sea"? How does that fit in?

A memorandum written by Garrett (Vander Schaaf, 1992) before he resigned may help us focus on the shift in attitudes that the Navy had in mind. Addressed to the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, entitled "Behavior and attitudes towards women," is says, in part:

We cannot – and will not – tolerate the demeaning and insensitive behavior and attitudes of the past. Our goal in the Department of the Navy must be to cultivate through education and environment where actions demeaning to women are as a matter of course considered unacceptable – and, even more, where behavior and attitudes reflect respect for women and the valuable contribution they make as an integral part of the Navy/Marine Corps team. How do we get there?

Referrals for Appropriate Action

First, all individuals within the Department of the Navy must understand that we indeed take very seriously our "zero-tolerance" policy; appropriate action will be taken on any incident of sexual harassment by anyone in the Department of the Navy…

Garrett’s message seems to be clear enough. The problem, in his view, arises from attitudes and behavior which "demean women" and reflect a lack of respect for them and their contributions. It also seems that he associates these demeaning and disrespectful attitudes and behaviors with sexual harassment.

The problem is, of course, that while the severe sanctions for sexual harassment are associated with these attitudes and behaviors, the terms "demeaning’ and "disrespectful" are left undefined. This leaves the way open for them to be defined in practice by political forces. If these forces were moved by the dynamics of the mature personality, there would be no problem. But if they reflected irrational and primitive forces, the consequences would be horrible. Considerable evidence suggests that they have, in many cases, reflected such irrational forces. Here again, we look for the strange. It is not hard to find.

Evidence is readily available to show that the attitudes that have been found demeaning and disrespectful, together with their various cognates such as "sexist," and "antiwoman," have run across a broad range and included affirmations of the traditional male role, positive valuations of male sexuality, the belief that men should protect women, and, along with that, the belief that women did not belong in combat roles. These have been lumped together, and conflated with acts of sexual harassment and overt physical abuse.


The definition, in practice, of demeaning attitudes and sexual harassment

A good example of the strangeness in the way sexual harassment has been defined is given in a study on sexual harassment at the military academies, conducted by the General Accounting Office, and published at about the same time as the Inspector General’s report on Tailhook. The study, as published in the Washington Times (1992), revealed "significant" sexual harassment at the academies. But looking at the categories of "sexual harassment," what we find, in decreasing order of frequency, are: (1) Remarks that standards have been lowered [15], (2) Derogatory comments or jokes, (3) Offensive posters, signs, graffiti, or T-shirts, (4) Remarks that women don’t belong there, (5) Mocking gestures, (6) Unwanted horseplay or high jinks, (7) Exclusion from social activities, (8) Unwanted sexual advances (9) Derogatory letters or messages, (10) Unwanted pressure for dates. Clearly, only when one comes to the eighth of ten categories[16] does one arrive at something that meets any sensible definition of sexual harassment, and even here it is difficult to distinguish how it differs from the sort of trial-and-error in courtship that people of this age characteristically go through.

Within the service itself, Vistica (1995) observes this in the context of Navy aviators’ response to the climate of criticism that arose out of Tailhook:

The daily drumbeat of negative news, and the brass’s implementation of new rules to help end a culture grounded in sexism, only increased the anxiety among men at Miramar and at other bases around the nation. Many of the men held strong, conservative views about duty, honor, country – and embraced moral values instilled in them to protect women and children. Now, even to discuss their fundamental beliefs could cost them their jobs if they were construed as antiwoman. (p. 361)

Defining the belief that men should protect women as "sexism" may be strange enough, but it does not help us with our investigation because we do not know what "sexism" means, or why it is a crime. More interesting, and the point upon which we shall focus, is the idea that it was defined as "antiwoman," how did that happen[17]? What is the idea of "woman" that this is "anti"? That question clearly goes to the heart of our investigation.

Other examples of the strange results of this process of definition may be observed in the case of Colonel James Hallums, as described in a front-page article in the March 13, 1997 issue of The Wall Street Journal. This article describes the controversy surrounding the dismissal of Colonel Hallums from his position as chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point.

According to the Journal, Colonel Hallums, described as a "soldier of the old school" was "brought to the Academy out of worries that the venerable institution had lost its military and disciplinary edge." While there, although he was revered by many, he ran afoul of a number of the members of the faculty, especially including some of his female subordinates. He was accused of, among other things, sexism, found guilty of sexual harassment, and ultimately fired for "abusive leadership."

One incident that got Hallums into trouble was this:

In January, he found a line of cadets waiting to file course change slips. What branch are you going into, he asked one. "Infantry," came the answer. Responded a pleased Col. Hallums: "Go to the head of the line."

Out of this, and I presume other incidents, came the charge that Hallums "showed a gender bias because he was so gung-ho about combat forces, and under Army rules, women are excluded from ground combat roles." As an investigative report put it "Many in the department perceive that he disdains the non-combat arms, and by implication, female officers."

Now, from the standpoint of organization theory, I can see some validity in this. Arguably, in future conflicts, the effectiveness of the Army as a whole will increasingly depend on the effectiveness of its non-combat arms. To this extent, one might say, as some said of Hallums, that he was a man out of his times.

On the other hand, that was not the charge that was made. Hallums’ views were not repudiated as inconsistent with contemporary military requirements as such, but were criticized because they could be seen as belittling roles played by women. In other words, Hallums’ attitude was judged heretical, not because it was out of keeping with military necessity, but because women were offended by the subordination of their role that it implied. In the terms used here, it appears, Hallums’ crime was that his attitude toward women was demeaning and disrespectful toward their contribution.

As further evidence of his demeaning attitudes toward women, his gender bias, and sexism, we have:

He called in the department’s civilian female teachers and asked if they had any romantic entanglements he should know about. Early in September, Barbara Hunter later recalled, the colonel told her she was expected to serve at West Point "for the long haul and that I couldn’t be expected to get married and move." Unaware that she was divorced, the colonel, a married man with three daughters, told her he thought people who divorce lack commitment.

Ms. Hunter and Ms. Rooney, two of the department’s three civilian female professors, filed sworn statements formally accusing Col. Hallums of sexism. Ms. Hunter cited his denunciation of those who divorce as "gender discrimination." Ms Rooney said the colonel’s September conversation with her had "implied that as a woman, my career shouldn’t come first. This is sexism." (The third female civilian professor filed a dissent saying that she had found Col. Hallums to be supportive.)

But if we are interested in the truly strange, we need to look at the material that supported the charge of sexual harassment. It was:

Col. Hallums also made women feel uncomfortable… by walking through the department in a sleeveless shirt and Spandex shorts."

And this:

A sworn statement by Capt. Sharon Bowers said that, in February, Col. Hallums showed off his biceps and invited her to touch them. "In retrospect, I believe this was sexual harassment," she said.

On the basis of which:

On June 10, Col. Dennis Hunt, head of West Point’s law department, found Col. Hallums guilty of sexual harassment … not for seeking sexual favors but for creating "an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment…"

But, we need to ask, what was there in Hallums’ actions that created "an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment…"? Where was the threat, the hostility, the offense? The man didn’t do anything. He was just walking around in his exercise shorts. And he didn’t threaten to fire Bowers if she refused to touch his biceps, nor was there any other threat reported. The threat, the hostility, the offense must have been felt to be in his attitude. But what was the attitude he was felt to have that was experienced as offensive?

There is only one conclusion that I think can be drawn from this. Hallums appeared to them to experience and affirm himself in his masculinity. That was the attitude crime with which he was charged. And these women felt his experience and self-affirmation of his sexuality as a hostile attack against them. The crime was masculine sexuality itself.


The criminalization of male sexuality, and the related idea that male sexuality is directed against women, is surely the strangest aspect of the sexual contestation in the military, beginning with the response to Tailhook. It is therefore the one that is most interesting from the standpoint of psychoanalysis. A development of this idea is in a paper that grows out Tailhook, though it is not part of the scandal directly. Written by Madeline Morris, a professor of law and a high-level consultant to Secretary of the Army Togo West, this paper attempts to explain why, although military personnel commit less rape than civilians do, the decline in the incidence of rape is not as substantial as the decline in other crimes. Morris rules out the idea that this may have to do with sexual deprivation, although she is receptive to it at another point in the paper. She argues instead that this is due to a "masculinist" culture within the military.

Part of this masculinist culture is a portrayal of "women as sexual targets and men as sexual consumers." As an example of this she cites Playboy magazine, which is more likely to be read on military bases than in civilian life, (Morris: 715). What is of interest to us is her use of the term "sexual target," as if a combat were being described. This impression is borne out on the next page, when the expression becomes "sexual targets or adversaries" (716). The point is that she could have chosen other words. She could have differentiated between an active and a passive role, or between assertiveness and responsiveness, she could have talked about yang and yin, she could have spoken in any of a number of ways which would have seen both the male and female roles as being constitutive and vital elements of the same sexual act. But she chose to describe them in the language of assault. Trying to explain rape, she assumes it in the words she uses. For her, evidently, the active role in sexuality, the male role, is already rape.

Taking it for granted that that there is no biological basis for sex role differentiation, acknowledging the importance of the soldierly virtues of dominance, aggressiveness, and toughness as long as they can be purged of masculinity, Morris envisions a new military in which the hierarchy has precise control over the norms of the group, even to the point of being able to eliminate sexual desire among the members of a unit, while allowing it to express itself among soldiers of different units[18]. On the basis of this stack of speculations, for the sake of a marginal decrease in the incidence of rape, she is ready to bet the capacity of the nation to defend itself. She thus gives us a picture of the condemnation of male sexuality, lack of proportion, and the criminalization of attitude wrapped up in one small package.

But let us stay with Morris for a moment and consider the underpinnings of her case. Her view, in accordance with the current fashion, is that sexuality is "socially constructed." It has no roots in biology, and even its roots in deep levels of the personality are constructed by changeable social arrangements. For her, the attitudes of military men toward women are created by the necessity to define themselves against a female other, a relationship obviously fraught with the potential for antagonism. Integrate women fully into the military and such problems will be solved.

But will it? Is there nothing deeper than norms lying underneath sexuality? Is the difference between the sexes simply a matter of the differing circumstances of social groups constituted by anatomy? Thousands of years of history, as well as the evidence of biology, suggest that there is something deeper. But thousands of years of history may have simply served to transmit bias from time to time, and, after all, biology isn’t over yet.

Up until this point, I have been concerned to show that there was something strange, something odd, about the response to Tailhook and its sequelae. My purpose in doing so has been to legitimate the use of psychoanalysis, a mode of analysis which takes the strange as its focus of investigation. If the response to Tailhook had been balanced, reasonable, and proportionate, there would have been nothing for psychoanalysis to explain. It could have been explained in terms of rational, conscious thought. But its weirdness requires that we go beneath the surface, and look for unconscious forces that may have been at play. That is the domain of psychoanalysis.

From a psychoanalytic point of view, the strange characteristics of the response to Tailhook and what has followed have a familiar unity. The key to their unity is the lack of proportion, which suggests the presence of a transference, a response to present circumstances as if they represented the circumstances of an earlier stage of our development. This is the approach I will take here. I will try to develop a theory of the feminists' response to Tailhook that will help to explain the features we have discussed. It will also help to explain the power of feminism, why a view deeply rooted in primitive dynamics has had the power to become the dominant view, and why, especially, men have been powerless to resist it.


Go to Part Two