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



Part Two

The Psychodynamics and Power of Feminism



According to psychoanalytic theory, at the earliest stages of psychological development, the infant is tightly connected to its mother to form a bond that, for the infant, is the entire world. At this stage, the image of the mother in the mind of the child is one of loving omnipotence. The infant is entirely open to this mother, and her place as the exclusive presence in its consciousness means that her love for it gives the infant the feeling that it is the center of a loving world. This is the state of mind that Freud (1961) referred to as "primary narcissism," or, borrowing a term from Gilbert Roland, the "oceanic feeling."

The image of the mother that is involved here, which we may refer to as the primordial mother, structures the very root of our personality. She mediates ourselves to ourselves and provides the basis for our sense of self-unity and goodness. Self-love, that is to say, begins with our mother’s love for us, and, at the deepest level, that is what it remains. Without her as a bedrock, we lose our sense of our own substance. She is, and remains, the most powerful figure in anyone’s psyche.

What we need to understand about her is that she is a fantasy, an infant’s image, yet one that we have a great investment in maintaining. She is a female figure, not a real woman, but she lies behind our deepest idea of the female: deeply connected to us, her love will enable us to accept ourselves and feel safe and substantial. Within the circle of her acceptance, we have a place within the universe; outside of it, we are just flotsam and jetsam. This is a matter of being or nothingness. Her capacity to accept or reject, therefore, or a capacity which can be successfully asserted in her name, has got to be the strongest power in the psyche. That, when all is said and done, is the root of the power of feminism. But we shall return to that point presently. For the time being, some more of this configuration needs to be spelled out.

One thing we need to look at is the place of the father, and the interesting thing is that the father does not have much place. At the age we are talking about here, the father is not part of the central psychological configuration of the child, and that is what gives him his place. He stands between the child and its exclusive union with the mother, making a claim on her attention. He represents reality, insofar as reality is indifferent to the child and, is, therefore, an obstacle to the realization of the child’s fantasy. More than that, he is subject to the projection of whatever badness there is in the child’s world. Could the child get rid of this father, it would again have perfect union with its perfect mother and its whole world would be perfect. It would, in a word, be able to return to the womb.

The French psychoanalyst Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel (1986) described the child’s fantasy this way:

In my view, this fantasy corresponds to the wish to rediscover a smooth universe without obstacles, roughness or difference, identified with a mother's insides to which one can have free access, the representation, at the thinking level, of a form of unfettered mental functioning with the free circulation of psychic energy. The father, his penis and reality itself must be destroyed in order for the paradise world of the pleasure principle to be regained. (p. 30)

Ultimately, we will see in this the desire to destroy the father that underlies the feminist agenda, but, again, there is more we need to flesh out.

The omnipotent, perfectly loving mother, fusion with whom would make life perfect for us, is a child’s fantasy. But according to psychoanalytic theory, childish fantasies do not disappear, they remain with us in the unconscious, where they can have the most profound effects. For instance, as I have said, the "oceanic feeling," so important in the spirit of religion, is one of these effects. In general, our idea of a positive direction in life, of a place that we can "get to," in which the tensions and limitations of our lives will disappear, is formed out of this image of fusion. Freud referred to this fantasy of regaining fusion as the "ego ideal." What I wish to focus on at this point is the way this fantasy structures the difference between the sexes.

As I have said, the capacity of the primitive mother to accept or reject us, to permit us to fuse with her or to cast us into meaninglessness, is the most powerful force in the psyche. But the two sexes are related to it in different ways. For the little girl, if not for the mature woman, the power of the mother is not so threatening, because she can identify with it. She can see herself as a mother, and can therefore maintain the fantasy of being both omnipotent and cared for. This will structure her ego ideal, her image of fusion with the primitive mother, which will in her case have an element of being fused with herself.

As the presence of male religious figures such as Jesus and Buddha indicates, it is possible for males to also see themselves in this condition of self-fusion. Nonetheless, as Chasseguet-Smirgel notes, and as feminist writers working in the psychoanalytic tradition agree, it is not going to be as easy for the boy to do this as the girl, and this will structure the difference between the sexes.

The boy cannot approach the idea of fusion with the mother with the same degree of equanimity as the girl. The girl can identify with her power, can include herself in the circle of love, but the boy cannot. For him,. Overcoming the difference between himself and his mother means subordinating himself to her. But she is a separate person, and therefore he puts himself at risk in doing so. Indeed, since the idea of fusion brings us back to our earliest developmental stage, where our power becomes increasingly attenuated, the image of fusion that the boy possesses becomes increasingly threatening as it becomes more attractive. There is, therefore, at the deepest core of male being, a deep and powerful ambivalence. Men live in terror of the thing they love the most.

So far, what I have said is in full agreement with the points that have been made by feminist psychoanalytic writers such as Chodorow (1978), Dinnerstein (1976), and Benjamin. (1988). These writers maintain that out of this terror grows a need for men to separate from their mothers, and therefore from emotional contact generally, in order to save their psychological lives. They thus engage in the male projects that have characterized the course of cultural development. These projects are their attempts to create identities for themselves outside of the emotional sphere within which they feel threatened. When feminist writers talk about the idea that historically cultural life has been dominated by men, this is what they have in mind. And, up to a point, they are quite correct.

Where Chasseguet-Smirgel and I differ from them is in the proposition that all of this cultural activity is ultimately directed, not at construction of a separate identity, but of an identity that can regain fusion with the female on terms which are no longer threatening. Men construct in order to present their product to women. Their wish is that her approval of it will mean acceptance of them as men, a recognition and appreciation of their separate identities, so that they can emotionally come together with them without the fear of being swallowed up, abandoned, and destroyed.

Typically, this motivation is unconscious. To acknowledge it would be to admit the dependency whose threatening nature drives the whole process. But to say that it is unconscious is not to say that it is any less real. Its reality shows up in its effects, and chief among these effects are the compulsive, anxiety-driven, partiality of male striving. "A man’s got to do what he’s got to do," men say in explaining their behavior. In this way, they make it plain that they cannot provide any better answer for why they do what they do. On the conscious level, they simply do not know.

It is easy enough to see that the kind of unconscious ambivalence I have described can result in a need to control women, and that this need to control them, mute and uncomprehending as it must be, is driven by the terror of their vulnerability. The fact that violence can emerge in this goes without saying [19]. At the same time, however, it also must be acknowledged that male activity has often had more salutary consequences. History has shown us male violence, but it has also show us progress and construction. And this, too, comes out of the central male ambivalence. How are the two to be differentiated?

As we have seen, the image of the mother’s love is at the same time the root of our love for ourselves. To lose it is despair, and out of this despair grows either cataclysmic depression or violence, which is, for men, the vain attempt to destroy their despair by destroying the female that, in their fantasy has caused it. Violence is as much destruction of the self as it is destruction of the other. But in addition to this destruction and self-destruction it is also possible to see that the image of the good mother and the good self can also be preserved. Constructive activity, activity which will be appreciated by the good and powerful mother, will make possible a positive bond between men and women and within men themselves. The root of this constructive activity, then, is hope, rather than despair; love rather than hate.

Having said that, what we need to see now is that this constructive activity has the function of keeping alive the image of the omnipotent, loving female and, indeed, of bringing this fantasy into realization. The meaning of positive male activity, that is to say, is to remove the blockages that limit the power of the female, to expand the sphere of the female’s love and its effects.

I have elsewhere argued that the meaning of economic activity, for men, has been to create material circumstances that would remove the limitations that necessity places on the efficacy of the mother’s love. Its purpose is to increase the distance between indifferent reality and the home, so that the home could be a perfect seat of warmth, love and connection. What I wish to argue in the present case is that this is also the meaning of war.

It is easy enough to see destructiveness in war. As Richard Koenigsberg (1996) has recently pointed out, however, it is not the image of destructiveness that has colored the picture of war that we have given to ourselves, and that therefore must be seen to represent our real motivation. That image, instead, has been the image of service, and sometimes sacrifice in the name of something higher. The soldier will beat back and vanquish the enemies of the tribe or the nation, seen as responsible for his separation from the nation’s goodness. In that way he will find acceptance in the body of the nation. If he is killed, his death will realize this connection, marking the end of the separation of his individual existence. What we see here, then, is that war has always been in the name of the primitive, omnipotent mother, represented as the nation. Its destructiveness is the destruction only of what is other to her. It dies so that she may be enhanced. At the level of the personal, the mythology here is of the soldier who battles the enemy, making the world safe for his woman and children, and then comes home again to their love. But, of course, all of this is mythology. What keeps soldiers going when the horror of their situation causes the power of the mythology to run thin is the sense of honor, whose muteness and categorical quality bespeaks the compulsive side of male psychology, which we have already discussed.

Returning to the mythology, however, note that we have arrived here at the explanation of the "stone age attitudes about warriors returning from the sea" toward which Secretary Howard devoted such scorn. This indicates that we are almost ready to begin our explanation of what we need to explain, but first we need to consider the way in which sex fits into all of this.


For classic psychoanalysis, sex is part of the given, a basic drive (trieb), not subject to further psychoanalytic explanation. Nonetheless, drives have "vicissitudes," and are subject to being transformed in various ways by culture and conditioning. To ask where one draws the line between what is biologically determined and what is culturally configured is, of course, to enter into a great dispute. It may be, however, to try to answer a fundamentally wrong-headed question (Foucault, 1980). One never sees sex without cultural configuration, any more than one sees content without form. Our concern here is primarily with these cultural configurations. It is, in other words, not so much with sex as such, as with the meaning of sex.

For Freud, the primary sexual object, both for men and for women, is the primordial mother, and the fantasy of fusion with her underlies all sexual desire. As we have seen, however, Chasseguet-Smirgel, (1986) sees the difference between the sexes as rooted in their relations to the mother, with whom the child will or will not be able to identify. This difference is represented in the fantasy of fusion with this primordial figure, which for the male and the female take on quite different meanings. For the female, this fantasy is much more self-contained. Her capacity to identify with the primitive mother means that she can imagine this fusion in the image of being herself, with her child, who is part of herself, and through whom she incorporates the male as part of herself. For Chasseguet-Smirgel, this conditions the meaning of her sexuality:

Motherhood is consubstantial with female psychosexuality whether or not it results in the birth of a child…. It seems to me, then, that her capacity for motherhood enables the woman to realize in fantasy her dual incestuous wish: to recover the state of primary fusion with the mother by means of the union established with the fetus during pregnancy, and to keep the love object, the father or his penis, inside herself. Thanks to the fusion with the fetus inside her, the woman has the possibility of recovering access to the mother’s body in a more complete, more profound and more lasting way than the man. (pp. 30-31)

For the man, the matter is not so straightforward. As we have seen, the mother is the focus of male desire, but the idea of satisfying that desire is the source of a terrible fear, since it brings with it the threat of dissolution. So he must achieve something; and in that way create a self for himself that is substantial and valued, in order that sex with this loved but terrifying figure can be managed with safety. In the classic case, he will identify with and learn from his father, his model of valued achievement, and then, achieving something based on that model, be able to start his own family.

But having said that, we see that to the contemporary ear, this seems like strange material. The idea of the female as prize for his labor, does this not devalue her, the feminist might say. And rooting female sexuality in relation to men, our feminist would continue, is that not seeing her as tied to a social role within an oppressive structure? Have we not, our feminist continues, simply reasserted sexism. Is there not sex beyond that?

Well, yes, Chasseguet-Smirgel (1985, 1986) observes, there certainly is. Sex as it has been described here is genital, Oedipal. But, for psychoanalysis, there is sex before the Oedipus complex, before the place of the traditional heterosexual sexual relations has been established. And that is where we will now turn. It will turn out to be the very heart of our understanding.

Before we go to that, a bit of terminology may be useful. In Freudian terms, the sexuality we will now discuss is called "pre-Oedipal," or "pre-genital." But, our feminist critic will observe, this has the effect of normalizing and legitimating the Oedipal process, heterosexuality, and the role of the father. She will tell us that these are all matters that should be challenged, since they inevitably lead to patriarchy and its system of domination. For the purpose of our argument, I will adopt terminology that will avoid her objection. Rather than referring to this alternative sexuality as "pre-Oedipal," I will call it non-Oedipal, meaning here that the internalization of the father, characteristic of the Oedipal phase, has not happened, rather then saying that it has not happened yet. This terminology contains no judgment about what sort of sexuality should be normative. My business now is to explore, rather than evaluate.

Non-Oedipal Sexuality

Chasseguet-Smirgel’s interest in sexuality grew out of her study of perversions. Whether one wants to call such practices "perverse" is, perhaps, a matter of judgment. Let us put it aside for the moment, however, and attempt to be purely descriptive.

Characteristic of the male perverts she studied was an underlying fantasy she called the denial of difference. This is a fantasy that the mother has a penis, and is therefore sexually complete. The meaning of this fantasy, for the little boy, is that it means that he is, even with his immature sexual apparatus, a suitable partner for his mother. He thus avoids the inferiority that would come from comparing himself with his father and can maintain the fantasy that he can supplant his father in her life. Reinforced in this view by his mother, who typically does prefer him to his father, he thus denies the difference in the generations. As well, he denies the difference between true adult endeavor and the kind of pretended endeavor that a child can manage, which then comes to be the specific perversion. In this way, he can maintain his narcissism, the fantasy of fusion with the perfect, omnipotent, primordial mother.

I have discussed the consequences of this male development elsewhere (Schwartz, 1996). For the present, what is more important is the course of non-Oedipal sexuality in the girl. For Chasseguet-Smirgel, this again represents a fusion with the primordial mother. But there is a difference. For the boy, the fantasy of fusion involves taking the place of the father. For the girl, what is envisioned is not a partnership with the primordial mother, but establishment as the primordial mother herself. The omnipotence, then, which is the defining characteristic of the primordial mother, will be hers. But omnipotence has the corollary that the father is a usurper who may be gotten rid of. In her fantasy, then, she can have children, with which she also identities, by herself, and without male participation:

The companion to the boy’s perverse deception regarding the difference between the sexes and between the generations, which installs him as mother’s partner, would be, in the girl’s case, the denial that the child needs to have a father. (Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1985: p.35)

And she continues:

Indeed, the bearing of children without the male playing any role is written into the S.C.U.M (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto: "Reproduction of the species is technically possible without any need for a man. Women could henceforth reproduce only women" (Valerie Solanas, S.C.U.M Manifesto). (Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1985: p.35)

And what does that tell us about her sexuality? If she identifies with the omnipotent, primordial mother, and if the aim in sexuality is fusion with the primordial mother, who does she have sex with? The answer can only be that she has sex with herself. To the extent that she can make sense of having sex with others, they will have to be those with whom she identifies completely. These may be other women, into whom she has projected herself completely and without reservation; or they may be men, if she can strip them of their masculine difference and identify them with herself. Alternatively, she can have sex with men but not make sense of it. She may experience this sex as an act of abuse by a person whom she resents and despises, but whom she continues seeing as a result of a part of her personality for which she assumes no responsibility. In either case, the basic psychodynamic fact remains. The central figure in her psyche is herself, identified with the primordial mother. Under this identification, there is no one else that it would possibly make sense to have sex with. Perfect is perfect, and who could ask for anything more? In fact, to the extent that sex implies a connection with an other, she does not have sex at all. She is not sexual, but erotic. More precisely, she is autoerotic. As we shall see, this is an important key to our puzzle.

The idea that she is having sex with herself, that she is autoerotic, and that this underlies her basic approach to the world, may seem strange, but it is in fact a mainstay of feminist writing. It reaches, perhaps, its most explicit formulation in the work of Luce Irigaray.


Irigaray (1985) takes sexuality as the core of all human relations, and takes autoeroticism as the model of sexuality. She looks there for the difference between male and female sexuality. She maintains that the phallic sexuality of the male, which has until this point dominated Western culture, has given woman only a subordinate, instrumental function, replacing the hand in male masturbation:

Female sexuality has always been conceptualized on the basis of male parameters… For the clitoris is conceived as a little penis pleasant to masturbate so long as castration anxiety does not exist (for the boy child), and the vagina is valued for the "lodging" it offers the male organ when the forbidden hand has to find a replacement for pleasure-giving.

In these terms, woman’s erogenous zones never amount to anything but a clitoris-sex that is not comparable to the noble phallic organ, or a hole-envelope that serves to sheathe and massage the penis in intercourse: a non-sex, or a masculine organ turned back upon itself, self-embracing.(p. 23)

Woman, in this sexual imaginary, is only a more or less obliging prop for the enactment of man’s fantasies. That she may find pleasure in that role, by proxy, is possible, even certain. But such pleasure is above all a masochistic prostitution of her body to a desire that is not her own, and it leaves her in a familiar state of dependency upon man. (p. 25)

The loathsomeness of this phallic sexuality, as Irigaray experiences it, is apparent in the way it plays out in culture.

The more or less exclusive – and highly anxious – attention paid to erection in Western sexuality proves to what extent the imaginary that governs it is foreign to the feminine. For the most part, this sexuality offers nothing but imperatives dictated by male rivalry: the "strongest" being the one who has the best "hard-on," the longest, the biggest, the stiffest penis, or even the one who "pees the farthest" (as in little boys’ contests). Or else one finds imperatives dictated by the enactment of sadomasochistic fantasies, these in turn governed by man’s relation to his mother: the desire to force entry, to penetrate, to appropriate for himself the mystery of this womb where he has been conceived, the secret of his begetting, of his "origin." (pp. 24-5)

She contrasts this contemptible stuff with female sexuality, evidently a higher type:

… woman’s autoeroticism is very different from man’s. In order to touch himself, man needs an instrument: his hand, a woman’s body, language … And this self-caressing requires at least a minimum of activity. As for woman, she touches herself in and of herself without any need for mediation, and before there is any way to distinguish activity from passivity. Woman "touches herself" all the time, and moreover no one can forbid her to do so, for her genitals are formed of two lips in continuous contact. Thus, within herself, she is already two – but not divisible into one(s) – that caress each other.

Her model of relationships follows along with this. Male relationships, characterized by possessiveness and modeled on property ownership, are based on the singularity of the penis. Woman, however, understood in her own right, resists objectification. She is diffuse, fluid, several.

Woman always remains several, but she is kept from dispersion because the other is already within her and is autoerotically familiar to her. Which is not to say that she appropriates the other for herself, that she reduces it to her own property. Ownership and property are doubtless quite foreign to the feminine. At least sexually. But not nearness. Nearness is so pronounced that it makes all discrimination of identity, and thus all forms of property, impossible. Woman derives pleasure from what is so near that she cannot have it, nor have herself. She herself enters into a ceaseless exchange of herself with the other without any possibility of identifying either. (p. 31)

But what can it be with which she can be so near, with which she can be autoerotically bound, which is within her, but which is not her, and with which her whole world, consisting of her and her relationships, can be made? What can this student of Lacan[20] be referring to other than her reflection? We have here the story of Narcissus, the story of the way in which one’s self and one’s own self-admiration can constitute the whole world for oneself. This, according to Irigaray, is the pure feminine perspective. It is the perspective of the virgin.

And how does male sexuality look from this virginal perspective:

This autoeroticism is disrupted by a violent break-in: the brutal separation of the two lips by a violating penis, an intrusion that distracts and deflects the woman from this "self-caressing" she needs if she is not to incur the disappearance of her own pleasure in sexual relations. (p. 24)

Now we are ready to return to Tailhook.


Tailhook Revisited: The Power of the Virgin

I want to look at the response to Tailhook with the benefit of the perspective we have uncovered. My claim is that the feminist perspective which informed and determined the way the events of Tailhook were interpreted, and which carry forward in the issue of women in combat, resulted from an identification with the primordial mother. This was an identification made, more or less completely, by some feminists. But if we are to fully understand its effects, we need to understand that that identification was accepted by men as well as women. Looking for the reason why men are so helpless before the power of feminism, in other words, we have to see that the power this identification brings is one that affects men as much as it does women, and that is, ultimately, the reason why the idea of women in combat seems as inexorable as it seems.

Reflecting on this matter, we can easily see why this image is experienced as so powerful by men. It is experienced in this way because it is not a woman’s image of the female; it is an infant’s image of the female. We all have mothers, whether we are male or female, and she is experienced as omnipotent and self-sufficient by all of us. Indeed, her diffuse autoeroticism, in which as infants we are included, is the perfect complement of the unfocused polymorphous perversity of the infant. None of these matters were discovered by women because they have some secret access to a female essence, located somewhere inside of them that men don’t have. Rather, women are simply bringing to consciousness the idea that all of us had toward our mother when we were totally dependent on her and not differentiated from her.

The difference is, as we have seen, that because the mother is a woman and because the girl child is a woman, she can identify with her; while for the boy, she is far more terrifying and he has to have a project which will make him safe if he is to fuse with her. In the absence of that project, should that project be undermined, her power reduces the male to infantile dependence and helplessness. No longer capable of uniting as an adult with an adult female he is, for all intents and purposes, castrated. The female, by contrast, is made powerful through it, and powerful, especially, over the dependent, helpless, castrated male. There you have the power of feminism. It is the power of the virgin.

For the explanation of Tailhook, it is easy enough to start at the point where we left Irigaray, with the image of the "violent break-in: the brutal separation of the two lips by a violating penis." What we can see here, without any difficulty, is the way in which male sexuality itself, and not just the physical abusiveness that no one denies, became a crime. For, continuing with Irigaray, not only is it violent, it is "an intrusion that distracts and deflects the woman from this ‘self-caressing’ she needs if she is not to incur the disappearance of her own pleasure in sexual relations."

The point here is that the auto-eroticism of this virginal, primordial mother is sufficient for all the purposes of life. It is perfect in its own right and lacks nothing. Male sexuality is an intrusion into it, an interference with it, a disruption of it. It subordinates the sublime to the base, the sacred to the profane. It cannot be anything but defilement, rape (e.g. MacKinnon, 1989; Dworkin, 1980).

As I have said, tied to this image themselves, requiring its approval for the very integrity of their very personality, men must be very sensitive to such feelings. Around their sexuality must cluster, consciously or unconsciously, a sense of shame and guilt. Toward it, they must have a sensitivity and sense of vulnerability that will keep them in motion all their lives. Out of this may easily arise a compulsive zealousness in the defense of the sexual purity of the virginal primordial mother, a defense that psychoanalysis calls a reaction formation: an affirmation of the opposite of these base impulses for the purpose of denying their presence in oneself. This zealousness, which permeates and provides much of the meaning of the response to Tailhook, is likely to be strongest among men whose sexuality is strongest, and therefore hardest for them deny.

Vistica (1995) provides a nice enough image of this. In this case, Senator John McCain, who was leading an attack on Naval Secretary Lawrence Garrett for not responding more quickly to the incidents at Tailhook, was seen as something of a puzzle by some:

Some officers on Garrett’s staff… were surprised by McCain’s ambush and stricken by the irony that he would have the nerve to speak out on Tailhook. Several of the old aviators were aware of McCain’s past reputation. "He would fuck a pile of rocks if he thought a snake was in it," said one former Vietnam POW who had served in the Navy with McCain. (p. 337)

What comes into focus as well, given this line of reasoning, is the lack of proportion in the response to Tailhook. This is so with regard to a number of perspectives. For one thing, we can understand the extraordinary fact that the feminist critics of the Navy were ready to subordinate all other considerations to the matter of sexual harassment. The point is that if you take the perspective of the primordial mother, no other considerations are important.

She is, to begin with, sexual, even if that sexuality is autoerotic, and the world in which she operates is suffused with that sexuality. Moreover, that sexuality is sufficient. Nothing else is required in that perfect world, whose very perfection is expressed through that sexuality. Given that world, and her place in it, the activities that navies, and navy men, engage in are second-rate and inferior, the expressions of a debased nature. They are, as Irigaray puts it:

… nothing but imperatives dictated by male rivalry: the "strongest" being the one who has the best "hard-on," the longest, the biggest, the stiffest penis, or even the one who "pees the farthest" (as in little boys’ contests). (pp. 24-5)

What we can see happening here, and this is the root of all of the disproportion that we saw, is that the identification with the omnipotent, virginal, primordial mother has rendered, for the feminists, a disdain for the male activity that would otherwise have allowed Tailhook to be kept in perspective. If she is omnipotent, her simple existence and the expression of its sexual essence is all that is necessary for anything. Violation of her auto-eroticism is not a crime among others, it is the very meaning of criminality. Nothing else can approach it in importance.

Here it may be worthwhile to pause for a second and reflect upon what may seem to be the exaggerated role of sexuality that we have brought with us from Irigaray. Irigaray tends to be a bit sensationalistic, but on the whole, here, she is following Freud in identifying Eros and sexuality. What may seem strange here may seem more familiar if one substitutes the idea of love for the idea of sexuality. Then, with the female as the caring, nurturing mother, who but for the influence of men, could make everything well by her simple loving presence, one finds oneself in the precise center of feminist theory. See, for example, the unity this creates between such apparently disparate writers as Carol Gilligan and Catherine MacKinnon.

This observation is of no small importance, since it casts light on another aspect of our material that might otherwise seem peculiar. It is the extreme reaction, the rage, that some women have felt in the face of attitudes that they considered to be demeaning, and the way they interpret these "demeaning" attitudes with offenses against them. The point here again is that the image of the world in which the primordial mother is the central figure is one which is suffused with love for her, with adoration. "Demeaning" attitudes toward her, which may involve no more than seeing her as a human being, are experienced as a violation of the very depths of meaning.

We do well to see, in fact, that what is at issue here is essentially a master of religion. The primordial mother is the deepest god whom we can know. Having identified herself with this divinity, our feminist naturally responds to criticism as if it were blasphemy. We gain insight into the bitterness of our current sexual conflicts if we realize that they are, in a sense, religious wars.

At any rate, from all of these considerations, we can also understand why her feelings, insofar as they arise from this primitive identification, have such power over men. Under identification with the primordial mother, she accepts the male chivalric impulse to protect her, but she denies the place of chivalric behavior in the relationship between the sexes. Recall that the meaning of male activity is to make himself suitable for the female. He understands her as omnipotent. Indeed, the meaning of his deeds is that he is her agent in realizing her omnipotence. He will vanquish the foe, kill the dragon, and then, having proved himself to her, she will accept him as her lover. But notice that she has to go along with bargain, and in order to go along with bargain she has to acknowledge that it is important that he vanquish the foe or kill the dragon. She must know, in other words, that there are limits to her omnipotence, that the fantasy of her omnipotence is a fantasy.

What we see in this case however, is that she is not accepting this. She stands by her omnipotence, and therefore she doesn’t need him. Vanquishing the enemy, killing the dragon, she sees behind these and understands that these are merely strategies he is using to get into her bed. But this holds no value for her. She does not need him sexually any more than she needs his deeds. She is perfect sexually all by herself. All that he can do is impose himself.

But now look at what this must do for the man. His activities made sense to him because they made sense to her. They were indeed ways to get into her bed, a project which provided the foundation not only of his behavioral agenda, but of his very feeling of existence. Have that withdrawn and his life falls apart; the meaning of all that he does evaporates. If his activities do not make sense to her, they cannot make sense to him. He is left only with infantile dependence. He understands that he can only be with her under her sufferance, and that he is subject to abandonment at her whim. Being a man having been made impossible, he must content himself with being a little boy. He understands that he must do what his mother tells him to do.

The alternative, of course, is to respond to this dependence with counterdependent hatred and violence. As Irigaray puts it:

Or else one finds imperatives dictated by the enactment of sadomasochistic fantasies, these in turn governed by man’s relation to his mother: the desire to force entry, to penetrate, to appropriate for himself the mystery of this womb where he has been conceived, the secret of his begetting, of his "origin." (p. 25)

In this, ironically, he carries out the very program that the feminist program, ostensibly, was intended to prevent.

There is another point about the response to Tailhook that I wish to get at from this perspective. A form of lack of proportion, it deserves mention in its own right. It is the fact, as we saw in the case of Colonel Hallums, that the positive valuation of male sexuality and of the male role that goes along it were seen as criminal, even in the absence of concrete acts of sexual abuse. It was as if the very idea of male sexual activity was seen in the same way as a physical sexual attack. How could that be?

The answer may be revealed if we invert the terms. The idea that male sexuality was felt as a physical attack is not what we need for our explanation. Rather, what we need to understand is that physical attack, at least in the extremely mild instances which concern us here, was seen as significant because it was an attack on the idea of female sexuality. It was felt as an attack, not so much because there was physical brutalization involved, but because it threatened the idea of the omnipotence and completeness of female sexuality.

This suggests that what took place at Tailhook was not a physical clash between men and women. It was a clash between ideas of sexuality. What was felt to be under attack was itself an idea, the idea of the power of the virgin, and it could be felt to be attacked by another idea. This is no small thing, of course. We live by our ideas, and the violence of an attack upon our ideas of ourselves is very real.

At the same time, we can now see what the feminists had in mind when they said that the problem in the Navy was a cultural problem, and that the solution would have to be a cultural change. But looking at the matter at this point shows us that when we are thinking about cultural change, when we are thinking about substituting one fundamental idea for another, we need to look directly at the meaning of these ideas, and keep in mind the full train of consequences that may ensue.

Previously, the two "cultures," the two ideas of sexuality, could be kept apart because the sexes were not integrated in the military. It is also true that they did not need to be kept apart so much, since both men and women, in the course of their development, have been able to integrate the two. In the present case, however, a regressive identification among females was able to establish a drunken, childish, regressive identification among males as being definitive of the Navy, and set itself up as an exclusionary alternative.

At this point, though, we can see some of the implications of what the feminists have in mind when they speak about a cultural change within the Navy. The culture of sexuality traditional to the Navy was one that supported the activity of the Navy. By holding up the idea of fusion, the ego ideal of men having earned the right to express their sexuality, men could experience their military activities with pride, and could accomplish them with courage and élan. The culture that the feminists seek to replace this with is one that undermines the activity of the Navy. It reduces it to imposture, to a peeing contest, to a subterfuge for rape. It deprives military activity of the meaning it has in the heterosexual matrix and leaves men with the shame and guilt that surrounds their sexuality in the absence of the possibility of its legitimation.

Men cannot do their military work under this premise. In defense of the value of this work, it would be optimal if they could fight it. But on the basis of these considerations, we can understand why they have such difficulty in doing so. It is because the whole premise upon which men fight is the omnipotence of the female. It is up to women to see through this fantasy of their omnipotence. Men cannot do it without the greatest degree of upheaval. But if women will not do it, men will find it very difficult to oppose them.

This leaves open the possibility of mischievous activity, through the manipulation of the image of the virgin, that can have the most far-reaching consequences. Interestingly, it is a possibility that this is what happened in the scandal of Tailhook and especially concerning the story of Paula Coughlin.

The Wild Ride of Lieutenant Coughlin

According to the standard view, Coughlin wandered into the Tailhook gauntlet as an innocent, and there met with sexual assault for which she was entirely unprepared. As Vistica put it:

Shortly before midnight, Coughlin entered the third-floor hallway at the Hilton and began searching through the fighter bubbas, looking for Trusty Steed. She made one lap around the floor but couldn't find him. She was now standing at the beginning of the hallway, looking down the dark tunnel at the men lining both sides. They were the clean-cut aviators she had been with since she herself became a naval aviator years ago. Although the hallway reeked of booze and sweat, Coughlin stepped forward. (p. 329)

Whereupon, in the standard account, followed the defilement of the virgin.

But, on close inspection, even on the basis of Vistica's sympathetic account, the image of Coughlin as a wide-eyed naif simply doesn't hold up. The fact is that Coughlin was a pretty tough cookie:

As a sophomore at Old Dominion University, Coughlin enrolled in the ROTC program, graduating in 1984 and entering the Navy as a commissioned officer. By this time she had developed a hard edge and was determined not to take any guff from anybody. During her summer months home from college, she got a job as the first female lifeguard ever hired in Virginia Beach. When her supervisor said it would cost her a blow job if she wanted to break for lunch, Coughlin shot back: "Sorry, pal, I'm on a diet." And when another lifeguard called her a slut, "I clocked him." (p. 323)

Nor was she a sexual innocent:

Naval aviators took out their anger by spreading rumors about her promiscuity, about her being a second-rate naval officer, and about her willingly taking part in the activities at Tailhook. Coughlin did not run from the attacks. And she told her media handlers, who at first tried to persuade her from going public, not to paint her as a lily-white Virgin, which she said she was not 54 If there were doubters, a member of Frank Kelso's public affairs staff had passed on a report from her boyfriend, who flew helicopters with Coughlin. According to the report, she had showed up at a Navy dining-in party wearing black fishnet panty hose, high heels, a short black miniskirt, and a black tuxedo jacket and carrying a large rubber dildo. (p. 356)

Now, of course, as Vistica points out:

What kind of personal life Coughlin enjoyed, whether she was a party girl or not, did not justify the criminal sexual assault on her or the other victims. (p.356)

But there is one point about this that Vistica simply does not get, despite the fact that the evidence for it, which he himself adduces, is overwhelming. It is that Paula Coughlin must have known exactly what would happen to her if she walked into the gauntlet. Certainly Tailhook was not new to her. In fact, she had been to Tailhooks before, including the 1987 affair, which was widely known within the Navy to have been the most raucous ever. But, more important than that, the gauntlet was a hallowed tradition. It was known, including its precise location and its schedule, throughout the entire aviation wing of the Navy. The only way an experienced Naval aviation officer could have not known about it would have been if she were incredibly innocent and naïve, and Coughlin was neither. She was a savvy political operator who made a point of knowing everything that was going on and didn't shrink from any of it.

Let me make it plain that I don’t see anything wrong with that. It only becomes a problem in this case because it contrasts with the image of innocence that Coughlin, who Vistica shows to have been a masterful and fully purposeful manipulator of the press, put on. It was that image which drove the entire purge of the Navy. Within it, Coughlin simply wandered into the gauntlet, unaware of what would happen to her. But that image is impossible to maintain. The only reasonable alternative is that she was aware of what would happen to her. And that was why she did it.

But why would she do it? There is no doubt that she was shaken by the experience. Why would she consciously and deliberately put herself in this position? An answer is not difficult to come by.

Coughlin, Vistica tells us, was a person of considerable ambition, and one not to be satisfied by the ordinary career progression of the helicopter pilot:

… she was ambitious and wanted more out of the Navy. She yearned to put her career on a fast track, to be close to the movers and shakers in Washington. So she applied to be an aide to Donald Boecker, the rear admiral in charge of Pax River, Maryland. After getting the job, she became close to Boecker, an attack pilot "who without a doubt was the finest officer and gentleman I have ever met in my life," she later said. I worked my ass off for the admiral twelve hours a day, writing his schedule, getting him wherever he was going on time, making him look good, watching the nuances that count." (p.323)

For a while, this worked perfectly:

The most distinguishing mark of an aide was the gold loop aiguillette, which signaled that the wearer had a place of importance in the Navy. Coughlin wore hers like a badge of honor. It was prestigious. And she was now a cut above her peers. More important, she was in close proximity to senior people, admirals and the like, who would notice her abilities to get the job done. A good flag aide could ride an admiral's coattails a long way in the Navy. And one who performed "properly," always showing sincerity and deference to the admiral, would be remembered when the best jobs came around. Access was always granted to the aide, even after the admiral moved up the chain of command to some other post. (pp. 323-4)

But then there came a problem:

…nine months after becoming Boecker's aide, Coughlin sensed that her career had hit a setback. Boecker, her ticket to advancement, the man she nearly gave up dating for so she could give him 110 percent of her time and effort, was now leaving. His replacement was Jack Snyder, the former head of Tailhook who had recently been selected for promotion to the rank of rear admiral. Coughlin was beside herself. She told her mother and other close confidants that she was troubled about Snyder. He was a fighter jock, a new admiral, and not a man to rely on a woman to be his aide.

Coughlin described Snyder as a man who "came from an environment where you did everything yourself. The concept of having a staff to do things for him, along with a hard-charging female telling him what to do, challenged our relationship." After a month working with Snyder, Coughlin, a young lieutenant with less than seven years' experience, told her mother that she found it difficult "breaking him in as an admiral.' (p. 324)

Her apprehension turned out to be justified. Snyder did not rely on her and did not involve her in his professional activities. Her career, which had been flying so high, appeared to have come to a dead-end. Coughlin did not like Snyder (p. 340).

I have no access to Coughlin's mind and cannot say what was going on in it. I can say that whatever else it did, walking the gauntlet gave Coughlin the means to get rid of Snyder. On the basis of a string of allegations that, as Vistica shows, are not supported by the facts, she accused him of not responding quickly enough to her complaints. He was demoted and fired from his command as a result. But that was, perhaps, only the least of it:

And that Friday night Bush and his wife, Barbara, had tea with Paula Coughlin in the White House. He assured her that justice would be done and the culprits who assaulted her and the other women at Tailhook would be punished. With her appearance on ABC and her visit to the White House, Coughlin was now the poster girl for ending sexual harassment and abuse of women in the military. (p.355)

As I have said, I have no access to what was going on in Coughlin's mind. All I can do is speculate and infer. But, if my inferences are correct, one has to say, with even a bit of admiration, not bad for a night's work.

Conclusion: The Issue of Women in Combat

In most of this paper, we have not directly engaged the issue with which we began, the issue of women in combat, and specifically the question of what forces are pushing that issue. The implications of our reasoning are clear enough in this regard, however. Male chivalry and the deeds it inspires represent men’s weakness before the image of female omnipotence. Serving female omnipotence, after all, is what chivalry is all about. But this observation illuminates a stunning paradox. It is that chivalry, which has as its aim the expansion of the sphere of the maternal, the project of making the word a safer place for the maternal expression of love, makes it impossible for men to resist the idea of putting women in combat. But war is hell, as General Sherman observed, and the power that the virgin wields in fantasy may well result in the slaughter of women in reality. Even if there were no other considerations involved, men’s understanding of their impotence in this regard would be felt as castration.

The consequences for the nation of having a castrated military, a military that looks like a military but no longer sees meaning in the fight, can only be guessed at.

But the fact is that it is precisely a castrated military, a military in which male sexuality is experienced with shame and guilt, that is the aim of the idea of women in combat. If the women who were pushing this idea were the women who it would apply to, and who understood what it would involve, that would be one thing. If the women in the armed forces wanted to, or felt that they ought to, assume the burden of combat, there would be nothing castrative about the idea. It might not be a good idea, but it would not put the motivational underpinning of the military at serious risk. This would be because it would be based on a sober assumption of risk that understood that it was risk, that represented an appreciation of the risks men have traditionally taken, and that valued the victories that they have won. It would have represented a validation of the male role and a desire to make themselves more whole by expanding their masculinity. Among such women, the question of lowering standards so that they could "succeed" would not arise, since they would understand the reason for high standards. The same would be true of other serious questions that would arise, which would then be subject to rational resolution on their merits. Men would, I believe, respect the motivation of such women because implicit in it is respect for the task that they have themselves respected. But Miller’s research has shown that these women do not want to be in combat.

The women who want them to be in combat are women who do not understand what combat means, nor do they value it. Their view is not one that recognizes the seriousness of combat. This is shown in their willingness to subordinate all military considerations to the issue of female participation, and in their disdain for the men who have distinguished themselves in these terms. In the absence of a sense of its seriousness, their vision of what combat involves is empty of the basis upon which respect is given. But if they do not value military efforts, why do they want women to participate? My reasoning leads to the view that it is because, unless women do it also, and on their own terms, it will be a way that men consolidate their identity as men, earn the right to express their sexuality, and demonstrate the limits of the power of the virgin.

If the analysis developed here is sound, the prognosis for the U.S. military is exceedingly grim. The reasoning behind this, again, is not that the presence of women in combat roles, by itself, would wreck the military. I think having them there would be a bad idea, but it would be a bad idea with limited effects. For one thing, on whatever terms women served, if physical standards were maintained, the number of women who would able to meet the requirements for combat positions would be small. More fundamentally, if the military were able to keep itself focused on its mission, whatever problems were caused by having women in combat positions could be corrected. The problem is that the psychodynamic forces pressing for women in combat roles are aimed at undermining the mission of the military. If that happens, the capacity of the military to fight the enemies of the nation will be lost.

In order to see this, it is only necessary to realize that, as I have argued, the feminists who are pushing this issue are not concerned with making the nation safe from enemies outside of the nation. For them, the enemy is men. Their effect will be to create a fault line, not at the nation’s boundaries, but within the military itself. This will make mobilizing against a common enemy impossible.

It is easy to miss this conclusion if one supposes that the conflict we see today is only a temporary one that will resolve itself into a new, stable framework to which everyone will adhere. But, if my analysis is correct, a proper understanding of the dynamics involved will reveal that there cannot be any such stable framework.

The problem is that the image of the omnipotent maternal figure is a fantasy. No woman can be omnipotent any more than any man can. We all have our limits. The fantasy cannot be realized. But commitment to the fantasy, total identification with it, must take the fact of limitation as an enemy and subject it to attack. Since this fantasy is an idea of the perfection of women, it necessarily follows, even without any other considerations, that the enemy will be seen as those who are not women, which is to say those who are men. Antagonism toward men, therefore, is built into this feminist psychodynamic as a permanent feature, not subject to alleviation by any transformation of roles. Whatever changes are made will be seen as insufficient and will simply constitute a new state of affairs that needs to be overcome.

This is a manifestation of what I have referred to elsewhere (Schwartz, 1997) as the drive to the extreme, and it is a characteristic of all politics at this primitive level. The sexual component in this case, however, gives this situation an aspect that is interesting in its own right. Let us glance at this through another look at the case of Colonel Hallums.

Hallums, as we saw, was charged with sexual harassment for, among other things, walking across the room in his exercise shorts. In analyzing this at the time, we assumed that there was something that he had done that was experienced as offensive. Since there was no behavior, we assumed that what was problematic was his mental state. And the only mental state that would fit was his experience of his own masculinity.

But looking back over this matter, it appears that we have assumed too much. The point was that it was Hallums’ masculinity that was the problem, but this did not necessarily have to have a representation in Hallums’ mind. It could have served just as well if it were only in the minds of the women who saw him walk across the room. The idea of Hallums’ masculinity would have been present in the mind of anyone who experienced Hallums as masculine, whether there was any corresponding representation in Hallums’ mind or not. But the experience of Hallums’ masculinity is just the experience of him as a sexy guy. Anyone who was sexually attracted to Hallums would experience his masculinity. And anyone committed to the idea of female sexual sufficiency would be disturbed, and hence offended by it.

And now we can see where the problem is. Taking the experience of masculinity as offensive turns female sexual desire for men into a crime. And since the whole premise here is the perfection of the female, it cannot be a female crime, but must be committed by a male. In this we can see the possible scope of male activity that could be considered criminal in this way. It does not require that they do anything, or say anything, or think anything at all. It does not even require that they be physically present. Their presence in the past would suffice, as we see in countless cases of "recovered memories" of sexual abuse. In fact, we can push the matter even farther than that. Their offensiveness is in the idea that women have of them, and women can have that idea entirely by themselves. His presence in the idea, his spiritual presence, would be presence enough. What we see here, of course, is the generation of the idea of the devil. And this devil could take the form of any man at any time. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to imagine putting together an effective mixed gender military force with that as the underlying psychodynamic.


[1] This issue attains its sharpest focus with ground combat roles.


Recommendation: The sense of the Commission is that women should be excluded from direct land combat units and positions. Further, the Commission recommends that the existing service policies concerning direct land combat exclusions be codified. (Presidential Commission, 1993: p. 24)

The vote on this issue was 10 Yes, 0 against, 2 abstentions. For a thorough discussion of the issues, the report of this bipartisan group is to be recommended.

[3] In her survey of attitudes, Miller found that among white military men, from 42% (enlisted) to 68% (officers) endorsed the statement "I am satisfied with the present Army regulations that exclude women from direct combat roles." From 19% (enlisted) to 14% (officers) chose instead to endorse the statement "I think that women should be treated exactly like men and serve in the combat arms just like men." However, she added:

Interview data…reveal that most of the men who favor opening combat roles to women on the same terms as men do so only because they are confident that women will fail in those roles… I term this group "hostile proponents" of women in combat. Such hostile proponents reason that the issue of women in the combat arms will not be put to rest until women have been given the opportunity to prove their incompetence….virtually the entire 20 percent of the men who selected the "same as men" combat option for women fell into this category. (pp. 43-44)

For men of other races, only 34% were satisfied with the current policy, but 18% chose the "same as men" option.

Note that almost 20% of military men favor adopting a policy that, if they are correct, might put their lives in danger, because its demonstrated failure is the only way they see to have the issue "put to rest." The desperation this represents is worthy of remark. It is also important to add that the idea that these men object to women in combat because they believe women are "incompetent" is Miller’s interpretation and does not adequately represent the much more complex picture that her own data suggest.

[4] The women in Miller’s survey are not satisfied with the regulations that exclude women from combat roles. From 70% (officers) to 78% (enlisted), they prefer the option "I think that women who want to volunteer for the combat arms should be allowed to do so." They generally reject the idea that men and women should be treated the same. When asked, in an earlier phase of the research (Miller, 1995), whether they would volunteer for the combat arms, however, only 11 (enlisted) to 14% (officers) said they would do so. In fact, in one wave of the survey, Miller eliminated the voluntary response category, and asked her female respondents to choose between the status quo and the compulsory options. 65% chose the status quo and only 24 % chose the compulsory option, the rest indicating that it did not matter to them.

It is important to note that the Presidential Commission (1993) rejected the voluntary option for women.

Men can be involuntarily assigned to any position in the Service, and women can be involuntarily assigned to any position open to them based on the needs of the Services. The Armed Forces have never had a "voluntary assignment policy." Such a concept would hinder combat readiness and effectiveness, especially in an era which necessitates a readily deployable force... Commissioners believed that if women were assigned to positions on a voluntary basis and men were assigned involuntarily, animosity between the genders would occur and cohesion could suffer as a result. (p. 3)

[5] Support for this comes from an interesting source:

B[rigadier] G[eneral] Pat Foote has long been one of Washington D.C.’s most outspoken advocates of women in combat. When she testified before the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces on June 25, 1992, Foote said that "the services should move now to strike down every gender barrier to service which remains in place."

BG Sam Cockerman, USA (Ret.) a member of the Commission, asked Gen. Foote whether she thought her views on combat were representative of enlisted women. Foote replied, In all honesty, Commissioner, I cannot think of a single occasion when an enlisted woman assigned to any unit that I commanded or at Fort Belvoir brought this issue out as a major concern… It is an issue which has never been a concern to the enlisted women I know." (Center for Military Readiness: February, 1997)


The Soviet Union, Germany and Israel have each, to a different degree, utilized women in close combat situations, but did so only when a serious threat to their national survival existed. After the crisis passed, each of the nations adopted policies which excluded women from combat. (Presidential Commission, 1992: C-211)

[7] My account here will draw heavily on the book Fall from Glory by military reporter Gregory Vistica (1955). Vistica evidently had been working on this book for some time before the Tailhook scandal developed. Its original focus was the deterioration in the Navy brought about Reagan’s Navy Secretary John Lehman. In large part, Vistica appears to support the feminist perspective on Tailhook. Nonetheless, he is first and foremost a reporter, and lets his material speak for itself. It is his material that I will be using, though often I will differ from his interpretation of it.


[8] The Executive Summary of the Department of Defense’s Inspector General’s Report noted that "Many attendees viewed the annual conference as a type of "free fire zone" wherein they could act indiscriminately and without fear of censure or retribution in matters of sexual conduct and drunkenness." The Report substantiates these charges beyond the possibility of doubt. Specifically they substantiate charges of (1) indecent assault, (2) indecent exposure, (3) conduct unbecoming an officer, (4) dereliction of duty, as well as failure to act in a proper leadership capacity. (Vander Schaaf, 1993: II-1) as well as alcohol abuse (V-3).

[9] Here again, Laura Miller’s (1995) research indicates that this is not a view widely held by Army women:

When activists discuss sexual harassment and the combat exclusion policy, they usually argue that harassment would decrease if women had the same policy as men because women would then be viewed as equal contributors. Because I detected that women rejected this reasoning, I added a question to a later wave of surveys asking: " How would opening combat roles to women affect the amount of sexual harassment in the military?" Of the 472 responses from women, 61 percent said sexual harassment would increase, 28 percent said it would make little difference, 2 percent said sexual harassment would decrease, and 9 percent were unsure. (Men’s responses were virtually identical.) (Miller, 1994:31 -- emphasis in the original)

[10] There is an aspect of this that is worthy of mention. U.S. military pilots are officers, but they follow a different career path than other officers. While other officers command units from the outset and progress through their careers by commanding larger units, pilots generally do not have command responsibility for the first ten years of their careers (Vander Schaff, 1993: X: 1). The necessity to act as figures of authority is therefore reduced in their case. This may somewhat serve to mitigate the severity of the charge of "conduct unbecoming an officer."

[11] With regard to the connection between sexuality and the motivation of naval aviators, with specific reference to a ribald songbook, Vistica said this:

The songbook may not have been issued as part of every sailor’s ditty bag, but it made its way through the officers corps and became something of a collector’s item four years later at the height of the Tailhook scandal. Naval aviators thought the title, Bull’s Brigade, was fitting. They believed Bull truly understood what made them tick and why they had such an attraction to heavy drinking and unusual sexual fantasies. They felt that each time they went aloft they were cheating death. And they were proud of the fact that they lived dangerously. It was the glue of their camaraderie and the main reason for their lust. Bull was one of them and understood how real their fears could be and how difficult it was for male aviators to express them. Navy psychiatrists had even tried to explain the emotional makeup of a flier in an internal study titled "Sex and the Naval Aviator." It was so provocative that the Navy decided not to release it. (p. 266)

[12] It is interesting in this regard to contrast their case with the more recent case of Lieutenant Kelly Flinn, accused of adultery and disobeying an order. One of the main features in the discussion of Flinn’s case was the investment the Air Force had made in her training. This was in noticeable contrast to the lack of discussion of the Navy’s investment in the training of the individuals condemned at Tailhook, a group made up not of low ranking officers, but of personnel up to the very top of the uniformed hierarchy

There is reason to believe that Tailhook and its aftermath have, indeed, damaged the capacity of the Navy to fulfill its mission. For example, in the aforementioned speech, James Webb said that

I was recently shown a most disturbing statistic., Last year, 53 percent of the post-command Commanders in naval aviation left the Navy rather than continue their careers. In no other year, ever, has that number reached even 25 percent. These were the cream, the very future of the Navy, officers who had performed for two decades in a manner that marked them as potential admirals. They took their commands, they saw how the Navy is being led, and they walked.

Again, this is Vistica reporting on the state of morale after Tailhook:

As the events of that summer rocked the Navy’s boat, Commander David Tyler, a squadron commander at Miramar [Naval Air Station] whose reputation for honesty and integrity did indeed epitomize the words "officer and a gentleman," said, "We were willing to fly into combat against insurmountable odds. Even if the pilots knew there was no helicopter to rescue them when they were shot down, they would do it with a cheery ‘Aye, aye, yes sir.’ Right now, if their admiral asks them to do the same mission, they would say, ‘Why? You lead the way, Admiral.’" (p. 361)


That day he [Sean O’Keefe, "the Pentagon’s thirty-eight-year-old bean counter" and Secretary of the Navy after Howard] pulled back the promotions of two popular admirals: Jerry Tuttle, who was nominated to be the Navy’s top aviator, and Joe Prueher, who was slated to get three stars and command of the Third Fleet in San Diego. Tuttle had signed off on a newsletter that his staff put out on electronic warfare that contained an innocuous joke comparing been and women. He apologized for this insensitivity, but it was too late. A short while later, the man who had been the brains behind some of the most unorthodox naval operations during the Lehman era retired. (p. 357)

[15] In fact, they have been lowered, especially in the area of physical conditioning. The Presidential Commission (1993) heard testimony that men and women differ greatly in important physical capacities. For example:

Robertson and Trent reported the overlap in dynamic strength scores between Navy men and women was seven percent (i.e., 17 of 239 women had higher strength scores than the lowest scoring men). (C-4)

Perhaps more important, these differences are not amenable to reduction by training and conditioning, since the capacity to build muscle is dependent on the level of androgens, which are much lower among women. (C-5) Requiring women to meet the high physical demands of the Academy would have reduced their numbers to extremely low levels.

[16] Frequencies of "unwanted sexual advances" were 4% at the Naval Academy, 5% at the Air Force Academy, and 14% at West Point. These are frequencies of women indicating such events at least a couple of times a month.

[17] To be sure, the idea that women do not belong in combat was not entirely due to the idea that men should protect women. Vistica’s account leaves little doubt that it was also due to such ideas as that women were seen as threatening the male possession of jobs. But these are not necessarily exclusive. These jobs were not emotionally neutral sources of income. They were deeply tied in with these men’s conceptions of their worth, as I shall show, and their sense of their worth was intimately connected with their need to protect women. The fact that men thought they could do this work better than women, and that the presence of women was causing a deterioration in standards and effectiveness were serious issues. The fact that they were blended together as "antiwoman," and seen as the equivalent of sexual assault, is a phenomenon that stands in sore need of explanation.

[18] Doing justice to Morris’ involved and complex argument will have to wait for another occasion. I cannot let this one go by without noting, however, that this powerful adviser on military matters holds up the Peruvian Shining Path Communist Party as a model of gender integration in the military, noting a report that these guerrillas commit less rape among civilians than the Peruvian military. Whether there is any connection between gender integration and the notorious capacity of this group to commit murder is not a matter that she addresses, though her argument that a fighting group may be energized by seeing itself as a force of good against evil may be related.


Recognizing male violence toward women in no way implies that female violence toward men does not also exist. Anyone will be able to see, from the argument here, that many women feel rage against men that can easily erupt in violence. In fact, a good deal of research has shown that, despite the commonly held view, domestic violence is about as likely to be directed by women against men as the opposite. This is true for both mild and severe assaults (Gelles and Straus, 1989, 1990).

As to why the public conception of the matter is so far at variance with the legitimate research findings, the abuse that dissenting researchers face is undoubtedly part of the answer. Sommers (1994) says:

Battery and rape research is the very stuff of gender feminist advocacy. Researchers who try to pursue their investigations in a nonpolitical way are often subject to attack by the advocates. Murray Straus reports that he and some of his co-workers "became the object of bitter scholarly and personal attacks, including threats and attempts at intimidation." In the late seventies and early eighties his scholarly presentations were sometimes obstructed by booing, shouting or picketing. When he was considered for offices in scientific societies, he was labeled an antifeminist.

In the November 1993 issue of Mirabella, Richard Gelles and Murray Straus were accused of using "sexist 'reasoning'" and of producing works of "pop 'scholarship.'" The article offers no evidence for these judgements. In 1992 a rumor was circulateed that Murray Straus had beaten his wife and sexualy harassed his students. Straus fought back as best he could and in one instance was able to elicit a written apology from a domestic violence activists.

Richard Gelles claims that whenever male researchers question exaggerated findings on domestic battery, it is never long before rumors begin circulating that he is himself a batterer. For female skeptics, however, the situation appears to be equally intimidating. When Suzanne K. Streinmetz, a co-investigator in the First National Family Violence Survey, was being considered for promotion, the feminists launched a letter-writing campaign urging that it be denied. She also received calls threatening her and her family, and there was a bomb threat at a conference where she spoke. (p. 200)

It is worthwhile to note that Gelles and Straus are no wackos. Straus, a sociologist, is co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire. Their National Family Violence Survey, which is conducted every ten years, is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. In general, Sommers demonstrates that some feminists have distorted the research process and the publication of research results to a degree that is nothing short of scandalous. That this has not been seen as outrageous is, in my view, one of the most extraordinary and disturbing features of our time.

[20] See Lacan’s (1977) essay The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience, where he argues that the child’s experience of seeing itself in a mirror creates a fundamental element of the structure of its personality.


Benjamin, Jessica. (1988) The bonds of love: Psychoanalysis, feminism, and the problem of domination. New York: Pantheon.

Center for Military Readiness (February 1997), Scandal at Aberdeen – Part II: Feminists control army panel investigating sex abuse, V.I.P. Notes, Issue No. 26

Chasseguet-Smirgel, Janine. (1985) The Ego Ideal: A psychoanalytic essay on the malady of the ideal. New York: Norton.

Chasseguet-Smirgel, Janine. (1986) Sexuality and mind: The role of the father and mother in the psyche. New York: New York University Press.

Chodorow, Nancy. (1978) The reproduction of mothering. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Dinnerstein, Dorothy. (1976) The mermaid and the minotaur. New York: Harper and Row.

Donnelly, Elaine (1994) The San Diego Union-Tribune, Insight section, May 29.

Dworkin, Andrea. (1980) Why so-called radical men love and need pornography. In L. Lederer (Ed.) Take back the night: Women in pornography. New York: William Morris.

Foucault, Michel. (1980) The history of sexuality, Part One. New York: Vintage.

Freud, Sigmund. (1961) Civilization and its discontents. Standard edition,Volume 21. London: Hogarth Press.

Frontline, The Navy Blues, Show #1502, October 15, 1996. Transcript available from PBS Web site

Gelles, Richard and Murray Straus.(1989) Intimate Violence: The Causes and Consequences of Abuse in the American Family. New York: Touchstone

Gelles, Richard and Murray Straus. (1990) Physical Violence in American Families. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Press

Irigaray, Luce. (1985) This sex which is not one. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Koenigsberg, Richard A. Dying for one's country: War as sacrifice. New York: Library of Social Science.

Lacan, Jacques. (1977) Écrits. A selection. New York: Norton.

MacKinnon, Catherine. Feminism unmodified. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Miller, Laura. (1995) Feminism and he exclusion of Army women from combat. John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Harvard University, Project on U.S. Post Cold-War Civil-Military Relations, Working Paper Number 2.

Miller, Laura. (1997) Not just weapons of the weak: Gender harassment as a form of protest for Army men. Social Psychology Quarterly, 60 (1): 32-51.

Morris, Madeline. (1996) By force of arms: Rape, war, and military culture. Duke Law Journal, 45 (4): 651-781

Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces. (1993) Women in Combat: Report to the President. New York: Brassey's (US)

Ricks, Thomas E. (1997) Army at odds: West Point posting becomes a minefield for "warrior" officer. March 13: 1.

Schwartz, Howard S. (1993) Narcissistic emotion and university administration: An analysis of "political correctness." In S. Fineman (Ed.) Emotion in organizations (pp.190-215). London: Sage.

Schwartz, Howard S. (1995) Masculinity and the emotional basis of work: A response to Manichean feminism. Administration and Society, 27 (2): 249-274.

Schwartz, Howard S. (1996) The Sin of the Father: Reflections on the roles of the corporation man, the suburban housewife, their son, and their daughter, in the deconstruction of the patriarch. Human Relations.

Schwartz, Howard S. (1997) Psychodynamics of Political Correctness. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. 33 (2): 132-148.

Sommers, Christina Hoff. (1994) Who stole feminism? How Women have Betrayed Women. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Vander Schaaf, Derek J. (1992) Report of Investigation: Tailhook 91: Part 1 -- Review of the Navy Investigations. Department of Defense, Office of Inspector General. Washington, D.C. United States Government Printing Office.

Vander Schaaf, Derek J. (1993) Report of Investigation: Tailhook 91: Part 2 --Events of the 35th Annual Tailhook Symposium. Department of Defense, Office of Inspector General. Washington, D.C. United States Government Printing Office.

Vistica, Gregory. (1995) Fall from Glory.

Washington Times, (1992). Misreading the actual results of a sexual harassment study. Editorial, June 7.

Webb, James. (1966) A speech by James Webb. Naval Institute Conference, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD, April 25: Available on the Web site of the U.S. Naval Academy.