The Standard You Walk Past is the Standard You Accept
Recently, the Australian military has been investigating whether or not a group of male soldiers passed around images via email that degraded and humiliated their female colleagues. Considering that the US military is apparently a hotbed of sexual assault where nearly 1 in 3 women are raped, I didn’t have high hopes that Australian officials would even care about some insulting emails. I was wrong – not only are they taking this seriously and investigating the matter thoroughly, but Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison released this video yesterday in which he makes it crystal clear exactly how he feels about the degradation of women:
I love what he says so much that I took some time to type out a transcript of the meat of it:
I have stated categorically many times that the army has to be an inclusive organization where every soldier, man and woman is able to reach their full potential and is encouraged to do so. Those who think that it is okay to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army.
Our service has been engaged in continuous operation since 1999 and in its longest war ever in Afghanistan. On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future. If that does not suit you, then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behavior is acceptable, but I doubt it. The same goes for those who think that toughness is built on humiliating others. Every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our army and the environment in which we work.
If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others enhances capability or honors the traditions of the Australian army. I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this.
The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. That goes for all of us, but especially those who by their rank have a leadership role.
Recently, I’ve been discussing and sometimes arguing with friends about the current state of the skeptic and atheist communities. It is my firm belief that we are, as a “movement,” cowardly, and that is why we ultimately will fail. There are too many of us, and especially too many people in positions of power, who are unwilling or unable to take any real action that might help stop the incessant harassment of women in our ranks, or to take any other real moral stand. I’ve seen people who think of themselves as allies actively covering up sexual harassment at an event and then going on to invite the harasser back to speak. I’ve seen “skeptics” write blog posts defending Brian Dunning as a hero instead of an embarrassment. I’ve seen organization employees privately rage about the nonsense their boss is spewing but then refuse to even try to hold him accountable. If we’re going to get anywhere, we have to demand better. We need leaders who are more like Lt. Gen. Morrison. Hell, I’ll take leaders who are just a little less like this and this and this.
To hold these leaders accountable, though, sometimes takes courage. If we want a better movement, some of us are going to have to give up certain things: our idolization of prominent men, our quiet anonymity, and our job security, for a start. I’ve already given all that up, and so have some others, but we’re not going to get anywhere until more people join in. I hope they do, eventually.