don't tell hell

Pentagon Can’t Explain Why DADT Kicks Out So Many Women. Because That’d Be Discriminatory


Continuing a lovely trend, the United States military removed a disproportionate number of women under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell than men. If you’d like the Pentagon to explain to you why this might be, they can’t: even “inquiring” about the statistics could violate DADT. Huh?

Though only 15 percent of all active duty and reserve military personnel are women, some one-third of all 619 DADT dismissals last year were women. Maybe that’s better than 2007, when 46 percent of Army discharges were women (though they accounted for only 14 percent of the total), or the Air Force’s 49 percent discharge rate (with women making up only 20 percent of personnel). In 2006, “about 35 percent of the Army’s discharges and 36 percent of the Air Force’s were women.”

You’re hearing about this because Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization dedicated to repealing DADT and helping those affected by it, continues to pound the media pavement. Last year’s story they helped generate received no explanation from the Pentagon about why the rate of female discharges is higher.

And this year, there isn’t one either. That’s because, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith, “officials will not look into the matter because even inquiring about it might violate the 1993 policy, which says gay men and lesbians in the military cannot be investigated or punished as long as they keep their sexual orientation to themselves.” Says Smith: “If we did investigate it, we would have to ask questions, and we aren’t supposed to ask any questions.”

Smith is probably right. But what an ample excuse to have in your arsenal as a reason not to look into the matter: Investigating a discriminatory policy that, uh, discriminates would be, uh, discriminatory. Wrap your head around that!

(NB: DADT also removes more personnel of color than whites.)

How might anecdotal evidence explain the disparity? Lisa Leff notes: “Some women who served in the military said the gap could be a result of “lesbian-baiting” rumors and investigations that arise when women rebuff sexual overtures from male colleagues or do not meet traditional notions of feminine beauty. ‘Often times the lesbians under my command were under scrutiny by the same men who were also sexually harassing straight women, so it was this kind of sexist undercurrent of ‘You don’t belong here,” said Anuradha Bhagwati, a former Marine who founded the Service Women’s Action Network, an advocacy group.”

Okay, we get that. But the military is also, invariably, a culture of homophobia. As Joseph Rocha experienced, not conforming to hetero soldier stereotypes can also be a death sentence. So we’re not quite convinced the “women rebuffing men’s sexual advances” theory accounts for such a wide gap.