Charles Murray, The Inequality Taboo and The Armed Forces



Recently, Commentary magazine featured a piece (subscription only) by Charles Murray with a thesis that women and men are different from each other.

But to talk about differences is now taboo.

The differences between men and women are in no greater conflict than seen in the US military. Your Business Blogger wrote on this for the Independent Women’s Forum a few years ago. Co-authored with wife Charmaine.

G.I. Jane at VMI

Charmaine and Jack Yoest explain why female “Brother Rats” may have a rough time at the nation’s oldest military college. A harbinger of things to come?

AFTER SPENDING $10 million to ready the campus for a siege by women, the Virginia Military Institute, the oldest military college in the U.S., in August 1997 reluctantly accepted its first female “Brother Rat.”

Last May, [2001]in a much-publicized ceremony, a bevy of thirteen female cadets received their diplomas, tossing their gloves toward the high ceilings of VMI’s Cameron Hall, joining the ranks of the “citizen-soldiers,” the brotherhood, that the famous college has been turning out since 1839.

Still, the year had been, in some respects, a decidedly rocky one for the school General George C. Marshall attended. There had been a first of some considerable notoriety: VMI’s first pregnant cadet. She opted to remain in the barracks through her second trimester.

Other female cadets apparently had no such desire to linger. The usual graduation euphoria had a particular edge–one of the female graduates, Cadet Maria Vasile, was not nostalgic; she told a reporter for the Associated Press, “I just want to get out of here.” Similarly, Cadet Kelly K. Sullivan, though effusive in her praise for VMI discipline, hoped her next bivouac would be cushier. Sullivan noted to a reporter covering the graduation ceremony that at VMI there is “a lot of stuff you have to deal with that you won’t have to deal with in the civilian world.”



Of course some of the “stuff you have to deal with” at VMI is rooted in its famous “adversative” system of military discipline, which is intended to build unit cohesion as combat preparation. A poignant reminder of this mission sits at the center of campus:

A statue of one of VMI’s most famous professors, General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, is inscribed with his famous words, “The Institute will be heard from today.” Surrounded by his former VMI students and colleagues, Jackson uttered these words as together they prepared for battle at Chancellorsville. A few hours later he received the wounds from which he later died.

Over a century later, in 1996, Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, advised VMI’s board and Alumni Association what “stuff” to expect if the school went coed: sexual harassment, pregnancy, and litigation. The Supreme Court had just ruled in U.S. v. Virginia that the Constitution’s equal protection clause prohibited VMI’s 157-year-old men-only tradition. The board faced a choice: Throw open its barracks to women, or renounce its public funding.

The remarks of female cadets to reporters at graduation ceremonies afforded rare, on-the-record acknowledgments of the problems VMI and its women have confronted over the last five years. Donnelly’s list now reads like prophecy: gender concerns with physical training, privacy issues, sensitivity training, sexual relationships, and redefinition of “success.” In the second year of coed VMI, the young man who had just been selected to assume the corps’ highest leadership position, Jerry Webb, was expelled after using his position of authority to coerce sexual favors from female cadets.

After this year’s historic pregnancy, VMI instituted a gender-neutral policy that requires the expulsion of all cadets who become parents. This means VMI’s attorneys should start preparing for their next Supreme Court appearance.

VMI is proud of, and emphatic about, its refusal to alter its monthly fitness test. However, although the score affects a student’s grade point average, cadets are not required to pass it. And with the arrival of women, Leadership in the elite Cadre of the Corps is now no longer prohibited to those who fail the test. While there are some women who are able to do well on the test–many of these women are varsity athletes–the fact remains that passing the test represents a higher, if nor insurmountable, hurdle for the women than it does for the men. And for most, it requires far more Saturday nights on the Nautilus machine.

Still, the new regime has adamant supporters. One mother of a young man graduating in the Class of 2001 opined to the Washington Post that, after having attended a coed VMI, her son was going to be “a better husband and father because he knows how to treat women.”

Before the arrival of women, the mission of VMI was to prepare men for leadership to fight and win America’s wars. But learning how to treat women is indeed at the top of VMI’s pedagogical agenda these days. The VMI management team, under the watchful eye of the United States Justice Department, has attempted to create a nurturing environment where women are humiliated and harangued in an androgynous way equal to their male peers, without, well, actually harassing them.

To that end, cadets are required to attend “focus groups” where they ponder the ontological essence of defining a “date.” Students are lectured on newly developed anti-hazing and sexual harassment regulations: They may not date anyone in their chain of command. “Hooking-up” with another cadet is generally handled under “don’t ask, don’t tell” as long as it’s not in the barracks. But there is to be no touching any other cadet, of any gender, without first gently inquiring, “May I touch you?” Assault and battery is permissible only between consenting adults.

In her book, Breaking Out: VMI and the Coming of Women, Laura Fairchild Brodie, the wife of the school’s band director, reports that this sensitivity training has had a salutary, musically soothing effect on the men’s use of language. One male cadet, after using lewd profanity while “flaming a rat,” ended up issuing an abject apology to his female subordinate. The threat of sexual harassment charges, one young man observed, is always hovering in male-female contact. Another inadvertent verbal incident resulted in the woman retreating to the hospital, threatening to leave the school. The potential for a sexual harassment case left the senior warrior-in-training, who had authority over both people involved, near tears.

Political correction is a thief that steals discretionary management time. The chain of command is now consumed with a thousand petty decisions. Brodie reports that VMI leadership was embroiled in concerns that ranged from the mundane–women’s underwear and pantyhose–to the medical–menstrual periods and urinary tract infections. Management attention was consumed by meetings on the color and care of all things feminine. Still they were confronted with “unmentionables” hanging in the barracks windows to dry. More meetings. And then there was the ever-present erotic: where to place the women while doing push-ups and sit-ups in physical training? Management had to take time to consider the privacy of women as men on the ground could look up the shorts of the women in front of them. The women were nonchalant. Brodie proudly reports that the commander’s concern for the women s modesty exceeded their own.

The fight to assimilate women at VMI is over. But the larger battle of placing women on submarines and in the infantry is still ahead. Now that America is suddenly involved in a real war, the question of coed combat is no longer academic.


Iwo Jima

DURING WORLD WAR II, the American flag was raised on the conquered island of Iwo Jima. The six men lined up “nuts to butts,” as they used to say at VMI before gendered language was eliminated, and lifted Old Glory, made even heavier by a stiff wind. Describing the emotional scene, James Bradley, writing in Flags of Our Fathers, highlighted a little-noted moment captured forever in the famous Rosenthal photograph. As the flagpole was manhandled and moved to the vertical by Sergeant Mike Strank, his hand drops to the wrist of the man before him and seems to steady, to encourage, helping to push the flag upward. The grasp is that of a brother.

There is no mistaking Sergeant Strank’s hand on his fellow soldier. It would never be grounds for sexual harassment, never be party to a lawsuit, never be a scandal. It was ten thousand years of the brotherhood of soldiers, in the mud fighting for the girl back home. Today, “brothers” who fight together must first ask for permission before they touch.

Sergeant Strank was killed in action a few days later.

Charmaine Crouse Yoest is an instructor at the University of Virginia; her great grandfather was one of VMI’s builders. Jack Yoest, a former captain in the Army is a management consultant.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Independent Women’s Forum


Thank You (foot)notes:

Mudville Gazette for Open Post.

The Political Teen has Open Trackbacks.

Cao’s Blog has Wednesday Open TrackBacks.

Linked to Jo’s Cafe at Wednesday’s Specials.

Basil’s Blog has Breakfast.

Outside the Beltway has traffic jam.


You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Terry says:

    At Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Course (ANCOC) we took a whole lesson talking about an appendix to FM-21-20, Appendix A.

    The talk was all the specifics but no one discussed the conclusion to draw from the specific details of the “PHYSIOLOGICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE SEXES”. I think we were supposed to all fall in line with politically correctness while at the same time, not push anyone physically beyond their limits.

  2. Jack Yoest says:

    Terry, you are right about the differences in strength — can she carry my carcass off the field?

    –but I wish our training also emphasised unit cohesion and how the women folk affect the boys.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *