Trigger warning: sexual assault, explicit language
"Roses are red, violets are blue, be my f***ing Valentine or I'll rape you." That's just one comment former U.S. Marine Brian Jones read on a Facebook page denigrating women in the military.
"It's hard to believe that in 2014 I have to tell my fellow Marines — my fellow veterans — that they shouldn't make rape jokes about the women they serve with," Jones' says in his powerful new video for NowThis News, which focuses on the continuing, pernicious problem of gendered hate speech directed at servicewomen on social media.
Jones, who is also editor-in-chief of the veterans' news website Task & Purpose, spent weeks following various derogatory Facebook pages that "propagate harmful stereotypes that all women in the military are sluts, and that they only achieve rank through performing sex acts," and was distressed by the apparent lack of effort made by military leadership towards shutting down these pages for good.
In under two minutes, Jones makes an incisive point about the hypocrisy of the "free speech" arguments used by his fellow armed forces members to justify these offensive pages' existence. "The Marine Corps censors free speech in all sorts of ways," Jones says in the video. "You aren't allowed to wear flip-flops in Walmart, for instance. And so for the Marine Corps to then say 'We respect freedom of speech' when it's bigoted hate speech that's specifically targeted at one person, then there seems to be a really big issue in terms of priorities there."
Jones delves more deeply into the issue of social media sexism in an extensive post for Task & Purpose, writing, "This sort of conduct and permitted subculture threatens the readiness and capabilities of the Marine Corps, and by extension, America's national security. The military needs to diversify its ranks with talented, dynamic, highly trained women. [...] But those women need the respect of everyone in their military units. The culture propagated on [these pages] dramatically undermine that possibility."
Jones notes that those who criticize or report these pages may become targets of harassment themselves, and that "it will take a comprehensive effort from senior military leadership" to put an end to this subculture. Unfortunately, in the weeks his site spent monitoring some of the pages, "no intervention from the Marine Corps [was] visible."
Given what a huge problem sexual assault in the U.S. military is, it's disheartening to see military brass acting relatively nonchalantly toward a kind of gendered commentary that would be immediately condemned as part of rape culture in the civilian world.
An estimated 26,000 such assaults occurred in the military over the past year, and the vast majority of survivors do not file reports. Of those who do, only a small fraction ever see a trial. While it certainly will take more than removing offensive Facebook pages to fix the problem of military harassment more generally, that doesn't mean we shouldn't do everything we can to curb gendered hate speech. As Jones points out in the video, not taking these pages seriously contributes to an environment in which it's "okay" to sexually harass and mock women in uniform.
Jones is brave for speaking out about this problem; hopefully those in power — and those who denigrate their fellow service members — will listen.