A most "awkward characterization" of "biological wiring"

Canada's top General has attributed a climate of sexual abuse within his forces to a bit of the old boys will be boys. He called it biological wiring. It all boils down to a telling insight.  

Ever wondered why sexual harassment is alive and well in the armed forces?

The Chief of the Canadian Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson seems to know, but once the full horror of his explanation was pointed out to him, he quickly apologized...sort of.

The man in charge says there is sexual harassment in the armed forces because people are “biologically wired in a certain way”

In an interview on the CBC the General pre-acknowledged that what he was going to offer by way of explanation for this national disgrace was “trite” and then offered it nonetheless. 

His full claim was “it’s because we’re biologically wired in a certain way and there will be those who believe it is a reasonable thing to press themselves and their desires on others. It’s not the way it should be....there will be situations and have been situations where, largely, men will see themselves as able to press themselves onto our women members”.

Leaving aside the patronising “our” women, this Freudian slip is so telling it is difficult to know where to start.

When the guy at the top subconsciously explains away the sexual assaults on women also under his charge as being due to men’s biological urges, which of course means they have no control over them, it is little wonder being in the armed forces is a dangerous place for women.

This is sexual assault, not some ‘boys will be boys...nothing we can do about that‘ garbage.

In case the General (and no doubt many of his ilk in forces around the world) forgot to enter the 21st century, the biological model as an outgrowth of the natural attraction between the sexes has long been rejected as an explanation for sexual harassment/abuse.

Sexual abuse is about power distribution, which is why many women (and a small percentage of men) are abused by their superiors, or male colleagues who crave superiority.

Violence is socially programmed, not biologically programmed, and consequently the women who step into the traditionally male institutions - policing and military in particular, are at higher risk than women in socially sanctioned female occupations of being bullied, harassed, intimidated and raped.

Little over a month ago the macho military culture of the Canadian military was exposed in a damning report by retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps.

She found sexual misconduct to be “endemic” in the CAF, and at the time Lawson said he found the report’s findings disturbing.

Deschamps however concluded that the military leadership tolerates abuse and operates in such a way that women were put off, or scared of reporting even the most atrocious experiences.

And now the General himself has, inadvertently, facilitated our understanding of why his military at least, turns a blind eye to a social script that allows men to be sexually aggressive and women to expect sexual and occupational dominance.

It is biology, stupid.

Only it is not, stupid.

Lawson’s apology for his outrageous claim was to call it an “awkward characterization”.

Unsurprisingly the political fall-out has been swift, with calls for his immediate resignation, even though he is due to retire in September.

In support, all the Justice Minister could say is the General feels badly about his choice of words during the interview.

I bet he does, because his parapraxis is truly revealing with respect to the persistence of a sexually abusive culture in his military.

He might say he “by no means intended to excuse anyone from responsibility for their actions”.

He sure is working hard to excuse himself though and his apology feels just as trite as his original neanderthal statement.

Of course given the endemic nature of the beast, the sad reality is there can be no guarantee that September will deliver anyone more pro-active than Lawson as circuit breaker-in-chief for the biological wiring of ‘boys’ in uniforms.