Achieving gender equality in our defence force is not helped by misinformed media commentary

The many women in our defence force currently serving in frontline positions cannot understand the mindset that so readily and continually ignores that they exist, perform superbly, and are best equipped to offer expert and professional opinions on female employment in combat roles and gender-relations in the defence force generally.

Monday, 16 January 2012
Letter to The Age (Melbourne)
(not published) 

Saturday’s editorial (“Long way to a level battlefield”) was riddled with inaccuracies, misconceptions, poor research, selective quotation and seemingly outright prejudice. 

The ADF’s many women currently serving in frontline positions cannot understand the mindset that so readily and continually ignores that they exist, perform superbly, and are best equipped to offer expert and professional opinions on female employment in combat roles and gender-relations in the defence force generally. 

Nor that enquiries and applications by females for entry into ADFA, for example, have risen since the April 2011 scandal.

Chiefly because applicants and their parents have been impressed by what they have found out on enquiry, contrary to what media groupthink has so often reported sensationally, selectively and inaccurately. 

Moreover, while the federal sex discrimination commissioner’s report into ADFA did note that sexual harassment had been “widespread” she qualified this by emphasising it was low-level and involved no actual crimes.

The media, including your editorial, omit to mention such specificity. 

Ms Broderick has also noted that ADFA is a well-run institution, it’s record in gender and sexual misconduct is much better than any other tertiary institution in the country, and the only reason she cannot quantify the extent in more detail is because of poor record-keeping in the universities and TAFEs. 

Finally, there is the editorial’s misguided thrust that our defence force is somehow out-of-step with the society it comes from. 

It is, but only to the extent that rates of sexual misconduct (along with drug abuse and youth suicide) are markedly lower in the ADF than society at large, even allowing for 50 per cent of the force being under 25 years of age, and ADF personnel being as Australian as anyone else - not some moral praetorian guard. 

In fact the main reason why the media is able to dwell on the ADF so much is only because it has better record-keeping and a better and more open record of dealing with such matters than most other organisations in our society. 

Our defence force’s “sensitivity to adverse publicity” is perfectly explicable, and justified, when you consider how often such publicity is incorrect, unfair and just plain wrong in both senses. 

PS. The documents obtained by Channel 7 under FOI recently are not “new”, not “allegations”, not “classified”, mostly relate to incidents that are already public knowledge (including well-publicised court cases), and the 19 briefs concerning gender or sexual matters (even by the widest definition) constitute a miniscule number in a workforce of over 100,000 over a two-year period. Perhaps even the Age’s rate is worse than this one in 10,000 comparison? 

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