Excerpted From: Julie Yuki Ralston, Geishas, Gays and Grunts: What the Exploitation of Asian Pacific Women Reveals about Military Culture and the Legal Ban on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Service Members, 16 Law & Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice 661 (Summer 1998) (241 Footnotes) (Full Document)


00NoPictureIn September 1995, two U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy seaman gang-raped a twelve-year-old Japanese girl in Okinawa, Japan, where the men were stationed. This rape brought international attention to the extensive U.S. military presence in the Pacific, including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and until recently, the Philippines. Also, the rape initially focused attention on the sexual exploitation of women around the bases in Okinawa.

Of course, controversy involving the U.S. military is by no means restricted to its overseas activities. In recent years, the military has received almost constant media attention for its “domestic” problems, such as pervasive sexual harassment of women within military institutions (including scandals at the Navy's Tailhook Convention, the Naval Training Center in San Diego, the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground and others the exclusion of women from “combat” positions; racism and racial discrimination in the military; and the “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy of excluding lesbians, gays and bisexuals from the military.

In fact, around the same time that the three service members were being tried for the rape in Okinawa, here in the United States, Lieutenant Paul Thomasson was challenging the Navy's attempt to discharge him for being gay. While these trials appear unrelated, an examination of military culture and the archetypal “Military Man” produced by this culture reveals that they are actually integrally related.

This Article examines military culture--a culture which, like the larger culture that encompasses it, is riddled with a legacy of racism, sexism and homophobia (among other prejudices)--and demonstrates the linkages between these legacies and their connections to questionable military policies and practices that exist today. In looking at military culture, the Article focuses specifically on the military masculine identity (the “Military Man”) because it is central to that culture; indeed, military culture is largely constructed around the “pursuit of manhood.” Further more, an examination of the military masculine identity is useful because this identity informs how masculinity is constructed within our larger society. If “[m]asculinity is traditionally defined around the idea of power [[[, and] the armed forces are the nation's preeminent symbol of power [[[,]” then one preeminent symbol of masculinity is military might. Indeed, military men are often held up as heroes and role models for the rest of us, and frequently gain access to powerful leadership positions by virtue of their military experience. While several types of masculinity exist within our society, military masculinity strongly influences and informs the other types, and often serves as a benchmark for them.

In addition, by juxtaposing two seemingly unconnected military phenomena--systematic prostitution of women around U.S. bases in the Asian Pacific and the legal ban on lesbian/bisexual/gay service members--this Article also seeks to provide one response to the critique that racism, sexism and homophobia should not be analogized as similar systems of oppression and discrimination because they are too different, or because such analogies may trivialize experiences of racism. While it is true that the use of analogies in theorizing about different types of discrimination can be problematic, and while it is also true that being lesbian/bi/gay can have different consequences than being of a particular race, ethnicity or gender, analogies between racism, sexism and homophobia not only serve a theoretically useful purpose, but are also legally necessary. Furthermore, this Article demonstrates that even if one does not consider analogies between racism, sexism and homophobia to be appropriate, a commitment to the struggles against racism and sexism necessitates a commitment to the struggles against homophobia, and vice versa, not because racism and homophobia are one and the same, but because they are culturally related. As long as homophobia continues to be legally sanctioned and socially acceptable, we as a society will not overcome racism or sexism.

Part II begins with an examination of the military masculine identity, its central role in military culture, and the negative consequences of this identity for service members themselves. Part III describes the systems of military prostitution that exist around U.S. bases in the Asian Pacific, and the concomitant stereotypes of Asian Pacific women. The Article posits that this type of systematic prostitution is a necessary adjunct to the military culture described in Part I, as it serves to both create and maintain the military masculine identity by providing a stark oppositional “other.”

Part III also demonstrates how the stereotypes of Asian Pacific women and the “Military Man” are complementary. Thus, when military prostitution occurs between American soldiers and Asian Pacific women in Asian Pacific countries, a unique intersection of race, gender, economics and colonialism is revealed. This Article contends that by examining this intersection we can learn more about military culture than we would learn by examining the problems of homophobia, sexism and racism in isolation.

Subsequently, Part IV demonstrates the cultural link between the oppression of Asian Pacific women and the military's attempt to exclude bi/gay/lesbian service members, illustrating how both forms of oppression serve different but compatible purposes within the military context. This Part focuses on the so-called “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy and the continuing ban on lesbian/bi/gay service members because, while the military has acknowledged that racial and sexual discrimination within its ranks are problematic, it continues to openly support institutionalized homophobia. As this Article will show, such homophobia is intimately connected to the problems of racism and sexism.

Part V of the Article concludes that the current construction of the military masculine identity has led to the implementation of questionable military policies, including the system of prostitution around U.S. bases as well as the legal ban on bi/gay/lesbian service members. Furthermore, because of the cultural relationship between homophobia and other types of oppression, a commitment to fighting racism or sexism in the military without a willingness to also fight homophobia (or worse yet, with approval for legally-sanctioned homophobia) will not only render this commitment less effective, but may serve to undermine it as well.

[. . .]

This Article has argued that the principles that encourage U.S. servicemen to exploit Asian Pacific women are the same cultural principles that underlie the military's condonement of homophobia. It has demonstrated the link--not by analogy, but by showing the direct cultural connections--between several negative social constructs within military culture. Examined in this context, it becomes apparent that the constructs of the “Military Man,” the Asian Pacific (prostituted) woman, and the gay and lesbian service member do not function in isolation, but rather are part of a larger system. Thus, the social policies that result from or produce these constructs are also part of a larger system and are not separate phenomena, coincidentally manifesting at the same time. Because of this systematic nature and the interdependence of these constructs, any effective change in military culture must also be systematic in nature and not piecemeal.

I hope this preliminary analysis will serve as a springboard for constructive progress for military reform, and for re-thinking of the flawed military policies that have resulted in systematic exploitation of Asian Pacific women, persistent sexual harassment of women, racism, and fear and hatred of gays, lesbians and bisexuals. If we begin with the assumption that the military is a necessary institution, then we must come up with alternatives that will address legitimate military concerns, such as readiness. However, these alternatives must also address concerns about military culture, because it is a culture which, like it or not, has a clear impact on the larger society within which it is situated. Thus, these alternatives must not only result in a military institution that we can tolerate as a society, but also in one that can tolerate the society that we have become.

I do not mean to suggest that such systematic change will come easily or painlessly. To the extent that military culture merely reflects the prejudices and bigotries of our larger society, such attitudes are deeply embedded. But as one scholar has pointed out, “[m]asculinist military identity . . . is not inevitable or indispensable to military effectiveness but, rather, is a matter of choice.” Thus, we can choose: We can choose not to train service members in a way that denies the competence of lesbians/bis/gays, women, and/or men of color. We can choose to foster a military culture that does not simply assume that prostitutes are a necessary amenity to military life. We have these choices. We should make them in a way that promotes sound public policy, not further social dysfunction.

B.A. in East Asian Studies, focus on Japan, from Yale College, 1990; J.D. from the University of Iowa College of Law, 1997.