Whenever news breaks about stolen or hacked photos finding their way onto the internet, two responses are immediate. One camp, intent on defending the rights of the women who have had their privacy violated, will exclaim that this latest infraction is further evidence that we live in a patriarchal society where men continue to see women as objects – and as a result, continue to infringe on their rights as people. Another, smaller but equally vocal, group will take on a defensive role – accusing the women involved of being complicit to the crime for having the bad sense to take the pictures (or allowing the pictures to be taken) in the first place and explaining away the sharing of the photos, and the awful comments that ensue, as “boys being boys.”
Let me be clear: I don’t speak for all Marines, nor am I the head of an organization that purports to do so. I’m just a guy, a Marine, and a husband. My opinions are entirely my own, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of SOFREP or any of the other writers on this site. Again, I’m just a dude, talking about some dudes that did something awful to some other dudes. “Dudes” in this case, being a non-gender specific term.
The Marines and Corpsman involved in Marines United Facebook page that were recently revealed to have been compiling and sharing inappropriate pictures of female service members were wrong, and deserve whatever punishment befalls them – but in order for me to be able to pass such a judgement, I must first differentiate myself from the type of guy that would do such a thing… and that’s where this story starts hitting Marines in the gut. Ya see, the vast majority of Marines are guys in their late teens and early twenties. Less than seven percent of the branch is female, which places them at under half the service wide average – meaning that Marines, by and large, interact with fewer female service members throughout their careers than those in most other branches. That’s not an excuse or an explanation, it’s just groundwork that needs to be laid in order to gain perspective.
Although I worked with some incredible female Marines, for the most part, my work environment was primarily male, but not ‘cross section of American men’ male… more like thousands of alpha-male types that enlisted to either become a tough guy or prove to their ex-girlfriends that they already were one. Marines tend to be aggressive, assertive, and even abrasive – these characteristics are pushed in recruiting (it’s how you sell a guy on passing up a $20k signing bonus offered by the Army) and encouraged in the culture of the fleet. We’re a bunch of assholes, and we pride ourselves on that in a lot of ways.
While I was serving, there was a practice that was sort of similar to the Marines United’s method of sharing pictures of females in various states of undress called, “making her famous.” You’d receive a text message forwarded to you with pictures of a woman, clothed or not, along with a story entailing how she cheated on her husband while he was deployed, stole his money, or the like. The practice started as a means for Marines to get back at their cheating spouses, but eventually became a way for jaded husbands to shame their cheating wives by sharing inappropriate pictures of them. I never sent out such a text blast, but I certainly received them – often from phone numbers I didn’t even know. Some people saw it as a public service, warning their Marine brothers about a newly single woman in town that wasn’t to be trusted, but the reality of it was, people are assholes – and Marines are no exception.
It’s important that I tell you that I was the recipient of these text messages, and that at the time, I didn’t raise the alarms and start shouting about equal respect for the genders. It’s important that you know that I’ve objectified women, including service members. While on one deployment, I got busted by a female corpsman for referring to her as “hot-doc” behind her back. She had a good sense of humor about it and we even became friends – but it didn’t have to go that way.
My point is, I’m not some gender-equality warrior shouting from the roof tops. I’ve gone to my fair share of strip clubs, I’ve made inappropriate jokes, and I’ve participated in “locker room talk” in real locker rooms for decades – and I find the behavior of the Marines on Marines United absolutely disgusting and reprehensible. When news like this breaks, the two camps will post their think pieces, and the people who follow their ways of thinking will read and comment as they always do – but I’m not a part of those camps – I’m just some guy.
As “some guy,” I’m uniquely suited to be able to look at things like this objectively and make my own assessment. I don’t have an existing political slant to argue, I don’t feel the need to defend men, and I’ve counseled female Marines before on the dangers of sharing such “private” pictures with guys, because, and this is a hard and gross reality about men, they’re probably going to show their buddies. I honestly could even argue in the defense of some idiot that opened Facebook and clicked ‘like’ on a racy image without fully appreciating the reality of the situation that resulted in the picture being there –just as I can absolutely argue in favor of a young woman taking a topless selfie to send to whomever she pleases. God help me, every time I hear someone blaming women for having the audacity to be naked I can’t help but liken it to Muslim extremists demanding women cover themselves with a hijab… after all, you can’t blame us men for failing to control our impulses, right?
As Derek Gannon has pointed out, the blowback for breaking the story about Marines United was swift for Thomas Brennen – with Marines, veterans and “male rights” activists calling for his head and even posting information about where he and his family (including his young daughter) live in their efforts to teach him a lesson about violating the “brotherhood” these Marines seem to want to act like matters to them. Well, at the risk of driving some of their anger toward me, I can’t allow my fellow Marines to use terms like “brotherhood” in such a disgusting manner.
If you participated in the posting, sharing, or discussing these pictures, taken or shared without the knowledge of the women involved, you’ve already forfeited the protection of that “brotherhood.” The Marine Corps isn’t just the high school for your district, or the team you were assigned to – the Marine Corps is a branch you signed up for voluntarily – and it comes with a code.
Honor, courage, and commitment are burned into the minds of every Marine for so long that the words themselves may begin to lose meaning. We say them, repeat them, shout them, and read them off of the little red cards we’re issued at boot camp for years – and then when the time comes to honor those three words… some Marines instead pursue aggressive cowardice; failing to live up to those these tent-pole beliefs and then concealing that failing with anger and aggression toward those with the fortitude to call them out. These scumbags got busted, and now want to hide behind the protection of camaraderie as though the Corps is held together via some twisted “bro-code” instead of by a founding belief in American freedom and in the integrity that ideal demands.
There’s no honor in following a young woman around Camp Lejeune to take pictures of her in secret. There’s no courage in sharing snapchat screen captures of your NCO to a thousand strangers on the internet. There’s no commitment to the Corps in the decision to attack a fellow Marine for having the moral fortitude to say, “this is wrong.”
The people that deserve the strength of the Corps in their corner, the combined force of belief and action that binds Marines across the globe, are the women that have been harassed and victimized by these men. The young women had the courage not only to stand on the yellow foot prints, to swear an oath to defend their country – but they had the gall to do so in a branch that is ninety-seven percent male. We should embrace them for demonstrating honor, courage, and a commitment to their service – not defend those who would discredit their efforts by peeving over pictures of them on Facebook.
I was once asked what it took to earn the title “Marine,” and it took me a long minute to decide. Sure, there’s recruit training and “the Crucible,” there’s combat training and MOS schools – but as far as I’m concerned, all of that just paid your entry fee. You get to be called a “Marine” as soon as you’re given your eagle, globe and anchor, but it’s up to each Marine to earn that title every day – through their character, through their decisions, and through their service. You don’t have to shout “honor, courage, and commitment” from the mountain tops to be a Marine, but you sure as hell have to live with each.
Without those three words, a Marine is just some poor fool that missed out on a signing bonus and now has to make due with gear the Army doesn’t want anymore. A Marine’s value isn’t determined by the rifle in his hand, nor is it by the emblem on his blouse. It’s determined by what’s in his or her head, and heart.
Those core beliefs are absent in the Marines calling for Brennen’s head. He is, after all, a combat veteran that did the right thing; a Marine brother who earned the title on the battlefield as well as at home. Brennen took a risk to protect his fellow Marines – the women depicted in the pictures shared on Marines United.
How dare these ass-hats use the Corps, my Corps, as an excuse to attack a man doing the very thing our core values would demand of him. How dare they sully the reputation of the world’s most elite fighting branch. How dare they risk the wellbeing of their fellow Marines for the sake of exchanging digital high fives.
If you’re going to be a scumbag, don’t drag my gun club into it.
Editorial cartoon courtesy of Robert L. Lang