Masculinity and the Military

Defence minister Espen Barth Eide

 

It is a great honor to welcome you to the Ministry of Defence and what I expect to be a very interesting seminar on the issue of masculinity and the military.

Coming from a research background myself, I wholeheartedly believe in the interaction between policy making and scientific studies.

Politicians are expected to make informed choices. Hence we need research based knowledge to feed in to our discussions. We need new knowledge to challenge and guide us. And we need comprehensive scientific studies to shed light on, as well as to underpin, our political visions.

As the title suggests, this seminar will focus on the culture of masculinity as one possible defining attribute of the military. The issue will be presented by people with extensive experience in the field. It is therefore my sincere hope that this seminar will greatly benefit our understanding of this important subject.

To do this we have in our midst not only Norwegian scholars with unique expertise. I am particular pleased to have with us one of the world's leading researchers and writers on the issue of masculinity. Let me therefore offer a special welcome to you, Dr. Michael Kimmel, representing the Stony Brook, University of New York.

I like also to commend the close cooperation you and your Norwegian colleagues have established. I am confident this will benefit the work carried out by Norwegian scholars to whom this Ministry lends financial support.

Allow me, at the opening of this seminar, to remind you all of the political priorities that I adhere to. In particular, I would like to offer a view on why we consider the study of masculinity an important issue both politically and militarily.

Why more diversity?
My first point is basically emphasizing why diversity matter. My Government is actively pursuing the goal of more diversity in our armed forces primarily because we think it will benefit our organization.

We are confident that a combination of different mindsets, backgrounds and skills, or what we sometimes refer to as cognitive diversity, is a prerequisite for an effective and modern armed forces. Different perspectives will improve our ability to understand and address a complex issue.

Part of the concept of diversity is gender. We need both men and women. In order to get the best defense, we need to recruit the best people. Hence it does not make sense to recruit from only from one half of the society. We must recruit from the entire population. And let's not forget, it even makes financial sense to employ the whole work force. Have a look at the Nordic countries if you are looking for empirical proof.

My second point has to do with overall defense concerns. Our sector is currently faced with deep structural changes which strongly influence how we structure and plan our personnel policy.

We know from our own experience that military transformation cannot be fully achieved without undertaking a transformation of the personnel policy. To put it simply, modernization and restructuring of the Armed Forces have basically three pillars, namely structure, geography and finally personnel.

We are privileged in the sense that we have completed the part of the transformation pertaining to structure and geography. This was a tremendous challenge which made hard and sometimes very painful prioritization necessary. But it was the right thing to do. Looking at some of our allies in Europe today struggling to make the ends meet, we are in an utmost fortunate situation.

We have abandoned a structure that was economically unsound and growing increasingly irrelevant for the new prevailing order of security. After more than ten years of hard work, we are in a situation where we can make choices not out of necessity but because we deem them wise and correct.

But as I said we are not yet there. As of today we are embarking on what I have referred to as the third and final stage of the transformation of the armed forces. This is an essential and challenging endeavor we have labeled the competency reform. What we are aiming at is a fundamentally new approach to how we recruit, invest in and maintain a pool of highly qualified personnel.

In our armed forces we will still be recruiting those who can run long distances and carry a heavy back pack. At the same time, we need to attract those who are especially skilled in new technologies. Young people who can make an impact on system and strategy thinking. Indeed we need women and men who are inclined to find cyberspace more fascinating than wildlife and hiking.

Today we invest in high end technology. We have platforms that favour computer skills rather than physical skills. This is why we need to develop a more diverse personnel structure, a structure that is attuned to the challenges we are faced with, and not aimed at yesterday's needs. Hence we are looking for motivated recruits with a fairly specific as well as diverse background.

Additionally, and on a more serious note, conflict management and military operations are a complex business. Patrolling streets, gathering and analyzing information, training and mentoring, as well as pure combat skills are involved. Needless to say, the competence required is equally complex.

Soldiers with the ability to assess and provide measured and differentiated responses to a crisis situation are very much in demand. Both women and men? It really goes without saying. It should come as no surprise that we are discovering what remarkable assets women soldiers and officers in the field are – in engaging local populations, gaining unique access, establishing dialogue, as well as fighting alongside men.

Despite the attention and effort, not least by my two predecessors, in promoting increased diversity, results have been meager. The goals we set out as well as the number of measures have so far not paid off. There are roughly 8,5 percent women officers and soldiers, and 9 percent that complete conscription. The numbers speak for themselves.

Furthermore, new research underpins our impression that women are not fully included or welcomed into the existing military culture, simply because they are women. In this context, exposing underlying mechanism in today's culture becomes essential. This is my third and final point.

Understanding the culture of masculinity
We must continue to foster the military as a workplace regardless of gender. We must present an image of a soldier that both women and men can recognize. We can neither neglect nor deny that there are qualities specific to men and women. Hence we need to emphasize diversity as something we encourage. We need a culture that nurtures diversity.

You know and I know. Actions speak louder than words. Emphasizing the importance of diversity in speeches does not suffice to see real change on the ground. It must be experienced to be valued.

Research indicates that organizations that are able to approve and apply diversity, will most likely consider diversity a valuable asset. In other words your experience of diversity will determine its success.

We also know that the organization's inherent attitude towards diversity, have a remarkable impact. If an organization has a positive view of diversity, diversity becomes a force multiplier. Conversely, if there is negative view, diversity becomes a complicating factor.

Our armed forces have historically been heavily dominated by men. We know that in such male dominated organizations, the norms are defined by and for men. Any organization tends to reproduce itself – until it is changed or challenged from the outside.

Furthermore we are aware of that in military selection one tends to select people into a specific – perhaps even narrow – image of what it means to be military. The unintended consequence might even be the exclusion of certain groups simply because they belong to "the others". At best this is problematic, at worst illegal.

It might be relevant to recall that the Gender equality act as well as the Anti-discrimination act prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender and other forms of diversity. And guess what - this also applies to the military.

We need to continue increasing our knowledge about the mechanism that makes it difficult to recruit and retain female military personnel. How does a traditional male group identity reproduce itself and how can we make this group identity more open and inclusive? How do we promote diversity through deeds and not merely words? These are some of basic question we are addressing and which I am sure you will discuss today.

I can ensure you that we will stay impatient. Yet we know that we must be in it for the long haul. A military organization does not change overnight, neither does a culture. Nor do we wish to throw out vital, positive values which the armed forces have to offer, and which provide a lot of meaning to the military professionals. This is a matter of modernizing – of transitioning from brotherhood to team. The military is no playground for masculinity. It is modern teams of highly competent professionals.

Conclusion
Let me end by underscoring that diversity is not just a matter of semantics. It's the coming of a new and more sophisticated organization. It is a matter of bringing a modern defense organization in line with a new set of emerging requirements and needs. It is a matter of ensuring the legitimacy of Armed forces – a fundamental principle in a democratic society.

Hence we need to scrutinize every aspects of this culture to examine what we are challenged with. If we decline or falter in this cause, we most likely will not succeed in what we are aiming at.

It is my sincere hope that this seminar will contribute to this end.

 

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