The Naval Academy and women Macho culture: Twenty years after women were admitted, sexual harassment still festers.

July 29, 1996

FOR TWO DECADES, women have enrolled as midshipmen in the U.S. Naval Academy and supposedly have been treated as equals. While sexual abuse is not as overt as in years past, the ongoing case of Scott Ward shows that a macho culture at the school can still overwhelm efforts to treat female mids as equals.

Women have always had a tough time at the service academies. Many men don't believe in female officers -- or enlisted personnel, for that matter. Some men have gone to great lengths to drive them out. The fact is that women will be part of American military life from now on. That reality must be accepted.

The academy has made strides in improving the treatment of women, but it takes time to rid the culture of deeply embedded attitudes. Tolerating inappropriate behavior only delays the change, as demonstrated by The Sun's July 20 article about Mr. Ward, a popular midshipman accused of sexual misconduct.

As a leader in the brigade, Mr. Ward had authority over his peers. He routinely entered women's rooms uninvited. To a large degree, that is where the trouble started. Easy access to women's dorms by sober, and sometimes drunken, midshipmen is responsible for many of the academy's problems involving nonconsensual sex.

Placing women in a separate wing is not the solution. Women mids come to Annapolis to be treated as equals, not to be segregated. Allowing mids to lock their doors, however, might help. Once a mid retires for the night, he or she should not worry about unwanted visitors.

DTC The academy should be as intolerant of sexual misconduct as it is of lying, cheating or stealing. Any male midshipman who subjects women to sexual innuendoes, fondles them or forces himself on them needs to know he will be swiftly and severely punished.

Women represent only 15 percent of the student body. Unless there is a radical change in society and the way we wage war, male midshipmen will always greatly outnumber their female counterparts. For that reason, the academy as an institution -- and the Navy as a service -- must work harder to ensure that women are treated as equals.

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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