So let’s establish a few things right off the bat…

I’m a forty-one year old Sergeant who’s last named hair style was the mullet.  I used to have long hair, so I generally get the idea behind why long-haired women would care about something like Ponytail-FORGEN, but I’m not going to claim I get it on a personal level.

Actually, hang on a sec…a bit of explanation first:

The -FORGEN suffix is a reference to CANFORGEN, the shortened version of CANadian FORces GENeral orders (I think they stopped capitalizing after they had a usable word), which are a collection of formally published general orders for the entire CAF.  In the popular lexicon, we’ve gone and added various prefixes to -FORGEN as a reference to particular orders.

For example, the orders updating the policy regarding the growth of facial hair among male soldiers is called the Beard-FORGEN, and the official CAF policy about the consumption of cannabis (now legal in Canada) was dubbed the Weed-FORGEN.  That’s how these things work. 

-Me.  Why yes, I need to update the Glossary.

End of explanation.

So before the Ponytail-FORGEN, women either had to cut their hair short, or else wind it up in a tight bun or a braid.  Most opted for a bun, switching to a braid in the field since the bun can interfere with comfortably wearing a helmet.  I never thought this was anything particularly significant for women, but the week the Ponytail-FORGEN came out, one of our female officers came out on first parade with her hair free of it’s usual severe bun to announce it, and within thirty seconds every other bun or braid had died an unlamented death.

So as much as I didn’t think something like this would matter, I’m apparently wrong. Meh.  What are you gonna do?

It’s stuff like this that leave’s today’s featured image in a bit of a grey area for me.  This cartoon was posted on the official 4 Canadian Division Facebook page (although I have been told it originated with 2 Div), and I’m not totally sure how I feel about it. At first glance it seems kind of condescending, presenting what should be a routine CANFORGEN with a kind of “Hey ladies! You can do more hair styles now!” kind of tone (complete with My Little Pony/She-Ra sparkles).  On the other hand, the women of my Regiment were genuinely happy about it so…yay?  Anyway, as a rapidly aging curmudgeon, my main concern is that standards for morning inspection on a recruit course have now changed, and as a Sgt, I need to either adapt or die.[1]

This is my roundabout way of qualifying this upcoming post about women in the CAF: I’m an outsider looking in, and I’m doing the best I can.

Starting with some personal observations:

Starting with my own experiences, I was trained by female NCOs and led by them for the first several years of my career in the Militia.  For QL2 & QL3 (my recruit courses, now called BMQ, BMQ(L), and DP1) my section 2IC was female, and for the first several years at my Regiment my immediate supervisor was a woman.  They had a major impact on my formative years in the army and I tend of take it personally when people criticize women (in general) in the military.

If you think that women don’t belong, what does that say about me?

The arguments are pretty much routine by now: Women are physically weaker, women don’t have the temperament to be fighters, women are less aggressive, women only succeed because the men in charge give them special treatment because they want to screw them….etc…etc…  Inevitably, there’s going to be a female soldier who will fulfill these stereotypes, and they’ll get held up as proof of something.

Somehow the existence of male soldiers who are dumber than a sack of bricks, male soldiers who are MIR commandos[2], male soldiers who get an easy ride through dude-bro glad-handing or snivelling ass-kissing….somehow this isn’t proof of anything.

Funny how that works.

There was fifteen recruits in my cohort when I joined, plus one more who joined the same year who transferred in from another unit.[3] Out of these sixteen recruits, two were female (which wasn’t a bad ratio for the time), and after a few years in it was one of these females troops who was among the first of our cohort to go on leadership training (called PLQ at the time).  That cohort had five people in it: three males, two females.  One of the male leadership candidates was dropped from training due to an injury, and another female troop transferred in with her PLQ already done, so that year’s final tally for new leadership actually had a 3-2 female to male ratio, which I think may have been a first for us.

At this point I was a senior enlisted man and (if I do say so myself) a fairly switched on troop.  A year and a half later I would be going on PLQ myself, and I was reaching the point where NCOs and Officers no longer had that sheen of infallibility that they hold when you first join up.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was starting to look at my bosses and make judgements as to their abilities, for better or worse.

This confluence of factors meant that this was the first time I really saw sexism in the army up close.

So any new leader leader fresh off their course is going to fuck a bunch of things up.  Doesn’t matter how well they did on course, day-to-day training is different and there’s going to be all sorts of things they forget or screw up.  All of these newly trained would-be master jacks made a bunch of these mistakes.  All of them.  They were all good people, but nobody’s perfect.

Now guess who got the worst flak for their mistakes from the ranks?  Guess who got unflattering nicknames and were secretly trash-talked behind their backs?  Yeah, the guys were all right.  Their mistakes got laughed off, if they were even noticed in the first place.  The women on the other hand…

Hell, one of the male members in this cohort was front and centre, practically taking the lead in the shit-talking of his female comrades.  And this was a guy who got theatrically angry if anyone ever questioned his authority.  Go figure.

There was actually one moment where I (an enlisted man) got called upon to support another troop’s second guessing of the female leader from my recruit cohort.[4]  In the grand scheme of things, all three women got through the bullshit well enough, and all three of them carried on in their lives and careers.  But it was there, and I could see it up close.  The double standard was real.[5]

So there’s a thing called OP HONOUR…

MacLean's 2014-05-05

Back in May 2014, there was an investigative report published in McLean’s magazine. It detailed shocking levels of sexual assault in the CAF, and what appeared to be an institutionalized culture bent on ignoring it.  It’s…not wrong.  I got some questions about exact numbers and methodology, as the article extrapolates based on some limited information, but I don’t disagree that there is a serious problem in the CAF with regards to sexual misconduct and sexual assault.

Now, I’ve had arguments about this with others in the CAF.  For the record: No, I haven’t done extensive research, or reviewed (in detail) the research done by others.  Most of my information is based on reading the resulting reports and articles, as well as personal experience.  Yes, I know that the plural of anecdote isn’t data.  So yes, it’s true.  I can’t conclusively say for certain that every allegation in this (and other) articles are 100% accurate.

Here’s the thing, though: I personally know four women in the CAF who have been sexually assaulted by other members of the CAF.

These are the people I know personally.  This is not counting stories I know of second hand from trusted sources, and accounts I have read about from official sources[6]. This is not counting female soldiers I know who have been sexually assaulted by people outside the CAF.  I don’t have a particularly large circle of friends and acquaintances in the CAF, but I personally know of four women for whom this article represents a depressing reality.

So I don’t really have a high opinion of those who want to argue over semantics and details.

As far as harassment goes…hooo boy!  Yeah.  We got that too.

So back in 2014 when the MacLean’s magazine story came out, the CAF launched a broad inquiry that produced the Deschamps Report as a result (pdf available at link).  This report confirmed that varying forms of sexual misconduct were indeed a serious problem within all branches of the CAF.  The report made a number of recommendations, and part of the response was for the CAF to launch Operation Honour (OP HONOUR is the way its typically written[7]), a broad program of reform to root out sexual misconduct and its perpetrators.

The results have officially been mixed (link to DND’s 2016 first progress report).  After five years, one of the complaints raised is that there has been no significant decrease in the number of reported incidents.  In theory, had OP HONOUR been successful, shouldn’t there be a decrease?  The answer is probably layered in more complexity and nuance than the article suggests.[8]  Regardless, OP HONOUR is an ongoing priority as of this writing.[9]

Leadership Styles….

So contrary to what the leadership schools may want to tell us, there’s different ways to do things in the army.  Especially when it comes to something like leadership, where you’re mashing a bunch of X factors (the NCOs) with another bunch of X factors (the troops) in an environment that isn’t static.  In order to succeed, you’ll have to adapt what you have to confront what you’re getting.

Everyone’s got a different leadership style.  For example, there’s a guy I’ve worked with on again off again over in Meaford.  He’s a seriously switched on MCpl, but he’s also a short man with a very youthful face that has a perpetually delighted look, like he just walked into his surprise birthday.  This guy’s getting nowhere trying to do a Gny-Sgt Hartman impersonation.[10]  He’s not some towering authority figure with a booming voice, and if he walked in to a roomful of recruits and started hurling abuse, the effect would be surreal and funny, not intimidating.

So in this guy’s case, he goes for energy and enthusiasm.  ‘Come on!  Let’s do this!’  When he gets going, his wide-eyed expression and small build actually enhances the effect, creating a kind of manic energy that sweeps troops up in its vortex.  He didn’t have a traditional authority presence, so he adapted.

The same thing applies to female NCOs.  They’re not your stereotypical movie drill sergeant, so they have to develop their own style to make things work.  Typically, the average female NCO won’t have a larger physical build than her troops, and our shapeless combats can make muscle tone look like fat (which carries its own negative connotations) so even the ones who have muscle mass might not benefit from it.

I’ve met a couple of female master-jacks and sergeants who were thin and wiry, so they opted for something I now call ‘the coiled spring,’ and could shout orders with a kind of whip-crack fury that would make your average seventeen year old recruit jump.  Others have opted for dry, cutting sarcasm, which requires a sense of humour to pull off properly.  One of the more devastating command styles I’ve ever seen employed by female NCOs is something I’ve heard called ‘the disappointed mother.’  It requires the NCO to be old enough to be the troops’ parent, but when that’s the case I’ve seen a recruit reduced to tears by an instructor who never had to raise her voice or use the F-word.[11]

So about the former CDS….

So in June 2015, our previous Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Thomas Lawson, was asked to comment on the continuing issue of sexual misconduct in the CAF.  His answer…wasn’t the most well thought out.

“It would be a trite answer, but it’s because we’re biologically wired in a certain way and there will be those who believe it is a reasonable thing to press themselves and their desires on others. It’s not the way it should be,” he said.

“Much as we would very much like to be absolutely professional in everything we do, and I think by and large we are, there will be situations and have been situations where, largely, men will see themselves as able to press themselves onto our women members.

I’m not in any position to say exactly what the General was thinking when he said this, but it sounds an awful lot like he was conflating sexual misconduct and consensual  fraternization.  To be completely fair, there are a lot of circumstances in the military in which fraternization of any kind is unlawful in the CAF.  In an operational theatre, it’s a chargeable offence for spouses to fraternize.  Seriously.  A husband and wife working together in say, Kandahar Air Field could get into trouble for holding hands.  So for the average officer or NCO, there might be the tendency to lump anything sexual into the same unwanted category.

The problem here was that Gen Lawson was not only the CDS at the time, but the man who’d launched OP HONOUR itself.  Needless to say, his remarks stirred up a hell of a controversy, and he would step down a month later.

There’s a serious problem with putting sexual assault in the same box as fraternization.  While both may be against the (military) law, one is not the same as the other.  On top of that, the implication that ‘well, once you get men and women together, rape’s just going to happen’ is flat out insulting.

There is, however, the core of a real issue here that I think needs to be examined.  Right now across North America (and to various extents, around the world) we are experiencing what’s been called the #MeToo movement.  People (mostly women) are coming forward to describe their personal experiences with harassment, sexual misconduct and assault.  It’s still unclear how far the movement will carry on, but it’s already rocked Hollywood, the American and Canadian political scene, and businesses everywhere.

In the military, we got a habit of viewing the outside world as something completely separate from our own.[12]  But this is the population we’re recruiting from.  Their problems are getting imported into our population.  If Canada has a #MeToo problem, then so does the CAF.

I grew up in the 1980s.  Go back and watch any comedy from that era and it’s almost guaranteed there’s going to be something to make you squirm.  Hell, pretty much any college movie from that time period is going to be rape-y as hell, and even the progressive movies from the time had some questionable perspectives on sex (not to mention race, sexual orientation, violence, etc…).  These were formative cultural experiences for me and millions of other people, and it left me (and probably many others) with a lot of sketchy thinking that I had to unlearn.

Makes me wonder what today’s woke generation is going to have to unlearn.[13]

The problem with Gen Lawson’s comments is that it’s not a biological imperative that drives us, but a social one.  Sketchy sexual morals aren’t coded into my brain via my DNA, but they got implanted in my brain via my upbringing and the media I consumed.

On top of that, the army is an isolating environment.  Not only do we tend to see the outside world as, well, the outside world, but we tend to see our fellow soldiers in our unit as separate from other units, trades and elements.  You might all be working on the same base or in the same operational theatre, but soldiers outside of your unit can be just as strange to you as the civilian world.  This can have the effect of making it very hard to find help if you find yourself targeted by a predator in your chain of command.

So not only are we picking up the #MeToo baggage from the civilian population, but there is an argument to be made that the military is a particular environment in which predatory behaviour can thrive if it is not actively engaged and checked.

I can’t help but think that these comments cut to the heart to a lot of the resistance we’re seeing (throughout the army as well as society as a whole) to #MeToo and OP Honour; that confusing of fraternization with sexual misconduct.  If you think that fraternizing is the same as harassment and assault, then you might figure OP Honour is an attempt to go after people based on their ‘biological wiring.’

The message should be ‘This isn’t us, we can do better!’ but gets taken in as ‘You’re a horrible person for even thinking about sex!’  The problem is that nobody exists outside of their upbringing.  So we’re trying to change a mindset without the ability to examine that mindset objectively from the outside.

To be continued….

So the various drafts of this post came to well over four thousand words, and I still had thoughts on the subject.  I’m cutting things short right now for the sake of getting something online, but I’m going to have to revisit this subject again later on.  Especially in some of the upcoming segments of the Uprising deconstruction.


[1] Like, the whole ‘the ponytail cannot hang lower than the top of the armpit thing’…they do know that ponytails are arrow-shaped and the longest hairs will hang lower than the majority, right?  Am I supposed to measure by the longest hair or by the wides point?  Stop laughing!  These things are important!

[2] MIR – Basically the army walk-in medical clinic that serves as the triage for troops on course who may be sick or injured.  Pretty much every base has a clagg of professional malingerers who are experts at faking just the right sort of injury to avoid doing unpleasant jobs while not actually getting kicked out of training.  Hence, MIR Commandos.

[3] This happens a lot in the Reserves where a lot of younger troops are students.  It’s not uncommon for a person to join their local Militia unit, then enrol in a college or university that’s out of town.  So they get themselves ‘attach-posted’ to a local unit and parade with them.

[4] I’m happy to say that I backed her up, because she was in charge and because she was right.  But looking back now, I wish I’d told the guy to eat a bag of dicks as well.  He was massively out of line.

[5] Right now women readers are probably rolling their eyes and going “Well duh!”  All I can say is, I’m a cis white male and I figured it out.  I’m not asking for a trophy.  I’m just describing how it went down.

[6] Most of these are cases where males are assaulting females, but not entirely.  I have had indirect involvement in the investigation of two cases of male-on-male harassment, and there’s at least one current case in the Navy involving male-on-male sexual assault that is ongoing as I write this.

[7] When spoken, ‘OP’ is pronounced as a word so that it rhymes with ‘top.’  This has led to an unfortunate joke where ‘OP HONOUR’ is deliberately mispronounced to sound like ‘hop on her.’  Add this to the list of reasons why we can’t have nice things.

[8] I don’t have access to the raw data and how it was analyzed, but I got a theory about this.  OP HONOUR has brought about an increased scrutiny of sexual misconduct, and with it has brought the message that victims might finally be listened to.  As such many victims who might not have originally expected to be believed are now coming forward, causing the numbers to jump.  It’s not that OP HONOUR isn’t working, it’s that ‘working’ here means that the numbers are going to go up as more people who would have suffered in silence are now coming forward.  If I’m right, we’ll probably see this spike in reported offences continue for a while before it starts to drop off.

[9] There’ll probably be another spike when the realization hits home that OP HONOUR is supposed to apply to everyone, and that men who have been victimized have just as much right to come forward as well as women.

[10] For the record, no one gets anywhere doing a Gunnery Sergeant Hartman impersonation.  I don’t know what Lee Ermey was like as a real marine corps instructor, but what the guy was doing in Full Metal Jacket was abusive and toxic.  Also, people seem to forget this part, but Gny-Sgt Hartman dies in the movie.  He abuses Pvt Pyle, who finally snaps and kills him before killing himself.  For some reason people always forget this part when they’re quoting the movie.

[11] Considering how many people joining the army have parental issues…I’m just saying that the fact this works is not as surprising as you’d think.

[12] The fact that I typed ‘outside world’ without even thinking about it…

[13] On top of any in-build ignorance, this generation gets to deal with the MRA/red-pill/MGTOW movement who are actively working to hustle the conversation backwards.  If you’ve never heard about these guys, I can do no better than to direct you to Dave Futrell’s blog ‘We Hunted the Mammoth‘ and say “Brace yourself.”



3 thoughts on “Women in the CAF – Uh…Swooch?

  1. Put your helmet on and get the Kevlar – its war story time.

    OK, not a secret that I’ve been in the CAF for a few years (33) and have seen a number of dramatic shifts in the organization over the years. So, for those of you who may be “math-challenged” I enrolled in 1986. At the time the purpose of the Reserves was to be ready to form the nucleus of the forces Canada would send to Europe after a Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany. Women had only been allowed into “non-traditional” occupations (read anything other than finance or administration clerks) for about 10 years, being LGBTQ2 meant that you weren’t allowed to serve, there was definitely double standards when it came for training (Reserves were trained to a different standard than the Regular Force) and the operational highlight of most people’s career would likely have been a UN Peacekeeping mission to Cyprus, or maybe a posting to West Germany.

    Fast forward 3 years, the CAF is directed to open all occupations except sub-mariner to women. The conservative crowd wails that the world will end, and the CAF does stupid stuff that does not help with integrating our new comrades in arms. These included – dress uniforms of a substantially different style then men’s (because making sure a minority stands further out is always a good idea), separate sleeping areas (generally not a horrible idea, but to ensure that everyone knows which tent is for females it is ringed with white cloth tape to mark it as “out of Bounds” for male personnel and often all females regardless of rank are put in the same tent on the grounds of efficiency), etc. Essentially, the CAF acted like little boys forced to accept little girls into their club and acted with as little grace as they could get away with.

    Moving on up to 1993 the earth shook as LGBTQ2 persons were now allowed to serve in the CAF. Prior to this, if you were outed you were released under rules made when homosexuality was illegal in Canada and due to the attitude of “this is how it was when we won WWII, therefore we should maintain everything about that so we can win WWII again (because of course, the next war will be just like the last)” persisting. Once again, the world was going to end.

    At the same time, the Cold War ended, not with a bang, but with a whimper as the Soviet Union disintegrated and much of the former Warsaw pact nations rushed to join NATO. UN peacekeeping got a whole lot more dangerous with Yugoslavia disintegrating and ethnic nationalism being exploited to turn neighbour against neighbour so some formerly minor politician could now claim to be President of the Republic of XXXX. Canada looked to cut our budget deficit in part by reducing the military budget (as the largest single piece of discretionary spending in the Federal budget), and so drastically reduced the number of members in the Regular Force, reduced the amount of dollars for procurement, but due to the destabilization engendered by the collapse of the former Soviet power bloc, the employment of the remaining troops and now aging equipment (that wasn’t being replaced) meant that everything was being stretched. The flaws in the training, leadership and employment models of the CAF highlighted by the Somalia Affair and the near constant media spotlight didn’t help the organization that took the ideal of “the military doesn’t get involved with politics” and the historical Canadian attitude of ignoring the military unless absolutely necessary, meant that it had no clue how to deal with a media that wasn’t taking no for an answer and wasn’t accepting “no comment” or “we’re working on it and will get back to you”. Frankly morale was in the toilet. This was the CAF that the author released from. And that has likely shaped how he views the CAF in his work, how he views the NPA.

    It’s already come out in how Bland has portrayed women in this novel – the sole female CAF member has been borderline incompetent and unworthy of being killed by the terrorists, so she’s tied up and left in the trunk of the cruiser, the intelligence agent has been less than useful and Molly is written in such a way that the name could have been Mike and there would have no difference


    1. There’s definitely the sense of arrested development in the way Douglas Bland writes. I was in High School during most of the 90s but I had friends in military families (a few of whom joined as soon as they were able) and I got a taste of the mood through them. A lot of Uprising feels the same.
      I’m actually reading Gen Hillier’s memoire right now and I’m about midway through the nineties. Ole Rick does a pretty good job capturing the frustration and resentment of the time (albeit from a senior officer’s perspective). Again, there’s a distinct sense of “Yup, this sounds familiar.”


  2. The vibe I get from the novel is more of a late 80s force, but with some modern equipment (because the author didn’t actually research). The lack of women and visible minorities is noticeable, the processes used by the CAF, the anti-intellectualism displayed with the comment about staff officers wargaming something on their own initiative rather than just doing what the course required, the fear of the media, contempt for politicians, etc. seem more the 80s.


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