***Quick note beforehand. As I have mentioned in other posts about women in the CAF, I’m coming from the perspective of a straight, middle-aged male, and my writing is going to reflect that. I’m not in any way trying to discount the perspectives of other genders and orientations, I’m just sticking to what I know and adding that perspective to the conversation.***
So every now and then there’s a need to ferry a bunch of vehicles from Ottawa to Petawawa for an exercise. Since I have a lot of driving qualification and I’m generally a bum without much else to do, I usually volunteer for these tasking.
Anytime you’re driving a significant distance in the CAF, you’re required to have a second person with you as a ‘co-driver.’ In a perfect world, this is a person with similar driver qualifications who can sub in should you need it, but most of the time it’s a random troop who doesn’t have anything better to do elsewhere. Their main job in this case is to keep you from falling asleep at the wheel and drifting into the oncoming lane.
On a tasking like this you basically spend the better part of a day on a road trip to and from Petawawa with some random Private, and this can go on for a couple of days before and after an exercise, depending on how desperate the driver situation is.
Early last year I was on one of these gigs. I had several trucks’ worth of equipment to deliver, which translated into four days’ worth of road trips. However, on this occasion, the only co-drivers that could be found for me were all female. Specifically very young, very attractive females.
So a bit of context. One major difference between a reserve and a reg force unit, is the fact that we recruit locally so that (depending on where we’re from) our ethnic and gender mix tends to be more varied than regular force outfits. Especially regular force combat arms units. So rolling into Petawawa to off-load equipment in the company of an attractive young woman still manages to get some attention.
When you have several different women, one day after another? Well I managed to earn some creepy, approving leers and even a conspiratorial thumbs up from some of the greasier characters in Pet. This makes for an awkward situation since I don’t actually get to chose my co-drivers, but these weirdos assume that I do. And they assume that, if I’m choosing attractive young women, then obviously I’m a fellow creep and thus they feel the need to express their approval.
This leaves me in a situation where I find myself self-conscious at having a female co-driver. Or even resentful of them. Which is fucked up, because while I’m not doing anything wrong, neither are they.
The [______] Harem is essentially a figure of speech used for when a large number of attractive young women end up concentrated in a particular sub-unit that is itself commanded by a much older man. For example: the QM Harem, or the Headquarters Harem. The joke being that the sub-unit’s commander is deliberately selecting attractive women to fill in the ranks.
So in the interest of being 100% honest, and speaking as an middle-aged cis male NCO, it can sometimes be weird to find yourself young women under your command. It can be even be uncomfortable when circumstances forces them into close quarters with you. I’m not going to pretend that’s not a thing, because it is. The thing is, if they’re not actively trying to mess with you or anything, it’s just something you have to deal with.
I’ve worked with male troops who looked stupid as fuck. I’m talking literal slack-jawed mouth breathers. Some of them actually were that dumb, most of them weren’t, but there was no getting around how they looked.
I’ve worked with guys who had a look of perpetual anger on their faces, like they could fly off the handle at any moment and attack the nearest NCO. I’ve worked with guys who legitimately did have anger issues, including a couple of characters that had to get themselves some counselling in order to learn how to deal with life.
There was one guy I worked with who earned himself the nickname ‘Punchface’ because his resting facial expression was one of snooty contempt that made everyone who saw it want to punch him in the face. He was actually a decent troop, but his facial expression was something else.
There’s a bunch of issues with male soldiers that can prejudice me against them that I have to overcome if I’m going to be able to deal with them fairly. A young woman who manages to look unintentionally sexy in uniform is just another factor to deal with.
One of the less mature responses to the #MeToo movement has been for males in positions of power and authority trying to limit their contact with subordinate females. At its best, it’s a misunderstanding of the power dynamics in a workplace. At its most extreme, it’s denial of the problem of sexual misconduct as a problem entirely, and an effort to punish women for speaking out about their problems. Sort of like: “Well if you ladies are going to go around accusing everyone of raping you…well…maybe I won’t let you be anywhere alone with me! So there!”
Probably the most famous example would be current American Vice-President Mike Pence, who famously refuses to be alone with any woman other than his wife (whom he calls ‘mother’ but that’s a different issue) and goes so far as to have a chaperone for himself when around women.
I’d like to think this was an American thing, but I have seen this in CAF as well. There was one summer where I was working in an outfit with a larger than average percentage of female troops. The Officer and his Warrant were so paranoid about allegations of inappropriate behaviour that they tried to enforce a rule where Section Commanders and 2ICs (who were all male) could not be alone with female troops under any circumstances, including official moments like morning inspection.
By this I mean I was pulled aside multiple times and cautioned/ordered not to go into the female quarters for morning inspection (which was scheduled for a specific time every morning) unless another male NCO was with me. Because otherwise I might be vulnerable to accusations of harassment or misconduct.
Just so we’re clear here, during morning inspection a dozen females would be fully dressed and lined up in a hallway. Everyone could see everyone else. Everyone could hear every word being said. But somehow, by walking in there alone I was opening myself up to false accusations of sexual misconduct, and could have my career destroyed in a second if I was ever so reckless.
Now the problems with this line of reasoning are obvious: First off, for such an accusation to succeed, all the women present would have to support it. Now I’m not so naive as to believe that phony rape allegations don’t happen. They do, and while they’re very uncommon they are also very damaging for everyone involved. But the odds that somehow a dozen women would all spontaneously decide ‘You know what we should do today? Let’s all scream rape!’ all at once? Right.
The second problem is a lot more sinister. The fact is, creeps do exist. Even worse, sometimes they tend to congregate and join together like some kind of Voltronic douchebag. The line of reasoning that the presence of a second male will preclude a phony rape allegation makes the assumption that two males won’t team up to harass or assault a woman together. The chain of command on this occasion were so worried about men being accused of rape that they essentially laid themselves open for two or more males to prey upon whomever they wanted, so long as they backed each other up.
This wouldn’t have happened during morning inspection, obviously. But there were plenty of opportunities if someone was looking for it. A couple of men working together could have isolated and assaulted a woman in that unit, and so long as they kept their cool under questioning, the chain of command would have likely taken their word over the woman’s.
This is messed up for a number of reasons. It’s bad enough when you’re dealing with women on a recruit level, but it gets even more complicated when you get beyond that and start dealing with leadership training. Part of the job of being a leader is to train your replacement, but that’s something that requires a much greater level of close contact. I can instruct a dozen recruits in the use of the C7A2 service rifle at one time. The CAF literally produced entire manuals (with diagrams diagrams and photos) on how to teach each weapon in our arsenal. But all of them centre around teaching in a collective setting.
You give me a dozen female troops (even cute, teenage ones) and I can shout them into a line and start verbally hammering them through their weapons handling drills. It’s simple and straightforward, and 90% of my vocabulary will come directly from the C7A2 PAM (B-GL-385-001/PT-001). But give me one female troop who’s expecting to go on her PLQ sometime soon? Who needs one-on-one mentoring? Okay, that’s not something covered in a step-by-step fashion in a manual.
Complicated subjects are…complicated (duh!). You need more time to explain things, and when you’re dealing with a non-linear art like leadership the conversations can get downright emotional. I’ve had situations where I’ve had to essentially talk a junior NCO through the five stages of grief when they fucked up on something and are having a freak out. I’ve had other cases where the young master-jack has fucked up but doesn’t realize it yet. And I get to be the one to explain that to them. I’ve had other situations where one of these young tyros decided (usually while drunk) to explain their entire philosophy of how the army should really be run. And while they might need a healthy dose of reality to go with the rant, you still need to listen to them and walk them through it.
Right now the Militia is going through an expansion process where they’re trying to build up our numbers throughout the country. This means there’s more and more pressure to train NCOs who will, in turn, train the new recruits. This means that, more and more, I’m having to spend time with young women who are emerging from the ranks as potential and newly-minted NCOs. Some of those young women are attractive. And since I’m one of the bums who’s around a lot, I’m often the go-to person dealing with them. On occasion, we even spend hours alone driving to Petawawa.
In some people’s minds, I guess this makes me a devil-may-care risk taker?
***Today’s featured image is from the 2001 Bosnian film ‘No Man’s Land,’ which is a dark (and I mean, really dark) comedy set in 1993 during the Civil War. At one point, the fictional Colonel from the UNPROFOR contingent (played by Simon Callow) makes an appearance. He is accompanied by his lovely blonde aide Martha (Tanja Ribic), who’s only apparent job is to carry his helmet for him. In the HQ scenes, she carries a clipboard.***
 Highway 17 between Ottawa and Petawawa is mostly just a single lane in each direction without any divider, with an occasional passing lane to reduce the urge for homicide. Despite this, civilian drivers will crowd into your blind spot, pass you in a no passing zone, and generally behave as though you’re not driving a vehicle that out-weighs them ten to one. I’m assuming the fact that we’re far away from any ambulance or hospital has something to do with this.
 Especially now that we are getting recruits who weren’t even born when 9/11 happened. I mean seriously, having some doe-eyed teenager staring at me like I’m from another planet because I can remember watching the Berlin Wall come down on TV… That’s weird, okay? Shut up! I’m not old!
 A woman looking intentionally sexy is a different matter altogether. This is the army, not a reality dating show. You got a standard to maintain and it will be maintained, come hell or high water!
 I’m going light on the details to avoid singling out the people involved, particularly the women. Everyone that summer acted decently, and nothing bad happened. But the chain of command had a massive blind spot that could have been exploited.
 This gets even sketchier when you take in the fact that, periodically, troops had to be driven places (such as medical appointments due to injuries) and the standard was for female troops to be accompanied by two males (since there were no female drivers). In retrospect, the potential for exploitation here was pretty alarming.
 There are lots of books and articles on leadership in the CAF, but none of them break things down into nice, shout-able, step-by-step instructions.
 Is there a word for an anti-grieving process? Where you’re feeling fine and someone has to help you feel bad? Like, maybe some long German word like schadenfreude? Seriously, that would be awesome.
2 thoughts on “The ‘Headquarters Harem,’ or why we can’t have nice things.”
 Not a native German speaker, but “Glückbeschneidung” (happiness pruning)? In English I suppose “to desatisfy [someone]” might work.
Happiness pruning…I like that!