The first woman to head the U.S. Air Force Academy took up her post Monday just as the Pentagon prepares new rules to address the epidemic of military sexual assaults. A 1981 graduate of the academy and a former Rhodes Scholar, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson is the first female superintendent since the Colorado Springs academy was opened by President Eisenhower nearly 60 years ago.Johnson’s leadership comes at a troubling time for the Air Force: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called sexual assaults in the military "a "scourge"--one for which there is--as yet--no cure. The Pentagon currently estimates that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year--up from 19,000 in 2010. Only 3,000--a fraction of total estimates--were reported.On Tuesday, NOW Guest and New York Times columnist Frank Bruni put the military sexual assault epidemic in the broader context of American gender norms:
Its deepest roots…are the cult of hyper-masculinity, which tells boys that aggression is natural and sexual conquest enviable, and a set of laws and language that cast women as inferior, pliable, even disposable.
There is a silver lining for military brass, Bruni suggests:
…that’s a resolvable tension, if men are conditioned to show the same self-control toward women that they do, successfully, in following myriad military regulations; if they're encouraged to call out sexist behavior; and if, above all, commanders monitor their own conduct, never signaling that women are second-class citizens.