Air Force Cracks Down On Objectification

The Air Force has a leadership crisis.

The Air Force is cracking down on public displays objectifying women a mere thirty years after other employers.

Air Force Times (“Air Force-wide inspections begin today“):

Commanders and supervisors in all corners of the Air Force will conduct a widespread sweep of all work spaces and public areas starting today [Wednesday, December 5], looking for pictures, calendars and other materials that objectify women.

The order covers all active, reserve and Air National Guard units and must be completed by Dec. 17.

Pictures of scantily clad women in calendars, posters or in briefing slides have no place in a professional workplace, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, who ordered the service-wide health and welfare inspection.

Welsh has emphasized the need to stop sexual assaults and harassment in the workplace since coming to office in August, and he told Air Force Times he had received multiple complaints about images, jokes and comments that made women and some men uncomfortable. The complaints indicated that many women felt they had to “go along to get along” with offensive images and comments if they wanted to steer clear of trouble.

“In my view, all this stuff is connected. If we’re going to get serious about things like sexual assault, we have to get serious about an environment that could lead to sexual harassment. In some ways this stuff can all be linked,” Welsh said Dec. 4. “I’m not saying every case is linked, but it could be linked, and why would we want to tolerate there even being a chance of that?”

Welsh said Air Force Secretary Michael Donley issued the inspection order at his request.

“After talking to a number of our female officers and NCOs, I believe that there is a potential that this is a problem in more than those isolated areas,” Welsh said. “Quite frankly, if we have 20 percent of our people who don’t feel that they are fully respected and valued for all the incredible talents and the dedication they bring to the job, then that’s just not the Air Force we want to be.”

I remember when this sort of thing was controversial in firehouses and other male-dominated workplaces that were beginning to integrate women. It was deemed “politically correct” and the argument was that calendars of scantily clad (or even unclad) women was just a matter of “boys being boys” and that the women whining about it should just lighten up; after all, it was their decision to enter a male-dominated field.

Ronald Reagan was in his first term then. A quarter century plus later, it’s shocking that it’s even still an issue. A generation has passed.  Aside from a few grizzled old chief master sergeants and senior officers, nobody in the current Air Force was alive, much less in the workplace, in that old era. How the hell do they not know better than this?

Yet, clearly, the problem is so rampant that the Chief of Staff is having to spend his time addressing this more than a decade into a shooting war. This is, sadly, yet another manifestation of a leadership crisis in the Air Force, specifically dealing with women’s issues, that’s been apparent for twenty years.

FILED UNDER: Environment, Gender Issues, Military Affairs, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ken says:

    I once gave the sexual harassment prevention training for the police department of a small local town.

    The officers were quite upset when I got to the part about how they couldn’t post porn on their lockers in their coed locker area.

    I asked one of them if he was ok with someone posting gay porn on the locker next to his. (Note: that sort of question is not in the presenter’s handbook).

    I was lucky to leave alive.

  2. Geek, Esq. says:

    Amazing that this kind of stuff is still allowed. From both a gender equality and a professional pride perspective, this kind of stuff isbeneath the armed services.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Ken: There’s a pretty good Ron White joke along those lines. Not safe for work.

    @Geek, Esq.: Well, it’s not allowed. Apparently, though, it’s being permitted.

  4. de stijl says:

    I glanced at the headline and I thought it said “Air Force Cracks Down On Objectivism.”

    I thought, “What? They have a bunch of friggin’ Randians running amok? I thought the Air Force’s big problem was with evangelicals.”

  5. Mikey says:

    This surprises me–I thought the USAF dealt with this long ago. We went through in the late 1980s and cleared all that stuff out. And I was in a specialty that didn’t–and still doesn’t, actually–admit women. But we still had to take down the bikini calendars and such.

    It is sad that they have to devote even one valuable minute to this in 2012.

  6. Neil Hudelson says:

    Hold up, when have we been able to post full videos in the comments, rather than just links? This could be bad for my productivity if others catch on.

  7. Rafer Janders says:

    Pictures of scantily clad women in calendars, posters or in briefing slides have no place in a professional workplace,

    I absolutely agree. But what about an unprofessional workplace? What’s the standard for those?

  8. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl: I’ve suggested that my employer start cracking down on Objectivism, Ron Paul supporters, and Libertarians of all stripes — and even though I pointed out that Ron Paul himself would support the company’s freedom to discriminate against libertarians, my employers were not convinced.

    No one ever listens to me.

  9. scott says:

    I’ve worked in AF facilities for 30 years. Maybe I’m not in the areas where there is a problem but I haven’t seen any pin ups or calendars since the 80s. It may be an overreaction to the issues at Lackland. A little corrective and reminder every now and then can be a good thing so we don’t slide back. On the other hand, I can certainly see it happening in a war zone but I would probably cut a lot of slack there.

  10. Mikey says:


    On the other hand, I can certainly see it happening in a war zone but I would probably cut a lot of slack there.

    I wouldn’t. Discipline is even more important when deployed than it is at home base. We’ve seen what happens when the leadership slacks off, and it starts with the small stuff.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    @Mikey: Especially considered that rape has been pointed out as being a non-miniscule risk for US female soldiers. It’s one thing having to take on the risk of being raped by the enemy, but by your fellow soldiers?!

  12. Geek, Esq. says:


    And leads to stuff like Tailhook.

  13. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Always be wary of the unintended consequences of government actions, however.

    With Title VII the Feds socially engineered private workplaces. That was decades ago. Has racial harassment in the workplace been eliminated? Has sexual harassment been eliminated? Um, no. Not even close. Merely it’s been shifted from the overt largely to the covert, from the obvious to the more subtle. It’s created further schisms in the workplace. Pitted factions against each other. Created an “anti-snitch” subculture. Resulted in serious cases of mission creep. So on, so forth. And it’s cost enterprises hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars.

    With the government of course money is no object. It all grows on trees. But the underlying dynamics will be the same. We’re still talking about people. We’re still talking about some feeling like they’ve been singled out and others feeling as though still more must be done. We’re also talking about line drawing. is a picture of a man and his wife in swimsuits while on vacation “objectionable?” What about if someone’s daughter happens to be a fashion model? Is a picture of a man’s own daughter on the runway cause for a demerit? Where exactly do you draw the line?

    The road to regulatory hell is paved with the very best of intentions.

  14. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:
    If a man has a picture of his daughter up that strikes coworkers as objectifying and sexualizing women, there are likely bigger problems going on.

  15. de stijl says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    You seem to be implying that overt discrimination in the workplace without legal recourse is preferable.

  16. bill says:

    maybe they can get “sexual harassment panda” to visit? jfc, they got women and gays now- do they have to give up everything that reeks of testosterone?

  17. Scott says:

    @grumpy realist: @Mikey: Yeah, I knew when I wrote that I would get that reaction. I backspaced it out once. I think it’s a fine line. Does any thing of a sexual nature lead to an environment that would lead to rape? Do all kinds of racy badinage result in an oppressive situation? Yes, you have to have discipline but there has to be avenues of release also. I don’t know; you may be right.

  18. de stijl says:

    Shorter Tsar: Won’t anyone think of the employee with the hot daughter? First they came for the employees with hot daughters, and I did not speak out because I did not have a hot daughter.


  19. Davebo says:

    @de stijl:

    What do you call a virgin in Tsar’s household?

    Someone who can outrun Tsar….

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    A buddy of mine’s father was a waist gunner on a B-24 based in Italy. I don’t remember the name of his plane, but I can not forget the curves of the woman on the nose. Imagine my shame when I could not match that imagery ’cause my old man was a radar operator in a B-29 based on Saipan and the CO did not allow such nose art.

    Oh… and what is more? His old man bailed out over Yugoslavia and made his way back to England via I don’t know how. My old man only crashed landed on Iwo Jima 3 times.

    My old man was a pussy and his unit was for pikers.

    My old man was, and is my hero. He just did his duty. Got an Air Medal for it. Then when Korea came along? Did it all again….. But this time he left a wife and daughter behind.

  21. Mikey says:

    @Scott: If a guy has a Playboy in his kit bag, probably not a big deal. If he starts tacking centerfolds up, we have a problem. That’s the line I’d draw. There’s a big difference in environment between a guy who keeps those things to himself and a guy who makes it an uncomfortable place for women. Young, healthy men with a surplus of energy and a significant other half a world away are going to need some release, I get that, but it doesn’t require the kind of things the Air Force is dealing with right now.

    It doesn’t always lead to rape, but it doesn’t have to. Damage can be done just by creating an environment in which the female servicemembers feel less safe, or less respected. Professionalism dictates that we treat everyone professionally, and we don’t do that if we have pictures of half-naked women tacked up in the workcenter.

    The part I find sad about this recent crackdown–besides that it is necessary at all–is that it had to come from the top. That speaks to a lack of trust in the chain of command, down to the small-unit commanders, that is profoundly disturbing to me as a 20-year veteran of the Air Force.

  22. Scott says:

    @Mikey: I agree with you on the line. That is about where I am. As for the rest, I don’t see it currently in the AF workplace. I will give leadership the benefit of the doubt; however, I do not discount the thought that this is a bit of CYA and political theater. Which, by the way, speaks to another kind of distrust in our leadership.

  23. An Interested Party says:

    jfc, they got women and gays now- do they have to give up everything that reeks of testosterone?

    There are plenty of women and gay men who reek of testosterone…

  24. Sejanus says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Holy batman, an entire Tsar Nicholas post without the words “academe”, “liberal” or “loopy” in it! And it didn’t even had one rant about the media! I think all those “End of the World in 2012” prophecies might not be so false after all…

  25. Al says:


    But if the Air Force was a stock would he (gulp!) short it?

  26. Ron Beasley says:

    Times do change, here is a picture of my father in Burma during WWII.

  27. Andy says:

    Full disclosure. I am a civilian employed by the Air Force. I am a reservist serving in an Air Force unit. My wife is an active duty Air Force officer.

    The AF is “cracking down” but in reality, there isn’t much to crack down on as this kind of stuff hasn’t been common in the AF for many years. This crack-down isn’t because objectification of women is still a major issue in the AF – instead it’s one part of the response to some recent cases of sexual assault in the AF, especially the abuses that occurred at the training command at Lackland, Texas. The leadership this time seems to be taking “zero tolerance” more seriously this time, and so these “inspections” are part of a larger effort to combat the problem of sexual assault within the ranks.

  28. Pharoah Narim says:

    New boss is bored since there isn’t anything left to shoot down in the the middle east. This is nothing more than a solution in search of a real problem. You want to cut sexual assault in the ranks (really date rape)? Cut down on alcohol use and co-ed dorms. This is entirely within a wing commanders power to do so. This guy really isn’t starting his tenure off on a good foot.

  29. Buffalo Rude says:

    Because everyone knows “date rape” isn’t like real “rape”.

  30. Uncle Elmer says:

    I also made the connection to WWII nose art in today’s Spearhead : Air Force to Scrap the Strawberry Bitch?