Gender stereotypes: Not in my Coast Guard

U.S. Coast Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program logo. U.S. Coast Guard illustration by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kelly Parker.

Gender and social stereotypes are all around us. Think about it – we see them in TV shows and commercials, movies, advertisements and music lyrics.

Societal stereotypes unfold in a variety of ways, particularly as it applies to gender and acceptable sexual conduct for men and women. Different words are often used to discuss the same behaviors and characteristics in men and women and product marketing targets people based on gender and gender stereotypes.

So why are these stereotypes a bad thing? And what do these societal practices have to do with sexual assault and the behaviors that enable it?

The truth is, stereotypes – no matter what kind – place limitations on individuals and influence behavior. What people hear and see in society affects how they think and view others. When these stereotypes go unchecked, people may begin to feel validated in not respecting others based on the fact that they feel society thinks its ok.

Stereotypes that we see everywhere also create a false sense of what is appropriate behavior. Now let’s take this one step closer to home – how does this apply to life in the Coast Guard?

The fact is, every member of our workforce – civilian, active-duty, reserve and auxiliary – is influenced by what they see and hear in the workplace whether it’s on deck, in a hangar or around a cubicle. When leaders, or even our peers, look the other way or – worse – participate in behaviors that reinforce gender and/or sexual stereotypes they can create divisions in a unit that opens the door to a continuum of behaviors – ostracizing, bullying, hazing and even harassment – that can lead to serious crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault.

This is a problem.

The most important thing you can do? Take the first step in recognizing these social stereotypes in your own behaviors and in the behaviors of those around you. This first step will help to build a culture of respect at your unit and in your Coast Guard.

This month, have the courage to say “Not in my Coast Guard” by combating these societal stereotypes at your unit. Have the courage to step in and say something when someone around you reinforces these stereotypes. Have the courage to help build a culture of respect in order to rid our service of sexual assault and the behaviors that enable it.

Editor’s note: for more information and resources, visit the sites for the Victim Advocate programSexual Assault Response Coordinators and Civil Rights Service Providers.

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