Between the Secret Service agents giving “advance work” a new name in Cartegena, the accusations that other agents were up to the same tricks in El Salvador and the legal suit by a “sex professional and dancer” in Brazil against the U.S. Marines and an embassy official, being an “ugly American” is no longer going to mean loud-talking and taking up entire sidewalks when Americans travel abroad.
Even a former Merchant Marine took to the pages of the Washington Post to claim that the real scandal here isn’t that American men patronize sex workers abroad — Montana Republican candidate Neil Livingstone, who literally wrote a book about it, would agree — but that the men involved felt so entitled to the sexual services of those women that they didn’t think they needed to pay the agreed-upon price.
It’s that, too, but the scandals speak to a culture in those organizations (and in our society) in which women aren’t viewed as equally human — especially if they are sexual. It doesn’t matter if the women are selling atypical labor (sex) or are testifying about the medical conditions that necessitate the use of oral contraceptives, whether they’re virgins or whores or, like most of us, somewhere in that vast middle between the two: too many men look at us as though we’re objects rather than people.
And it’s not just evidenced by the ways in which certain men publicly observe women. Take the Secret Service: long known for being among the federal agencies with the worst record of hiring women, the agency declined to even participate in the Department of Justice’s 2008 data collection efforts to show what, if any, progress it had made in hiring women. Correlation isn’t causation, but the reported “Wheels up, rings off” culture of the agency that clearly played a role in the broad acceptance of utilizing sex workers’ services during advance trips and its apparent difficulty in attracting, hiring and/or retaining women agents can’t be a coincidence.
An organization culture in which going to brothels is an all-but-scheduled group activity during business trips isn’t going to be friendly to women employees, either during their field trips or in the wake of them. One assumes that with worldwide coverage indicating to more than a few sex workers — stiffed or not — that American government personnel, even if uniform, cannot get away with threatening, withholding payment from and/or attempting to assault them, there will be quite a few more women who come forward over the next few weeks with their stories.
And maybe when it all shakes out, the conversation will be both about what those agents do abroad, and what their HR managers do at home.
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