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Air Combat Command removes posters after complaints of sexism

February 28, 2017 (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Military Religious Freedom Foundation)
Officials at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, have removed several posters after receiving complaints that the faith-based messages were sexist, according to the Air Force. 

Several posters at Air Combat Command headquarters had faith-based messages and only referred to male, not female, airmen, prompting complaints from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and the National Organization for Women.

The historical posters quote a 1955 Air Force Manual and have been on display for at least six years, Maj. Malinda Singleton, a spokeswoman with Air Combat Command, told Air Force Times. 

One of the messages stated: "Men cannot live without faith except for brief moments of anarchy or despair. Faith leads to conviction — and convictions lead to action. It is only a man of deep convictions, a man of deep faith, who will make the sacrifices needed to save his manhood."

Earlier this month, the command received a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, but Singleton said the complaint focused on the religious nature of the posters.

“[The complaint] was dismissed because the display does not endorse, disapprove of, or extend preferential treatment for any faith, belief or absence of belief,” Singleton said.

Langley Poster One
A poster on display at Air Combat Command headquarters, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, includes words about the importance of faith that were included in a 1955 Air Force Manual.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Military Religious Freedom Foundation

However, the original MRFF complaint, and a Feb. 9 letter from Tobanna Barker, the foundation's legal affairs coordinator, did in fact address the posters' "message of male superiority." That message of male superiority was not only offensive, but violated Air Force regulations, Barker wrote.

Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, subsequently contacted the National Organization for Women, which became involved in the dispute.

NOW President Terry O’Neill wrote to Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, asking him to "permanently remove the two terribly offensive, sexist/faith-based posters." O'Neill complained that "the passages glorify the military’s reliance on male dominance." 

“What message does that send to young women who currently serve, or want to serve, in the military?” O’Neill wrote in the letter obtained by Air Force Times. “What do you say to the women in your command who make the same sacrifices to protect their country as do men? General, there is simply no compromise when it comes to fighting the bigotry of sexism nor the prejudice of religious triumphalism. Women are just as patriotic, just as dedicated and just as worthy of our nation’s trust as their male counterparts.”

Singleton said ACC then reviewed the posters outside of the religious context and concluded the gendered language used in the display interfered with intended messages about personal integrity.

“We’ve chosen to update the display with something that reflects the diverse and inclusive force we are today,” she said, adding that the command is looking at options for a future display.

The posters in question show the Statue of Liberty and the lights that went up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks at the site of the World Trade Center in New York. 

Langley Poster Two
A poster on display at Air Combat Command headquarters, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, includes words about the importance of faith that were included in a 1955 Air Force Manual.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Weinstein said ACC should have taken the posters down back when the first complaint was brought up.

“They realized they were wrong from the very beginning,” he told Air Force Times. “This could have been handled in 15 seconds.”

Weinstein said the command realized this issue wasn’t going away after they were contacted by the National Organization for Women.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be celebrating an Air Force manual that came out in 1955,” he said.

Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times. Email her at cpanzino@militarytimes.com.  
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