The fact that it was the UK’s first female warship commander added a particular slant, which I guess is why it ran so prominently in the press. And the comments that the story attracted simply demonstrated that many people are quick to judge, and condemn, despite any gaps in the facts of the story. Not to mention extrapolate from one individual to a multitude.
And then a defence correspondent contacted me for my opinion in answer to some questions they had about the story. Ultimately, they didn’t write the story, but I wanted to set my thoughts out anyway, rather than consign them to the “sent” folder of my inbox. To that end:
In response to your questions:
To suggest that Cdr West's alleged case is a vindication of the argument that women should not serve/captain ships is ridiculous, as it suggests that all women should be judged by the actions of one. In the same vein, if the Navy changes its policy based on this example, it too is using the supposed actions of an individual to represent every female within the Navy.
Moreover, it must surely be recognised that would be a double standard. I am doubtful that in the Navy's entire history there have been no men who have had affairs with either male or female colleagues, and unless they have been subjected to the same scrutiny and response, it becomes victimisation of a group of people, again based on the actions of an individual (well, pair of individuals as obviously it takes two for an affair).
If the allegations are true, the Navy must take the same actions as it would, had it been a male commander and a female within his chain of command. There is no question about it. But it should do so out of the public eye, unless the Navy wishes to publicise every personnel incident that it has to administrate.
However, as a consequence of the story, the Navy may think twice as hard about the next female they look to promote - certainly, the media will subject whichever female follows in Cdr West's career footsteps to intense scrutiny. However, it would be incredibly damning as an organisation for the Navy to deliberately alter policy based on the one, at present alleged, incident. It would only reinforce perceptions that as an organisation the Navy does not welcome women, and itself perpetuates a double standard over the behaviour it tolerates from its personnel.
Finally, until the Navy does have answers, this is still speculation and gossip, nothing more.
But then today, this popped up on my newsfeed. The story revolves around the USS COWPENS, and the problem its command encountered, when command was delegated, usurped and just downright dispersed to all the wrong places in the chain of command.
The piece is excellent. It pulls out key points but retains an eye to the big picture (the fact that the ship completed its tour without “a major long term ship, service, or national security impact”) and it doesn’t spiral the matter down to a problem of gender. Sure, it has a role, but this is kept within perspective and certainly doesn’t fall to either politically correct overload or to damning condemnation of the gender/military mix. It’s simply one of the factors that contribute to the overall situation. What a refreshing way to see story reported, especially for me, given the response we’ve had in the UK to what’s supposedly gone on aboard HMS Portland.