I have been watching the discussion about the CAF's new uniform regulations play out, and I was going to stay out of it. But then I saw a post that provoked me just a bit. A retired military dude wrote an op-ed that was incredibly bad for a number of reasons, which Charlotte Duval-Lantoine addresses a bit on twitter. The part that got me was the guy's constant invoking of "professionalism"--that having any deviation from the old way of doing things, where everyone had to look exactly the same, would threaten the professionalism of the CAF. There is much to unpack in this.
Thanks to Sam Huntington and generations of misreading his stuff, the term "professionalism" or "professional" have become quite loaded in Canada (and the US and elsewhere). It is seen as the ideal and as the solution. The ideal is to be part of a group of experts in the management of violence (with the implicit and sometimes explicit notion that professionals have exclusive expertise), that one's identity is bound up in striving to be "professional." Calling someone or something unprofessional has become one of the worst things you can say in a military context (note that is what US/Canadian pilots call Chinese pilots who buzz them, when, well, the latter might be following orders). Central to the identity of military folks these days is being a professional.
This then leads to a problem--any changes in the definition of professional become a threat to the identity of those who consider themselves to be professionals. Uniforms, regulations about hair and tattoos, etc are all part of what being professional looks like. So, changing the look changes what is professional.
And this is precisely the reason why the military is changing the uniform and regs--so that more and more folks in the CAF and in Canada can be included in the profession of arms. Regulating/restricting inhibited or restrained women, Indigenous people, Sikhs, and others from being their true selves and being professionals at the same time. Making the military more inclusive is a deliberate and belated effort, with uniforms and hair and such only one part of that effort.
It is fundamental and existential given the changing demographics of the recruiting pool in Canada, and it is also fundamental that the Canadian military reflect Canada. Having a minority dominate the coercive apparatus is not great for civil-military relations, and, yes, white dudes are a minority. They always have been since women have always been roughly 50% of the population.
There has been a lot of talk about culture change in the CAF, which means changing what is meant by professionalism. What is professional conduct? Given the behavior of the senior officers of late--Vance, McDonald, Edmundson, Whelan, and others--it seems like preying upon junior personnel and having separate rules for the leadership were part of the profession of arms in Canada. That may sound strange, but how else do you have abuse of power and much sexual assault and harassment in a professional military if a professional does not do those things? Is that so many folks are unprofessional? Or is it that the conception of the profession and its norms allowed such stuff to happen? Even perhaps encouraged it by creating a sense of the true professionals versus others?
So, these changes are definitely threatening the old conception of professionalism and, through that, the identities of many folks. That might cause some "professionally conservative" or "conservatively professional" to leave the CAF. So be it, as the CAF may have to get smaller before it gets attractive to the majority of Canadians: women, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ2S+, etc. The best way to improve recruiting is to deepen and widen the pool of recruits--then you can be selective. By telling women that they will have to wear men's boxers, not to mention armor that does not fit people with breasts and hips, they were telling women they didn't belong. By telling religious minorities that they can't respect their faith and serve, the CAF was telling them they didn't belong.
The funny thing is this: by telling white, straight, Christian men that they can have more flexibility about their uniform and tattoos, just like everyone else, the CAF is NOT telling they don't belong. The CAF is just telling them that they are not as special, not as elite, not as deserving of domination and impunity. And, yeah, that probably sucks just a bit for some of them. But making the CAF more inclusive does not make it less professional. It makes the concept of professional and of the profession more fit for purpose for the 21st century (and would have been handy in the last century).
Another funny thing: militaries are constantly told they must adapt or they will lose the next battle/war. Well, guess what, the CAF needs to adapt to changing demographics--it is both the smart thing to do and the right thing to do. Those seeking to keep things like they always were are neither smart nor right.