Women in the Military
There is no question that soldiering has been a male-dominated profession all across history and all throughout the world. Recent advancements in women’s rights and status within society, however, has allowed for more women to permeate the ranks of the U.S. military, and to work and fight alongside their male counterparts in the defense and service of their country. However, this transition has not been nearly as smooth or as benign as women would like, as there are still in place many socialized gender roles and norms that often continue to make it very difficult to be a woman in the military.
A May 15, 2015 article written by Talya Minsberg in The New York Times entitled “Women Describe Their Struggles with Gender Roles in the Military” explores this very topic. They quote Army data as stating that “female soldiers are more likely than male soldiers to report depressive symptoms, and women are 10 times more likely than their male counterparts to have reported serious sexual harassment after deployment.” Furthermore, “the risk of suicide among female soldiers tripled during deployment.” Obviously, we can see from this data alone that there is a strong correlation between being a female servicemember and being more likely to be sexually harassed and consequently, being more likely to develop depression and/or suicidal tendencies, all of which demonstrates that there still exist many factors in our military that contribute to the continued culture of gender-based discrimination within our military.
The article continues by relating to us the experiences of more than 150 female soldiers and veterans within the ranks of our military, in their own words. For example, one woman said, “My male counterparts were deemed competent and capable until they proved otherwise, where on the other hand it was often assumed that I was incompetent until I proved I was not.” This quote illustrates the inherent socialized belief among many that in a masculine-dominated profession such as that of a servicemember, women are often believed (perhaps even at a subconscious level) to be less competent than men at being soldiers just because of their gender. Thus, their quest to “prove themselves” is an uphill, and in some cases virtually impossible, battle to fight.
A second former servicemember stated, “As a female in a war, it’s you against the world. You have to be doubly aware of your environment, not only outside the wire but inside the wire as well.” This shows that, just because she was a woman on active duty in the armed forces, she had to pay special attention to her surroundings even when she was out of combat so as to not be aggressed or assaulted by her male peers.
These experiences that these women shared really help to convey the gendered norms and expectations of behavior and attitudes in the U.S. military. As stated before, soldiering is very much still a male-dominated profession, and the long-engrained gender norms and stereotypes of men being the only ones competent enough to do the fighting, as well as of men being powerful or assertive in regards to their needs and desires (including the carnal ones) have made it so that gender inequality continues to be perpetuated in the armed forces not only statistically in terms of numbers of women versus men who join, but also sociologically and psychologically in terms of how women soldiers must live their lives so differently than their male counterparts just because of the fact that they are women. Ultimately, if we do not modify the gender roles and norms of appropriate behaviors and attitudes within the military so as to make it more friendly for people of all genders and backgrounds to join, then the conditions of inequality that have existed therein for millennia will likely be perpetuated for centuries to come.