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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Military Women: Navigating Complicated Gender Boundaries in the Pursuit of a Career in a Masculine Gendered Organization


In spite of the totalitarian rule the U.S. military has over soldiers’ lives, many members of the armed forces find ways to confront and resist certain social and cultural principals and standards integrated into military policy, which undermine various groups’ participation within the institution. This resistance challenges particular facets of military policy, specifically those associated with social stereotypes, without undermining the overall goals of the institution. Women are one such group who find themselves facing rules and regulations that demonstrate the military’s ambivalent relationship with their service. The military has a hard time deciding on women’s roles and place within the institution. While the Army has long since reconciled itself to the necessity of women’s presence and participation (Manning 2005), and even fights to maintain or extend their current level of involvement (Jervis 2005), it still has not after all these years figured out how to successfully integrate women. The military continues to struggle with regulations regarding women’s membership in the Armed Services. From hairstyles and uniforms to training expectations and physical standards, the official policies for women’s participation in the military leave women under pressure to fit into an “Army of One” where the one is not female, nor does the Army know what to do with females. Complicating matters further are the social and cultural expectations of gender individual members of the military bring with them to their roles. Gender has thus become a matter of great ambivalence within the military; women are acknowledged as necessary, yet their presence complicates the military’s mission of uniformity and also challenges the maintenance of a hegemonically masculine institution. While the contradiction present within this ambivalence leaves women precariously placed within the institution, female soldiers find ways to overcome the limitations placed on them based on their sex in order to succeed within the institution.

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