Constructed service : gendered discourses across the United States military
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The status of female service members in the United States military evolved significantly during the years between 2001 and 2013 due primarily to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the changing nature of warfare, and military manpower requirements. However, despite women’s increased participation in combat and throughout the organization, there is limited understanding of how gender is constructed in the military, its consequences for women’s status, and the nature of cultural change in the organization. This thesis analyzes gender construction in the military across three levels: official documents, recruiting, and service member experience. Discourse analysis is used to uncover the dominant discourses articulated at each level and to understand what identities and policies are legitimated or prohibited. The primary finding is that there is no monolithic construction of gender in the military or single understanding of women’s status and the nature of military culture. The most prevalent discourses illustrate movement towards a more inclusive organization, where gendered traits are downplayed relative to traits understood as ‘gender-neutral,’ equally available to both men and women. The desire to maximize military effectiveness is central to discourse at the official level. Recruiting is the only level of analysis without an explicit challenge to women’s equal service in the military. Service members, articulating their identity and that of those they work with, subordinate femininity, but allow women who reject feminine traits to participate on equal footing with men. The January 2013 decision by the Department of Defense to lift policies that formally exclude women from some types of combat reflects the policies articulated in the dominant discourses uncovered across the three levels of analysis. What new discourses will emerge and how the dominant discourses in the organization will change as a result of this new policy, comprise areas deserving future research.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
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