Cultural and Social Issues of Having Women in the Military

by Jason Shaw
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Introduction

The duty of the armed forces is to guarantee that the nation is secure. Women also had a tradition of armed activity as far back as 3,000 years ago. Women have performed numerous positions in the military, spanning from ancient warrior women to soldiers now fighting in battle. Nevertheless, the bulk of all the fighters were male, also in the U.S. military. Not only did the women participate in combat by working in costume to obtain information, but they often acted as nurses and aides. The role of women in the military was restricted in the past. In the modern-day military services, women are now being assigned significant positions. In American, at least one member of the family has served in the armed forces. In the U.S military, women have been involved since the 17th century. Their core duties were nursing, mending clothes, cooking, and performing laundry duties. During Second World War, the women worked in the shipyards while the men were drafted for active duty overseas. Currently, the American armed forces have numerous positions that are open to women. The women serve in various positions in the U.S military, including pilots, drivers, mechanics, drivers, household supplies, and communication specialists among others. The U.S government has invested heavily in the military. More women have enlisted in the American armed forces. The increase of women in the male-dominated military has resulted in some people to question the social-cultural impacts of the role of women in the military. The military is considered as a society in its own. It is guided by the societal guidelines just like the civilian society. Therefore, either politically, economically, or socio-culturally, the military is a crucial U.S institution. The paper would address the social and cultural problems of including women in the military to that impact.

Cultural and Social Issues of Having Women in the Military

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Discussion

Culture is regarded as the total sum of a person’s way of life. Culture may also refer to representation that has relative autonomy from the political and social domains. The gender roles that were allocated to women and men were structurally and collectively defined in this respect. As a consequence, relationships of male superiority along with female subordination have been established, reinforced, and perpetuated (Njogu and Orchadson-Mazrui 2). By 2010, 14.6 percent of the armed forces were women. There are fewer military women who serve in the army in contrast to men at 37 percent and 40 percent, respectively. Even though there are more women in the Air Force at 31 percent than men 22 percent, the US. Marine Corps are the most-male dominated military unit in the U.S forces at 7 percent for women and 16 percent for men (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 466). On a social perspective, the recent statistics have demonstrated that only 15.6 percent of the U.S. Army’s 1.1 million soldiers are female. This shows how the males have dominated the American armed forces. In the same way, Kirk and  Okazawa-Rey (467) note that the women’s work include support and administration, health care, service and supply, communications, and intelligence. The other numerous jobs are carried out by the males. This indicates that the military culture is overwhelmingly male.

As part of the long process of accommodating the women, all the service branches have signed uniforms to suit the needs and requirements of the military women. Considering that the traditional role of the woman is to give birth and take care of the family, the military has accommodated pregnant servicewomen and provided them with maternity uniforms. Emphasis is put on uniformity combined with professionalism. The dress code seeks to balance the soldier and the feminine. There are also specific regulation regarding to make-up and hairstyles that are developed to ensure both uniformity and poses no interference to the soldier’s tasks. For example, the military women need to make sure that their hairs are neatly groomed and reduce on the bulk of the hair. Besides that, the devices for holding the hair are allowed only for the purpose of holding the hair (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 466).

More women have enlisted in military service resulting in the creation of gender balance. For example, the U.S has more women than men while the US. Marine Corps have more men than women. Correspondingly, the purpose of integrating the women is the armed forces is considered as an opportunity to revise the culture of the armed force to enhance its efficiency in the modern-day combat. The proponents of gender equality in the military argue that the shortage of male figures who engage in combat should open up position for women to also be the combat soldiers. In the same way, the military women are not supposed to be treated as second class citizens in the military since everyone is equal to the task in the armed forces in spite of their gender. Gender inequality has limited the advancement of women. Prestige and status of the males devalues the contributions of the female figures (Njogu and Orchadson-Mazrui 8), even in the military.

Some people are of the view that having women in the combat troops would interfere with the cohesion of the unit. There have been worries of sexual relationships developing amongst the military men and women as well as the women getting pregnant. However, gender quality is of great significance to combat units. During the Iraq and Afghan Wars, the civilians were not afraid or intimidated by the female soldiers. The women are associated with a friendly personality due to their feminine nature. As a result, they were crucial in the war, especially when it came to searching the suspected female civilians. In nations that have incorporated the Islamic law in their legal systems, it is prohibited for a male to touch a female.  Moreover, it has also been found out that the women and children are more likely to talk to the female soldiers as compared to the male soldiers. This may be handy in the collection of intelligence prior to carrying an attack (Goldman 892-94).

Most of the duties that are performed by the male military personnel can also be carried out by the female soldiers. Bourke argues that in various ways the combat experiences of men is similar to those of women, including sitting up in the rain and firing shots all night. This demonstrates the gender equality in the military. Furthermore, the author shares the opinion that like male servicemen, the friendship and exploration compensated for the intense fighting compensated. In the combat troops, the military women are accepted just like their male counterparts. In other words, the military is like a society that also exhibits gender balance. Kirk and Okazawa-Rey (467) point out that during the 1991 Persian Gulf War the women carried out warfare roles similar to those of men. This led to a change of law that had previously prevented the women from engaging in the combat assignments. By not allowing the women to participate in the combat duties it was considered as way of putting limitations on their military careers.

Just like the society, military organizations have a working formula. The drill sergeants in the U.S military ensure the both the young-energy full males and females bond together through the shared hardship. Most commanders have argued that in the military, the sex of the individual that is next to you is completely irrelevant (Egnell). This shows the manner in which the armed forces have attempted to alleviate the issue of male dominance.

By women engaging in military service, the socio-cultural effect is that they would have better pay thus enhancing their self-esteem in addition to conferring them the status of first-class citizenship that is given for the people who have patriotically served their country (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 468). By working in various missions across the globe, the women are able to interact with people of various cultures thus promoting cross-cultural diversity in the society. In other words, the women are able to work with people from different cultures.

Opponents of women joining the armed forces claim that there are risks of women being captured and sexually assaulted in combat. However, to demonstrate the equal military tasks that need to be performed a military person regardless of their gender an order was issued in 2013 ending the policy of having no women while engaging in direct combat. The women can now be fully integrated with the men in performing the frontline duties.

Women are faced with various social challenges in military. One such challenge is sexual assault. Most of the military women are victims of sexual harassment as well as assault as compared to men. Recent statistics have indicated that rates of sexual assaults and harassment are 4.2 percent and 55 percent for the active duty women respectively. Studies have evidenced that the exposure to sexual harassment equals to post-traumatic stress disorder in men who have been exposed in combat (Osborne, Gage and Rolbiecki 169).

Sexual harassment and rape are often experienced by women in the military academies (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 470). In 2004, the Department of Defense came up with Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program for the military women to report cases of sexual harassment. However, the reporting is two-way discouraging the women to report the cases. In this system, the report is either filed as unrestricted or restricted (Osborne, Gage and Rolbiecki 169). Cases of increased sexual assault may also be reported when the chain of command of the unit fails to enforce the equal opportunity policy. As a result, the victims are forced to live in hostile environments. In some cases, the perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault often outrank the victims resulting in the underreporting of the cases.

As cited by Losey, President Obama has aggressively sought to alter the military culture by tackling the issue of sexual assault and harassment. Over the years, this problem has gone under-reported. This social policy would ensure that the women do not face pervasive sexual assault within the ranks.

The other so social impact of having women in the military is the perpetuation of the same sex relationships.  The military units are based on same sex bonding, yet homosexuality is banned. Therefore, by having the lesbians and bisexuals hide in order to deceive the commanders and peers breaks the unit’s cohesion. President Clinton promised to lift the ban on homosexuality in military, but failed to do so. However, there is an increased level of gay harassment in the military. Of the 6,300 military personnel discharged from the armed forces between 1998 and 2003 due to homosexual behavior, 30 percent were women (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 472). However, president Obama lifted the ban based on the ‘Don’t Ask, don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue Policy. More gays, lesbians, and bisexual joined the armed forces. Studies have evidenced that the lesbian military officer served for more years as compared to their heterosexual counterparts. It was also found that they had increased levels of motivation than the heterosexual female military officers (Campbell 291-300). However, very few women openly come out to declare their sexuality in the military due to the rampant discrimination of the same sex behavior.

The next impact of women participation in the military is militarized prostitution. As a way of maintaining the morale of combat units the military commanders permit the women to live outside the military bases so as to support as well as sexually fulfill the desires of the men. However, the occupational dangers of militarized prostitution are rape, sexually transmitted diseases, and assault (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 473).

Another social challenge faced by the military women is substance abuse. The women attempt to cope with stress and other mental disorders by taking alcohol and drugs of abuse. Most of the military women argued that they took alcohol and related drugs as a result of the deployment stress (Osborne, Gage and Rolbiecki 171). It has been reported that the military women drink 15 percent more than the civilian women.

Conclusion

In summary, women have played a very significant role in the armed forces. They have acted in various capacities ranging from servicewomen to specialist officers. The military needs and continues to support the women as they participate in various capacities. This has created gender balance in the military. The position of the women in the military in the center of the male-dominated organization provides a striking case of the changing role of women in the occupational as well as bureaucratic procedures. More women have influential positions in the contemporary armed forces. They are being assigned significant tasks in the administration. As a result, the increase of military women shows the external social change of the American society. However, the increased presence of women in the military has also led to increased cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault. There is a need to come up with effective structure to minimize the vice in the armed forces. The military women are also faced with problem of substance abuse. Most of the women in the armed forces are discriminated for being homosexuals. Also, considering the military job is well-paying; the female soldiers usually have high-self esteem and a feeling of high status in the society.

Works Cited
  • Bourke, Joanna. Women and the Military during World War One. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwone/women_combatants_01.shtml>. Web. March 3, 2011. Accessed Aoril 23, 2015.
  • Campbell, D’Ann. (2012) “Almost Integrated? American Servicewomen and Their International Sisters Since World War II” in A Companion to Women’s Military History ed by Barton C. Hacker and Margaret Vining pp 291-330.
  • Egnell, Robert. Do not exclude women from combat unites because of cohesion. http://warontherocks.com/2014/11/dont-exclude-women-from-combat-units-because-of-cohesion/>. Web. November, 2014. Accessed April 23, 2015.
  • Goldman, Nancy. “The Changing Role of Women in the Armed Forces.” American Journal of Sociology 1973 78(4): 892-911.
  • Kirk, Gwen and Okazawa-Rey, Margo. Women’s Lives (6th edition). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. Print.
  • Losey, Stepehn. Obama’s mark on the military. http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/2014/12/21/americas-military-a-conservative-militarys-cultural-evolution/18959975/>. Web. 2012. Accessed April 23, 2015.
  • Njogu, Kimani and Elizabeth Orchadson-Mazrui. Gender inequality and women’s rights in the Great Lakes: Can Culture contribute to women empowerment. http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/SHS/pdf/Culture-Womens-Empowerment.pdf>. Web. 2008. Accessed April 22, 2015.
  • Osborne, Victoria, Ashley Gage and Abigail Rolbiecki. “The psychosocial effects of trauma on military women serving in the Nattional Guard and Reserves.” Advances in Social Work 13.1 (2012): 166-184. http://deploymentpsych.org/sites/default/files/mc_resources/Psychosocial%20Effects%20of%20Trauma%20on%20Military%20Women%20Serving.pdf[/sociallocker]

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