Friday, March 1, 2013

The Treatment of Women in the U.S. Military from the 1980's to Today

Casiana Warfield
Honors 201
For many women, it seems the military has become an alternate world where doors are opened based on personal achievement and gender barriers have been eliminated. In a study examining the progression of previously excluded groups within the institution, authors Quester and Gilroy claim, “that [military structure] actually helped women and minorities because (1) the advancement process is both well defined and based on merit and (2) the promotion process looks at everyone (Quester & Gilroy, 111).” Since the creation of the all-volunteer force (AVF) in 1973, women’s involvement in the military has increased. Some say, it has also become an occupational safe haven for females, as the ability to rise in the ranks is not hindered by lateral entry, which tends to favor males. Jennifer Hickes Lundquist, author of “Ethnic and Gender Satisfaction in the Military: The Effect of a Meritocratic Institution,” claims that in the civilian world, a paradox occurs for females in the workplace. Though women consistently make less than men and are faced with sex discrimination, they report higher levels of work satisfaction than their privileged counterparts. This is either because occupational sex segregation hides gender inequality from women’s awareness or maternal roles and gender socialization cause women to be more accepting of their disadvantages. Her argument is that the environment of the military eliminates these barriers with little gender inequality in pay and equal opportunities to ascend the ranks. This produces more comparable satisfaction across demographics in the military (Lundquist, 2008).
A graph from Quester & Gilroy showing women's representation in the military.
            While opportunity may be a common aspect of military service, I believe, from my research, that it is being squashed by the effect of self-fulfilling prophecies created by a hostile work environment where the subordination of women is maintained. A self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when, “expectations…make expected events come true,” and have “showed that they can have powerful and lasting effects (Crawford, 33).” One significant way that these are generated is through the constant occurrence of sexual harassment. Even within her argument that the military promotes gender equality, Lundquist admits that 67% of servicewomen studied reported experiencing sexual harassment of some kind (Lundquist, 2008). In a meta-analysis by Firestone and Harris, they found in one study that 73% of women reported sexual harassment within their last year of service (Firestone & Harris, 1994). They say further that, “In 1988, the task Force on Women in the Military reported that ‘sexual harassment remains a significant problem in all Services… institutional efforts to prevent sexual harassment have been vigorous and sincere, but not totally effective (Firestone & Harris, 1994).’” More importantly, women outnumber men more than two-fold in reported instances of sexual harassment and their perpetrators are most often men. Interestingly, the same meta-analysis found that, “During their first term, enlistees (whether male or female) were far more likely than their higher ranking enlisted and officer counterparts to report all forms of harassment (Firestone & Harris, 1994).” This finding could demonstrate that sexual harassment is a statement of power that the perpetrator holds over a victim (Firestone & Harris, 1994). The important question this poses is what does it mean that women experience sexual harassment much more frequently than and usually from men? I propose that this is yet another illustration of power inequalities embedded in a society that has been from its conception androcentric.
            Lundquist claims that, “Higher wages…offset otherwise negative experiences of military service for women (Lundquist, 481).” I disagree as those “negative experiences” perpetuate the idea that women are to be treated as sexual objects, which female servicewomen internalize with unfortunate consequences. Because they internalize the idea that they are only useful for their bodies, they model incompetency and fail to be representative of their abilities and within the higher ranks of the military and within the institution overall making up only 14% of personnel (Firestone & Harris, 1994). Also, from a cultural standpoint, what kind of message is the military service sending if it, as the collection of some of the smartest people in our country, fails to respect and promote equal treatment of half of our population? For instance, in the highly publicized “Tailhook incident” where several servicemen sexually harassed both their fellow servicewomen and female civilians at a convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, the perpetrators reportedly used language characteristic of Naval practices to organize the assault. One serviceman also stated that he formerly believed “many of the excesses that occurred there were condoned by the Navy (Kempster, 1993).” These findings suggest that sexist ideals had become part of the system, a problem that may be much more difficult to solve. Despite these findings, it seems that there is hope for reform as between 1988 and 1993, the official military stance on sexual harassment has switched from an acceptance of harassment as a part of the institution to the understanding that it is unacceptable behavior to be eradicated. This is to be taken with a grain of salt because intentions do not always equate with change, illustrated by cases put forth by former servicewomen claiming that sexual assault and harassment is commonly ignored by officials, possibly skewing data (Risen, 2012).

Works Cited
Crawford, M. (2011). Transformations: Women, gender and psychology. (2 ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.
Firestone, J. J. (1994). Sexual Harassment in the U.S. Military: Individualized and Environmental Contexts. Armed Forces & Society (0095327X), 21(1), 25-43.
Kempster, N. (1993, April 24). What really happened at tailhook convention: Scandal. Los angeles times. Retrieved from
Lundquist, J. H. (2008). Ethnic and gender satisfaction in the military: The effect of a meritocratic institution. American Sociological Review, 73(3), 477-496. Retrieved from
Quester, A. O., & Gilroy, C. L. (2008). Women and minorities in america's volunteer army. Contemporary economic policy, 20(2), 111-121. Retrieved from
Risen, J. (2012, November 02). Military has not solved problem of sexual assault, women say. The new york times. Retrieved from

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