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The increasing role of women in the military

Matthew Lizak

James Madison University



Women have a long history of unequal opportunities as compared to men simply because of their

sex. In light of this, do increasing opportunities for women in the military weaken our armed

forces? I chose this question because I come from an all military family where both my father

and mother were in the Navy. Before my mother retired from the Navy, she was a higher rank

than my father which is abnormal for a military couple. This brought the question of whether

women bring the same value to the service as men do to my mind. Furthermore, women's rights,

in general, have been a hot topic in the media for the past few years but much less has been said

about military women’s rights in the mass media. This affects the country because if the nation's

backbone, it's military, is not functioning properly then it is only a matter of time until the rest of

the country does the same.


Do increasing opportunities for women in the military weaken out armed forces?

In January of 2013, the United States military made the biggest leap toward gender

inclusion in its history. The indicated law passed through Congress replacing the outdated

combat exclusion rule which barred women for serving in the front line, opening more than

230,000 positions to qualified women. McGraw, Koehlmoos, and Ritchie state that, “Women

have served on active duty in the U.S Military since 1901” but, they have always been auxiliary

to men (2016, p. 7). With rules and regulations becoming more relaxed about women’s roles in

the military, will their implementation in more important positions weaken the Military as a

whole? Accordingly, “The number of women who serve in the military has continued to climb,

so that by 2012 there were 355,904 female service members, who made up 16% of the total

force” (McGraw, Koehlmoos, & Ritchie, 2016, p.7). Now, more than ever, is a perfect time to

look at the military's current policies regarding women because women warriors deserve to be

championed not constrained. Every day that is spent looking past the issue of inequality in the

military is one more day the women will have to wake up knowing that they are not valued as

much as men the same rank. The United States military employs more than 400,000 women, and

the way they are treated is a direct reflection on the way that the government views them;

wouldn't you want to be respected?

Alesha Doan and Shannon Portillo argued in "Not a Woman, But a Soldier" (2017), that

integrating women into the United States military combat units presented an opportunity to

examine the gender identities of women in the military. Using 28 focus groups which consisted

of 1701 men and 214 women, Doan and Portillo emphasized that women were capable to serve

in the front lines along with their male counterparts. Doan and Portillo demonstrated this by

basing their research off women's ability to use translocational positionality framework (TPF).

TPF argues that female identities are spatially bound or fluid, meaning that they could be rapidly

changed according to the situation. According to Doan, women could control both high-stress

missions and simple interactions with locals because of their "gender fluidity". In contrast, men

experience a fixed non-changing gender identity which bared them from consistent positive

interactions with local people. Doan and Portillo concluded that female soldiers' ability to have a

fluid gender in both high-stress and trite situations gives them the ability to be effective leaders

as well as loyal followers (Sex Roles, (2017), 76:236-249).

Furthermore, in "Women in Combat" (2016), Kate McGraw, Perez Koehlmoos, and

Elspeth Richie stated that in order to fully integrate women into traditionally male roles in the

military, it is first critical to understand the health of women in combat. The authors referenced

The Defense Women's Health Research Program (DWHRP), which was fundamental for funding

research related to female well-being and performance enhancement. Several topics were

explored, among them female combat integration, physical conditioning, psychological health

needs, and gender-specific needs. McGraw emphasized that through in-depth research the

DWHRP identified that women have different neuropsychological responses than men.

However, these responses proved that women were still capable of handling the same high-stress

situations as men. In conclusion, McGraw, Koelmoos, and Richie demonstrated that women

were psychologically different from men but still fit to assume positions that were once closed

off to them according to sex (Military Medicine, 181, 1:7, 2016).

Lastly, in the “History of integrating Women into the U.S Military” (2016), Shaefer et al.

elaborated on the long history of oppression that women have experienced simply because of

their sex. Shaefer et al. explained the military’s first attempt at incorporating women into the

service by establishing the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). WAAC provided women

the opportunity to serve their country but placed many arbitrary restrictions on them like the

inability to serve in combat, on submarines, or any ship. Over the course of the next 50 years

Shaefer et al. emphasized that the military slowly deregulated women's service until finally

reaching a breakthrough in January of 2013. In January of 2013 Shaefer et al. reported that

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta repealed the ground combat exclusionary law. By doing so the

military opened 230,000 positions to women and sent the message that all are welcome in the

military. Shaefer et al. concluded that women have proven their worth to the military over their

many decades of service which ultimately resulted in them having the ability to hold any position

in the military (History of Integrating Women into the U.S. Military pp. 7-16).

The Iraq and Afghanistan war provided women with a chance to prove their worth on a

non-conventional battlefield setting. General David H. Petraeus, while he was the top American

commander in Iraq, noted that "Iraq has advanced the cause of full integration for women in the

Army by leaps and bounds…. They have earned the confidence and respect of male colleagues"

(Shaefer et al, 2016, p.15). Before the Iraq and Afghanistan war, women were not allowed on the

front lines of battle where their help was needed the most. However, in this war, there was no

clear front line and attacks would regularly come from all directions putting women under fire no

matter where they were. After nearly 300,000 female warriors were deployed to Iraq and

Afghanistan the U.S military found that "the ground combat exclusion rules prove almost

irrelevant, given the non-linear and irregular nature of modern battle" (McGraw, Koehlmoos, &

Ritchie, 2016, p. 7). Improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers, and car bombs are just some

of the guerrilla tactics that were used in the war. The use of these unconventional tactics by Iraqi

combatants meant that women had to rely on themselves to survive. By doing so, female

warriors proved to their male counterparts that they are just as qualified to serve on the front

lines as men. Having seen the efficiency that women worked at while in the Middle East,

General Petraeus proved instrumental in the fight for women’s rights when he personally

vouched for them to be fully integrated into the service.

Moreover, the ongoing war in the Middle East not only gave women the opportunity to

apply for previously closed off positions it also made them feel like they belonged to the service.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that "not everyone can meet the qualifications to be a

soldier, but everyone is entitled to that opportunity" (Shaefer et al, 2016, p.16). Shaefer et al.

argued that this is one of the most influential statements to come out of a modern-day cabinet

member. In addition to the sheer gravity of this statement, it also meant that women were now

formally allowed to serve in infantry units. A statement released by the Department of Defense

in 2016 informs the public that "more than 95 percent of all occupational specialties are open to

females" (McGraw, Koehlmoos, & Ritchie, 2016, p.7). By drastically increasing the number of

female service members the military has put its future into the hands of a new generation of

soldier. These soldiers might not look the same, but they have proven through their trials in Iraq

and Afghanistan that they are just as tough. Through strenuous training, sleepless nights on the

battlefield, and unrelenting firefights women proved that they are just as effective as men on the


Conversely, the military has long been an all-male environment, the addition of women

into this environment means the creation of new rules and the destruction of old stereotypes.

Doan and Portillo referenced Cynthia Holden Enloe, a prominent professor at the University of

California, Berkeley. Enloe argued that “the militaries emphasis on gender differences is used to

keep women in subordinate positions and maintain hegemonic masculinity as a central aspect of

the militaries identity” (Doan and Portillo, 2017, p.237). Enloe’s statement does still prove true

to this day because the military does have a few remaining positions that have yet to be opened

to women. However, the recent advances that women received in the past few years do seem to

give women hope of a brighter more equal future. Despite the fact that women have more

opportunity in the military,

In order to launch a successful campaign to fully accept and integrate women into

traditional male combat roles in the DoD, it is critical to understand the background and

context of the health of women in combat, research efforts underway to address health

issues, leadership challenges related to integration of females into combat units, and the

unique medical challenges related to women's roles in combat" (McGraw, Koehlmoos, &

Richie, 2016, p.7).

The military has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars researching the effect of combat

on the female body. As a result, taxes have been higher under the previous administration where

war funding was a top priority. Because of ongoing gender differences and the high cost of

assimilating women into the military, it seems there will always be a portion of the military that

women are not welcomed in.

Women have proven time and time again that if given the opportunity to perform the

same tasks as men they will be just as successful. I currently think that women should be given

even more access to careers in the military that have yet been opened to them. However, by no

means should women warriors be put into positions to fulfill quotas, they should be screened the

same as men for those positions. After reading hundreds of pages of documents about females’

effectiveness in the military, my viewpoint on this topic has gone unchanged. My research has

also been instrumental in formulating my own opinion and building my paper. As a result, I plan

on representing women’s right to full opportunity in the military for my web page.


Doan, A., & Portillo, S. (2017). Not a Woman, but a Soldier: Exploring Identity through

Translocational Positionality. Sex Roles, 76(3–4), 236–249.


McGraw, K., Koehlmoos, T. P., & Ritchie, E. C. (2016). Women in Combat: Framing the Issues

of Health and Health Research for America’s Servicewomen. Military Medicine, 181, 7–

11. https://doi.org/10.7205/MILMED-D-15-00223

Schaefer, A., Wenger, J., Kavanagh, J., Wong, J., Oak, G., Trail, T., & Nichols, T. (2015).

History of Integrating Women into the U.S. Military. In Implications of Integrating

Women into the Marine Corps Infantry (pp. 7-16). RAND Corporation. Retrieved from