The Question of Gender Equality in the Armed Forces:

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I would like to Thank my Tutors at the University of Sussex, Particularly Prof. Barbara Einhorn for her guidance and inspiration;

My good friends Samantha, Ben, Fiona and Joe for their discerning comments, provoking insights and my dear parents for their ongoing encouragement;

My housemate Fran for pretending not to have a social life for the last two months!

A Special Thank You
to all the women who took part in my study.
You all put so much thought into our discussions, and were very patient with me, and my tape recorder!


This study draws on qualitative data and secondary research to analyse the themes of gender, militarism, violence and war. Paying particular attention to women’s experiences in the British Military throughout the study, the ideologies of gender within the armed forces are examined with examples from history. The effect of women’s increased integration into militaries is analysed for both ideological and policy changes to the armed forces, and the effects on the women’s own identities. Focusing on the military as a labour market and as a means to citizenship rights allows for discussions of equality for women within militaries, finally leading to theoretical discussion of the ethics and impact of violence and militarism, exploring the subjectivity of knowledge and the possibility of imaging alternative orders.


Rationale and Literature Review

That we have to talk about ‘women and the armed forces,’ shows the deeply gendered nature of our understandings of militaries and war. The fact that it is necessary to specify ‘female combatants’ indicates their historical rarity, and symbolic position as unconventional figures. Traditionally, war has been perceived as a masculine endeavour for which women may serve as victim, spectator, or prize. Perhaps, as Francine D'Amico suggests, the abundance of feminist analysis of the subject is precisely a result of women’s positioning within wars, and the silencing of their war stories.1 Perhaps our scrutiny is a fascination for the unknown. Perhaps we need to reclaim an erased identity, to legitimize our ability to speak within heavily masculine arenas. The question raised by this study is whether we must participate in war to claim that voice? Cynthia Enloe reminds us to question all which seems most natural, inevitable, or traditional to us. Masculinity and femininity are two categories which demand such attention, and the work of feminists and gender theorists have formed increasingly strong cases which reveal these distinctions as having been made through particular decisions, by specific people.2 By this understanding, the involvement of women in state militaries is never random.3 Robert W. Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity refers to a particular set of masculine norms and practices that have become dominant in specific institutions of social control. To become hegemonic, cultural norms must be supported by institutional power. Hence, hegemonic masculinity is a set of norms and practices associated with men in powerful social institutions.4 Once a particular set of behaviours has been established as the norm for appropriate conduct within any institution, it becomes difficult to critique, partly because normativity makes certain practices appear ‘natural’. As Annica Kronsell argues in her study of the Swedish Military, in the history of most military institutions, “masculinity has been normalized and regularized.”5 This study will draw particularly from existing research about the British context. In a relatively short time, the armed forces of the United Kingdom have made significant advances to integrate women within their military, for various organisational, political and social reasons.6 Reflecting the political trends in global security and developments towards non-traditional military...
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