Female Veterans Carry Special War Baggage

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Female veterans' homecoming can be complicated by their experience of the hyper-masculinity of the military, Paula J. Caplan writes in this excerpt from "When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans."

(WOMENSENEWS)--Women in greater numbers than ever before in American history are serving as soldiers exposed -- though often not assigned -- to combat or other serious dangers, such as from IEDs, improvised explosive devices.

Two years ago, nearly 209,000 women were serving on active duty in the U.S. military.

For these women, spending time at war brings special complexities and conflicts, because in war, expectations for hypermasculine behavior are more extreme than at any other time. (This is true to some extent whether the soldier is serving in a provisions unit or as a mechanic.) Indeed, the association of the military with hypermasculinity makes it harder for men as well as women to figure out what to do with their tenderness, vulnerability, moral conflicts and spirituality.

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It is not possible to say whether it is harder for women to try to live up to the traditional standards of the other sex--because the expectation is that they cannot and perhaps that they should not--or for men to risk failing to meet the traditional standards for their own sex.

Although in some ways our society increasingly expands definitions of what can be considered "appropriate" behavior for men and "appropriate" behavior for women, in other ways the dichotomies have become more rigid.

What I am saying here, then, will not apply to everyone but is about the many people who remain influenced by traditional sex-role expectations. What is clear is that these expectations and assumptions create additional, somewhat similar and somewhat different problems for each.

Thus, some women in the military wonder, is it possible both to act in traditionally masculine, tough, unemotional ways in order to prove one deserves to serve in the military and also act in enough nurturing, expressive ways in order to maintain a traditionally feminine identity?

What are the consequences of trying to do both or, conversely, of trying to choose one behavioral style or the other, as a soldier and a vet?

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