Women in the Military face oppression in many different ways, oftentimes without even realizing it. This ranges from a woman’s job or position in the military, to the sexual abuse that she encounters from men. I will begin by explaining what oppression is and then relate it to the types of oppression that women in the military face every day.
Oppression is defined as “cruel or unjust treatment or control” or, in simpler terms, “subjection and hardship.” In her text, Karen J. Warren discusses the “Logic of Domination,” which is a conceptual framework that consists of three key features. The first feature of Warren’s theory is a value-hierarchical thinking, which only sees things as up and down. According to this thinking style, one person will always be above the other. The person on the top is the one with all the power and control, while the person on the bottom is the one who is subordinated and, therefore, oppressed. This value-hierarchical thinking can be seen in the military in the types of jobs that women are “allowed” to have, in comparison to men.
The second key feature is value dualisms, where two things are seen as opposed and exclusive. An example of this would be male vs. female, since males are automatically seen as superior to females in society. In the military system, women are automatically below men, due to their sex. Value dualisms can be seen in the military, where women are treated differently from men.
In the article “Sexual Assault in the Military”, women speak up and speak out about a sensitive issue that plagues thousands of women soldiers each year and is often swept under the rug. Over the years, this issue has become more of a concern as “military sexual trauma, which encompasses everything from sexual harassment to rape, is now the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder among women in the U.S. military” (“Sexual”). The psychological and emotional wounds that sexual abuse leaves on a woman damage her from the inside out and leave her traumatized for the rest of her life.
Petty Officer Rebecca Blumer shares her story with us in “A Double Betrayal of Trust.” On the morning of Feb. 13, 2010, Blumer woke up to find her body bruised and swollen, her insides sore, and a burning pain in her buttocks. She was certain she’d been “roofied” and raped, but she soon found the Navy’s response almost as distressing as the attack itself: the basic assumption was that it had somehow been her fault. After three days of medical leave, Blummer was transferred from intelligence analysis to janitorial duties. “I was a problem, and they wanted to be rid of the problem,” said Blummer. She was shunned and disparaged, and the military officials eventually ruled there had been no rape. “Maybe it was just heavy petting, or you imagined it?” they suggested. Discharged from the Navy, Blummer spiraled into depression and homelessness. She still has regular nightmares. “I loved everything about the Navy,” she said. “Now I hate it” (“Sexual”).
According to the article, females today are 180 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed by an enemy. Even when an abuse case is reported, there may not be enough evidence to follow through with it. Ninety-two percent of reported assaults never come before a military court, due to a fear of the plaintiff being dismissed and ridiculed. “Last year, two thirds of all reported cases were either summarily dismissed as unfounded, or resolved by the perpetrators simply being given extra duties or having their pay docked” (“Sexual”). This leaves the victim shamed and in pain, with nothing being done to claim justice for the crime that has been committed against her. Too often, nothing is being done to prevent the sexual assault and oppression of military women.
The third and final key point is logic of domination, where there is a structured argument that justifies subordination, involving a value system. The logic of domination can be seen in the military when men misuse the power that they have and use it to abuse others below them (usually women). The problem with these features is not that they exist, but how they are used in the logic of domination to support subordination. Some conservatives contend that women would be at greater risk for sexual assault in combat, but the Pentagon says that having females on the front line would more likely reduce the military’s sexual assault rates. Currently, says General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “you have one part of the population that’s designated as warriors, and another part designated as something else.” Giving the sexes’ equal roles would dispel that disparity and the dangerous “psychology” it fosters, promoting a real change in military culture. For Jenny McClendon, a Navy officer raped by her superior, that can’t come soon enough. “I don’t want another generation to feel like they’re alone,” she says. “Those serving today, I don’t want them betrayed” (“Sexual”).
The above excerpts demonstrate the struggles that women face in the military and the strength that they need in order to overcome these hardships. Twenty-seven-year-old Sergeant Patricia F. Bradford, a psychological operations soldier, says that these are simply “a matter of discipline, maturity and professionalism rather than an argument for separating the sexes.” Sergeant Bradford remembers her first tour day while she was then engaged to another soldier whose convoy moved north, while her convoy was forced to move south on the same highway. While they had to split paths and travel two separate directions, she recalls listening to the radio as his convoy came under an attack that continued until she was out of range. “For four days, I had no idea what happened to him,” she said, “but I still had to continue my mission, because that’s what you do when you’re a soldier. Women in today’s military say they do not feel the same pressure to prove themselves. They adapt and expect others to adapt. They preserve their femininity without making much of it” (qtd. in Myers).
According to the U.S Army website, “women have served in the United States Army since 1775.” Some duties they have performed include nursing the sick and wounded back to health again, doing the laundry and repairing damaged clothing, and preparing meals for the troops in camp on campaign. “Women are an invaluable and essential part of the Army. Currently, “women serve in ninety five percent of all Army occupations and make up about fourteen percent of the Active Army (“Women”). While women in the military may not get the credit they deserve, they do play a vital role in protecting our country and fighting for our freedom.
A common myth that most women believe is that “military service will make you a strong, independent woman.” What most people don’t know is that in reality, instead of empowering women with a voice to be heard, the military suppresses a woman’s voice, thus leaving her oppressed.
You don’t have to look very far to find oppression in a military woman’s life. This can be seen just by looking at the roles and positions that the majority of the women are in. For example, one major difference when comparing men to women is that women are perceived to be less qualified to fight in combat positions. Men are able to serve on the front lines automatically, if they chose to. But this is not the same case for women, who have to earn their way to the top. Men are given top positions by default, just because they are men. However, women are not able to have these same rights. Women in the military are oppressed because they have to fight for their rights, whereas men in the military are handed the positions they want, without as much work or second thought. This is different for women who have to work extremely hard for their freedom in the military. A woman’s place in the military depends on how hard she is willing to work and if she is tough enough to fight for her right to be there.
Myers , Steven Lee. “Living and Fighting Alongside Men, and Fitting In.” New York Times. 16 August 2009, A1. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
“Sexual Assault in the Military.” The Week. 5 April 2013: 11. Print.
Warren, Karen J., “The Power and Promise of Ecological Feminism.” Environmental Ethics: The Big Questions. Ed. David R. Keller. Malden, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 282-283.
“Women in the U.S. Army.” U.S. Army. Web. 7 March 2013.
Written for Julia Morgan’s PHIL 220: Introduction to Feminism