Tanya Roth – PhD Candidate, Washington University in St. Louis
Women have been a permanent part of the United States military since 1948. However, femininity and glamour dominated in the public image of the American servicewoman from the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act until the end of the draft in 1973. By the end of the 1970s, the new image of the American servicewoman was more androgynous and emphasized women’s physical capability to participate in national defense on an equal basis with men. This more masculinized image of the American servicewoman became the familiar image that would dominate in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
This paper examines how the end of the draft, the Equal Rights Amendment, and women’s admission to the military academies helped end the association between femininity, glamour, and women’s military service. As the military came to depend more fully on womanpower, traditional ideals of women’s social and economic roles became problematic barriers to an institution that now emphasized equal opportunity and professed dedication to expanding women’s national defense roles. In addition, the growing reliance on womanpower helped women receive access to more jobs in the military and opened new debates about women’s relationship to combat.
By the end of the decade, women were moving closer to combat and combat support roles than ever. The new image of the androgynous, athletic, and weapons-toting American servicewoman reflected this change and helped servicewomen and their advocates support their claims that they, too, possessed the physical capability to participate in combat or any other role the military required. More than two decades later, however, the nation continues to debate whether or not women belong in the combat arena at all.
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