Claiming Masculinity, Questioning Gender Roles: Integrating (in) the U.S. Military

AHA Session 171
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room 102 (Hynes Convention Center)
Adriane D. Lentz-Smith, Duke University
Kimberly Jensen, Western Oregon University

Session Abstract

"Claiming Masculinity, Questioning Gender Roles: Integrating (in) the U.S. Military"

The United States military, including its adjunct institutions have always played an essential role in American society. It has shaped the sense of self, history, and memory of individuals, groups, and the nation. In this way, the military has been one of United States’ most sacred institutions with clear hierarchies that constructed unquestionable and unalterable duties and roles, on which the nation's security and stability allegedly depended. Yet, despite the military's general insistence on the continuity and functionality of long-established hierarchies along lines of race, gender, or sexuality, numerous groups have challenged these seemingly sacred traits in the United States’ military.

This panel seeks to examine the diverse ways that the U.S. military became a site where individuals and groups broaden understandings about citizenship, gender and masculine obligations, and normality in the twentieth century. In particular, the panel examines the various ways military integration and attempts to make a more inclusive Armed Force challenged old definitions and stereotypes concerning gender, masculinity, race, and sexuality.  Each paper highlights not only the gendered nature of the institution, but also, the concurrent claim to and/or questioning of masculinity and traditional gender roles that challenged the essential foundations of the American military and by extension civil society.

The panel illuminates four different, but related moments of and discourses on, military integration and inclusion/exclusion in war and peace since the Second World War. Michaela Hampf probes the politics of gender and sexuality in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during World War II. She argues that despite formal integration on the organizational level, the concept of the soldier was discursively redefined to exclude women from the core of the military profession and therefore, the WAC consistently struggled to frame the group as “respectable.” Charissa Threat explores the 1950s debate over the integration of male nurses into the Army Nurse Crops.  She reveals that that inclusion of male nurses not only challenged accepted gender roles, but also, the autonomy and authority of female nurses.  Christine Knauer examines white and African American discourses on racial integration during the Korean War by focusing on two cases of alleged African American heroism and cowardice on the Korean battlefield.  She uncovers that the underlying question was a contest over the extension of citizenship rights and masculinity. Tanya Roth investigates the creation of the modern servicewomen in the 1970s Women’s Army Corps.  She argues that while the end of the draft, the ERA, and women’s admission to the military academies helped end the association between femininity, glamour, and women’s military service, the nation continued to be uncomfortable with female soldiers as witnessed in the on-going debate about women in combat arenas.  Distinctive in their subject, all four papers reveal how deeply gendered concerns about military integration were in the second half of the twentieth century. They speak to the complicated nature of American national and military identity in an age of growing change and claims to acceptance of diversity and difference.

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