According to traditional perspectives on men’s and women’s roles in society, females are responsible for creating life, harmony, and emotional comfort. These unspoken and centuries-long arrangements run counter to the use of physical strength and aggression. Despite the requirements of the traditional role distribution, American women served in the military forces during the American Revolutionary War and further military conflicts and continue achieving new goals.
The history of American women in the military is much shorter than that of men since both prejudice and physical differences contributed to women’s limited presence in the armed forces. Speaking about the period of the American Revolutionary War, regardless of their attitudes to the Loyalists or the Patriots, American women felt extremely unsafe and had to act as camp followers to protect themselves and their children.1 Despite prejudice, female citizens’ attempts to make themselves useful were appreciated by Washington.2 However, in the majority of cases, their help involved doing all the housework to support soldiers or working as nurses.
During the American Revolution and later on, it was quite dangerous for women participating in military life to look feminine due to the threat of being raped or punished. Female supporters on both sides of the conflict participated in espionage activities to prove their abilities.3 Probably, women’s non-existent decision-making capacity in military affairs was a logical continuation of denying their right to make their own political choices.4 Importantly, women could not fight openly without disguising themselves as men.5 This fact makes it impossible to estimate the number of female soldiers before World War I in an accurate manner.
The situation with women’s presence in the military changed with the start of World War I. Instead of serving in the Army, they were welcome to develop production industries and learn new trades.6 Women’s interest in military service was not very high, and many of them opposed the idea of aggression and joined anti-war movements to protect their male relatives from compulsory training and mobilization.7 Shortly after the start of the war in Europe, women were present in nursing and other roles in overseas missions. The U.S. entry into the conflict significantly extended their opportunities to complete tasks associated with national defense.8 It was the first time when women were allowed to serve in the military openly, and the number of female specialists fulfilling overseas assignments reached and exceeded sixteen thousand people very soon.9 The most common jobs took on by women included phone operators and nurses.10 At the same time, their participation as doctors was strongly discouraged.
World War II became the next era demonstrating changing attitudes to women’s role in armed conflicts. Even facing persistent discrimination, many women were willing to replace male specialists on the home front to demonstrate their patriotism and get access to more respectable jobs.11 Because of the war, women were allowed to enter the male-dominated production industries and started giving back to the community by producing, assembling, and repairing weapons and vehicles.12 As a result of labor shortages during WWII, the female representatives of ethnic minorities also received new job opportunities, but this advantage did not last for long after the end of the war.13 The products of mass culture, especially movies, actively supported gender roles to prevent the exponential growth of women’s independence and domination.14 However, at the same time, the number of women in the U.S. Army drastically increased and exceeded 350 thousand people during the war.15
The establishment of the WAAC in 1942 expanded females’ opportunities beyond serving as a nurse. Nevertheless, women in the organization still faced significant constraints related to payments and veterans’ benefits.16 The WAAC members successfully worked in different countries and helped men with the majority of their military tasks. Not surprisingly, they were constantly mocked due to their rejection of traditional femininity, and this fact impacted their life after the war. The trend to regard women’s attempts to succeed in martial arts with irony still exists today despite their actual achievements and the values of diversity. For instance, the mass media concentrate on female soldiers’ unsuccessful attempts to complete the most demanding army leadership courses without stressing the unsatisfactory results of male participants.17
To sum up, the topic of women in the military was extremely controversial and is still surrounded by debate. In the past, American women contributed to the country’s military success by helping the soldiers, fulfilling nurses’ duties, and maintaining military equipment without receiving the associated benefits. Although female soldiers’ position has significantly improved since then, their ambitions can still be regarded with prejudice and criticized.
Adams, John. “John Adams to James Sullivan.” In Papers of John Adams, edited by Robert J. Taylor et al., 208-212. Cambridge, UK: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1977. 2019, Web.
Buhle, Mari Jo, Teresa Murphy, and Jane Gerhard. A Concise Women’s History. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2015.
Lemmon, Gayle Tzemach. “19 Women Washed out of Army Ranger School. That’s Actually a Good Thing.” Washington Post. 2015. Web.
Liz Library. “Letters between Abigail Adams and Her Husband John Adams.” 2019, Web.
- Mari Jo Buhle, Teresa Murphy, and Jane Gerhard, A Concise Women’s History (Boston, MA: Pearson, 2015): 63.
- Buhle et al., A Concise Women’s, 64.
- Buhle et al., 66.
- John Adams, “John Adams to James Sullivan,” In Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor et al. (Cambridge, UK: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1977), 208.
- Liz Library, “Letters between Abigail Adams and Her Husband John Adams,” Web.
- Buhle et al., 381.
- Ibid., 382.
- Ibid., 383.
- Ibid., 447.
- Ibid., 448.
- Ibid., 454.
- Ibid., 463.
- Ibid., 464.
- Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, “19 Women Washed out of Army Ranger School. That’s Actually a Good Thing,” Washington Post, 2015, Web.