by MSG Diana D. Layne, US Army
This article focuses on the resiliency of women in male-dominated military environments. Despite the many obstacles they face, women in the Armed Forces have demonstrated remarkable strength and resilience, both in their physical prowess and mental fortitude. Although many women serve in the military today, relatively few serve in crucial leadership positions. Even though various initiatives implemented over the years have increased the opportunities available, women continue to face disparities in promotion opportunities and notoriety (Williams, 2017). Women have served in every conflict that the United States has been involved in, ranging from the War of Independence to the War on Terror (Norwich Pro, 2018).
Despite the length of their service in the Armed forces, this aspect of their history is inconsistently recognized. Women’s roles in the military varied over time, from the early days when they served as cooks and medics to the present day serving in combat positions (Norwich Pro, 2018). Women in the military face many challenges, including discrimination, harassment, and a lack of opportunities because of their gender. When faced with such obstacles, women’s mental health, professional advancement, and general well-being can all take a hit. While many women have shown remarkable resilience and perseverance in the face of sexism, discrimination, and harassment in the military, this is not the case for all women. Recent changes in Department of Defense (DoD) policies allow more opportunities for women in society and the military.
Proving Your Worth as a Woman
Proving your worth as a woman in the military can be challenging due to the adversities and gender-based discrimination women face. Women can overcome these obstacles and demonstrate their worth through their perseverance, expertise, and leadership. Being a woman in the military requires dedication, hard work, and resilience. It is important to demonstrate commitment to the mission and the ability to succeed in various situations. Military personnel tend to be entrusted with high-value outcomes and classified information (Moore, 2020). Therefore, being dedicated aligns with teamwork which requires integrity and consistency. Upon putting on a military uniform, honorable moral codes represent the entire branch. As a result, this will build integrity and ensure women take responsibility based on meeting the subject outcome and demonstrating quality outcomes per the identified position with sensitive information.
In addition, women in the military must meet the same physical and mental standards as men to be successful. It means that they must be able to pass physical training tests, such as running, push-ups, and other strength and endurance exercises (Albright et al., 2019). They must also remain composed in stressful situations and show leadership skills under pressure. Women have to work hard to prove that they have the strength and capability to perform in the same capacity as men. It is important to remember that while women may face some unique challenges in the military, they can be successful if they are willing to put in the effort and demonstrate their mental and physical toughness. With the right attitude and environment, women can be successful in the military.
Furthermore, one must demonstrate leadership qualities, technical skills, physical fitness, and the ability to work well with others. Additionally, it is important to show that one is an asset to the military and can contribute to their success (Williams, 2017). It can be achieved through participating in team-building activities, challenging oneself to improve skills and knowledge, and taking the initiative when needed. Finally, it is important to be proud of the integrated services and show confidence in a woman’s abilities in the military.
Issues Women Still Face in the Military
One of the difficulties women serving in the Armed Forces has is balancing the demands of their jobs in the military with the obligations they have at home with their families. Women are more likely to have children than men, and those who serve in the Armed Forces may have a more difficult time finding adequate childcare and support for their families. Women in the military continue to suffer from high rates of sexual assault from their male counterparts. There is growing concern about the prevalence of sexual assault among military personnel, particularly among women. In 2018, 16.3% of female service members experienced sexual assault, compared to 1.7% of male service members (Suzanne, 2019).
Furthermore, in 2018, 71.6% of women, compared to only 20.2% of men, experienced sexual harassment (Suzanne, 2019). There is a scarcity of gender diversity in the military, which contributes to this problem. There is also a pervasive culture of concealment and acceptance of sexual misconduct. Retaliation against women who report sexual assault or harassment is much more common than it is for men. Long-term effects on mental and physical health, as well as low morale and productivity related to sexual assault and harassment, are at epidemic levels. The incident of sexual assault and harassment in the Armed Forces must be reduced, so the military must keep working to address these issues.
Another issue is that women still experience stereotypes based on their capability and who they are in performing their duties in the military. As a result, attitudes and beliefs can threaten women’s working conditions (Trobaugh, 2018). Additionally, it hinders their abilities and capabilities. The result can lead to feelings of exclusion, lower morale, and decreased productivity. Women are often seen as weaker or less capable than their male counterparts, damaging their self-esteem and hindering their career advancement. Additionally, women are often subject to sexist comments, jokes, and behavior from their male colleagues, which can create an uncomfortable and hostile work environment. It is further exacerbated by the fact that women are still underrepresented in the military, holding only 16.5% of active-duty positions in the United States military in 2018 (Suzanne, 2019). However, to address the issue of underrepresentation, it is necessary to examine all the barriers that limit women while in military service. As a result, this will create a realistic outcome for women to continue developing their military career path.
In addition, many military women face challenges adjusting to societal norms and expectations, thus leading them to question their gender identity. According to Albright et al. (2019), military women have poor mental and physical health based on their return to Operation New Dawn (OND), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operating Enduring Freedom (OEF). Many women who have served in the Armed Forces find it challenging to readjust to civilian life. Women veterans confront real problems that might harm their mental and physical health. Some challenges veterans have include discord about their gender, trouble reintegrating into civilian life, and the inability to find compassion from those around them over their experiences (Albright et al., 2019). It can be difficult for women veterans to adjust to civilian life without the social structure and community they found in the military, leading to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. Female veterans also frequently experience sexism and prejudice in the workplace, healthcare settings, and other day-to-day life services.
In an untold story, a group of female soldiers was embedded with Army Rangers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan as a part of an experimental program known as the Cultural Support Teams (Lemmon, 2015). These women faced significant obstacles in their roles, such as the physical demands of combat and the emotional toll of being away from their families for extended periods. However, they rose to the occasion and did an excellent job. Despite this, they carried out their responsibilities with impressive grit and tenacity, demonstrating the value they bring to the group as essential contributors.
Being a woman in the military can be a difficult experience due to their minority status and lack of authority. Women often work harder to prove themselves and gain respect in a male-dominated field. It can be especially difficult in a culture where traditional gender roles are still prevalent (Williams, 2017). Women are often seen as less marriageable and feminine, which can lead to feelings of marginalization and exclusion. Furthermore, the lack of authority and minority status of women in the military can make it difficult to report and address issues. It can create a hostile environment for women and prevent them from achieving their full potential.
It is crucial to acknowledge the difficulties women encounter in the military to work toward a more welcoming and equal culture. It includes removing barriers to women’s advancement, educating the public about the importance of gender equality, and taking measures to combat discrimination and harassment. It also involves fostering an environment where women’s accomplishments are recognized and where they are inspired to assume positions of leadership (Norwich Pro, 2018). Doing so can create the foundation for a more diverse and supportive military, one that encourages women to reach their full potential.
Evolution of Women in Leadership Positions
The evolution of women in leadership positions in the military has been an ongoing process of breaking down barriers in terms of gender roles and the roles women can play in the military. While women have served in the military in various roles since the American Revolution, it was not until the 1970s that leadership positions became available to women (Norwich Pro, 2018). The contributions that women serving in the Armed Forces have made to military operations are another example of how they have demonstrated their value. For instance, during the Gulf War, women served in various roles, including as pilots, medics, and intelligence officers. They played an essential part in the accomplishment of the mission. This contributed significantly to the overall success of the operation (Matthews, 2005). Similarly, women have increasingly been serving in combat roles in recent years, and they have shown both their bravery and ability on the battlefield (Department of Defense, 2015).
In 1948, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act ensured women would become permanent, regular groups of the Armed Forces, which opened the doors for women to take on more active roles (Cook, 2021). In the 1960s, the military began to expand the roles that women could take on. Today, women serve in every military branch and various roles, from combat to intelligence and logistics. For example, Captain Kristen Griest broke barriers as the first female infantry officer in the Army. She was among the first women to earn the prestigious Ranger tab (Tan, 2016). There has been a concerted effort to ensure that women are represented in leadership roles in the military (Moore, 2020). As a result, women are now in positions of authority throughout the military. For example, President Joe Biden initially nominated Admiral Linda L. Fagan as the 27th Vice Commandant of the United States Coast Guard in 2021. Still, she is now the service’s first female Commandant (My CG Staff, 2022). The evolution of women’s leadership in the military is an ongoing process, but women are now making their mark in the Armed Forces.
Therefore, the military has been more aligned with gender concerns as compared to the past. Women are included in different types of combat missions, such as being a leader in the pilot, mechanics, drivers, and infantry officers. Historically, the military barred women from holding positions of authority inside the military (Cook, 2021). However, this has begun to change in recent decades. Relegating women to the nurse function, but today they are found in many professions, including leadership positions. The percentage of American women serving in the Armed Forces rose from 12.2% in 2001 to 15.2% in 2020 (Moore, 2020). Several other countries, like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, have also seen an increase in women serving in senior military positions. During the past decade, the military has finally recognized women’s services, resulting in a doubling of the number of women in high leadership posts.
A combination of policy changes, increased visibility, and positive role models has driven the evolution of women in military leadership positions. In the United States, policy changes such as the repeal of the combat exclusion policy in 2015 gave women greater access to higher-ranking positions (Cook, 2021). Furthermore, the increased visibility of successful female military leaders helps to create a more positive view of women in the military. Finally, positive role models, such as the first female four-star general, Ann Dunwoody, and the first African American woman to lead a United States Army division, Major General Maria Elvira Pimentel, have provided inspiration to the next generation of female military leaders (Moore, 2020). Other inspiring women in the military are Command Sergeant Major Veronica Knapp who became the first female leader of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in May of 2021 (Estwick, 2021). The result is a steady increase in women in high positions in the military department and services.
The integration of women into the military has been a long and ongoing process. Many organizations have ensured that women are included in their mission and career paths (Cook, 2021). Furthermore, the United States military has introduced initiatives such as the Women in Service Implementation Plan, which provides targeted career development opportunities for women. Additionally, the United States military has implemented several initiatives to support women in their roles, such as the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, which works to increase women’s leadership roles. In addition to the United States military, other organizations such as NATO and the United Nations have also ensured that women are included in their mission and career paths.
Despite the challenges they face, women in the military have shown remarkable resilience, which has been an essential component of their success. This resiliency demonstrates a variety of ways, including overcoming gender bias, navigating limited opportunities for career advancement, managing family responsibilities in addition to professional responsibilities, and coping with harassment and discrimination. In this light, it is essential to investigate the factors that contribute to the resiliency of women serving in the armed forces and the effect that this resiliency has on their level of accomplishment.
Women have been subjected to challenges in the military compared to men but due to recent changes in Department of Defense (DoD) policies allowed more opportunities for women in society and the military. Challenges include sexual harassment, discrimination, less consideration in an authoritative position, and aligning with societal norms. Furthermore, they experience exclusion due to their minority status. As a result, this causes a high rate of depression, anxiety, and mental disorders. Female veterans have unique health challenges, including but not limited to physical injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fatigue, and chronic pain. Being in the military increases their risk of experiencing sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of violence, which can seriously affect their mental and physical health.
However, in today’s world, it is encouraging to see so many organizations come up to aid women veterans. Those needing mental or physical health care, advice on adjusting to civilian life, or assistance securing a job or housing can turn to the services these groups provide for female veterans. Female veterans should take advantage of the services and programs designed to get the care they need to thrive and live long, healthy lives when their service ends. Furthermore, the change in exclusion policies has enabled women to be in military leadership positions. Although it is a slow growth rate, the positive change shows that women will fully be aligned with military positions with the proper use of resources.
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Master Sergeant Diana Layne is a Logistics Senior Noncommissioned Officer in the US Army. Over her 22-year career, she has served in positions such as Supply Sergeant, Platoon Sergeant, Drill Sergeant, Senior Supply Sergeant, Asset Visibility NCOIC, First Sergeant, Senior Career Advisor, and Executive Admin Assistant. She recently completed the Sergeants Major Course (Resident) Class 73 at the US Army Noncommissioned Officer Leadership Center of Excellence. Her civilian education includes a bachelor’s in art earned at American Military University. She is currently working two master’s degree programs: General Business from Excelsior University and Acquisition & Project Management from Troy University.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.