This is a guest post by Kyleanne Hunter, PhD Student and Research Fellow at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver

Yesterday it was discovered that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has ordered the Marine Corps to both integrate their enlisted training and to create gender-neutral job titles.  This news comes on the heels of a passionate battle of words surrounding the integration of women into all Military Occupational Specialties (MOS).  This latest victory for those who recognize the value of women’s service is not limited to those in the service.  It is a large step forward for all women in America.

Democratic citizenship has long been tied to military service.[1]  Even as we have moved to an all-volunteer force, the rhetorical power of the citizen-solder has maintained its prominence in political debates.  This power has been instrumental in minority groups gaining full citizenship rights.  Yet there has been one group unable to harness this power – women.  Even as women have made great strides in military service, the hyper-masculinity of military culture and speech has made achieving parity very difficult for women.   While, on paper, in the USA women have equal rights as their male citizen counterparts, the reality is that women remain underrepresented economically, professionally, and politically.  In short, they aren’t able to realize the full benefits of citizenship in a liberal democracy.

While not a complete panacea, the move of opening all MOS’ to women, and requiring gender-neutral job titles is a big step in rectifying some of the challenges to complete citizenship women face.  One of the explanations for male-preference in citizenship can be traced to the positive association between masculinity and military service.[2]  If the best a citizen can be is a soldier, and the best a soldier can be is “manly,” clearly men are our best citizens.  This cognitive heuristic is reinforced by military language: infantry man, fly boy, armor man, “A Few Good Men.”  These words, so engrained in our sociopolitical lexicon that we hardly give them a second thought, have reinforced the patriarchal system of male-privileged citizenship.

It has been argued that removing the formal barriers to women’s service in all aspects of the military, including the Selective Service, is important for fulfilling the social contract between the citizen and the states.  Removing the informal ones is just as important. De-gendering the language of military service is a large step towards changing the culture that has created them.  Sociopolitical rhetoric doesn’t change overnight, but words means things.  By using gender-neutral terms we will begin to recognize the importance of all citizens contributions to our security.  The small act of removing “man” as a qualifier for military jobs as the power to change the citizenship dynamics for half the population.

[1] See: Krebs, Ronald R. Fighting for rights: military service and the politics of citizenship. Cornell University Press, 2006; Morgan, Matthew J. “The reconstruction of culture, citizenship, and military service.” Armed Forces & Society 29.3 (2003): 373-391; Salyer, Lucy E. “Baptism by Fire: Race, Military Service, and US Citizenship Policy, 1918–1935.” The Journal of American History 91.3 (2004): 847-876

[2] See: Arkin, William, and Lynne R. Dobrofsky. “Military socialization and masculinity.” Journal of Social Issues 34.1 (1978): 151-168; Hinojosa, Ramon. “Doing hegemony: Military, men, and constructing a hegemonic masculinity.” The Journal of Men’s Studies 18.2 (2010): 179-194; Snyder, R. Claire. Citizen-Soldiers and Manly Warriors: Military Service and Gender in the Civic Republican Tradition. Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.

 

*Kyleanne Hunter is currently a PhD Student at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver.  She spent more than a decade as a United States Marine Corps Officer, serving as a AH-1W “Super Cobra” pilot on multiple combat deployments, and the Marine Corps’ Liaison Officer to the House of Representatives.