Date of Award

12-2010

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Melanie Hildebrandt, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Kay Snyder, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Valerie Gunter, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Melissa Swauger, Ph.D.

Abstract

Why study U.S. Army female combat veterans? (1) Women have always been a part of combat, (2) there are a substantial number of women in combat, (3) and that number is growing with women currently making up 15 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces. There is a lack of scholarly literature exploring the experiences of female soldiers in military combat roles and the sociological meanings attributed to these experiences. This lack of research is detrimental to understanding the role and experiences of female soldiers. This study is an exploration of gender norms, behaviors, and social contexts that shape the experiences of female combat veterans. It reports findings from a qualitative study based on face-to-face and phone interviews with 12 female U.S. Army combat veterans of the Iraq War. I studied how these women in the U.S. Army have dealt with being the only woman or one of very few women serving with a unit of male soldiers during the Iraq War. The interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed and later analyzed using emergent coding techniques. The theoretical approaches that helped to shape the analysis are drawn from writings of Goffman (1959), West and Zimmerman (1987), Kanter (1993), and Smith (2005) to illuminate possible sociological implications of the study. This study revealed the experiences and stories from various female combat veterans in the context of gender norms and behaviors associated with being a soldier in a military combat environment. This study sought to understand how female combat veterans dealt with a pervasive culture of masculinity and the strategies they used to navigate this male-dominated environment.

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