Arms and the Woman: Militarizing Gender Wars
Vron Ware on DiscoverSociety.org
You know the British Army is experiencing a crisis in recruitment when they start to make noises about ending the ban on women in combat roles. Earlier this year, General Sir Peter Wall, head of the UK armed forces, conceded that it might be time to drop the current restrictions that bar women from the infantry section of the army. The general admitted that such a move would make the armed forces “look more normal to society” at a time when they were desperately trying to attract new recruits, both full and part-time. It would also demonstrate that the organization was committed to equal opportunities despite women comprising only 10% of the total workforce.
Perceptions of soldiering as a unique form of public service draw on notions of gender that are deeply rooted in society yet, at the same time, media representations of military work also shape these norms, as well as occasionally challenging them. Discussions about female soldiers routinely provoke ‘common sense’ observations about the physical and psychological differences between men and women while gender neutral access to combat roles is often considered the ultimate test of social equality. But this focus on women’s capacity to kill can be a distraction from other crucial dimensions of gender and militarism that deserve public scrutiny, not least the long running argument about whether human rights laws should be applicable within military institutions.