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Title:Rocking the gender boat: resistance to traditional gender norms among Surface Warfare-qualified Navy women
Author(s):Vendrzyk, Judith Marie
Director of Research:Marshall, Anna-Maria
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Marshall, Anna-Maria
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Zerai, Assata; Mendenhall, Ruby; Krooks, David A.
Department / Program:Sociology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
doing gender
women in the military
women in the Navy
military women
Abstract:Given that the military is widely recognized as one of the central sites of gender definition and production in society, my dissertation explores the ways in which women who voluntarily enter the military, a traditionally male preserve, may be acting in ways that are subversive to the gender order. Most research on women in the military has focused on their efforts to do gender in a manner that helps them fit in to this androcentric environment. The aim of my research was to explore the performance of gender by women in the military from a different perspective: one that focuses on their agency in resisting rather than conforming to traditional gender norms. My project investigated whether or not Navy women actively attempted to “un-do” traditional gender definitions and expectations while simultaneously attempting to expand the boundaries of femininity and what it means to be a woman. Military women often must walk a gender tightrope. They seek acceptance as legitimate warriors, but must at the same time be cautious not to ultimately surrender their femininity to the hegemony of masculinity within this institution by “doing masculinity” instead. This study used qualitative methodology to investigate: (1) the performance of gender among military women, focusing specifically on their resistance to traditional gender norms; (2) how women’s social location in the military bureaucracy and rank structure influences their resistance to traditional gender norms; and (3) how race and class are implicated in women’s resistance to traditional gender norms within the military context. My work is grounded in Navy women’s personal experiences and daily interactions with their male colleagues. Data was collected through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 23 active-duty officer and 9 enlisted Surface Warfare-Qualified Navy women. Data was analyzed using grounded theory methodologies. In moving beyond theory to explore the experiences of women in the military empirically from this unconventional perspective, I hoped to further illuminate our understanding of gender and the gendering process, and resistance to it. I found outcomes differing from those we might expect given existing gender theory. Specifically, I found that women who focus on presenting their “authentic selves” while doing gender “a la carte” offer the greatest hope for altering the gender order, even if their actions seem least satisfying to the outside observer as forms of “resistance.” Furthermore, I found that women who actively project their femininity or, conversely, downplay their femininity do so in response to negative male stereotypes of military women. Several intervening variables not presently addressed in gender literature have combined over the past decade to make the Surface Navy more welcoming to women, especially officers. These include: the establishment of the All-Volunteer Force, short-term and long term structural manpower shortages, differences in the way the military justice system handles officer and enlisted misconduct, and uneven support for and enforcement of Navy policy at the deckplate level. I conclude from my research that recent high-profile problems of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the Navy are rooted in mundane daily practices and attitudes associated with underground sexism.
Issue Date:2015-10-26
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Judith M. Vendrzyk
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-03-02
Date Deposited:2015-12

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