Gender Equality In The Military: Breaking Barriers

The Debate on Women in the Military

Women in the military have been a topic of controversy for many years now. One question is whether women are physically and mentally able to perform in the military just as well as men

have been able to. The answer is yes, they can, but unfortunately for women in the military, there are various barriers that hold them back from being all they can be. So what barriers are they facing? According to Looney, J., Robinson Kurpius, S. E., & Lucart, L. (2004) One of the main barriers that women in the military face are the Glass Ceiling which is directly affected by gender role attitudes, specifically from their evaluators. 

In Looney (2004) article offered the following explanation for why glass ceilings occur. “Glass ceiling and lack of female representation at the highest levels of leadership is bias in performance evaluations” (p. 104). In most cases, these biases are caused by stereotypes about gender. For example, employers, regardless of the field, will recognize and accept that men and women are not only equal but also deserve the same opportunities. However, the employer’s actions don’t necessarily match with what they say. According to Hall (2013), compared to men, women are more likely to get paid less and less likely to get hired.

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The Hegemonic Masculinity of the Military

Usually, the result of gender bias, even military women have to put up with this struggle, more often than other women who are in different occupations, because the military has always traditionally been built on hegemonic masculinity. These hegemonic masculine views are what allow men to be in superior positions and also allow for the subordination of women. Furthermore, according to Looney et al. (2004), it puts men into roles such as heroic and leadership while putting women into more supportive roles.

This is supported by a study done by Biernat, M., Crandall, C., Young, L., Kobrynowicz, D., & Halpin, S. (1998), where the experimenters “examined the effects of the officer’s sex and race on both subjective and objective evaluations” (p.301). The results of Biernat et al. (1998) indicate that when it comes to evaluations of male captains are judged in a more favorable way than that of female captains. Any female that is in the military and is looking for promotion or an increase in rank faces these obstacles. But the question is, why does this happen?

The Role of Gender Attitudes in Evaluations

These differences in performance evaluations can be attributed to the examiner’s own gender attitude. Gender attitude is an individual’s own personal beliefs about appropriate roles and behaviors men and women are allowed to do (Frieze, I. & Ciccocioppo, M. (2009). These beliefs have an influence on the evaluator’s view of what a positive  leadership quality is. In other words, depending on the evaluator’s beliefs that influence their decision, they can either make or break women’s chance at promotion. Since the standards and requirements within the military are so strict, it is very difficult to get either promoted or increase one’s rank, and because of the hegemonic masculine culture that is the military, women who are up for evaluation have even more obstacles to hurdle.

Proposed Solutions and Adaptations

According to Weiss, (2013) There have been proposed solutions, one of them being that since about 10% of marine and army specialties are barred for women, and the institutional barriers

be opened to allow women into those roles. Biglan’s (2015) solution to these types of struggles is to create nurturing environments. This means creating an environment that is encouraging, uplifting, and supportive of human development.

I propose an adaptation of Biglan and Weirs’s different proposals. There needs to be some combination of both of them. All the barriers that have been put into place to prevent women from participating need to be either changed to be ALL inclusive, or removed altogether. However, that doesn’t solve all military women’s problems. Everyone, no matter what gender, needs support, encouragement, and help. Without those things, it would be difficult to do much of anything because if everyone was only looking out for themselves, then no one would get anywhere. My other and more realistic suggestion would be to have not only one evaluator that is one gender but has counsel of evaluators. That way, it is possible to ensure fair judgments on the officer because having them all different ensures that there is no single individual bias interfering with the decision.

The Need for Change

So to conclude, women within the military face many barriers: The glass ceiling being the main one, gender bias, gender attitudes, and hegemonic masculinity. All these play into why the glass ceiling is experienced for women because they are all factors that inhibit women’s growth within the military. It is safe to say that some things need to change. The first is policies within the military that hold women back from succeeding in the military. These policies are outdated and no longer needed, and prevent women from going into certain specialties. The second is the type of environment that the society has created. Currently, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, which makes flourishing nearly impossible unless one is taking advantage of other individuals. If society can change the mindset of “all for one” to a more nurturing one, then women have a better chance at succeeding because when the environment that one is in is nurturing, the person is able to flourish.


  1. Biernat, M., Crandall, C. S., Young, L. V., Kobrynowicz, D., & Halpin, S. M. (1998). All that you It can be Stereotyping of self and others in a military context. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(2), 301-317. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.75.2.301
  2. Biglan, A. (2015). The Nurture effect: How the science of human behavior can improve our lives &

    our world.

  3. Frieze, I. & Ciccocioppo, M. (2009). Gender-role attitudes. In H. T. Reis & S. Sprecher (Eds.), Encyclopedia of human relationships (pp. 752-754). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412958479.n239
  4. Hall, H. (2013) Gender Differences: What Science Says and why it’s Mostly Wrong. Skeptic Magazine. Vol 18(2)
  5. Looney, J., Robinson Kurpius, S. E., & Lucart, L. (2004). Military Leadership Evaluations: Effects of Evaluator Sex, Leader Sex, and Gender Role Attitudes. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 56(2), 104-118. doi:10.1037/1061-4087.56.2.104
  6. Weiss, E. (2013, May 06). Combating Gender Discrimination on the Battlefield. 

Why Did The Civil War Break Out: Unveiling The Causes

Post-Civil War Economic and Social Suppression

Following the abolishment of slavery into the reconstruction era and continuing even today, African Americans have struggled to get ahead and have been systematically obstructed from doing so. Post-civil War, African Americans were economically and socially suppressed by the US government, citizens, and corporations. This was accomplished through a variety of ways, which included sharecropping, restrive covenants, government construction projects, and state-sanctioned violence.

Sharecropping: An Evolved System of Slavery

Following the Civil War, the South was left without its main economic boon, slave labor. Scrambling to come up with a quick solution to get the Southern economy rolling again, a new form of labor rose out of the extinction of slavery, named sharecropping. Sharecropping can be viewed as an elaborate form of indentured servitude. With this system, African American farmers would no longer have masters. Instead, they rent and work their own farms and work their own hours. The problem with this is that farming equipment and seeds to farm cost a lot of money, money that nearly no African Americans had. With sharecropping, instead of buying the necessary materials, a farmer could get seeds in exchange for a certain percentage of his harvested crop. It was common that after living costs and food were deducted, the sharecropper would still owe money to the plantation owner. This gives the sharecropper no choice but to continue borrowing from the plantation owner, never being able to fully pay back what is owed. Sharecropping was enforced by local governments, some states even imposing heavy taxes if an African American attempted to take on an occupation other than a farmer or farm hand. Local police also helped enforce sharecropping, stopping African Americans from seeking work elsewhere, and even assaulted or arrested those who tried to leave. Sharecropping was an evolved system of slavery and was a major contributor to the economic suppression of African Americans for many years after the Civil War.

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Housing Crisis and Racial Segregation

Starting during the Great Depression, families all over the country faced a housing shortage. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal attempted to tackle this issue and created the country’s first public housing project. It was decided separate buildings would be built for African Americans if they were to be included at all. This precedent of racially segregated public housing would be continued in later programs and initiatives; the 1949 Housing Act was created and approved, allowing local governments to continue building separate and segregated housing for African Americans, away from the projects for whites. To make the segregation even worse, in 1955, it was stated that the Separate but Equal ruling a year earlier did not apply to housing. This meant that not only were African Americans segregated, the homes which were built for them were not even equal to white homes. Adding to segregation were restrictive covenants. Restrictive covenants were rules that homeowners promised to follow, and commonly, one of these rules was to not sell to an African American person or family. If an African American was somehow able to move into a white neighborhood, property values would crash, and the white families would be pressured to sell their own homes far below what they were worth and seek a new place to live.

Government Agencies and Discriminatory Policies

The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) also contributed to this segregation. The HOLC was tasked with purchasing existing mortgages that were facing foreclosure. They would send agents out to assess the value of neighborhoods and create color-coded maps to assess the risk of different neighborhoods. The neighborhoods deemed the safest would be colored green, and the neighborhoods considered more of a risk would be colored red. If a neighborhood had even one African American living in it, it would be colored red, no matter the social or economic status of the neighborhood. Similarly, the Federal Housing Administration appraised neighborhoods to assess the area for a federal mortgage insurance program. Neighborhoods would be deemed too risky for investment if they had mixed races living there, and in some cases, white neighborhoods simply near African American neighborhoods were also deemed too risky for insurance. All of these actions added to the hardships African Americans had to face and made finding a suitable home to live in even more difficult if it was possible at all.

The Impact of Shelley v. Kraemer

A small victory came with the supreme court case Shelley v. Kraemer. The case was created when an African American family bought a home in a neighborhood in St. Louis that was subject to a racially restrictive covenant. The supreme court ruled against racially restrictive covenants and also ruled that enforcement of these covenants by local governments was unconstitutional. Unsurprisingly, there was immediate pushback against this ruling, more from federal agencies than state governments. Prior to the Shelley v Kraemer ruling, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) had required racially restrictive covenants in their deeds. The current chairman of the FHA, Franklin Richards, said the Shelley ruling would “in no way affect the programs of this agency.” The FHA would continue to deny to insure mortgages to neighborhoods that did not ban blacks. While the Shelley v Kramer case was a big step towards ending the systematic oppression of African Americans, the lack of enforcement ultimately made the case less beneficial than was possible.

Displacement through Government Construction Projects

The segregated neighborhoods built for African Americans were built much cheaper and often were not in very good condition, and many African Americans found themselves displaced by government construction projects. In an African American neighborhood in San Francisco, building a sewer line was originally estimated at $100 an acre before the sanitary board held an emergency meeting and increased the estimated fee by over ten times. This caused work on the sewer lines to halt and very much delayed the development of the neighborhood. In Hamtramck, Michigan, thousands of African American families were displaced when the city began clearing neighborhoods for a Chrysler automobile plant, and even more, homes were destroyed to make room for the Chrysler expressway. These projects ended up displacing at least 3,000 African American families by the time of its completion. Highways also built in Miami, Florida, and Camden, New Jersey, combined to displace over 30,000 African American families. These highways were built for the benefit of whites who lived in the suburbs, making it easy for them to travel to work and back. These highways were built even when alternative routes were proposed that would result in minimal population loss. African American neighborhood roads were often less likely to be paved, and sewer lines were often very poorly maintained and prone to backing up. These poor conditions and the constant pressure of displacement made it impossible for African Americans to feel welcome and made settling down and getting ahead a near impossibility.

State-Sanctioned Violence against African Americans

Post-Civil War, violence against African Americans was not uncommon. Bill Myers was an African American man who was able to buy a house in a white neighborhood in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of protesters came to the house and threw rocks at the home and family. Police were called but did not stop the protesters. Instead, standing idly by while the white protesters continued to pelt the house with rocks for over two months. The Myers family was eventually pressured into selling their home and returning to their old home in an all-black neighborhood. In Chicago, over the span of over five years, there were 58 firebombings of African American homes, and not a single person was arrested. In another incident in Chicago, a white youth stoned to death an African American swimmer who had swam too close to a whites-only swimming area. The young African American boy drowned, and police refused to arrest the white youth who was responsible. These terrible acts can be described as state-sanctioned violence, and it is impossible to imagine living with the constant threat of being attacked while simply trying to live a peaceful life.

Conclusion: The Long-Lasting Effects of Systematic Oppression

The US government and corporations implemented many obstacles to prevent African Americans from living equally to their white neighbors. The examples I provided of sharecropping, restrive covenants, government construction projects, and state-sanctioned violence only scratched the surface of the hardships African Americans had to face. Many of these initiatives aided in the creation of African American ghettos, and these problems very much persist today. The barriers created by these attitudes and initiatives will take many generations to undo. These events and the systematic oppression of African Americans all prove that the United States is not the land of the free.

Works Cited

  1. Blackmon, D. A. (2008). Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. Doubleday.
  2. Rothstein, R. (2017). The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Liveright Publishing.
  3. Lemann, N. (1991). The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America. Vintage.
  4. Coates, T. (2014). The Case for Reparations. The Atlantic.
  5. Sugrue, T. J. (1996). The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton University Press.
  6. Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1993). American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Harvard University Press.

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