'In Iraq, We Were Never Neutral’: Exploring the Effectiveness of ‘Gender-Neutral’ Standards in a Gendered War

  • Citation: Hunter, Kyleanne. “‘In Iraq, We Were Never Neutral’: Exploring the Effectiveness of ‘Gender-Neutral’ Standards in a Gendered War.” Journal of Veterans Studies 7, no. 2 (2021): 6–18.
    • Topics:
    • Conflict and Security
    • Keywords:
    • North America
    • United States
    • US Armed Forces
    • Iraq
    • gender integration
    • policy
    • women

This article begins with a brief review of the literature on the expansion of military occupational opportunities for women in the United States (US) Armed Forces. To date, cognitive-institutional reinforcement and the relationship between warfighting and policy making has allowed the military to staunchly maintain its masculinized character. Women have been expected to conform to these gender norms in a masculinized environment. However, the Iraq War presented an interestingly juxtaposed case due to the gendered nature of the insurgency. Women in uniform were increasingly called upon and required to act “as women” to meet tactical and strategic objectives. Their actions call into question the overall masculine character of warfighting. Data from focus groups and interviews further advance the position that women in the military are put into increasingly contradictory positions. This is a byproduct of the informal gendered realities of war and the formal focus on gender-neutrality in training and standards. For many women serving, this confusion of gendered expectations can be distracting from the accomplishment of primary duties, which adversely impacts women’s recruitment, retention, and reintegration into civilian life. This article provides a discussion on what this lack of gender clarity means for military recruitment, retention, and integration of women.