Army struggles to integrate women

February 7, 2003

The British army's much trumpeted attempts to attract and integrate female soldiers were dealt a severe blow this week as research revealed that many of "our boys" would like to keep the girls out.

Masculine culture still dominates the modern British army, whose top brass echoed tabloid stereotypes of female soldiers as gutsy types who would never be good enough to be real soldiers.

Women were characterised as sexy, tomboyish and, crucially, a disruptive influence, although no evidence of the last assertion was produced. These attitudes permeate decisions, policies and promotional literature, according to the researchers from Newcastle and Sunderland universities.

"For female soldiers, the idea of diversity allows their incorporation into the army, but only insofar as they can be like men. Military discourses about gender construct women as different in specific ways and many differences are seen not as physical but social. Some differences are presented as incompatible with military life."

The Ministry of Defence is trying to raise the proportion of female recruits from the current 8 per cent.

Researcher Rachel Woodward said: "Our research revealed attitudes and language used when discussing and writing about women that undermined the army's efforts to portray itself as a progressive employer. We found that the army is still a traditionally masculine organisation that is only adapting gradually to the inclusion of women."

For the report, jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Ministry of Defence, the authors interviewed staff responsible for implementing equal opportunities and analysed army and Ministry of Defence policy documents.

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