Women in the Military: A Minority within a Minority

By Lynn Slaughter-Naves

Women in the U.S. military are a minority within a minority. Less than 1% of Americans are in the military, and of the 21.9 million U.S. military veterans a mere 1.5 million are women.That means under 7% of veterans are female. In my opinion, women are missing a great opportunity by foregoing the option of military service. Society as a whole could benefit from more women in the military ranks.

It goes without saying that the military has always been a male-dominated profession.This leads to a skewed perspective of the military by civilian women because no one talks about what the military is like for them and why they join. While war is traditionally seen as the realm of men, peace is seen as the domain of women; yet women in the military turn this idea upside down. It is not that women in the military are unfeminine: they are just as varied as they are elsewhere. Yet the stereotype is that females in the military must be “masculine”. While the military is still very much a “boy’s club”, it has become much more open to women in the past few decades.

For some, joining the military is about patriotism, for others it is mercenary, but for many it is a little of both. Many people join the military because it provides them with a decently paying job, health coverage, guaranteed food and housing, and educational benefits. For economically disadvantaged women, it provides stability and a chance to go to school, something that in this day and age is more of a necessity than an option if you want to be able to support yourself.This opportunity for independence has a steep price, though, since the military essentially owns you, and you can get sent to a war zone if your unit is called up. For women in the military, especially those with children, it can be difficult to maintain a balance between their professional careers and personal lives. When you are in the military, the mission comes first and your personal life must be second. For women who stay in the military long-term, personal sacrifice is inevitable.

Many people are not entirely comfortable with the idea of a woman in uniform, and fear that women will “get hurt”. The irony is that while the military is a tough place, women in society face similar (or worse) challenges. Women in the military, while not immune to mistreatment, are trained to withstand intimidation.These experiences are trying, but they come out of it much tougher and less likely to allow themselves to be bullied. Women are so often forced into a passive role, forced to play the “damsels in distress” waiting for someone to come along and make our lives better. But real life is not like that, and we must take every opportunity we can. Women in the military, as a minority within American society, owe it to themselves and to women in general to share their experiences and bring recognition to their share in serving this country.

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