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Feminism and Military Gender Practices: Israeli Women Soldiers in “Masculine” Roles

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Women’s military service is the focus of an ongoing controversy because of its implications for the gendered nature of citizenship. While liberal feminists endorse equal service as a venue for equal citizenship, radical feminists see women’s service as a rei•cation of martial citizenship and cooperation with a hierarchical and sexist institution. These debates, however, tend to ignore the perspective of the women soldiers themselves.

This paper seeks to add to the contemporary debate on women’s military service the subjective dimension of gender and national identities of women soldiers serving in “masculine” roles. I use a theory of identity practices in order to analyze the interaction between state institutions and identity construction. Based on in-depth interviews, I argue that Israeli women soldiers in “masculine” roles shape their gender identities according to the hegemonic masculinity of the combat soldier through three interrelated practices: (1) mimicry of combat soldiers’ bodily and discursive practices; (2) distancing from “traditional femininity”; and (3) trivialization of sexual harassment.

These practices signify both resistance and compliance with the military dichotomized gender order. While these transgender performances subvert the hegemonic norms of masculinity and femininity, they also collaborate with the military androcentric norms. Thus, although these women soldiers individually transgress gender boundaries, they internalize the military’s masculine ideology and values and learn to identify with the patriarchal order of the army and the state. This accounts for a pattern of “limited inclusion” that reaf•rms their marginalization, thus prohibiting them from developing a collective consciousness that would challenge the gendered structure of citizenship.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Hebrew University

Publication date: August 1, 2003

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