BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
N Ireland
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 13:03 GMT
Macho culture holds back women recruits
Women soldiers
Efforts are being made to recruit women
Recruitment of women into the Army is being hampered by a "historically masculine" culture, a new study suggests.

Many soldiers and officers are finding it hard to adjust to the presence of women and dismiss them as disruptive, according to the research by Newcastle and Sunderland universities.

The study, part-funded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), said while the Army had made progress in equal opportunities, it was harmed by the forces' ethos.

Researchers also noted the impact of media stereotypes of the sexy or tomboyish woman soldier.

The Army is still a traditionally masculine organisation

Dr Rachel Woodward
About 8% of the Army is female, a proportion which has grown since the number of posts available to them was expanded in 1998.

Women represent 9.5% of officers, and 6.8% of other ranks.

The researchers interviewed army staff responsible for equal opportunities, as well as analysing policy documents and media reports.

Ban language

Some senior staff had met opposition to the idea of accommodating women amongst "opinion makers" in the senior ranks.

The study criticised an earlier MoD report called Combat Effectiveness and Gender, which led to Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon renewing the ban on female frontline soldiers.

While the researchers found the report superficially supportive, closer scrutiny revealed an attitude which viewed women as a disruption.

Mr Hoon said that "military judgement" supported the view that women's exclusion from some combat positions was justified for reasons of unit cohesion and combat effectiveness.

But the researchers said he did not detail the reasons behind this "military judgement", or cite any scientific evidence.

Recruitment efforts

They said this implied the very presence of women constituted the risk.

Dr Rachel Woodward said: "The Army is trying very hard to attract and integrate women into the organisation.

"Nevertheless, our research revealed attitudes and language used when discussing and writing about women which undermined the army's efforts to portray itself as a progressive employer.

"We found that the Army is still a traditionally masculine organisation which is only adapting gradually to the inclusion of women - and this adaptation process is uneven through the ranks.

"There is evidently great opposition from many soldiers who think the Army should be an exclusively male preserve."

Why do you think the Army is slower than other organisations to include women? Do you think sexy or tomboyish female soldiers in the media are harmful for women in the job? Are you a woman in the Army? What are your experiences?

Surely it would be a more sensible idea for the Army to research what different skills women could contribute to the combat situation and develop a role more suited to those skills? Maybe a woman would be more lethal than a man in a sniper capacity or in specialist groups, where the unique bonding women are capable of achieving can be harnessed in pursuit of a more lethal end. Who knows, perhaps women are the ideal covert ops candidates? It really isn't a level playing field!

The deciding factor in battle isn't always just physical strength. I feel women do have a place as front line soldiers... just not mixed in with the guys or both groups fail to realise their potential.
Martin, Canada

I got sick and tired of being nominated to wash the cups

Mandy, UK
I left the Army in 1992, taking with me skills they were crying out for. I just got sick and tired of being nominated to wash the cups, serve drinks at the Colonels' tete-a-tetes and the expectation to be the evening entertainment (yes, that does mean what you think it does) and then suffering because I refused all the time. Until there are workable routes for reporting minor sexual harassment/prejudice while serving the Army will never be the career choice for intelligent women.
Mandy, UK

A lot of women will never make the grade. I think you should just leave it to the boys... same way we never see mixed professional football or boxing. I'm not saying that women shouldn't try but they have to accept the mentality will be hard to change. It will be an uphill struggle all the way... the ego is a very hard thing to squash.
Sarah, Glasgow

I'm a woman who did a career tour in America's army. Yes, there were some problems dealing with the old fashioned 'macho' attitude but we learned to deal with it by not accepting it anymore. That 'boys will be boys' attitude is no longer acceptable. It takes a conscience effort by all parties, individuals and units, commanders and subordinates but it can be done.
Janet Pearson, USA

She was a better shot than most of us

Nick, Canada
I spent seven years in the forces in Canada where on long marches the men were expected to distribute the women's loads amongst us. It didn't take long for resentment to begin to show. In fairness there was one woman who was having none of that and she won our respect (she was also a better shot than most of us) but by and large it was drag. The problems of sexual harassment were no more widespread that in any other large organisation I have worked for since.
Nick, Canada

The reason it's taking so long for women to be integrated in the armed forces is at times like these you have mothers as well as single mothers and it wouldn't be feasible to send them to war or out of area, so it falls on the men. This is where the resentment builds up after all if they join up they should be able to do all aspects of the job.
Sandra, UK

Let me assure Sandra there are very many mothers among the US troops - regular, reserve and National Guard - that are currently being deployed overseas. The US military clearly doesn't think that it is unfeasible. In an all-volunteer military no one, male or female, has any business being there if they are unwilling to accept the duties that they signed up to - one of which is being posted either elsewhere or into a combat zone.
Jane, UK living in US

I've friends who are soldiers (men and women) and am seriously thinking of joining up. All are good at their jobs. The criteria should be, can the soldier (male or female) do the job? If they can, they should paid the same regardless of their sex. If they can't do it, they should be kicked out, regardless of their sex.
Ian Richmond, Korea (UK ex-pat)

They are far more likely to become over emotional

Rich, UK
I am in the Navy and can tell you as FACT that mixed combat units are less effective. I have seen ships with hugely damaged morale and weak teamwork largely as a result of the inevitable sexual tension. Most of the women I have worked with know that in any situation they don't like, they are far more likely to become over emotional, which generally brings out the protective instinct in their male colleagues. We are not talking about an office job here. You cannot compromise combat effectiveness for the sake of political correctness.
Rich, UK

I spent 18 years in the Army and saw life with and without women. FACT - without women overstretch would be totally unmanageable. FACT - some women are good at their jobs, some ain't. FACT - hormones are a fact of life, sex does get in the way of work, one way or the other due to men as well as women.
Tom Millar, UK

I was in the Royal Engineers for eight years, and didn't meet one female who could do the work of a male soldier. When on exercise in the field they had to have special transport to take them into camp for showers every week due to hygiene, which caused strain on resources, and resentment from the men.

They are generally not as fit and cannot lift the same equipment but expect the same pay which also causes resentment. If a male soldier couldn't do the work, he would be thrown out, but if a woman can't it's sexist to suggest it's because she is a woman.
Kye, England

Women should be able to work well in mixed units with men, provided that they are in non-combat roles. For women wishing to serve in combat units, the Army should set up segregated all-female units, as has been done in the Soviet and Israeli armies historically.
Tim, UK

I think less women are actually interested in joining the army, so if anyone is waiting for a 50-50 mix of men and women in the ranks, they might have a long wait. I am a male nurse, and I'm sure I've faced the same thing during my training and career. I think a 50-50 mix in nursing is unlikely too.
Joga Singh, Wales

I don't see why women shouldn't be part of our country's defence. As long as the men aren't distracted, what is the problem?
Rick, UK

I have been in the RLC Territorial Army for four years now, and can truthfully say that I have not felt restricted or discriminated against in any way for being a woman. Now as an officer, I am establishing myself as a leader, and have the support of the largely-male contingent my unit.
Philippa Wilson, England

Surely armed forces are MEANT to have a macho culture?

Stephen Hocking, UK
Err, surely armed forces are MEANT to have a macho culture? We can't ask anyone to fight, and maybe be injured or die, except in the most effective armed forces possible. That has to be the number one priority. The armed forces exist, ultimately, to fight, not to provide career opportunities.
Stephen Hocking, UK

The sexual tension caused by having women in the group would weaken it, maybe some people will blame men for that but it's just the way things are. Even Israel (which had women in its combat regiments) has scaled this back massively, because it just never works in practice. Do we want the army to do the job or do we want PC? At the end of the day it's lives that are at stake, so please spare us the liberal babble.
Huw Morgan, UK

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |