Camouflage Isn't Only for Combat

Gender, Sexuality, and Women in the Military

208 pages

August, 2000

ISBN: 9780814735480



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MELISSA S. HERBERT is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Hamline University in Minnesota.

All books by Melissa S. Herbert

Drawing on surveys and interviews with almost 300 female military personnel, Melissa Herbert explores how women's everyday actions, such as choice of uniform, hobby, or social activity, involve the creation and re-creation of what it means to be a woman, and particularly a woman soldier. Do women feel pressured to be "more masculine," to convey that they are not a threat to men's jobs or status and to avoid being perceived as lesbians? She also examines the role of gender and sexuality in the maintenance of the male-defined military institution, proposing that, more than sexual harassment or individual discrimination, it is the military's masculine ideology--which views military service as the domain of men and as a mechanism for the achievement of manhood--which serves to limit women's participation in the military has increased dramatically. In the wake of armed conflict involving female military personnel and several sexual misconduct scandals, much attention has focused on what life is like for women in the armed services. Few, however, have examined how these women negotiate an environment that has been structured and defined as masculine.


  • "Seen through Herbert's sharply focused analytical lens, the military is a socio-historical bastion of masculinity. Military service is a rite of passage into masculinity, a sort of ‘finishing school' for men. In addition to questions of ability, women who join the service are suspected of gender transgressions. These management strategies reveal much about how the military controls gender and sexuality."

    —Jodi O'Brien,, Seattle University

  • "Looks at how women in the armed forces deal with perceived conflicts between femininity and being a good soldier through active strategies that accentuate or play down perceptions of masculinity and femininity. . . . Goes a long way toward showing how this distorting pressure impedes the true integration of women and men."


  • "Working with interview data and with 285 surveys completed by veterans and active-duty personnel, Herbert shows how military women often adjust their language, dress, hairstyles, comportment, activities, and other characteristics in an effort to shape how they are perceived."

    The Chronicle of Higher Education

  • "The book would serve as a valuable undergraduate text to introduce students to martial gender issues."

    Sexualities 4