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Not a Woman, but a Soldier: Exploring Identity through Translocational Positionality


Recent debate over integrating women into U.S. military combat units presents an opportunity to examine the gender identities and experiences of women in the military. Here, we examine the context-dependent prominence of intersecting identities including work role and gender ascribed to female soldiers in Special Operations. Using a mixed methods approach, based on 28 focus groups with 198 soldiers and a survey conducted with 1701 men and 214 women, we argue that female soldiers’ experiences refute their male colleagues’ assumptions regarding their ability to serve in combat units. The experience of identity in the workplace is different for men and women because women experience fluidity in their identity depending on with whom they are interacting and where interactions occur, whereas men experience and understand gender identity as a fixed, static trait. Although women experience the fluidity of their gender identity based on context, their male colleagues remain oblivious to the contextual nature of gender identity while also maintaining their authority in policing the boundaries of gender in the military context. Our research adds nuance to literature on identity, demonstrating the fluctuating nature of ascribed identity, which shines light on the socially constructed, artificial barriers to women’s ascension in the workplace.

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This research was funded by the Army Research Institute, ARO Contract W911NF-11-1-0035, through the Office of Graduate Military Programs at the University of Kansas, Co-investigators were Alesha Doan, Donald Haider-Markel, and Shannon Portillo; and The Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City, Co-Investigators Shannon Portillo and Alesha Doan. The authors’ names are listed alphabetically for this manuscript. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback. We also greatly appreciate the guidance provided from the editorially team, particularly Dr. Yoder. 

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Correspondence to Alesha E. Doan.

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Alesha Doan, Shannon Portillo and Don Haider-Markel received approval to conduct the focus groups and surveys presented in this project from the Human Subjects Committee University of Kansas, Lawrence Campus. The approval number is HSCL #00,000,262.

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Doan, A.E., Portillo, S. Not a Woman, but a Soldier: Exploring Identity through Translocational Positionality. Sex Roles 76, 236–249 (2017).

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  • Gender identity
  • Workplace
  • Integration
  • Sexism
  • Gender fluidity
  • Military
  • Translocational positionality