Women in the United States Military: Protectors and Protected? The Case of Prisoner of War Melissa Rathbun-Nealy

TitleWomen in the United States Military: Protectors and Protected? The Case of Prisoner of War Melissa Rathbun-Nealy
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1999
AuthorsNantais, Cynthia, and Martha F. Lee
JournalJournal of Gender Studies
Volume8
Issue2
Start Page181
Pagination181-191
Abstract

The 1991 Persian Gulf War provided clear evidence of the continuing military power of the US. It sent over 500,000 troops to that war, a contingent that included the largest group of female personnel the US had ever sent to a military conflict. In the wake of their achievements, many advocates and scholars predicted that the number of women in the military would continue to increase, and that the range of their participation would also expand. This paper examines the role of cultural values and images as they affect women's military roles. It does so by applying Judith Hicks Stiehm's framework of the protector and the protected (traditionally male and female, respectively) to the symbolic meaning and practical experiences of the United States' first female Prisoner of War (POW) in the Gulf War, Melissa Rathbun-Nealy. A female POW presents one of the greatest challenges to society's perception of women's military competency and usefulness. Rathbun-Nealy's capture and imprisonment, the American government's reaction to it, and the media's coverage of these events, therefore reveal much about women's roles in the US military, both during and after the Gulf War. This analysis concludes that women's contributions to the Gulf War may have been exceptional, but that the post-war return to normalcy included a return to the gendered image of women as protected citizens.

URLhttp://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/095892399102698?journalCode=cjgs20
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936825200

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