Emotion Work in the Military

Arlie Hochschild’s theory of emotional labor and emotion management made me think about some of the research I have found for my thesis topic regarding women in the military. The military is a male-dominated institution, and it has been since its creation. Women throughout history have been involved in military efforts for centuries, but their roles have always existed on the margins. They had taken on roles that provided support for the troops. They supplied medical assistance, food and drink, and even prostitution. So, historically, women’s work in the military has been strictly emotional. Their existence as a gender even has provided a source of war propaganda in a sense. The military played into a protector/protected narrative, and turned women into a reason to join and fight.

However, recently, women have been allowed to serve the military in combat roles. They are entering a hyper-masculine territory that basically rejects every part of femininity. The problem with this is the military’s contradictory attitudes toward women. In a New York Times article titled, “While at War, Female Soldiers Fight to Belong,” written by Benedict Carey, interviews with female veterans revealed that the military was sending mixed messages to women in combat. They felt as if they were treated like girls out in the field, but they also weren’t allowed to be women. Entering this hyper-masculine space and having to become sort of androgynous puts a strain on many women serving in combat zones. They are forced to do increased emotional labor to try and find where they belong in their unit. One of the women interviewed for the Times article, Anne, mentions that women who approach their male counterparts in a sisterly fashion, rather than romantically, have an easier time finding their place. She says that a lot of the younger women don’t understand that.

Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, as well as suicide rates, are more prevalent among female veterans than they are in men. This is in part because women are more likely to feel like they are isolated within their unit, in addition to the extra emotional labor they are providing. Combat roles are already extremely stressful, but adding extra work women are doing makes it needlessly harder for them to be accepted in their units. Isolation and a feeling like they don’t belong may be a factor in the high numbers of reported mental illnesses among women.


One Reply to “Emotion Work in the Military”

  1. I agree the military has been male dominated for years, and a lot of the work that women have done for the military for years has been down played. And it’s great to see women in more combat roles, showing equality. It’s starting to look like society is moving in the right direction


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