Gender, Race And Class In The Military to Be Explored In New Course

Release Date: January 8, 1998 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Undergraduates at the University at Buffalo will be examining the United States armed services as a social institution this semester in a new seminar called "Race, Class and Gender in the U.S. Military."

Brenda Moore, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, plans to use sociological concepts, theories and methods to analyze the internal organization and practices of the armed forces and the relationships between the military and other institutions.

Among the topics to be discussed, she said, are recent congressional hearings and military policies regarding race relations, women in combat, sexual harassment and quality-of-life issues related to military personnel. The course also will address the effects of streamlining and downsizing on military life and structure.

Moore is uniquely qualified to teach the course. She served six years in the U.S. Army as an equal opportunity specialist and recently was appointed to the Department of Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. She also is the author of "To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race," the story of the only group of African-American women who served overseas in the Women's Army Corps during World War II.

Moore pointed out that just as American society has undergone tremendous change in the decades following the second world war, so have the roles of women and minorities in the military, sped by the civil-rights and women's movements.

"We need to remember, however," Moore said, "that the military services, like other social organizations, have institutionalized practices once rooted in the racist 'Jim Crow laws' and now reflected in patriarchal ideas about the proper 'place' of women."

She acknowledged that many African-American men have risen to positions of high military rank, but said it is in part because their representation in the military is far greater than their representation in American society as a whole.

"Discriminatory and exclusionary practice isn't always overt," Moore added. "It can be subtle and still be pervasive and damaging. Racist laws and military regulations are no longer on the books, so race discrimination is no longer publicly sanctioned. It continues on a personal level, however, through biased supervisors who can severely alter a soldier's career using such weapons as an 'Article 15,' a non-judicial punishment that results in pay deduction and a reduction in grade. So, on a formal basis, racism is forbidden but on an informal basis, it is still practiced in the services.

"For women, the situation is different and worse," she added. "It is worse because discrimination is both formal and informal. The military is a defense organization, so success is measured in terms of combat experience -- one has to have combat experience to rise to the top. Since women aren't legally allowed to serve in combat, standard routes of advancement are legally closed to them."

"So as military policy stands," she said, "women are restricted in their military roles specifically because they are women and therefore suffer the consequences because they are women."

She noted that women also are kept from advancing into non-combat support positions.

"In the services, a certain number of support positions must be available at all times so that combat troops can rotate into those positions," she said. "If women are not allowed to take combat roles, then those support positions (linked to combat roles) are also not available to them.

"The military is only 14 percent women right now, in part because the armed services limit attractive educational and employment opportunities for intelligent, strong, ambitious women," she pointed out.

Moore said topics her new course will examine include the military as an avenue of upward mobility and the consequences of its employment practices on different social groups and classes.

"I want to give the Department of Defense credit for being among the first institutions to offer equal pay for equal work to minorities and women," she added, "but if women continue to be excluded from certain military occupations, then they will not be able to compete for the highest military ranks on an equal basis with men."

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