Enlisting Masculinity: The Construction of Gender in U.S. Military Recruiting Advertising during the All-Volunteer Force

Enlisting Masculinity: The Construction of Gender in U.S. Military Recruiting Advertising during the All-Volunteer Force

Enlisting Masculinity: The Construction of Gender in U.S. Military Recruiting Advertising during the All-Volunteer Force

Enlisting Masculinity: The Construction of Gender in U.S. Military Recruiting Advertising during the All-Volunteer Force

Synopsis

Enlisting Masculinity explores how the U.S. military branches have deployed gender and, in particular, ideas about masculinity to sell military service to potential recruits. Military service has strong historical ties to masculinity, but conscription ended during a period when masculinity was widely perceived to be in crisis and women's roles were expanding. The central question the book asks is whether, in the era of the all-volunteer force, masculinity is the underlying basis of military recruiting appeals and, if so, in what forms? It also asks how women fit into the gendering of service. Based on an analysis of more than 300 print advertisements published between the early 1970s and 2007, as well as television commercials, recruiting websites, and media coverage of recruiting, the book argues that masculinity is still a foundation of the appeals, but each branch deploys various constructions of masculinity that serve its particular personnel needs and culture, with conventional martial masculinity being only one among them. While the Marines rely almost exclusively on a traditional, warrior form of masculinity, the Army, Navy, and Air Force draw on various strands of masculinity that are in circulation in the wider culture. The inclusion of a few token women in recruiting advertisements has become routine, but the representations of service make it clear that men are the primary audience and combat is their exclusive domain. Although most Americans believe they can ignore the military in the era of the all-volunteer force, when it comes to popular culture and ideas about gender, the military is not a thing apart from society, and military recruiting materials are implicated in our broader conceptions of masculinity and of military service.

Excerpt

This book was inspired by a TV commercial. In early 1999, the U.S. Air Force was gearing up for Operation Allied Force. The United States had warned Serb leader Slobodan Milosević that if ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians didn’t cease, his military would be bombed by NATO forces. While serving Air Force pilots were on the verge of combat, American television stations began showing a recruiting commercial for the Air Force. Facing recruiting shortfalls, the Air Force was paying for television airtime for the first time in its history. The ad’s focus on personal growth and fulfillment—young people were asking themselves what or who they wanted to be—was entirely disconnected from the impending military action by the Air Force. The commercial’s portrayals also seemed far removed from the traditional masculine ideal of the warrior. The strong, heroic fighters of a World War II-era recruiting poster wouldn’t recognize the kids in the Air Force commercial as brothers in arms. In the preceding decades, the U.S. military lost a war, Congress abolished the draft, Americans stopped thinking of military service as an obligation of male citizenship, and gender had become a contentious issue for the armed forces. In this context, the military branches have struggled with the question of how to depict themselves to convince potential recruits to enlist.

Military service has strong historical ties to masculinity and the transformation of boys into men. In the early 1970s, in the period when the U.S. military was making the transition to an all-volunteer force (AVF), masculinity was widely considered to be in crisis. Key elements of this crisis included the challenges to men’s roles and male privileges by the women’s movement; the loss of good-paying, blue-collar industrial jobs that gave working-class men status, economic independence, and the ability to support a family; and the loss of the Vietnam War. So, at the very moment when the military needed to begin finding ways to entice young people, and mainly young men, into military service, a key . . .

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