This chapter explores the personal/political dynamics involved when women attempt to enter a hyper-masculine professional arena, in this case the United States Navy. The study is concerned with the various ways that women naval officers ‘do’ gender and how they negotiate their professional identities within the gender regime of the US Navy, an environment that is traditionally populated with men and marked as a site for the display of a dominant masculinity. As this chapter illustrates, although the women naval officers find themselves subjected to at times quite oppressive and marginalizing behaviour by male colleagues, the women do deploy strategies of resistance as forms of coping behaviour. However, the consequence of being located on the periphery of the organizational culture while expected to at all times demonstrate assimilation within it, means that the woman naval officer can never fully expedite her professionalism without gender being an ever-present variable. The ability to ‘be professional’ in the US Navy requires, for women officers, the ability to adapt to a hyper-masculine culture; always being prepared to accommodate oppressive masculine behaviour while having the skills to negotiate their membership of a professional community of which they are, a priori, placed as outsiders.
Following discussion of the research method and methodology, I will present a brief overview of the theory of masculine hegemony and Connell’s (1987) concept of the gender order as a theoretical framework for understanding gender ideologies. The chapter then discusses the relationships between notions of professionalism and masculinity before proceeding to describe the formal and informal barriers to women assuming professional identifications as US naval officers. Following this, the chapter details three gender strategies that the women naval officers draw upon to negotiate their membership of the military.
The chapter draws on part of a larger study of the experiences of male and female naval officers undertaken by several researchers over a three year period.