Written by: Carlos Diaz.
Throughout American history women have been involved in wars. During the American Revolution women held the social roles of supportive mothers, sisters, and provided clothing, other services to soldiers. As time progressed women’s primary social role as supportive members to the warring class changed to a social role of care-providing nurses and many even cross-dressed to serve as soldiers; this change occurred during the Civil War. In World War I the social roles of women varied from physicians to telephone operators. The “Total War” of World War II did push women a little further in terms of the number of women serving in the U.S. military, up to 40,000 service women took part in WWII. But in all of these wars American women held supportive social roles as workers in the American industry, nurses, cloth laundering, combat-less positions in the military.
But these supportive social roles were obstacles for women to hold direct combat roles in the military. Not being able to hold positions in the infantry, artillery and other front-line jobs hindered women’s ability to receive veteran benefits and recognition for their valor. But this changed with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s decisions to overturn the Pentagon’s ban on women holding combat roles. Although throughout many years and U.S. wars women had served side by side with men, the ban on women serving in combat positions remained. For example in Iraq and Afghanistan many servicewomen were forced into combat even though the hierarchy of the military did not consider them combatants. Panetta’s decisions to overturn the combat exclusion rule can allow women to further their careers since higher paying and more important positions are often found in the front-line jobs of the U.S. military. This landmark decision has the potential to continue the expansion of women’s social roles in war.
The social roles of American women in conflict and in wars has expanded throughout years and various conflicts, the United States has gone through. From originally being limited to supportive roles, American women are now becoming leaders within the military social structure. With the prospect of the erasure of the exclusion rule the social roles of women during war can only continue to expand.