“It is possible, reading standard histories to forget half of the population of the country. The explorers were men, the landholders and merchants men, the political leaders men, the military figures men. The very invisibility of women, the overlooking of women, is a sign of their submerged status.” – Howard Zinn
Sex is determined exclusively by physical and biological characteristics. There are actually three distinct sexes – male (defined by male traits), female (defined by female traits) and intersex (defined by both male and female traits).
Gender is the expression of one’s social role and identity on a continuum that ranges from masculine to feminine. For example, some men identify more with female identity and women who identify more with a male identity.
Transgender people are those whose gender is not consistent with their sex. They are barred from serving in the US military. Those who are already in the military are required to hide their gender identity and cannot seek to alter their sex without being discharged.
Women represent about 20% of the armed forces in the United States. This is true both in enlisted and commissioned ranks. While most men pursue full careers in the military, the vast majority of women do not. This is true despite focused efforts to improve retention rates for women. While no concrete answer exists, it’s quite possible that it stems from their discomfort and lack of acceptance in the hyper masculine culture that defines many branches of the military.
Promoting policies that mandate the inclusion of women and transgendered persons in military service as well as policies that protect them are necessary in transforming the male-dominated military culture. For example, one in three women in the military will experience sexual assault during their service. This is twice the rate in civilian society. It’s estimated that 80-90% of these attacks go unreported for a variety of reasons. Only 8% of reported cases even go to trial and 80% of convicted perpetrators receive honorable discharges after their conviction.
Creating a military culture that accepts, supports, protects and even celebrates female and transgender service members is a key to stronger retention, improved cohesiveness and mission readiness.