Ethnicity and Gender in Militaries: An
In 1980, Cynthia Enloe published Ethnic Soldiers: State Security in Divided Societies,
a path-breaking book that argued that the elites shape military personnel policy in
ethnically divided societies, according to an ‘ethnic state security map’.This‘map’
distinguishes between loyal ethnic groups and those whose loyalty to the state is in
question. Adopting a critical perspective that shattered the view of the military as a
mechanism for social integration, Enloe showed that militaries exploit ethnic
identities for their own needs while also creating and recreating ethnic groups.
Several years later, Enloe published Does Khaki Become You (1983),
a second trailblazing book that examined the status of women in militaries in
particular, and militaristic societies in general. This book, which marked the
beginning of Enloe’s prolonged interest in the relationship between gender
and militarization processes, served as a beginning point for intensive research
on gender and the military worldwide over the following decades.
However, for the most part these two bodies of knowledge, both on ethnicity
and on gender in the military, have not related to each other. Ethnicized
or racialized soldiers have been analysed as gender-uniﬁed groups primarily
comprised only of men, and men or women have also been studied as uniﬁed
groups, shaped by their ‘common gender identity’. This decoupling of gender
and ethnicity in studies of the military is surprising, taking into account that
intersectional analysis has been dominant in both gender and race/ethnicity
research since the early 1990s (Collins 1990; Crenshaw 1991). Therefore, my
aim in this chapter is to ﬁrst argue for the necessity of intersectional analysis of
the military, and, second, to explore, via a reading of current research, how
gender and race/ethnicity intersect in constructing the social architecture of
O. Sasson-Levy (*)
Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel
© The Author(s) 2017
R. Woodward, C. Duncanson (eds.), The Palgrave International Handbook
of Gender and the Military, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-51677-0_8
Iﬁrst will argue that militaries are never organized by gender or by race/
ethnicity alone. Militaries are always designed by the intersection of race/
ethnicity and gender, and at the same time, they create ethno-gendered groups
and identities. These ethno-gendered categories, which are either constructed
or reafﬁrmed through military personnel policies, are comprised of individuals
who experience their military service in different ways, have differential con-
vertible power of the military’s symbolic and material resources following their
discharge (MacLean and Elder 2007), and hold differential relations with the
institution of citizenship (Peterson 2010; Enloe 2014; Lomsky-Feder and
Speciﬁcally, I claim that race/ethnicity-gender intersectionality operates
differently for men and women of different social groups. Though this argu-
ment employs the language of ‘men and women’as coherent groups, this is
not done in order to obliterate the importance of intersectional analysis, but
only as a framework within which intersectional analysis can be elaborated.
Let me explain.
The nation-state is based on the self-sacriﬁce of those who fought for it,
and thus death and violence lie at the heart of modern nation-states (Marvin
and Ingle 1999). The military is the institution that is granted the state’s
monopolized legitimacy to apply lethal power; thus, violence is constitutive
of the military. Violence is not only directed against those deﬁned as external
enemies, but is also directed internally, towards men and women soldiers
themselves. It is always gendered and often connected to masculinity and
masculinist cultures. Indeed, militaries are perceived as masculine institutions
not only because they are comprised mostly of men, but also because they
constitute a major arena for the construction of masculine identities through
violent rites of passage (Barrett 1996;Higate2003;Sasson-Levy2008).
Militarized violence and war have been associated with men for centuries,
whilewomenwereassociatedwiththejustiﬁcation for war (Nagel and Fietz
2007). Violent sacriﬁce under state discipline in the name of the nation is
understood as the essential criterion for ﬁrst class citizenship and has been
imagined in many nation-states to be a masculine domain (Enloe 1994).
Thus, even with today’s increase in the number of women enlisting, women
still constitute a numerical and social minority in the service. Most militaries
still preserve a gendered division of labour, and develop formal and non-
formal ways to resist changes in their gender regime. The military can, then,
be analysed as an ‘Extremely Gendered Organization’(Sasson-Levy 2011)
that privileges men and masculinity.
In this type of organization, the military not only welcomes men from
different social groups, but seeks them out. The military will recruit men
regardless of their social group; citizens, non-citizens,
immigrants, or members
of both majority and minority groups –all are welcome (there are few excep-
tions to this rule, as I will point out later). For men, the intersection with
ethnicity marks their location within the military hierarchy; it determines the
jobs they will be assigned and their proximity to the military core of combat.
126 O. SASSON-LEVY
For women, on the other hand, the intersection with ethnicity (and religi-
osity, as I will later show) often signiﬁes whether they will be inside or outside of
the military organization. Floya Anthias and Nira Yuval-Davis (1989) noted
that women are often designated to be signiﬁers of ethnic/national differences.
In order to ensure that women fulﬁl their role as bearers of cultural differences,
the intersection of gender and ethnicity is often leveraged by various commu-
nities to discipline and supervise women (in the name of modesty, or to keep
them in caretaking roles, for example), and to exclude them from the public
sphere, especially when it comes to military service. Thus, in some militaries
men of minority groups will enlist, but for women of the same groups, military
service is perceived as taboo. In such militaries, only the ‘non-ethnic’,‘modern’
white women enlist. In other militaries, labour market dynamics will be more
important in explaining patterns of military service, and only lower-class min-
ority women will enlist, while white middle-class women will not perceive the
military as a viable option for them. In either case, it is the unique intersection of
gender and ethnicity that determines whether women will be inside or outside
the boundaries of the military, and it shapes their sense of belonging to the
nation state accordingly. Hence, the organization of military service reproduces
social hierarchies according to complicated lines of ethnicity/race and gender.
I open this chapter with a brief theoretical review of the research on ethnicity
and military, and on gender and military, and will follow with the argument for
intersectional analysis. I then look at the small but growing body of research
that employs intersectional analysis to examine both the US and Israeli mili-
taries in order to demonstrate its analytic productiveness.
RACE/ETHNICITY AND THE MILITARY
The research regarding ethnicity and the military can be divided into two
approaches. The ﬁrst approach tended to be functionalist, seeing the military
as a central mechanism for modernization, cohesion and social integration
(Janowitz 1976). This approach, which was common to both state leaders
and scholars of military sociology, often described the military as a ‘melting
pot’or ‘people’s army’to connote the institution’s integrative functions. State
leaders believed that by obliging (mostly) men of different social groups to
serve together and ﬁght together, the military will ‘breach all ethnic, class and
background barriers’(Ben-Gurion 1957: 212). Thus, the military will not only
serve as the ‘school of the nation’(Leander 2004), but will facilitate social
solidarity which is a main interest of the nation state. This contention was
especially common among scholars who studied the rise of the nation states in
developing countries following decolonization, who perceived the military as
an ‘institution of modernization, nation-building and socialization par excel-
lence’(Dietz et al. 1991: 8).
This approach was common in the literature regarding developed countries as
well. Stouffer et al. (1949), author of the seminal research on the American
soldier, argued that the more contact white soldiers had with black troops, the
ETHNICITY AND GENDER IN MILITARIES: AN INTERSECTIONAL ANALYSIS 127
more favourable their reaction towards racial integration. Following his argu-
ment, research on race relations in the US military documented the abolishment
of racial segregation in American troops by President Harry Truman in 1948,
and the increase in the numbers of African American soldiers in the military after
the establishment of the All-Volunteer Forces (AVF) (Butler 1992). In 1992,
African Americans composed 30 per cent of the enlisted force (Moskos 1993)
and the over-representation of blacks in the military, particularly in armed
combat forces, became a problem in itself (Butler 1992). Though scholars
agreed that ‘the army is still no racial utopia’(Moskos 1993:88),therewasa
tendency to conclude that race relations in the US military were more positive
than that found on most college campuses, or in civilian labour markets (ibid.).
This integrative approach, based on the contact hypothesis, was somewhat
modiﬁed, but not forsaken, by the current term of ‘diversity management’,
rooted in the liberal idea of multi-culturalism (Dansby et al. 2001; McDonald
and Parks 2012; Soeters and van der Mulen 1999). In essence, the ‘melting
pot’ideal was a policy of assimilation, as it positioned a ‘standard soldier’as a
model that individuals of all social groups should emulate. The diversity
management policy, on the other hand, does not seek to unify the forces, but
rather to contain cultural differences within the military. This policy, which
became prevalent in most western militaries, stems ﬁrst and foremost from an
acute shortage of potential human resources that resulted from the shift from
conscript to AVF. The decline in armies’recruitment rates and legitimacy made
it necessary for them to turn to populations that had not been enlisted in the
past, facilitating a process of inclusivity in terms of gender, race, ethnicity and
class (Haltiner 1998). At the same time, racial, gendered and ethnic groups
that had now become enlisted, proclaimed the power of identity in the army
and demanded not only equal opportunities but also cultural recognition.
Finally, policies of diversity management reﬂect militaries’need to create and
preserve sufﬁcient legitimacy among their stakeholders and cannot ignore the
claim for identity, even within this allegedly universalistic institution.
Though ‘diversity management’certainly recognizes cultural and gendered
differences, its main worry is how to maintain cultural differences without
harming military effectiveness. The main argument for diversity management
is that ‘an inclusive environment will enable the military to effectively capitalize
on the diverse talents and strength of the current workforce members’
(McDonald and Parks 2012: 1). As diversity is viewed as critical to mission
readiness and national security, most of this literature offers organizational
analysis, and emphasizes recommendations for ‘how to’employ diversity man-
agement. Interestingly, though this literature is very current, it preserves the
separation between gender issues and race/class issues within the military, and
does not look at their intersections at all.
The functionalist approach was shattered by Cynthia Enloe (1980), who, as
mentioned earlier, offered a critical view of the relations of militaries and ethni-
city. Enloe would probably argue that the assertion that armies are mechanisms
for social integration, or organizations preserving cultural pluralism, is a myth
128 O. SASSON-LEVY
created and maintained by state elites. Instead, Enloe asserted that in ethnically
divided societies, the state elite shapes the military’s human resources policy
according to an ‘ethnic state security map’(1980:15–22). This map distin-
guishes between dominant ethnic groups that are positioned at the core of the
military, and those whose loyalty to the state is questioned and are therefore
placed at the margins of the military, or are excluded from service altogether.
Through its recruitment, assignment and promotion policies, the state leverages
and manipulates ethnicity with an aim to mobilize armies, maintain its authority,
and to preserve the existing political order. Hence, militaries do not serve as
mechanisms for integration, but rather they stratify among different ethnic
groups by employing ethno-class divisions and reproducing them.
Enloe’s work was followed by additional critical scholars who viewed the
military from a conﬂict perspective. Yagil Levy (1998)addedtoEnloe’s
analysis the material dimension that is so crucial to the examination of social
inequalities. For Levy, the most critical variable is convertibility, which is the
ability of groups to convert the power they acquire in military service into
valuable social positions in the civilian sphere. Levy argued that in highly
militarized societies, when a dominant group is able to convert effectively its
legitimately established privileged position in the military into social dom-
inance outside the military, the military functions as a state mechanism
involved in the reproduction of (ethnic or class) inequality. Therefore, Levy
views the military as a battle ground for disadvantaged groups who aspire to
improve their civic status through military service, which will signify their full
participation in the institution of citizenship. Today, most sociologists of the
military agree that militaries tend to reﬂect the cleavages, stratiﬁcations, class
relationship and biases that are present in society as a whole, and do not play a
major role as an integrating device, neither in developing nor in developed
countries (Dietz et al. 1991; Burk and Espinoza 2012).
However, this body of research on race/ethnicity and the military, while
very rich theoretically, methodologically and empirically, maintained a uniﬁed
view of ethnic groups as consisting of one gender only –that of men. This
couldeasilybeexplainedbythehistorical context of the research, when only
men were drafted to state militaries, but is a bit more difﬁcult to accept today,
when women of various ethnic/racial groups are enlisting in greater numbers
GENDER AND MILITARY
Following early sociological research that was exclusively male focused (Stouffer
et al. 1949), feminist research questioned women’s military under-representation
and the hyper-masculine culture of military forces (Enloe 1988;Stiehm1989). In
turn, liberal feminist (Katzenstein 1998; Peach 1996;Stiehm1989) and radical
feminist (Enloe 1988; Peterson and Runyan 2010) approaches posed very different
arguments about women’s military participation (see also Duncanson, Chapter 3,
this volume). However, both approaches looked at women as if they constituted a
ETHNICITY AND GENDER IN MILITARIES: AN INTERSECTIONAL ANALYSIS 129
homogenous group. Second wave feminism, which represented mostly white
middle class women, was inﬂuential and reﬂected minimal awareness of racial or
class differences among women.
This uniﬁed approach to gendered identities changed, interestingly, with the
study of male soldiers as men, from a gendered perspective (Barrett 1996;
Morgan 1994). The study of militarized masculinities was deeply inﬂuenced by
Connell’stheory(1995), which centres on relations between hegemonic and
non-hegemonic masculinities. Here, the basic assumption is that in the military,
the combat soldier embodies hegemonic masculinity, which is perceived as
emblematic of good citizenship (Lomsky-Feder and Ben-Ari 1999). Men and
women soldiers in various military roles shape their identity through an ongoing
dialogue with the identity of the combat soldier, a dialogue that consists of both
emulation and resistance (Sasson-Levy 2002). The combat soldier is thus situated
at the top of an ‘identity pyramid’that reﬂects and reproduces social stratiﬁcation,
shaped by the intersection of gender, race, class, ethnicity and sexuality.
The intersectional approach led scholars to examine ethnic performances of
masculinity in the army (Kachtan 2012), the construction of masculinities in
various (including non-combat) military roles (Barrett 1996; Sasson-Levy
2002), perceptions of masculinities among immigrant soldiers (Lomsky-
Feder and Rapoport 2003), obstacles standing in the way of gay soldiers
(Belkin 2012), and the construction of masculinities among peacekeeping
forces (Higate and Henry 2004).
Thus, it is quite surprising that the research on women soldiers still views
them as a homogenous group, uniﬁed by its difference from men (e.g., Winslow
and Dunn 2002; Kümmel 2002; Heinecken 2002; Carreiras, 2006), and much
research continues to distinguish between questions of gender and issues of
race/ethnicity in the military.
STUDYING THE MILITARY FROM AN INTERSECTIONALITY PERSPECTIVE
As opposed to academic research, those responsible for the development of
military personnel strategy never perceived men or women as homogenous
groups. Rather, criteria of social class, education, age, region, religious afﬁlia-
tion, sexuality, race and ethnicity, have each been weighed by those who design
recruitment strategy (Enloe 2014).
If the intersection of gender and race determines men and women’s military
assignments, it is crucial to research the military from an intersectional
approach. Intersectionality theory, which originated in black feminism, claims
that subjects are always situated at the intersection of several axes of power and
simultaneously experience several basic systems of inequality –primarily gender,
class, race or ethnicity, and sexuality (Collins 1990). The research that followed
called for the recognition of multiply marginalized groups and focused on
giving voice to the oppressed (Choo and Ferree 2010). Intersectionality analysis
provides us with a more complex and nuanced understanding of the military
service experience of men and women of different social groups.
130 O. SASSON-LEVY
Moreover, intersectional analysis is more appropriate for scrutinizing the
relationship between gender and the military today, because since the mid-
1990s the gender regime of Western militaries has undergone major changes.
The shift to professional armies resulted in a dramatic increase in women’s
enlistment rates and the integration of women in roles that were previously
considered to be ‘masculine’(Haltiner 1998; Burk and Espinoza 2012). The
increased integration of women into Western forces was hastened by a series of
supra-national developments, such as the ruling of the European Court of
Justice (2000) that EU countries must implement gender egalitarian recruit-
ment policies and grant women access to all military positions; UN Resolution
1325 that acknowledges the importance of assimilating a gendered approach in
peace making and conﬂict resolution; and NATO’s adoption of a gender main-
streaming approach (see also Hurley, Chapter 25, this volume). The last stage in
this process was the declaration of the US Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter
on December 2015 that all jobs in the US forces, including all combat roles, will
be open to women.
These dramatic changes in women’s place in the military were driven also by
the change in the mission of militaries, from that of conventional wars to
situations of guerrilla conﬂicts, unconventional threats, peace-keeping opera-
tions, and the policing of civilian populations. Modern warfare is characterized
by new combat strategies that emphasize hi-tech ‘smart’weapons, remote-
controlled technological combat, expanded intelligence-gathering and com-
puting, and cyber-warfare (King 2006). Militaries now demand a more edu-
cated workforce, and since in many countries women graduate high school and
college at higher rates than men, militaries have become especially active in
recruiting more women (Enloe 2007). Thus, intersectional analysis is necessary
from the perspectives of both the soldiers and the organization. Women or men
cannot be generalized in regard to their motives to enlist, their military roles or
their military experience. Similarly, the military can no longer be analysed as a
binary gender-based structure.
Intersectional analysis requires new research questions, new research tools,
and new perspectives on the social structure. Instead of asking what men or
what women do in the military, the critical question is ‘Who serves where?’Why
are some groups of women tracked into clerical positions and others into
prestigious training roles? Why are some ethno-class groups of men tracked
into intelligence roles while others become combat soldiers? What is the sub-
jective experience of each gendered and classed group during military service?
Who gains from the gender/class structure of the military, who loses and how is
this structure maintained?
There are, of course, some criticisms of intersectionality theory, and the way
it is applied in social research. First, there is always the danger of reiﬁcation of
social groups, portraying them as uniﬁed and stable (McCall 2005). Sylvia
Walby et al. (2012) suggests that rather than using concepts that offer connota-
tions of uniﬁed blocks (e.g., ‘category’), the focus should be on unequal social
relations and dynamic social forces. Therefore, researchers should explore
ETHNICITY AND GENDER IN MILITARIES: AN INTERSECTIONAL ANALYSIS 131
racialization rather than race, and gendering processes rather than gendered
categories. Second, in its focus on disadvantaged groups, the ‘traditional’
perception of intersectionality neglects the analysis of the effects of power
relations on dominant categories (Walby et al. 2012). By avoiding the study
of privileged groups, categories such as whiteness and masculinity are left
unmarked and serve as the norm against which the oppressed groups are
measured (Choo and Feree 2010). Indeed, intersectional research should
look at both disadvantaged and privileged groups in the military, as they are
always constructed in relation to each other (see, e.g., Lomsky-Feder and
THE INTERSECTIONAL ARCHITECTURE OF THE MILITARY
As most of the scholarly literature still makes a distinction between gen-
dered and ethnic/racial analysis of the military, only the most recent
and up-to-date research offers an intersectional analysis of the social archi-
tecture of the military. Such analysis allows us to learn how militaries are
stratiﬁed along racial/ethno-gendered lines, and to better understand who
is excluded from the military and why. My argument is that the intersection
of gender, ethnicity and race operates differently for men and women in the
military context: while ethnicity has different meanings and consequences
for men and women, gender carries with it different meanings in different
ethnic or racial groups. Thus, the intersection of gender with ethnicity/
race constitutes various militarized social groups that hold differential
militarized power, and thus different conversion power of military capital
and different positionality in regard to the institution of citizenship. I will
demonstrate this argument in the cases of the US and the Israeli militaries.
The US Armed Forces
Yagil Levy (2007) argued that ‘there is nothing natural about the composition of
the army’. Indeed, looking into the social organization of the US Armed Forces,
it is clear that it is neither ‘natural’nor ﬁxed. Rather, the intersectional structure of
the US military often changes according to many internal and external factors,
such as the militaries’changing criteria for enlistment; changes in the military’s
mission; economic cycles and labour market dynamics (Segal et al. 2007); geo-
political situations such as the prospects of war (Armor 1996;BurkandEspinoza
2012); globalized imposition of gender mainstreaming policies (e.g., the NATO
example mentioned above); and an ongoing process of inﬂuence and emulation
according to a dominant military model among militaries worldwide (Sasson-
Levy 2011; Obradovic 2014).
To demonstrate the dynamic and multi-faceted nature of the ethno-gendered
structure of the US military, one need not go as far back to the American Civil
War. Most of the research begins with the struggle of black men to demonstrate
their worthiness of ﬁrst-class citizenship through participation in American war
132 O. SASSON-LEVY
efforts. Prior to World War II, the US military was still a segregated institution
upholding Jim Crow values. White men served as combat soldiers and ofﬁcers,
while black men served mostly in the rear performing menial labour (Moskos
1993). White women, who were a small minority, served as secretaries and nurses,
while black women served in housekeeping jobs such as cleaning, laundry and
kitchen work (Meyer 1996). Racial segregation was strictly maintained not only
in the division of labour, but also in living quarters and in dining and recreational
During World War II, due to the shortage of combat troops, black men were
given the opportunity to ﬁght alongside white men, and thus proved that
‘segregation is not only unjust but also militarily inefﬁcient’(Moskos 1993:
88; Armor 1996). In 1948 President Harry Truman abolished segregation in
the military and a very gradual process of desegregation began. At the same
time, a 2 per cent ceiling on the number of women in the military was set, and
these women served in administrative, clerical and health-care jobs (Moskos
1993). This ceiling was repealed only in 1967, when women were able to enlist
in greater numbers (Moore 1991). However, following a prolonged history of
male-only participation, the military institutional framework was built on a
foundation of masculinity and the introduction of women into the military
led to pronounced gender polarization (which was illustrated by a string of
sexual harassment scandals (Lundquist 2008).
By 1955, following the Korean War, all military units were racially desegre-
gated, but with 98 per cent male. A signiﬁcant turning point was ending the
draft in 1973, and establishing the AVF. The shift to a professional military
brought about a dramatic increase in the percentages of blacks and women in the
military (Moore 1991; Iskra et al. 2002; Segal 1995). Pressures generated by the
contraction in human resources coincided with the women’s movement’sstrug-
gle for equal rights (Katzenstein 1998) and brought about the integration of
women into military academies (West Point, USAFA, USMA) as early as 1976.
In 1978 Congress abolished the separate women’s auxiliary corps, and women
were given virtually all assignments, with the exception of all combat roles, from
which they were still barred (Moskos 1993). While the number of women in the
military tripled between 1974 (3.3 per cent) and 1989 (10.9 per cent), the
percentage of black women serving in the armed services has increased more than
six fold, from 0.56 per cent in 1974 to 3.7 per cent in 1989, and represented
more than one third of active-duty enlisted women (Moore 1991:363).
Among the army’s enlisted women, black women had signed up and reen-
listed in such extraordinary numbers that on the eve of the ﬁrst Gulf War in the
late 1980s they had become 47 per cent of all enlisted and reenlisted women
soldiers and ofﬁcers, which, proportionally is four times their numbers in
American society as a whole (Enloe 1994). However, research repeatedly points
out that black women in the past as well as in the present continue to confront
the consequences of the ‘double jeopardy’–racism and sexism –in the military,
and are heavily concentrated in low technical occupations of administration and
support (Moore 1991; Segal et al. 2007).
ETHNICITY AND GENDER IN MILITARIES: AN INTERSECTIONAL ANALYSIS 133
Today, women constitute 14 per cent of the US Armed Forces (Carreiras
2015), and the process of gender integration reached a new peak in December
2015 when Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter declared a landmark decision
opening all combat and elite units to women who can meet the requirements.
Similar to gender integration, racial integration has not been a linear process.
Following a decade when it was widely believed that the military was a more
racially egalitarian institution than the civilian labour market, the overrepresen-
tation of blacks among the war dead in Vietnam raised allegations by civil rights
leaders that blacks and the poor were serving as cannon fodder (Burk and
Espinoza 2012). As the questions of representation and the equity of burden
were raised, blacks started to reconsider enlistment (Armor 1996). The criticism
and opposition to the ﬁrst Gulf War by some segments of the black community
have brought about a decline in the number of enlisted black men and women.
The post 9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have further decreased the enthu-
siasm regarding enlistment among blacks. Black men, in particular, have shifted
their preferences for certain military occupations, moving away from service in
combat units towards service in combat support and administrative occupations
that require skills transferable to the civilian labour market (Armor 1996; Burk
and Espinoza 2012).
The armed service branches are making up for the decline in African
Americans’enlistment by recruiting more Hispanics. The rates of enlistment
among Hispanic men and women have more than doubled over the past
20 years. In 2006 the civilian labour force was 17.1 per cent Hispanic, while
only 12.8 per cent of military service members identiﬁed as Hispanic. However,
since not all Hispanic men and women with high-school degrees are citizens or
even legal immigrants, it seems that Hispanics are enlisting and remaining in the
military at rates higher than their share of the labour force who meet the
minimum qualiﬁcations for service (Segal et al. 2007). The assumption was
that only men would enlist from Hispanic communities because of the impor-
tance of traditional cultural norms that call for women to stay at home and take
care of the family. Surprisingly, the representation of Hispanic women among
women soldiers slightly surpassed that of Hispanic men among their gender in
the military. This suggests that labour market dynamics are very important in
explaining patterns of military service, as many young people who cannot afford
to go to college enter the military as a way of gaining marketable skills, ensuring
economic stability and earning money towards a college degree (Kleykamp
2007). The effects of labour market dynamics is most pronounced where racial
or ethnic status, gender and class (measured by education) intersect, deﬁning
doubly or triply disadvantaged people (Segal et al. 2007).
This short portrayal of the intersectional structure of the US military shows
that, as Segal et al. (2007) conclude, the relatively high rates of representation
in the armed forces of high-school educated African Americans (particularly
women) and the increase in enlistment of Hispanics, including women, speaks
to the impact of the intersection of class, gender and race/ethnicity on labour
market dynamics as a key factor in shaping military social organization.
134 O. SASSON-LEVY
The level of satisfaction in the military is also determined by the intersections
of ethnicity, gender and class. Lundquist (2008) found that black women rank
the highest in terms of level of satisfaction, black men rank second highest,
followed by Latinas, and then Latinos. White women fall last, suggesting that
they differ least from white men in their satisfaction with military service.
Lundquist argues that the higher satisfaction among minority soldiers is rooted
in the military’s meritocratic organization. But while the US military invests
much effort in ameliorating racial tensions, it is not investing enough effort in
improving gender relations (e.g., by preventing the epidemic of sexual assault,
and the status of tokenism many women feel due to the fact that they comprise
such a small minority in the organization) (Lundquist 2008). Burk and
Espinoza (2012: 415) are less optimistic, maintaining that ‘Despite efforts to
the contrary, institutional racism can still be detected in the distribution of
goods that are important both to the military and its service members’.
This analysis reveals that intersectionality of race/ethnicity and gender does
not adequately explain the social architecture of the US military. Rather,
research should always consider class, and the intersection of class with ethni-
city and gender, as a major factor that determines who will serve in the military,
who will be assigned to what positions, who will be promoted and how each
soldier will experience his military service. Men and women of the lowest
class who are unable to meet the military’s criteria for acceptance: graduating
high school and passing the Armed Forces Qualiﬁcation Test (Burk and
Espinoza 2012), are excluded from the military and prevented from enjoying
its possible economic and occupational rewards (but, on the other hand, do not
risk their lives in battle). Hence, the organization of the military largely
depends on the level of education provided to the most disadvantaged groups
of society. This has some paradoxical results, as men have a greater propensity
to serve than women (Burk and Espinoza 2012) but in every social group
women are more educated than men (Enloe 2007; Lundquist 2008).
Moreover, the economic factor operates differently for different groups:
African Americans from families with incomes below the poverty line were
more interested in enlisting than whites who were similarly poor. Their interest
was justiﬁed, as in the early 1980s black 17-year-old youths living in poverty
who enlisted did indeed escape poverty by 1990 (Burk and Espinoza 2012).
Thus, in the US, the struggle for full civic participation through military service
is structured by the intersection of class, gender and race/ethnicity, and is very
often determined by levels of education of disadvantaged groups.
The Israeli Military
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) presents itself as a ‘people’s army’(Ben-Eliezer
1995), an egalitarian institution which aims to overcome social cleavages and
conﬂicts. However, if the US military is organized by the intersection of class,
race, and gender, in Israel the most important factor that determines the
boundaries of the military is nationality. Conscription in Israel is mandatory
ETHNICITY AND GENDER IN MILITARIES: AN INTERSECTIONAL ANALYSIS 135
exclusively for Jewish men and women, and for Druze men. Bedouin men can
and often do volunteer to the army. Palestinian citizens of Israel, both Muslims
and Christians, are exempted by law from service, though a very small minority
of Palestinian men do volunteer to serve.
To justify this exemption, the state framed it as a decision stemming from
moral considerations, explaining that it is meant to ensure that Palestinian
citizens of Israel will not need to participate in the tragic situation of ‘their
state ﬁghting against their nation’. However, Yitzhak Reiter (1995), echoing
Enloe’s(1980) concept of an ethnic state security map, claims that the real
reason for the exemption is the perception that Arabs are not loyal to the state,
and that they constitute a security threat. Hence, the boundaries of conscription
roughly reﬂect the boundaries of the Zionist collective in Israel, and not the
boundaries of its citizenry.
But even within the boundaries of conscription, the contradictions in Israeli
military enlistment policy are many. As I will show, it seems as if the military
holds different policies for each national, religious and ethnic group, and
within each of these groups, the intersection with gender determines the
boundaries of enlistment.
Though the military is perceived as a ‘melting pot’(for the Jewish popula-
tion), that is, a mechanism for social integration and solidarity, a number
of Israeli researchers have proposed a critical analysis, asserting that the Israeli
military reproduces the ethnic and class stratiﬁcation of civilian society (Levy
1998). In a ground breaking article, Sami Smooha (1983) claimed that Israel’s
‘people’s army’is actually shaped according to an ‘ethnic state security map’
which places Ashkenazi
men at the centre of the army, and the Mizrahim
periphery. In order to advance within the military, the Mizrahim, who were
under-represented in high-ranking positions, needed to adapt to the Western
norms of the Ashkenazi elite. Thus, Smooha concluded that ethnic stratiﬁcation
in the army ‘apparently works to reproduce ethnic stratiﬁcation, not to break it
down’(Smooha 1983: 19).
Smooha’s argument referred mostly to the vertical ethnic division of labour
(the different prospects of promotion for Mizrahim and Ashkenazim), which
was true to its context of the 1980s. Yagil Levy (2003) concentrated in his work
on the horizontal ethnic division of labour. Levy argued that the ethnic orga-
nization of the Israeli military has changed with cycles of militarization and
demilitarization. Following a cycle of demilitarization of the 1970s to the
1990s, the convertible capital one could accumulate from military service has
declined, and thus investment in military service on the part of middle class
Ashkenazim has decreased. The vacuum created was soon replaced with per-
ipheral groups such as lower class Mizrahim, immigrants and women, who were
striving to gain social capital and national acknowledgement through military
service. Though Levy’s theory has garnered some criticism, the number of
Mizrahim in the military –including in combat roles and senior command
positions –has indeed increased.
136 O. SASSON-LEVY
Nevertheless, the ethnic stratiﬁcation in the military is maintained by an occu-
pational division of labour between soldiers in white-collar roles and soldiers in
blue-collar roles. Soldiers in blue-collar roles are either of lower-class Mizrahi
origin or immigrants from the former SovietUnion.Mostofthesesoldiersare
graduates of vocational high schools and hold various vocational certiﬁcates or
a partial matriculation diploma; some drop out before completing their post-
elementary education. They serve in low-status, labour-intensive positions (e.g.,
car mechanics, drivers and cooks), and cannot convert their military service into
civilian economic or symbolic capital. Soldiers in white-collar roles, on the other
hand, are mostly of middle-class Ashkenazi origin and graduates of superior high
schools in Israel’s urban centres. They serve in prestigious, knowledge-intensive
occupations (e.g., computers, communications or intelligence), and accumulate
social and professional capital that can easily be converted in the civilian market
(Sasson-Levy 2002). This ethno-class division of labour exists among women as
well –women of lower classes serve mostly as secretaries or in menial positions,
while women from the middle class enjoy a wider set of occupational opportu-
nities. Some serve in prestigious feminine roles such as education or welfare
NCO’s, others in less-gendered, white-collar roles (especially in intelligence) and
some in so-called masculine roles such as infantry training or semi-combat soldiers.
Thus, by upholding images of universalism and egalitarianism, the state actually
grants legitimacy to the military’s gendered ethno-class divisions of labour, which
produces and reproduces social hierarchies inside and outside the military.
Other small minority groups have their own arrangements with the military,
emphasizing again the importance of intersectional analysis. One such group is
the Caucasus Jews that come from Azerbaijan and Dagestan, and are one of the
underprivileged Jewish groups in Israel. The men of this group enlist, but are
exempted from doing kitchen duties as it is perceived by them, and accepted by
the army, to be a disgrace to their masculinity. Women of this group do not
enlist at all, because their community sees military service as immodest for
women and as harmful to their chances for marriage.
Religious groups are also divided in their perception of military service: Ultra-
Orthodox (Haredi) men and women, who make up 10 per cent of Israel’s
population, are mostly exempted from service. This is a result of an arrangement
that was established in 1948, ofﬁcially granting deferred entry into the IDF for
yeshiva (religious seminary) students, but in practice allows young Haredi men to
bypass military service altogether. The Knesset (Israel’s parliament) has in recent
years attempted to enforce mandatory conscription on Haredi men, but to no avail.
The leaders of the Haredi community object bitterly to military service, claiming
that they keep the Jewish tradition alive for all of Israel, and that a promiscuous
culture that is not conducive to the Haredi lifestyle prevails in the army. However, a
small number of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) men, today serve in two infantry batta-
lions and two technical air force units. In their case, the military takes it for granted
that Haredi men can only serve in exclusively male units and thus the IDF is willing
to create ‘sterile’(i.e., men only) environments for them (Sasson-Levy 2014).
ETHNICITY AND GENDER IN MILITARIES: AN INTERSECTIONAL ANALYSIS 137
Nationalist Orthodox (or Modern Orthodox), on the other hand, take a
completely opposite position: they not only serve in the military, but see it as a
holy mission, part of their commitment to the ‘Land of Israel’. Military service
has become a constitutive element in the life course of young nationalist
Orthodox men, and they are overrepresented in combat units, in elite units
and in the senior command. Indeed, nationalist Orthodox soldiers currently
comprise approximately one quarter of all IDF combat soldiers, and up to a half
of all junior ofﬁcers (Levy 2010). The military is indebted to these highly
motivated soldiers, but they are also blamed for a growing process of religioni-
zation of the military, and its gendered consequences. The idea that religious
soldiers will serve alongside women, as instructors or combat soldiers, has
encountered vehement opposition from Zionist rabbis, who claim that joint
service of men and women does not enable religious soldiers to observe Jewish
laws of modesty. Therefore, the religionization of the IDF has nurtured a
growing phenomenon of gender separation that can lead to devaluation of
women’s military roles, or their exclusion altogether (Sasson-Levy 2014).
While Nationalist Orthodox men see military service as a holy mission,
Nationalist Orthodox women are told by their Rabbis and teachers to stay at
home, fearing that during their military service they will ‘lose their modesty’
and abandon the religious way of life. Indeed, the state grants all religious
women an exemption from military service on grounds of religiosity. But,
surprisingly, over the past ﬁve years more and more Nationalist Orthodox
women have opted for enlistment, despite the edicts of their Rabbis and
teachers, with an aim of proving that their commitment to the state is
equivalent to that of men. It seems that for the Modern Orthodox women,
military service is a personal expression of their identiﬁcation with the robust
and prolonged wave of religious feminism in Israel.
The case of the Druze population of Israel provides a very different demon-
stration of Enloe’s notion of ‘ethnic state security map’. The Druze constitute a
small minority that live in Israel (a population of 100,000), Syria and Lebanon.
With the exception of their secretive religion, the Druze rural life style, lan-
guage, traditions and low socio-economic status resulting from state discrimi-
nation and neglect, are similar to that of the Muslim and Christian citizens of
the country, and often they live in joint villages. The decision to draft Druze
men in 1957 was part of a ‘divide and conquer’policy that ensured the
cooperation of the Druze, intensiﬁed the differences between the various
Arab-speaking groups, and created a separate Druze ethnic group. Military
service is not only mandatory for Druze men, but many of them choose it as a
lifelong career, mostly due to a lack of alternative occupational options. Today,
this mandatory service is a source of contention within the Druze community, as
many young Druze claim that military service did not improve their social status
in Israel and did not confer upon them the status of full citizens. Moreover,
many of them identify as Palestinians and object to serving in the military that
maintains the occupation of the Palestinian people in the West Bank. While
conscription is mandatory for Druze men, Druze women are not allowed to
138 O. SASSON-LEVY
enlist, thus ensuring they will remain in the closed private sphere of the home
and the family. In this case, cultural and religious perceptions of femininity are
the main reason for their exclusion from the public sphere, including
Analysis of the social organization of the Israeli military elucidates how the
intersections of gender, ethnicity, nationality and religiosity draw the bound-
aries of military participation. Since the Israeli military is based on mandatory
conscription, it does not need to turn to the lower classes to meet personnel
needs, and thus class afﬁliation is less signiﬁcant in constructing the military’s
social architecture. Ethnic and religious cultures, on the other hand, are more
important in outlining the military’s social organization in Israel, and they
always draw clear gendered distinctions between men who are conscripted by
law and women who are exempted from service. This is true for all social
groups in Israel, with the exception of ‘non-ethnic’secular middle class, men
and women who enlist at almost in the same rates.
To conclude, the detailed description of the dynamic social structure of the
Israeli and US militaries clariﬁes that without intersectional analysis, one cannot
see a complete picture. Employing intersectionality as the main methodology
for analysing complex institutions (Acker 2006, see also Carrieras, Chapter 7,
this volume) allows us to see the intricate structure of the military: who is
serving where and why, and who cannot or does not want to serve, and why.
Moreover, intersectional analysis not only contributes to the precise description
of the social organization of militaries, but is key in understanding the various
factors that inﬂuence this structure. For example, this analysis emphasizes that
looking at the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender in the military is not
enough: while in the US military questions of class are as crucial as gender and
race, in the Israeli military questions of nationality and religious cultures are
critical. Thus, intersectionality, as multiple forms of oppression and privilege,
takes differential forms in different societies. But what is common to most
nation states is that the military is a central state institution, a policy instrument
of the state. As such, the intersectional structure of the military produces
or reproduces the structure of civilian society, constituting long-term social
categories, power relations, identity formations and social hierarchies.
1. One does not have to be a citizen to serve in the US military (Lundquist 2008:
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2. Ashkenazim are Jews of European origin and represent, for the most part, the
middle and upper classes of Israeli society.
3. Mizrahim are Jews of Middle East and North African origin, who primarily
occupy the lower echelons of Israeli Jewish society.
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Orna Sasson-Levy is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and
Anthropology, and the Program in Gender Studies at Bar Ilan University, Israel. Her
research and teaching interests include feminist theory, militarism and gender, gender and
new social movements, and Israeli ethnicities. Sasson-Levy has published widely in journals
such as Gender & Society (2007, 2011), The Sociological Quarterly (2013), Sociological
Forum (2013), Signs (2007), and British Journal of Sociology (2015, with Edna Lomsky-
Feder). She is the author of Identities in Uniform: Masculinities and Femininities in the
Israeli Military (Magnes Press, 2006) and co-editor of two more books.
ETHNICITY AND GENDER IN MILITARIES: AN INTERSECTIONAL ANALYSIS 143