Brass rank and gold rings: class, race, gender, and kinship within the Army community

Harrell, Margaret C., Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
McKinnon, Susan, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Metcalf, Peter, AS-Anthropology, University of Virginia
Perdue, Charles, Department of Anthorpology, University of Virginia
Hays, Sharon, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia

Under the traditional United States military system, officers were married men whose wives were expected to perform considerable unpaid labor, while enlisted men were assumed to be young unmarried men. To the extent that enlisted men, even the more senior enlisted personnel, were married, their wives and families were not generally acknowledged or supported by the Army; and they were separated from the officers' families by a considerable barrier of social class. In contrast, officers' wives were an integral part of the Army community, and their social performance was both required by the Army community and critical to the success of the career Army officer. However, societal changes are inconsistent with the values and expectations of this traditional system.

This work focuses upon the gender, class, race and kinship issues in the military to determine the degree to which the military is responding to changes in civilian society. Specifically, this work addresses several key questions: (1) What are the traditional gender-, class- and race-based roles in the military?; (2) How do Army soldiers and their spouses respond to the demands of these roles?; (3) How do the spouses of officers and enlisted personnel interact with one another and explain or challenge a system that treats them differently from one another?; and (4) Does the Army support Army families?

This dissertation finds that the different experiences of military spouses are based upon the interaction of class, race, gender and kinship oppositions and are apparent in the expectations for these spouses. Officers spouses are expected to act in a parental manner and participate in extensive volunteer and social activities within the military community. Junior enlisted spouses ideally occupy an invisible role, but are generally cast as immature adolescents encumbered with personal problems and negative behavior stereotypical of their lower class and African American identity; and NCO spouses occupy an in-between position. The impact of class, race, gender and kinship identities is also apparent in the workforce participation of these different categories of spouses, and the degree to which private and public spheres of activity interact in each of their lives.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Class, Kinship, Rank, Gender, Army Community
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