Motherly Figures and Soldierly Bodies: Gender, War, and the Military

Friday, March 1, 2013

3 pm to 5 pm

Center for American History and Culture Programs
Women and Gender Seminar

Panelists: Julie Fountain, University of Illinois at Chicago and Martin Smith, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Mother Figures: Women Military Officers in Britain in the 1950s”
Julie Fountain, University of Illinois at Chicago

When regular military service was introduced for British women in 1949, female officers were key to determining what this “integration” would mean. Could they award punishments to male soldiers? Would the men have to salute them? In practice, the woman officer was most frequently envisioned as a professional woman who specialized in the management of other women; a pseudo-motherly role heavily influenced by the early twentieth century women’s movement. Women officers successfully carved out a sphere of female authority in the military, but in doing so they helped to limit the functionality of the women’s services.

Fighting and Fun: Training the Soldierly Body and Building ‘Men’ for the American/Vietnam War, 1964-1975
Martin Smith, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This paper examines how the U.S. military trained recruits into soldiers who were made into military “men” for the American/Vietnam War.  Through trainees’ development into gender warriors during Basic Training, soldiers learned to associate the pleasure of sexual release with the thrill of combat action.  At the same time, newly developed military men also became race warriors who were taught dehumanization of the enemy “other.”  The logical synthesis of these two processes directed demonstrations of military men’s privilege to fighting and fun towards Vietnamese female bodies, which the military presented as both sites of male conquest and repositories of disease.

Commentators: Natasha Zaretsky, Southern Illinois University

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically.  For a copy of the paper, e-mail the Scholl Center at  Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.