Unpacking the complexity of gender integration in the U.S. military using discourse analysis: The case of servicewomen’s talk around "having to prove themselves"

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Adam Mickiewicz University

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A quasi-idiomatic expression ‘women have to prove themselves’ reflects various performance pressures and heightened visibility of women functioning in gendered professional spaces as advocated by tokenism theory. It is an example of how discriminatory practice – according to which competent and qualified women entering the culturally masculine professions are explicitly and implicitly expected to work harder for any recognition – gets discoursed in language and becomes a “rhetorically powerful form of talk” (Kitzinger 2000: 124). This paper explores the question: what is it that U.S. servicewomen functioning in the culturally hypermasculine space need to do to prove themselves? To this end, qualitative semi-structured interviews with women veterans of the recent Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are qualitatively scrutinized with the methods of discourse analysis and conversation analysis to 1) identify practices that U.S. servicewomen engage in to symbolically (re-)claim their place and status in the military, i.e., to prove they belong; 2) find out how the talk around proving emerged in the course of the conversation and how it was further interactionally sustained and/or dealt with in talk-in-interaction. The findings of the micro-level analysis – interpreted through the lenses of tokenism and the category of the ‘honorary man’ – reveal women’s complex and nuanced struggle to fit and find acceptance in the military culture of hypermasculinity. They also re-engage with the ideas of tokenism by demonstrating that various acts of proving, reflecting women’s token status, may concurrently and paradoxically be a means to earn honorary man status.




women, gender, military, qualitative interviews, discourse analysis, conversation analysis


Studia Anglica Posnaniensia, vol. 56s1 (2021), pp. 551-577.





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Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Biblioteka Uniwersytetu im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Ministerstwo Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego