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Gender Roles: Iraq and Afghanistan Wars


During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many roles changed for women. Women were given countless tasks in this war that they had never had before. Men’s roles stayed basically the same in the war zone, but at home some changed.

Women are becoming more frequent in the military. 7% of all marines are women and they are able to obtain 93% of the jobs available. In2009, the first all-female team of marines conducted their first mission in southern Afghanistan. This mission led the women to come into contact with the women in Afghanistan. A female team was sent out on this mission because it is considered culturally unacceptable for the men to interact with the women. Along with women in the marines, they also make up 15% of the army. In the army, women are able to obtain 95% of the jobs available. Jobs that are not available include direct combat on the ground. Though just recently there was a memo rescinding this law.

The original policy preventing women from direct combat on the ground was established by Secretary of Defense, Lee Aspin, in 1993. Although he stated women were allowed to train and assign on most combat ships and aircraft, women are prohibited from direct combat. In 2013, Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta signed a memo rescinding that portion of the policy. Beginning in 2014, women are  allowed to participate in direct combat on the ground. With this being done, the percentage of jobs in the military available to women will increase by multiple points. In the army alone, 33,000 jobs are supposed to be opened up to women in 2014.

In comparison to World War ll, the strides made in women being immersed into the military are huge. During World War ll, women assisted in war efforts while on the home front. They stayed at home to take care of the house and kids, while sometimes having a job in a local factory. Women took over the roles of men at home when they were away. For the small group of women working with the military, their jobs mainly included nurses, secretaries and pilots. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan roles have changed drastically. Now, women are able to perform almost all of the same duties as men. Although women are not quite treated as equals yet, great strides have been made.

Few roles remained constant throughout all of the wars. In all of the wars, men have been involved in all aspects of the military. For centuries, men have fought on the front lines putting their lives in constant danger. While the men are in the war, most women continue to stay at home and take care of the children. Women send care packages from home in support of their loved ones away.


Works Cited

Women Marines Association. “Women’s Marine History.” Women Marines Association. Global Graffiti Inc., 2002. Web. 15 Apr 2014.

Army Women’s Museum. “Interactive Timeline.” Women in the US Army. U.S. Army. Web. 15 Apr 2014.

Burton, Monty, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. “United States Department of Defense.” News Article: All-Female Marine Team Conducts First Mission in Southern Afghanistan. American Forces Press Service, 10 Mar 2009. Web. 28 Apr 2014.


Civil War and Death

Like any other war, death was an inevitable occurrence during the Civil War. However, rather than just being unavoidable,  it had come to be expected. Not one family, soldier, or home went unaffected. In fact, death became such a universal happening that the state of living and geographical landmarks became personified by death. The South itself had been described as dead, and being “in a heap of ashes and bricks” (Nelson, p.232). Homes carried an impending aura of death, and not just people’s bodies, but their souls, were killed.

In sheer numbers, an estimated 750,000 soldiers were killed-some by combat according to Drew Faust, but twice as many died of disease. By count, the Union suffered a greater loss, with numbers around 400,000 while the Confederate mourned the deaths of about 300,000. However, proportionally the lives lost in the South exceeded those of the North, with the ratio being 3 Southerners dead for every Union soldier (Faust). The soldiers were not the only lives lost, with civilians numbering an estimated 50,000 deaths among women, children, and men at home. These deaths were caused by starvation, disease, and accidents in the workforce (Faust). There were over 30 explosions in factories that resulted in the death of many women and children (Nelson, 243).


The unfair image of death is one that brought distress to many families. Historian Amy Gagnon describes a “good death”, a death experienced with family by your side and a final religious cleansing with God. Because of a high infant mortality rate, the deaths of babies were better coped with, and because of age, the death of older citizens was expected. However, to sacrifice the life of a healthy, fit, nineteen year old boy was unjust and not a “good death”.

As far as notifying families of the deaths of their loved ones, there was no formal method or structure to follow. Normally a comrade of the soldier that had witnessed the death, or one that may have had personal friendship with the soldier, would write a letter to the family (Dunkleman). Typically they would address the letter with sympathy first, then delve into money matters and pensions, then describe how the soldier died. Otherwise, families relied on newspapers and obituaries to notify them if their soldier was dead or alive. For example, Connecticut published a newspaper that had “Rolls of the Missing Men” to identify dead or missing soldiers. Identification of soldiers was a problem that often hindered the notification to the family. Soldiers did not have military issued badges, and neither the Union nor the Confederacy had a grave registration (Faust).

Another issue posed was the consistent inability to return the bodies of soldiers home. Around this time, new methods of embalming were being experimented with, but many failed and soldiers whose bodies were returned were decomposed and rotten, as opposed to being preserved for a burial (Gagnon). Sometimes families were even horrified to discover that the bodies returned home to them were the wrong bodies. They had trains that were specifically run to transport the dead bodies, and to retrieve the bodies from the train station was an expensive endeavor, costing up to $2,000 in today’s currency, not including actual funeral and burial expenses. Some families were so distraught and desperate enough to go to the battlefields in search of the bodies in hops of filling a “dread void of uncertainty” (Faust).

Aforementioned, death came to be expected. Nelson quotes a white woman from Mississippi saying that it was a “shell expectant life,” (p. 264). And although death had come to be expected, when it hit home it was never easily coped with. Some families were lucky enough to have the bodies returned and be able to have a funeral service. The funeral and coffin industry increased during this time, with new styles of coffins and constant funerals to support the industry. In 1937, a new cemetery style emerged, but it wasn’t until the Civil War that this rural cemetery expanded significantly. Originally cemeteries were fenced off in church yards, very impersonal and not allowing grave visitations or the like. With this new emergence, cemeteries developed a park-like scene, with pathways and benches, and places for people to approach the graves and pay their respects (Gagnon).


Welcome to the class blog of Families at War (Honors 293U), a course offered through the Honors College at West Virginia University!

In this class we are considering how American families have experienced and participated in their country’s wars. We wonder, how has this changed or remained constant over time? How have location, gender, class, race, and ethnicity played a part? How have families experienced war differently depending on how close the home front and front lines were to one another? How have cultural and technological changes influenced families’ experience of war?

To answer these questions we consider six American wars: the Revolutionary War, the “Indian” Wars of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Civil War, World War II, the war in Vietnam, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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