Friday, 27 October 2017

Gender stereotyping used in the media for the recruitment of women to the British Army

This blog is written by Paige Salvage, a student at Cardiff University. She has been studying relevant sociological theories and methods for how we can understand the digital society and how the Internet shapes our everyday lives.
The recent development of government legislation allowing female soldiers into infantry positions has resulted in extensive sociological interest in the changing role of women in the Army. Stiehm (1988) suggested that women in the Army have fixed stereotypes, “whores or lesbians” suggesting that serving female soldiers have both sexual and sexuality foci. Assuming this is true, Goffman’s (1976:9) suggests that “gender displays […] reflect fundamental features of the social structure” in the Army. This study considered how images that have been used across social media, in particular the British Army’s Instagram page (@britisharmy), depict women who are already serving. In order to interpret the findings it was important to understand how women are stereotyped into roles society deem as typically ‘female’.

It is important to note that Stiehm’s (1988) stereotypical labelling of women in the Army is not only subjective but also unethical. However, Goffman’s (1976) work on gender displays balanced any possible disparity as he suggested that gender is a flexible and fluid notion. With Braun and Clarke’s (2006) guide to thematic analysis, this study aimed to probe the following two inductive themes:

1.       Masculine - those who are taking on a more masculine role or are taking part in a military activity that is stereotypically male      

2.       Feminine - those who take part in more stereotypically female activities
Data collection was limited to the British Army’s Instagram page (@britisharmy) after 8th July 2016 when women were officially allowed access to infantry roles. This period was considered significant as it was expected that more images of women in combat or infantry scenarios would be shared as a promotion of women into these roles.


Analysis of images in Instagram (@britisharmy) suggested that images of women are more likely to be depicted in masculine roles (Figure 1). This suggests that the British Army are attempting to break the down the assumptions that women in the military are the weaker sex. By providing the public with images of women taking part in arduous and dangerous activities, the British Army are promoting masculine roles for women.

However, this does not address the common stereotypes that depict women in the Army. Women who hold a more masculine physique in these images may be considered “lesbian”, as Stiehm (1988) noted that this label was linked more towards physical attributes rather than the sexuality of the individual. As some show masculine traits, these women become ‘othered’ by assuming a more male stereotype.


There are significantly less images in instagram depicting women in the army as feminine (Figure 2), suggesting that the British Army are biased towards using images to portray women in active combat roles. This is contrary to the acknowledged social role of women as homemakers and carers. Indeed, feminine images of women on @britisharmy tend to depict women in healthcare or domestic (eg chefs) roles, suggest that the British Army concur with the idea that women need less physically demanding  roles.

From this study, we can start to understand how masculine pictures of women are used as promotional aids to increase recruitment numbers, particularly into infantry roles. It appears that, following the 2016 policy change to allow females into infantry regiments, the British Army are now targeting women in their recruitment campaigns. However, it could not be concluded that female stereotypes were purposefully used to recruit certain types of women for these infantry roles.



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