The U.S. Naval Institute on Women in the Navy

The U.S. Naval Institute on Women in the Navy

The Challenges

Edited by Thomas J. Cutler

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2015, 176 pages

Book Review published on: January 19, 2018

Being a member of the U.S. Navy is tough, but being a female and working in the U.S. Navy leads to additional challenges. In The U.S. Naval Institute on Women in the Navy: The Challenges, Thomas Cutler assembled twenty-one accounts of women and men from across the ranks in the Navy, highlighting gender-integration challenges. Since the dates of these stories range from 1978 to 2012, it is fascinating to see how the service evolved with significantly more inclusion and appreciation for its female members. Cutler left the language mostly unchanged in these previously published articles, so the reader gets a feel for the attitudes of service members at the time each article was written.

Gender integration came to a forefront in the Navy with the 1978 Women in Ships initiative, when Congress removed the ban prohibiting women from serving on noncombatant ships. This was based primarily on the need to fill the ranks, since there was a decreasing pool of eligible male volunteers. Gender integration was further highlighted by the highly publicized 1991 Tailhook incident, which led to sweeping changes in attitudes toward sexual harassment and comprehensive preventative training in the Navy. Further, the 1992 National Defense Authorization Act lifted a ban on women in combat throughout the military services.

Most of the essays within Cutler’s book are impartial, with genuine, realistic recommendations for success. However, there are some one-sided arguments against integration that provide an overall balanced discussion of gender integration challenges. A common theme throughout the majority of these essays is the need to set a positive command climate that does not tolerate fraternization or sexual harassment. This directive to treat all sailors with dignity and respect needed to be present at all levels of command in order for the integration to be successful. Furthermore, the book also highlights that a key argument for integration was the need for meritocracy: females were both qualified for the positions and requested them.

Cutler emphasized the large role young sailors played in the process. There is an apparent immaturity in both male and female sailors that often led to indiscretions in close-quarters situations. These breaks from the rules led to decreased morale within the organizations in some cases, and caused the organizations’ leaders to make manning changes to keep the interested parties separated. This was a strong argument that required a positive and proactive command presence. On the other hand, many accounts noted that younger sailors were more amenable to gender-integration efforts than older, more tradition-based sailors were. Although this is a broad generalization, it was still a major part of the process.

Cutler’s book is informative, easy to read, and provides relevant, period-specific examples of how the Navy addressed gender integration during this time period. It is relevant to all branches of the military, as well as to historians, to understand how this radical change was made possible.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Cheryl Masisak, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas