Thursday, March 1, 2012

Melissa T. Brown's "Enlisting Masculinity"

Melissa T. Brown is an assistant professor of political science at City University of New York-Borough of Manhattan Community College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Enlisting Masculinity: the Construction of Gender in U.S. Military Recruiting Advertising during the All-Volunteer Force, and reported the following:
Military service has strong historical ties to masculinity and the transformation of boys into men. In the early 1970s, however, when the U.S. military was making the transition from conscription to a volunteer force, dominant conceptions of masculinity were being disrupted by social, economic, and political changes, including the women’s movement, the disappearance of blue-collar jobs, and the loss of the Vietnam War. Enlisting Masculinity asks whether, in the era of the all-volunteer force, masculinity is the underlying basis of recruiting appeals, and, if so, what forms does it take? Drawing on an analysis of more than 300 print advertisements published between 1970 and 2007, as well as television commercials, recruiting Web sites, and media coverage of recruiting, the book explores how the military branches have deployed gender to sell military service to potential recruits.

Page 99 falls within the chapter on the Navy, finishing a section on how members of the naval community reacted to late-1990s recruiting ads. An article in the U.S. Naval Institute’s journal Proceedings contrasts a Navy ad featuring a woman, a naval aviator, with a Marine Corps ad that pictures a male recruit struggling to climb an obstacle, under the headline “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
[Lieutenant Christian] Bonat sees a great deal in these two ads. He attributes warrior ethos and sacrifice to the Marines and projects that a reader would be proud to be a part of the Marines and the nation would be proud of the Marines as a fighting force, all from an ad that shows someone struggling to meet a physical challenge on an obstacle course. Bonat criticizes the Navy ad for not presenting the Navy’s “proud heritage” or status as “a supreme fighting force.” As he’s described it, the Marine ad doesn’t do these things either. Like the Navy ad, the Marine ad doesn’t make reference to deployment or killing an enemy. But the Marine ad does have a more overtly masculine subtext, and its physicality, its concern for triumph over pain and weakness, which are traditional components of a warrior masculinity (Goldstein 2001; Morgan 1994), stand in for all of the other values that Bonat reads into the ads. Bonat does not directly connect the Marine ad to manhood, nor does he connect the organizational values he attributes to the Marines to men or masculinity—he seems to be scrupulously avoiding such language—but he does implicitly make those connections. The martial masculinity of the Marines is heightened by contrast with the Navy, which, by merely picturing a woman and tracing out her career, has committed the sin of attempting to appeal to women. (“The cynic” in Bonat thinks the ad is aimed at women, implying that he finds such a strategy objectionable.)

The Navy seemed to take heed of such criticism and began to propagate a more blatantly macho ideal. By 2001, the Internet stock bubble had burst, and high-tech start-ups had lost their venture capital and their allure. This may be one reason that in its next incarnation, Navy advertising shifted away from an emphasis on benefits and career and back toward adventure and challenge—this time with a distinctly martial tenor and a return to a more exclusively male portrayal of Navy life.
In the late 1990s, all of the services except for the Marines had recruiting shortfalls, and many blamed a de-masculinization of the military and a softening of its image, though the strong civilian job market was a major culprit. The ad with the female naval aviator drew particular ire, even though it was an anomaly: of the 65 different Navy print ads that were part of my sample, this was the only one that featured a woman as the central figure. Debates over recruiting often shed more light on cultural anxieties about gender roles than they do on recruitment itself. The concern described on page 99 about whether a service branch appears masculine enough is echoed in similar incidents throughout the book. None of the branches ever actually abandoned masculinity in their appeals, but as Enlisting Masculinity shows, the branches have drawn on various strands of masculinity, including ones tied to economic success, mastery of technology, adventure, and emerging hybrid forms that combine sensitivity with toughness, and not just on the more traditional warrior forms.
Learn more about Enlisting Masculinity at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue