Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Health and Sport Studies
This study investigates the ways in which understandings of gender, physicality and equality influenced policy and thus constructed the identities and experiences of female cadets during the 1976 integration of women into the United States Military Academy at West Point. Policy decisions and the way in which they were put into practice set the precedent for all subsequent female cadets and so it is important to explore their origins and early impact. West Point is an ideal setting in which to explore two historically masculinist institutions, sport and the military, during a time when the women's movement was cresting and the military was redefining itself in a new post-Vietnam voluntary military. An exploration of the changing gender dynamics as this elite male military institution became co-ed at a particular historical moment shows that physicality was more integral to the process of integrating women than actual military training was.
This study is based on archival research conducted at the Special Collections and Archives of USMA and the personal accounts of female cadets who attended West Point from 1976-1980 to produce a qualitative picture of the integration of women into West Point. Focusing on military training, physical education, athletics, and covert training I found that women generally performed equally to men in military training yet struggled in certain aspects of physical training which seemed to validate those who doubted women's ability to be successful cadets. Women were also excluded from important physical activities because of "physiological differences," something that further served to separate them and construct them as "different" and "lesser." Based on the Academy's policy and practice with regard to physical training, along with a number of related matters, I conclude that while women were given equality in most respects, those in which they were not served to make them a second-class tier of cadet and soldier, judged not on combat and military skill and potential but rather on physical capabilities and attributes. As a consequence, even though West Point integrated women it did so in a way that served to protect the symbolic role of combat associated with masculinity.
viii, 258 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 248-258).
Copyright 2013 Amanda Curtis