Transitioning to an All-Volunteer Force

Authored by: Melissa T. Brown

The Routledge History of Gender, War, and the U.S. Military

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138902985
eBook ISBN: 9781315697185
Adobe ISBN:


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In 1973, the United States abolished the draft. Four years earlier, President Richard M. Nixon had appointed a committee to develop a plan for instituting an all-volunteer force. The Gates Commission envisioned a military based on labor-market principles, whose composition would not differ greatly from the conscripted forces. The All-Volunteer Force (AVF) succeeded, but the Gates Commission was wrong about the make-up of the forces. The demographics of the AVF changed, and most notably for military culture, the proportion of women and the roles they filled markedly increased. This chapter will examine the literature that addresses how the transition to a volunteer force impacted the gendering of U.S. forces. Scholars have explored the demographics of the new volunteer force and the gendering of recruitment. Various works have chronicled the transformation of women’s participation that began in the 1970s, with women serving in greater numbers and in new roles, changes in family policy allowing women with children to serve, and the dissolution of separate women’s organizations. They have also revealed military men’s reactions to those changes. Scholars have investigated the attempts in the 1980s to roll back women’s participation, the resurgence of militarized masculinity in the larger culture, and an accompanying lack of tolerance for gays and lesbians in the military. Other topics covered in this chapter include the literature on the 1991 Gulf War and media coverage of women, Gulf War-era ideals of militarized masculinity, and debates over women and combat.

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