Female Sailors in the Submarine Service

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 5
Words: 1467
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: Undergraduate


For a long time, women have experienced different policy, cultural, and regulatory limitations that have prevented them from pursuing certain careers in the military (Friedl, 2005). Particularly, there have been strict policy regulations preventing the military from getting involved in combative military duties (Davey, 2004). Most of the limitations for female involvement in the military have premised on health, physical, and psychological reasons (Friedl, 2005). However, in the last decade, there has been a review of most of these discriminatory policies to allow more women to participate in the service (Kennedy-Pipe, 2005). For example, in 2012, the Navy announced that it would allow women to work in four military ballistic submarines. In line with this policy change, in July 2010, 24 female officers underwent a training program that allowed them to enlist as submarine crew (Macedo, 2010). Most of the female officers who participated in this program came from the naval academy and the naval reserve officers training corps (Macedo, 2010). Others came from the Officer Candidate School, while others joined the nuclear submarine training program through transfers from unrestricted officer communities (Lorber, 2010). Most people have seen the inclusion of women in the submarine service as a progressive practice in the military. However, because of varied reasons, this change has not augured well for some.

Problem Statement

While the inclusion of women in the navy opens opportunities for female officers to pursue prestigious careers in the military, a “quiet resistance force” in the service does not support this progress (Lorber, 2010). Critics have touted many reasons for the exclusion of women as sailors in submarines (Macedo, 2010; Lorber, 2010). Space limitations have emerged as the most common reason, because many serving and retired navy personnel say that space constraints would make it difficult for female personnel to live, comfortably, with their male colleagues for days or weeks on end under water (Dougall, 2010). Macedo (2010) says that, sometimes, the living conditions in submarines can be overwhelming for women because facilities are often over-stretched. In fact, more than 40 people could use one toilet facility because space is at a premium in submarine vessels (Macedo, 2010). Furthermore, people sleep in shifts and one bunk could house more than eight officers (Macedo, 2010). According to Macedo (2010), small attack submarines cannot accommodate female officers because they do not allow both sexes to have different sleeping quarters or bathroom facilities. Only modern and larger submarines (defense submarines) can do so. However, this fact puts women at a disadvantage to their male counterparts, when it comes to promotion, because officers who have served in both attack and defense submarines have the highest probability of being promoted as opposed to those who have served in only one type of submarine (Macedo, 2010). The need to retrofit submarines with facilities that could accommodate women have, for a long time, been used as a justification for preventing women from working in the navy submarine service because it would be too expensive to do so (Macedo, 2010).

From a health perspective, some critics have also said the presence of high concentrations of carbon dioxide in submarines justifies the exclusion of women from the submarine service (Lorber, 2010). They have also touted fears of sexual assaults and pregnancies as other valid health reasons for the exclusion of women from the submarine service (Friedl, 2005). In addition, part of the reason advanced to oppose the inclusion of women in the submarine service is the prevalence of a “brotherhood code” that has traditionally dominated the navy and other branches of the military (Creveld, 2005). The prevalence of this culture emerged in an incident where male officers filmed their female counterparts taking a shower and spreading the footage among their male colleagues (Myers, 2014). After the scandal broke out, male sailors protected each other and the culprits did not receive severe punishment for their actions (Myers, 2014). The prevalence of a “brotherhood culture” frustrated some female sailors who believed that senior officers managed the situation poorly because they protected their junior officers (Myers, 2014). Most of the female sailors believed the existence of a “brotherhood culture” made them insensitive to their plight (Myers, 2014). Such incidents demonstrate the difficulty of integrating female officers in the submarine service. Furthermore, the existence of an unspoken military culture, which has developed on the back of male-dominated attitudes, has made it difficult for newly recruited female officers to find a voice in the service (Kennedy-Pipe, 2005). Some people have taken this analysis further and associated it with the lack of morale in some submarine units because they believe women and men cannot work with the same synchrony that existed when men worked alone (Kennedy-Pipe, 2005). This problem creates an operational challenge for the military service (Williams, 2003). However, the difficulty of changing some of these cultures is the most critical concern expressed by proponents of this opinion (Matthews, 2009). Therefore, changing them within a short while may be difficult.

The above-mentioned reasons have prompted some people to discourage the inclusion of women in the submarine service by asking legislators to repeal laws that allow them to do so (Macedo, 2010; Lorber, 2010). For example, John Mason, a retired navy officer who worked in four submarine units, recently introduced a petition to prevent the government from allowing women to work as female sailors in the service (Macedo, 2010). His efforts have seen more than 500 retired service members (who have worked in the same capacity) support his petition because they believe that the submarine service is not a place for women (Macedo, 2010). Lorber (2010) calls this resistance the “quiet resistance force” (p. 6). This resistance comes from the belief by some people who believe that most legislators supported the inclusion of women in the submarine service for political gain, as opposed to tactical gain (Wijk, 2008).

Purpose of Study (Thesis)

The inclusion of female sailors on submarines comes amid other changes in the navy, which have threatened to challenge 110 years of military culture and policies (Shah, 2011). Such policies include a smoking ban and the creation of a “do not ask, do not tell policy,” which has focused on allowing, or preventing, potential recruits from serving in the submarine service based on their sexual orientation (Shah, 2011). Nonetheless, the insights shown in this paper reveal that the gender-equality progress witnessed in the navy is under threat of being sabotaged by people who do not believe that such an approach is good for the military (Matthews, 2009). Their reasons hinge on logistical, operational, and cultural factors (Matthews, 2009). However, this paper disagrees with these sentiments by demonstrating that few credible health and cultural justifications exist for excluding women in the submarine service. Similarly, it shows that including women in the submarine service increases the pool of talent available in the submarine service and increases opportunities for women to pursue careers that they choose. Therefore, this paper argues that, although there may be some valid concerns for including women in the military, doing so is more beneficial than harmful to the submarine service.

Proposed Research Outline

Psychological Implications of the Problem

Excluding women from the submarine service could perpetuate sexism in the military (Williams, 2003).

Increased involvement of women in the submarine service could better prepare new female recruits for the task because they would learn from the experiences of their predecessors (Andrew, 2009).

Advantages of Allowing Women to Work in the Navy Submarine Service

There are no health justifications for excluding women from the submarine service (Friedl, 2005).

There are unfounded notions that most women suffer a greater health risk than men in submarines (Friedl, 2005).

Increased opportunities for women to pursue careers that they want (Williams, 2003)

The submarine service will have a wider pool of talent to recruit new officers (Williams, 2003).

A “brotherhood culture” that prevents women from “fitting in” with their male colleagues could change (Macedo, 2010).

Disadvantages of Allowing Women to Work in the Navy Submarine Service

Including women in the submarine service is a less effective operational strategy compared to having an all-male workforce (Macedo, 2010).

Women will not adapt to the “brotherhood code” in the navy (Lorber, 2010).


The advantages of allowing women to join the submarine service outweigh the disadvantage of doing so

Some of the cultural norms and practices in the navy, which prevent women from integrating with their male colleagues, could change to them more comfortable with the service


For a long time, traditional policies have excluded women from the military because of misconceptions about their psychological state and inability to withstand the conditions of service. However, structural and psychological changes in the military could eliminate some of these misconceptions and increase the level of female participation in the service.


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