Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Pearl James


Representations of Military Women in Contemporary War Stories seeks to understand how war stories influence our perception of who belongs in military service. With the canon of western war writing dominated by the memoirs and stories of white men, what happens when service women enter into and author war stories, and how does their appearance destabilize questions of who is fit for military service? War literature provides an important lens through which to observe how military service is scripted by culturally and socially constructed expectations of one’s gender, race, and occupation. In male-dominated workplaces, women must not only perform in ways expected of the occupation but also of their gender, both of which might have competing scripts. For women who join the military, a male-dominated profession, there is an awareness that they are breaking traditional roles by pursuing careers in which they are the minority and, consequently, highly visible. If appearance and behavior are integral to the successful performance of both an occupation and gender, then women in the service are in a bind to perform their occupation as men and their gender as women. As women enter the service, not only are they expected to perform with an occupational script that is itself gendered, but they are also expected to perform gender. As these scripts connect and collide in women’s war stories, they create varying degrees of inclusion and exclusion and produce different strategies of resistance.

This project examines scripts that reaffirm or complicate fitness for service and the right to belong and how women and women of color negotiate gendered and racialized performances of military service. I argue that war stories written by and about women’s military experiences can help us recognize the challenges to women’s inclusion in the military and make visible the conflicts between scripts that they are expected to perform. Interrogating the controlling images that influence such scripts clarifies how authors negotiate the often contradictory expectations of gender, race, and soldiering in war stories and illuminates strategies female service members use to engage such scripts in the stories they tell and that are told about their service. This project analyzes such strategies in Helen Benedict’s novel Sand Queen, Shoshana Johnson’s memoir I’m Still Standing, selections from Nicole Goodwin’s collection Warcries, and Anuradha Bhagwati’s memoir Unbecoming. I offer that each author engages with various gender, racial, and occupational scripts with the goal of changing perceptions of service women, exposing the institutional and cultural barriers to women’s service, and recognizing the paradigms that continue to limit women’s full inclusion in the military.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Robert L. Doty English Graduate Support Fund Award, 2021