Tinker, tailor! Soldier, sailor! Mother? Making sense of the competing institutions of motherhood and the military

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Petite, Kathy
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In 2002, the Canadian Forces opened up the last of the restricted trades to women by allowing them to serve on submarines. No longer are there limitations on the number of women in the Forces or on the trades in which they are employed. Though women now make up 15% of the regular force, there is very little research on their experience; and in Canada, there is no research on women who combine motherhood and a military career. Frequent and often lengthy absences from home and family are a reality of life for Canadian Forces members. The institutions of motherhood and the military have both been described as greedy because they are so demanding of commitment, loyalty, time, and energy. Women traditionally shoulder more of the burden of caregiving, even when working outside the home. Women, balancing a career in the military with motherhood, can be expected to experience tension around the competing roles. Added to this is the traditional male-oriented culture of the military that contributes to an environment that continues to struggle with the integration of women. The questions that guided the primary focus for this research were: How do women balance the responsibilities of the role of mother with a career in the Canadian military particularly when experiencing work-related family separation? What are the everyday practices performed by women to balance these roles? What ideologies, particularly military and mothering, are embedded in their everyday practices? Ideologies that are socially constructed external to individualsâ everyday life are a form of social relations that serve to recreate and support existing power structures or ruling relations. Institutional ethnography was used both as a theoretical framework and methodology, to guide the mapping of the social relations evident in the everyday lives of women who v were both military members and mothers particularly at times of deployment away from their family. Through interviews with eight military women who were mothers of at least one child under the age of 12 and had experienced a work-related separation from family of at least 30-consecutive days in the previous two years, this research uncovered and explained the ways in which the everyday lives of women are coordinated and organized by socially constructed ideologies. As well, the interviews informed an analysis of Canadian military policy for textual documentation of ruling relations. The requirement of military personnel to put duty ahead of personal considerations and reinforced by everyday practices within the institution, often served to render the womenâ s children invisible. Furthermore, to accomplish this invisibility demands the everyday work of support that encompasses the extended family, paid and unpaid childcare, and often the children themselves. Through the lens of institutional ethnography, this work can be seen to sustain the work of the military institution. This exposure of systemic practices evident in institutions such as the military and motherhood identified implications for policy changes that will benefit recruitment and retention strategies for the Canadian Forces and may further contribute to transformative education that is sensitive to women in other nontraditional careers.
Family , Military personnel , Military , Nova Scotia , Canada , Working mothers , Women soldiers , Spouses , Women , Family relationships