Date of Award

Spring 12-21-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Joanne E. Belknap

Second Advisor

Janet L. Jacobs

Third Advisor

Sanyu A. Mojola

Fourth Advisor

Hillary A. Potter

Fifth Advisor

Christina A. Sue


This dissertation examines the institutional, interactional, and individual-level contributors to sexual abuse of women in the U.S. military. Drawing on 41 in-depth interviews, I privilege service-women’s own voices and experiences to show how they employ various strategies to avoid, mitigate, respond to, and sometimes confront sexual harassment in the gendered military institution. I show how women’s status as outsiders in the military begins when their experiences do not align with the institution’s promise of family. I then explore how women attempt inclusion through various masculinity displays, managing stigmatized feminine identities, and engaging in defensive othering against other women. These interactions occur against a masculinized organizational structure where spatial arrangements and institutional expectations of caregiving, trust, and loyalty reinforce women’s sexual abuse vulnerability. I outline the tactics and consequences of workplace harassment that occur through administrative channels, a phenomenon I label bureaucratic harassment. I show how the manipulation of administrative rules and regulations is made possible by the interplay between a gendered and raced organizational climate and bureaucratic features such as discretion, hierarchy, and the blending of work and personal life. I argue that in an extremely gendered and masculine institution, that sexual harassment complicates service-women’s military identities. To resolve this dilemma, I argue that many service-women downplay, excuse, or even participate in sexual harassment to protect their masculinity. I contrast this with showing how responses to harassment differ among service-women who have experienced sexual assault and service-women who have experienced combat. I argue that sexual harassment does not present an identity dilemma for these two groups of women, and therefore they confront harassment. Overall, I demonstrate how masculinity constrains responses to sexual harassment for most service-women, and also determines which service-women do confront harassment. Furthermore, I identify how social location (i.e., race, age, sexuality, military occupational specialty, and rank) shapes sexual abuse vulnerability and reporting, providing an intersectional analysis to the identity narratives and harassment experiences of U.S. service-women. Ultimately, this dissertation explores the power of masculinity in organizations and the identity struggles that women must navigate within the workplace. In doing so, this study contributes to the literature on feminist criminology, masculinity and femininity, and gender and organizations.

Available for download on Thursday, January 27, 2022