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Cross-Dressers with Benefits: Female Combat Soldiers in the U.S. and Israel

University of Baltimore Law Review, Vol. 41, 2012

Center for Applied Feminism Conference, 2011

33 Pages Posted: 10 May 2011 Last revised: 10 Dec 2011

Pamela Laufer-Ukeles

University of Dayton - School of Law; Shaarei Mishpat Academic Center

Date Written: May 8, 2011


From an international perspective, Israel presents an iconic view of women soldiers. Images abound of the young female soldier dressed in her navy green uniform and wielding an Uzi that is half her size. Yet, the image of Israel at the forefront of empowering women through military service personified in its girl soldiers is very misleading. Although permitted, Israeli women very rarely engage in even combat support roles, are completely absent as infantry and have advanced very insignificantly in military leadership. In fact, as I will demonstrate in this paper, the more parochial U.S., with its regulations that are clearly classificatory by sex - with a male only draft and women excluded from direct combat units - is actually more advanced in the quest for gender equality in the military.

The comparison I present between the role of women in the Israeli military and the U.S. military will demonstrate how feminism has taken hold differently across cultures with contrasting results. In Israel, where gender differences and inequalities are still deeply ingrained, facial attempts at gender neutrality provide little relief in the face of a legal and cultural background in which the role of mothering and gender difference has not been sufficiently unpacked and analyzed. Indeed, it is the significant sex-linked benefits provided to mothers and women in Israel in their military service (exemption from reserve duty, shortened draft) that prove to make women’s inequality resistant to facially neutral laws. By contrast, in the U.S., the military has carved out a special island of differentiation, but underlying advances in the treatment of women and alleviation of workplace inequalities, as well as changes in the very nature of warfare, have made women more equal in the military than draft or combat laws make apparent.

Keywords: Women, Military, Benefits, Gender Theory, Equality

Suggested Citation

Laufer-Ukeles, Pamela, Cross-Dressers with Benefits: Female Combat Soldiers in the U.S. and Israel (May 8, 2011). University of Baltimore Law Review, Vol. 41, 2012. Available at SSRN:

Pamela Laufer-Ukeles (Contact Author)

University of Dayton - School of Law ( email )

300 College Park
Dayton, OH 45469
United States

Shaarei Mishpat Academic Center ( email )

Hamargoa 5
Hod Hasharon

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