The following presentation is a continuation series that identifies a social change designed to increase awareness of military women leaders and their transferable leadership styles. Understanding change dynamics requires competency with literature on change. The following discussion begins with part one – change theories in psychology and a review of the evidence for change.
Psychological change theory
Landmark research dating back into the 1970s serves as the foundational explanation of social identity theory (Tajfel, 1979), that offers insight on how a person identifies with a group, as an essential element of how they perceive themselves. Group membership is an extension of identity and becomes social identity. In tandem, Hogg’s historical work on a social theory of leadership focuses on group processes (Hogg, 2001) that also lay the foundation for this discussion. Both theories taken together serve as the framework to understanding how society can change the perception of military leadership to include women. The individual and group levels of change are the starting points for change in society.
Group membership in the military allows a level of social identity. The shared values of various groups in the military create leaders who instill these values. For the U.S. Air Force, the core values are integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do (U.S. Air Force, n.d.). For the U.S. Army, the core values are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage (U.S. Army, n.d.). For the U.S. Coast Guard, the core values are honor, respect, and devotion to duty (U.S. Coast Guard, n.d.). For the U.S. Marine Corp, the core values are honor, courage, commitment and semper fidelis is the motto that binds the group (U.S. Marine Corps, n.d.). For the U.S. Navy, the core values are honor, courage, and commitment (U.S. Navy, n.d.).
Reviewing the core values for the various groups of military personnel highlights norms of honor, courage, commitment, and devotion to duty. These values are important elements of group formation in military leadership. Women who retire from the military represent a minimum of 20 years leading others from the values paradigm. Social identity theory and social identity theory of leadership are best to understand societal change toward women military leadership because the underpinnings of both theories rest on groups being social constructs. The next section presents a review and analysis of evidence for change.
Review and analysis of evidence for change
Changes in society often take place because of some act or event. For example, legislation that allows women to serve in combat has sparked a social change in the consciousness of military leadership (Dvorak, 2013; Fishel, 2013; Wasikowska, 2012). The shift is real and measurable (Blanton, 2013), at the same time; the shift is a paradox when compared to images of military leadership. One paradox stems from recent military psychology literature that asserts specific traits and skill for effective military leadership that are gender neutral (Hannah, Jennings, & Nobel, 2010; Laurence, 2011), yet images portrayed in movies on military leadership depict men. The demonstration of confidence in women military leaders is evident by the passage of laws that allow women in combat. The crux of this discussion is to argue that society has shown openness to women as military leaders and the need for media to follow.
The power of imagery in change processes is not a new phenomenon. Psychology scholars have a history demonstrating a strong connection between change and imagery (Hirsch, Clark, & Mathews, 2006; Hirsch, Clark, & Mathews, 2007; Holmes, Mathews, Dalgleish, & Mackintosh, 2006). Movies are a major influence of social norms. For example, military movies depicting people in combat situations rarely show women in leadership, such as Jarhead produced in 2005 about a former Marine’s pre-Desert Storm experiences in Saudi Arabia and experiences fighting in Kuwait (Wick & Fisher, 2005). In 2001, Black Hawk Down was released, which told the story of 123 elite U.S. soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis (Bruckheimer & Scott, 2001).
An extensive search for military movies that display women in combat leadership roles as the heroin resulted in the movie, Courage Under Fire, released in 1996, based loosely on an investigation to award a woman the Medal of Honor posthumously. The film shows courage, bravery, and leadership during a nighttime attack on a Black Hawk that was shot down (Davis, Singer, & Friendly, 1996). The historical account provides details that the female officer was not in a combat situation, but Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Media in the newspaper has given attention to images of military women because of the shift toward women in combat. As presented earlier, imagery is an important aspect of social awareness. Fox News (Blanton, 2013; Fishel, 2013) and The New York Times (Wasikowska, 2012) bring a social awareness to women in combat. In contrast, The Washington Post (Dvorak, 2013) shifts the focus to recognizing that women have already been fighting and dying in the military. Yet movies portraying military stories within the last ten years do not reflect women in action (Bruckheimer & Scott, 2001; Wick & Fisher, 2005). Gender representation is not the focus of this presentation; the focus is to show evidence that media portrayal of women military leaders’ influences societal change.
Scholarly discussions on military leadership, as mentioned earlier, tend to focus on necessary skills needed for military leaders. According to Hannah, Jennings, and Nobel (2010), leadership is an “inherently social process” that combines social identity and metacognition skills developing within military experience (p. 414). Skill sets necessary for the tactical military leader includes knowledge structures about the military environment, adaptability in quickly changing situations, and metacognitive skills, all of which are gender neutral. By comparison, Bartone (2006) focuses on resilience that military leaders show when dealing with environmental changes. The essence of Bartone’s research is the belief that effective military leaders can transfer resilient responses to stress to the troops.
A review and analysis of evidence supporting imagery as a vehicle for societal change is the essence of the paper. Scholarly literature on women in combat is sparse consequently there is more reliance on media’s version supporting news reports of societal changes that highlight women in combat roles. Highlighting a few essential skills of effective military leaders conveys how those skills are inherent with being a military leader. There is no relation between gender and effective military leadership; therefore, changing the mental mindscape of what a military leader looks like is paramount. A discussion on what needs to take place to implement societal change follows.
Please follow me for the next in this series when speculation of what needs to take place to implement societal change is presented.
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