"The Strength behind the Uniform": Enlisting Gender and the Family in the Canadian Armed Forces

  • Author / Creator
    Spanner, Leigh Anne
  • The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) views military families as “the strength behind the uniform” because their contributions and sacrifices are considered essential to operational effectiveness, including retention, morale, and deployability. Today’s Canadian military families receive more institutional support for their wellbeing than ever before. At the same time, the CAF is introducing new gender equality schemes, including integrating gender perspectives in operations, conducting gender-based analyses of CAF policies, and increasing diversity of its personnel through military recruitment and retention strategies. These new institutional commitments to family wellbeing and gender equality suggest that the quality and culture of military life may be changing.The military family has received little feminist inquiry since the early 1990s, despite institutional efforts to reform family and gender equality policies and practices in Western militaries. Recent research in the feminist international relations (IR) field tends to focus on gender in militaries, which builds on a substantial, well-established body of feminist IR research that indicates that militaries are deeply gendered institutions that sustain unequal relationships of power by privileging masculinity and exploiting women and feminized practices of labour. Contemporary efforts by the CAF to enhance military family life and gender equality suggest that the gendering of military families, which characterized previous decades, might be eroding. Therefore, this research asks to what extent does the contemporary CAF rely on gendered relations of power and divisions of labour within military families to support operational effectiveness? In particular, how are recent CAF family wellbeing initiatives impacting gender relations within, and expectations of, military families and spouses?I argue that recent strategies designed to target military family wellbeing in the CAF—specifically, those implemented since the early 2000s—are grounded in neoliberal logics that reinforce unequal gender relations and an unequal division of labour in the military and military families. Neoliberalism’s emphasis on individual responsibility and resilience, under the guise of empowerment, obscures how military spouses are encouraged to survive and thrive in military life in ways that do not challenge oppressive gendered scripts. Neoliberal principles deepen the militarization of military families and spouses; that is, they become more controlled by the needs of the military on the basis of gender norms. The CAF’s support for military families and spouses, which militarizes them together with neoliberal influences, imposes particular costs on military families, especially women. Thus, this work enriches the theorizing of militarization, a central focus of the feminist IR field.This research is based on twenty-eight in-depth interviews with Canadian military family members, and critical feminist policy analyses of major policy documents and family support services and programs. Particular sites of analysis include the governance structures of Military Family Services and Military Family Resource Centres, and their provision of childcare services; military spousal employment initiatives that emphasize mobile and flexible paid work options, especially entrepreneurialism; and the institutionalization of resilience as a skill and philosophy. This study departs from early research on gender and Canadian military families by considering the gendered relations of power that inform specific policies and programs, in addition to their implications for military culture and the experiences of military wives. This dissertation demonstrates how war making in Canada continues to rely on gendered ideas and practices, despite appeals to family wellbeing and progressive gender equality initiatives.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2020
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
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