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Female Sailors on Submarines: Benefits and Obstacles Essay

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Updated: Jul 8th, 2020

Thesis statement: Women do not suffer from additional health problems when it comes to serving as submarine sailors, and, because their service is likely to bring benefit to the society, obstacles to such service need to be addressed.


Because both scholarly studies and practical experience show that women are as capable as men when it comes to serving in the military organizations, in particular, when working as sailors on submarines, and that such service brings many benefits to the society, it is important to increase the women’s opportunities to work as submariners. A literature review will be conducted to show that females working on submarines (and in other military branches) do not suffer more than men in terms of health and that they’re being employed in the industry increases the woman’s position in the society. Some potential obstacles to such employment of women will be analyzed.

Risks and Benefits of Women Serving as Submarine Sailors

There exists both direct and indirect evidence that the employment of women in the professions such as submariners does not pose a significantly higher risk to their health than it does for men. For instance, a study examined the effects of the military environment on the female physiology; the health problems to which women are known to be susceptible were taken into account, as well as the specifically female factors such as hormonal changes occurring during menstrual cycles (Friedl, 2005).

It was discovered that most assumptions about the women’s susceptibility to numerous health risks associated with the military service were wrong; e.g., intensive physical exercise did not raise the likelihood of amenorrhea, women’s safety in cockpits was equivalent to that of men, etc. This research allowed to dispel a number of stereotypes about male physiology and improve the working conditions for military men as well (Friedl, 2005).

It was also shown that higher levels of CO2 on submarines do not pose additional risk to female health (“Royal Navy Gets First Female Submariners,” 2014, para. 5). Therefore, it is apparent that women in the military service (on submarines in particular) do not face significantly higher risks than their male colleagues. It is also noteworthy that the research on women’s health in the military also benefited men by providing additional insights into medical issues in the military environment (Friedl, 2005).

Practice also shows that women can feel as psychologically comfortable as men on submarines. In the United Kingdom, the three first women to be accepted in the Royal Navy submarine crews began their first underwater journeys in 2014 (“Royal Navy Gets First Female Submariners,” 2014). The female sailors afterward stated that they became accustomed to the submarine and that their gender did not matter to the male crew members; one female submariner added that she felt “like a little sister to 165 brothers” on her first submarine voyage (“Royal Navy Gets First Female Submariners,” 2014, para. 7). Thus, as long as the male crew does not show a biased attitude towards female sailors, they can feel psychologically normal on submarines.

Therefore, the employment of women on submarines can be as psychologically comfortable to them as it is to men (“Royal Navy Gets First Female Submariners,” 2014); it is also apparent that such service is unlikely to lead to more health complications for them than it does for men (Friedl, 2005). In addition, increasing the opportunity for women to serve in the military (on submarines in particular) enhances the woman’s status and opportunities in society and promotes equality, which is clearly beneficial for society (Brownson, 2014, pp. 784-785). Thus, it is essential to increase the chances of women to work on submarines. To do so, potential obstacles to such service need to be analyzed and handled. Let us discuss a number of such obstacles.

Potential Obstacles to Women Serving in the Military

One of the obstacles to women becoming a part of the military services (and members of submarine crews) is their low employability in traditionally male-dominated professions. Low levels of employability discourage women from entering such professions as, e.g., engineering, for “socially constructed boundaries between ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work’ are challenged by women in non-traditional industries but are also challenging for them” (Andrew, 2009, p. 356).

These “socially constructed boundaries” work as an obstacle for women entering the engineering profession, and they also hinder the females’ movement up the career ladder later. The women may also feel that they are “not supposed to be [here]” (Andrew, 2009, p. 356), but such feelings apparently originate in the environment of co-workers and superiors rather than in the work itself; their negative attitude also decreases the levels of potential employability (Andrew, 2009). Therefore, it is important to address these attitudes to increase the levels of employability, the desire of women to work in the mentioned professions, and, possibly, their efficiency in the workplace.

The adverse perceptions about women entering traditionally male-dominated professions, specifically the military specializations, also exist in military academies, which is likely to have a negative impact on the opportunities of women to become submariners. A U.S. study by Matthews, Ender, Laurence, & Rohall (2009) showed that cadets of the West Point Academy and the Reserve Officers Training Corps treated women in the military professions with more prejudice than students of civilian specialties.

A survey showed that the cadets were more likely than civilians to answer that a woman “should not” work in certain positions; males were also more likely than females to say that women “should not” occupy these posts (Matthews et al., 2009, p. 246). The authors of the study observe that female student may also get fewer tasks (or easier tasks) than their male group mates during training in their educational institution (Matthews et al., 2009). Therefore, the gender prejudice also exists in the American institutions of military education; because it is likely to adversely affect the opportunities of women in the submarine branch of the military, it needs to be dealt with as well.

A study by Davey (2004) may prove instrumental in handling the problem described in the previous paragraph. It has been shown that women can successfully be pilots of aircraft (Williams, 2003). Davey (2004) investigated the results of the use of a branch of psychology known as Human Factors in the military academies training pilots for commercial aviation. The researcher states that Human Factors was adopted as a method to “develop the effectiveness of airline managers’ understanding of flight crew behavior and design training” in the late 1970s (Davey, 2004, p. 627); the scholar found out that some of the side effects of these methods are the support of competitive, roughly masculine culture, and the resulting deficiency of collaborative and supportive attitudes among the students of the pilot craft.

It is stated that, even though Human Factors “promotes a less macho culture,” such features as “perseverance, toughness, not quitting, taking risks and living for today through aggressive heterosexuality and wild parties” are typical of air colleges’ culture (Davey, 2004, p. 642).

Interestingly, despite this, “female ab initio pilots are perceived as competent because they have to survive in a male-dominated environment”; they are also welcome because they constitute good company for male students (Davey, 2004, p. 640). Regardless, these psychological findings of the learning process should be taken into account when addressing the problem of males’ attitudes towards women in the military; perhaps promoting less competitive and more supporting attitudes could result in the increased numbers of female students of military professions, including the submarine specialization.

It is also noteworthy that ritual and symbolic gestures that are prescribed for the military service (including the maritime specializations) can affect and even dictate human behavior and assign certain roles to the participants of the organization (van Wijk & Finchilescu, 2008). Therefore, changing the symbols and gestures can be used to reform the organizations (van Wijk & Finchilescu, 2008). This fact could also be employed to attract more females to the military service (in particular, to the submarines) if the symbolic and ritual gestures were changed from traditionally roughly masculine to more gender-neutral ones.


To sum up, it is apparent that women serving in the military do not suffer from more harm to their health than men and do not feel more psychologically uncomfortable on submarines if the environment is not discriminative (Friedl, 2005; “Royal Navy Gets First Female Submariners,” 2014); their working as submariners is likely to enhance the woman’s position in the society, providing her with additional chances and opportunities (Brownson, 2014).

There exist some social obstacles to females entering the sailor profession. They may include the low employability of women in male-dominated professions (Andrew, 2009), the biased attitude of military students and the society in general towards women in the military (Matthews et al., 2009), certain peculiarities of educational curricula (Davey, 2004), and certain symbolic and ritual aspects of serving in the military (van Wijk & Finchilescu, 2008). These obstacles need to be addressed if women are to more freely enter the profession of the submarine sailor.


Andrew, A. (2009). Challenging boundaries to ‘employability’: Women apprentices in a non-traditional occupation. Social Policy and Society, 8(3), 347-359. Web.

Brownson, C. (2014). The battle for equivalency: Female US marines discuss sexuality, physical fitness, and military leadership. Armed Forces & Society, 40(4), 765-788. Web.

Davey, C. L. (2004). The impact of human factors on ab initio pilot training. Gender, Work and Organization, 11(6), 627-647. Web.

Friedl, K. E. (2005). Biomedical research on the health and performance of military women: Accomplishments of the Defence Women’s Health Research Program. Journal of Women’s Health, 14(9), 764-802. Web.

Matthews, M. D., Ender, M. G., Laurence, J. H., & Rohall, D. E. (2009). Role of group affiliation and gender on attitudes toward women in the military. Military Psychology, 21(2), 241-251. Web.

. (2014). Web.

Van Wijk, C. H., & Finchilescu, G. (2008). Symbols of organizational culture: describing and prescribing gender integration of navy ships. Journal of Gender Studies, 17(3), 237-249. Web.

Williams, R. (2003). Women aviators finally fill cockpits of Military Aircraft. American Forces Press Service, 24(1), 7-10. Web.

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