By: Miro Paridis ’13 (CLAS)
Vigorous physical demands and the looming prospect of deployment pose special challenges for women in the military who plan on starting families. Graduate student Sarah Cote Hampson is researching the impact these challenges have on the decision-making of military mothers as a part of her dissertation.
Hampson, a Ph.D. candidate in political science, is exploring the manner in which professional choices are affected by the messages people are getting from their work environment and from society, focusing on women in the armed forces because of the unique conditions they face. She has interviewed 17 military mothers so far.
“Women who want to pursue military careers and have families are going to experience challenges that other people don’t have to face: having to [separate] from their child at four months old, having to go back to a very physically demanding job, having to deal with being a minority in their work force,” says Hampson. “A real goal of doing these interviews is getting these women’s voices heard.”
While some details vary between branches of the armed forces, servicewomen are generally entitled to a maximum of six weeks paid maternity leave for vaginal delivery, and eight weeks paid maternity leave for cesarean section delivery. They must be able to pass vigorous physical fitness tests after six months, and can deploy as soon as four to six months after delivery.
With nearly a quarter of a million active duty servicewomen in the military – about 15 percent of the entire force – women are a minority in the field and are immersed in a heavily male-dominated environment. There is a stigma surrounding pregnancy in the military, which is viewed by some men as an easy way out of deployment, leaving women vulnerable to negative attitudes in the workforce.