Dorith Geva

Male Breadwinners or Conscripts? The Gendered Origins of Conscription in First World War United States

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  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Gender and welfare state - United States of America - World War One

The article traces the gendered underpinnings of the American conscription system as crystallized during WWI with the creation of the American Selective Service System in 1917, and the extent to which the breadwinner/caregiver distinction influenced its formation. Feminist scholarship has shown how conscription in American history has had a formative effect on gendered patterns of employment and social policy throughout the twentieth century. In addition, abundant scholarship on the origins of the American welfare state has demonstrated the importance of the male breadwinner and female caregiver norms underpinning numerous programs established in the Progressive Era. The same analytic lens is shown to be equally powerful in understanding the gender ideologies that shaped the American conscription system, or "the draft". The Selective Service System did not aim at achieving universal service, and was rather structured to select who would see service and who would be deferred. Men with dependents were given generous deferrals so that they would not abandon their breadwinning obligations to their financial dependents. As a result, conscription in the U.S. did not only perpetuate the ideal of the male citizen-soldier, but further reinforced state support for the sexual division of labor and women's presumed dependency on male breadwinners.

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