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Women in the Barracks: The VMI Case and Equal Rights by Phillipa Strum
Paperback (417 pages)
In June 2001, there was a decidedly new look to the graduating class at
Virginia Military Institute. For the first time ever, the line of
graduates who received their degrees at the "West Point of the South"
included women who had spent four years at VMI.
For 150 years,
VMI had operated as a revered, state-funded institution—an amalgam of
Southern history, military tradition, and male bonding rituals—and
throughout that long history, no one had ever questioned the fact that
only males were admitted. Then in 1989 a female applicant complained of
discrimination to the Justice Department, which brought suit the
following year to integrate women into VMI.
In a book that poses
serious questions about equal rights in America, Philippa Strum traces
the origins of this landmark case back to VMI's founding, its evolution
over fifteen decades, and through competing notions about women's proper
place. Unlike most works on women in military institutions, this one
also provides a complete legal history—from the initial complaint to
final resolution in United States v. Virginia—and shows how the Supreme Court's ruling against VMI reflected changing societal ideas about gender roles.
the heart of the VMI case was the "rat line": a ritualized form of
hazing geared toward instilling male solidarity. VMI claimed that its
system of toughening individuals for leadership was even more stringent
than military service and that the system would be destroyed if the
Institute were forced to accommodate women.
lawyers from Justice and VMI, heads of concerned women's groups, and VMI
administrators, faculty, and cadets to reconstruct the arguments in
this important case. She was granted interviews with both Justice
Ginsburg, author of the majority opinion, and Justice Scalia, the lone
dissenter on the bench, and meticulously analyzes both viewpoints. She
shows how Ginsburg's opinion not only articulated a new constitutional
standard for institutions accused of gender discrimination but also
represented the culmination of gender equality litigation in the
Women in the Barracks is a case study that combines both legal and cultural history, reviewing the long history of male elitism in the military as it explores how new ideas about gender equality have developed in the United States. It is an engrossing story of change versus tradition, clear and accessible for general readers yet highly instructive and valuable for students and scholars. Now as questions continue to loom concerning the role of state funding for single-sex education, Strum's book squarely addresses competing notions of women's place and capabilities in American society.
The Military Women's Memorial honors and tells the stories of women, past and present, who serve our nation.