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Femininity anchors: Heterosexual relationships and pregnancy as sites of harassment for U.S. servicewomen

APA Citation:

Bonnes, S. (2022). Femininity anchors: Heterosexual relationships and pregnancy as sites of harassment for U.S. servicewomen. American Sociological Review, 87(4), 618-643. https://doi.org/10.1177/00031224221110535

Abstract Created by REACH:

This qualitative study explored Servicewomen’s experiences of harassment while in the military. Specifically, this study examined femininity anchors, which are events such as pregnancy that tie women to stigmatized gender identities within hypermasculine contexts (e.g., the military). 50 Servicewomen were interviewed, with 94% reporting that they had experienced multiple harassments. Heterosexual relationships and pregnancy were identified as 2 femininity anchors tied to elevated levels of harassment in the military context.


Physical health

Branch of Service:

Multiple branches
Air Force
Marine Corps

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member
Guard/Reserve member


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Qualitative Study
Cross-Sectional Study


Bonnes, Stephanie


This article draws on in-depth interviews with 50 U.S. servicewomen to advance sociological understandings of gender, femininity, and harassment. Recognizing that women are targeted with harassment throughout their military careers, I analyze specific episodes of harassment to examine organizational and interactional meanings and the power dynamics embedded in these instances. This article explains why servicemen escalate harassment toward women who are pregnant or who enter heterosexual relationships. In a militarized context that already denigrates femininity, I argue that men impose gendered and sexualized meanings on women’s life-course events to limit women’s organizational inclusion. These events, such as pregnancy and engagement or marriage to a heterosexual partner, serve as “femininity anchors” that tether women to femininity within a hyper-masculine environment. Femininity anchors present serious interactional and individual consequences for women as they attempt to navigate the gendered terrain of the U.S. military. Aside from eliciting moments of elevated sexual and nonsexual harassment, femininity anchors restrict women’s acceptance as real servicemembers and negatively affect their military careers. In highlighting the negative treatment women receive due to femininity anchors, I demonstrate how the specific ways gender is embedded in an organization shapes patterns of harassment and exclusion.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:


Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

University of New Haven, SB


harassment, servicewomen, pregnancy, femininity

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary


This work was supported by funding from the American Society of Criminology’s Division on Women and Crime’s Larry J. Siegel Fellowship.

REACH Newsletter:

  June 2023

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