American Athena: A Feminist Sophistic Analysis of the Discourses of Women Servicemembers

Fox, Nancy Ann. American Athena: A Feminist Sophistic Analysis of the Discourses of Women Servicemembers. 2020. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

In classical mythology the goddess Athena is the embodiment of strategic intelligence and prowess in war. She inherited these gifts from her mother, Metis, who carried her to full maturity within the body of her father, Zeus, from whose forehead she was delivered, armed for battle. In this guise she serves as representation for the identities created and conveyed in the discourses of American women servicemembers. This study presents a grounded theory analysis of 99 narratives collected from personal interviews and culled from published sources in which women describe and interpret their experiences as enlisted personnel in the U.S. military. This method, discovered in the 1960’s by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss, studies narrative content to discern an emergent theory from that data. Recent renovation of this method by Kathy Charmaz, Adele E. Clarke, and others allows for this theory to align with existing ideas, if relevant and not imposed on the data a priori – which led to the feminist sophistic design of this Athena study, the terms derived from the work of classicist Susan Jarratt and defined by values within the narratives themselves. This study presents the sophistic through an original model, “the Athena,” which analyzes the women’s complicated, but promising, relationship to power. The mission for this study and its future potential is its deceptively simple process: to ask each woman to tell her story her own way, and to listen.

Ultimately the study shows that women’s imagining and shaping a new military identity, while problematic in terms of traditionalist ideologies, represents to them a standpoint of their own on grounds to which they stake a claim. This empowering standpoint is composed of their commitment to mission, unquestioned sense of equality, and strategic intelligence (or metis) to see it through. The narratives portend transformation for the women themselves; they also offer opportunity for systemic changes in both military and civilian worlds. The poet and classical scholar Robert Graves makes a critical point about the mythological female warrior that has resonance with the resolutions of the women in this study: Athena, he notes, does not lose.