Women will now also be able to have highlights in their hair and wear conservative shades of lipstick and nail polish, so long as they are not “eccentric, exaggerated, or faddish,” and they can wear stud earrings while not in field training or combat.
And the regulations for the first time include guidance on breastfeeding, allowing soldiers to wear a specifically designed nursing T-shirt under their camouflage coat, and authorizing women to unzip the uniform and, without using a cover, “breastfeed anywhere the soldier and child are otherwise authorized to be.”
The share of women in the military has grown steadily since World War II, though during the early years of integration the all-male leadership kept women in token nursing and secretarial roles, often with their rank and pay capped. Families were considered a breach of regulations. Women who became pregnant in uniform were automatically discharged until 1972, when a young lawyer named Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped take the Defense Department to the Supreme Court.
Since the 1970s the number of women in the Army has grown from about 2 percent to about 15 percent of the force. In recent years, they have integrated into nearly all combat units and been promoted to senior leadership positions.
Today the once-reluctant military is now actively seeking to make serving more attractive to women, said Kate Germano, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and former head of the Service Women’s Action Network, an advocate for women in uniform, because leaders realize they cannot succeed without them.
“It’s a matter of national defense,” Ms. Germano said. “We just don’t have enough male candidates to do the job.”
The military has developed an especially outsize reliance on Black women, who, Ms. Germano noted, account for nearly a third of all women in the military, even though they make up only about 15 percent of the civilian female population. Black women now serve in the military at a far higher rate than any other demographic group.