Sunday, January 08, 2006

War and gender

Although I imagine most people were never in any doubt, Huibin Amee Chew has an important article Why the War is Sexist (from reader John A, and Alsis on Alas). She gives seven different starting points for the discussion on the gendered nature of war:

  • Soldiers are not the only -- or main -- casualties of war.
  • The economic harms of war for women are exacerbated by patriarchy -- both within the U.S. and in Iraq.
  • Militarization intensifies the sexual commidification of women.
  • Militarization helps perpetuate sexual violence, domestic violence, and violence against women -- both in the U.S. and Iraq.
  • Militarization and war decrease women's control over their reproduction.
  • Militarization and conflict situations result in a restriction of public space for women -- impacting their political expression.
  • Occupation will not bring women's liberation.
She concludes:
A gender analysis -- a recognition of the connections between imperialism and U.S. patriarchy -- drastically widens the spectrum of people we must consider the "casualties" of war and deepens our understanding of imperialism. Not only does the war perpetuate sexist inequality and patriarchy, but also it enlists patriarchal relations -- economic, sexual, and ideological -- to carry out its operations. I have outlined ways women are affected by the war -- both as distinct from men, and disproportionately compared to men, due to gender inequality. Righting these injustices requires special attention to gender -- merely opposing the war is not enough.
One of the most important ideas for my feminist analysis is that experience is gendered: women and men experience the world differently because of their gender, but men are the norm. So if your analysis ignores gender, then it's ignoring women. So go read her article.


  1. Anonymous3:29 pm

    Huibin Amee Chew cites many horrific abuses of Iraqi and US women and concludes: "Imperialism requires particular gender relations to function"

    Imperialist war magnifies every injustice of capitalism and I agree that women suffer a greater range of abuses from imperialist war than men,for example in terms of forced caregiving and rape. But I see nothing in Ms Chew's piece to support her concluding assertion about the functioning of imperialism.

    She opines along the way:"While the racist ideologies behind the war are regularly paid lip service by activists, we less frequently raise how this war depends on sexism."

    Why the blanket"lip service" put down?

  2. The idea that imperialism requires certain sorts of gender relations is not a new one. My argument was much simpler, which is that war is a gendered experience, and if we just talk about one experience, it is always the male one. But I have found arguments like Huibin Amee Chew's convincing in the past.

    Unfortunately since I'm not in Wellington I don't really have the time or the resources to dig out the information to recreate some of those arguments. But I'll try and do it when I get back to Wellington.

  3. "So if your analysis ignores gender, then it's ignoring women." Only if you accept that men are the norm, surely?

    I didn't get that far into the article, because it seemed to me it would have been better titled "Why academic feminism has become irrelevant" - for instance, point 1 "Soldiers are not the only - or main - casualties of war" is a banality that might have carried some force 50 years ago, but is now commonplace. Perhaps there are a few diehard rightwingers making the pretence that soldiers are the people mainly at risk in a war, but they'd hardly even have the numbers that holocaust deniers do. In short, it's a straw man. And if a scholar is going to footnote an article, then a statement like "In the 20th century, 90 percent of all war deaths have been of unarmed women, children, and men" is one of the things she'd better footnote.

    An other example from the same section: "For example, during World War II, U.S. industrial workers were more likely than U.S. soldiers to die or be injured." A point which is probably correct, but so lacking in insight or empathy you can only shake your head. Consider the two situations: in the industrial situation, there are a certain number of accidents statistically likely to happen throughout the USA in this period, and you need to keep your wits about you if don't want to become one. Or you just may get unlucky. Well, the same thing applies when you drive your car, and not many of us find it a big deal. For soldiers, the situation is different. Most of them are at no more risk than anyone else on the planet, but in a conflict there's a thin geographic strip where two armed forces are in contact, called the killing zone. Putting yourself inside that killing zone skyrockets your likelihood of injury or death, in some cases to the point where your chances of survival are remote, and you know that they're remote when you go in there, and that survival is only predicated on you becoming a successful murderer. People, men and women both, pretty much have to be herded into these zones like animals, because given a choice they sure as hell wouldn't be there. Now, for my part, I couldn't smoothly point out to the people who've survived such a situation that in fact they got off no worse than the average industrial worker...

    Another one: in her point 2, there doesn't seem to be the slightest awareness that female soldiers and contractors are leaving people behind in the States too. Who's ignoring gender here? Women are a significant proportion of the US Army that I come into contact with - they all have family back home. When I take my kids in to work, you can see it on everybody's faces as they stare at them.

    Point 3: "Following a pattern observed across different conflict regions by feminist scholars, Iraqi women face increasing pressures to earn their subsistence from men by bartering their sexuality." Very observant, those feminist scholars, how lucky we are to have them. War has been driving women into prostitution for only thousands of years, so it was well spotted. Rather than some wicked conspiracy by different patriarchal institutions, how about we consider for a moment that wars basically are crimes and people who don't have to think twice about killing people probably aren't too squeamish about raping them either? Or stealing their stuff, destroying their houses, torturing them, you name it - if the author wants to come out and say wars are generally a bad idea, I'll be happy to agree. But if she wants to make out it's all some kind of oppressive conspiracy on my part (as one of those with the requisite dangly bits), then she's going to have to come up with some better arguments.