Wednesday, October 09, 2013

It's a guy thing--and gals can change it

So, you smart reader, what do you think? Is there a bit of a focus on wars when we study history? Can you analyze why the American Revolution came about? Can you evaluate the US Civil War as inevitable or was it avoidable? What on Earth prompted the War of 1812?

Most of us only know the actual bloody battle business, not so much the context. And we surely are much less knowledgeable about the historical gap in Europe following the 1815 Concert of Europe or the worldwide women's push for peace 115 years ago.

One of the questions we might ask is, Once we understand the involvement of broad civil society in a conflict, can we understand how and why it descended into violence? And a deeper question might be, What role does gender play?

There is a school of thought in peace history that believes that war and patriarchy were invented together in part and parcel of a particular kind of civilization.
--Historian Kent D. Shifferd (2011, p. 112)

Is war a product of patriarchy? Is patriarchy even possible if women have the vote and are more than 50 percent of the electorate? Some feminists point out that women and men have a social contract that permits violence and retribution conducted mostly by men; women are taken care of, provided for, and protected under the unwritten terms of this unspoken contract, and women give their support and love in return to the warriors, to the providers.

But what of Margaret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright, and other women who have led men into war--or at least been decision-makers who helped send (mostly) men off to battle? And what about the women who have been fighting in combat in insurgencies, in the Israeli Defense Force, and increasingly in the US military?

So, is patriarchy now open to women or is patriarchy dying out? Is it possible to feminize a military and tone down its brutality or are women just learning to be brutes? Can women and men who are feminists work together to improve the 'rules of engagement' enough to actually turn around the long trend of killing more and more civilians as 'collateral damage'? After the US military failed to capture or kill Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, one of the putative leaders of al-Shabab living in Somalia, I heard a brief mention on National Public Radio that the Pentagon claimed that their forces backed off out of fear of killing civilians. It was also cited in The New York Times as a reason the SEALS retreated. Was that true or was that a mere rationalization, an attempt to blame some more sensitive or soft norms for a military failure?

I make no claim to knowing these answers and indeed the questions burst into complexities that would be served by multiple volumes of learned exegesis. My hope is that real feminism--which is transformative and nonviolent--continues to gain in influence so that, even as women are brought into combat, combat itself becomes nonviolent. Neither I nor anyone else is going to hold our breath awaiting that state of affairs, but conflict analysts and feminists are paying some attention to these trends and glimmers of hope are mixed into the muck of patriarchal violence that does indeed seem indicative of a certain sort of civilization.


Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

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