Gender, Agency and War: The Maternalized Body in US Foreign Policy (War, Politics and Experience)


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This usage helps to detach gender inequalities from any putative inherent or natural basis. More concretely, the conception of biology as fixed and culture as flexible is wrong see pp. Biology provides diverse potentials, and cultures limit, select, and channel them. Furthermore, culture directly influences the expression of genes and hence the biology of our bodies.

Masculinism ist refers to an ideology justifying, promoting, or advocating male dominanation.

Department of Social Sciences

A common definition used in political science counts only wars producing 1, battle fatalities. I define war broadly, as lethal intergroup violence. Indeed, warfare worldwide in recent years seldom has taken the form of pitched battles between state armies. The difference is that wars occur between groups communities, ethnic groups, societies, states. Wars also cross an important threshold by killing people. Not all intergroup violence has this lethal quality. I define the war system as the interrelated ways that societies organize themselves to participate in potential and actual wars.

In this perspective, war is less a series of events than a system with continuity through time. This system includes, for example, military spending and attitudes about war, in addition to standing military forces and actual fighting. In understanding gendered war roles, the potential for war matters more than the outbreak of particular wars.


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Thus, like a patient with cancer in remission, a society that is only temporarily peaceful still lives under the shadow of war. Chapter 1 describes a puzzle: despite the diversity of gender and of war separately, gender roles in war are very consistent across all known human societies. Furthermore, virtually all human cultures to date have faced the possibility, and frequently the actual experience, of war although I do not think this generalization will last far into the future. The empirical evidence for these generalizations, reviewed in the chapter, shows the scope and depth of the puzzle.


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  6. The chapter then reviews three strands of feminist theory that offer a variety of possible answers to the puzzle. From these approaches, I extract 20 hypotheses amenable to assessment based on empirical evidence see Table 1. All three feminist approaches turn out to contribute in different ways to understanding the puzzle of gendered war roles. Chapter 2 considers the numerous historical cases in which women for various reasons participated in military operations including combat. This historical record shows that women are capable of performing successfully in war.

    This evidence deepens the puzzle of gendered war roles. Many societies have lived by war or perished by war, but very few have mobilized women to fight. Each of these hypotheses except genetics finds some support from empirical evidence, but only in terms of average differences between genders, not the categorical divisions that mark gendered war roles. Chapter 4 explores dynamics within and between groups, drawing on animal behavior and human psychology. The strongest empirical evidence emerges for childhood segregation, but that segregation does not explain the nearly total exclusion of women as combatants.

    Resisting Necropolitics: Reconceptualizing Agency in Mbembé and Agamben

    Chapter 5 discusses how constructions of masculinity motivate soldiers to fight, across a variety of cultures and belief systems. Chapter 6 asks whether, beyond their identities as tough men who can endure hardship, soldiers are also motivated by less heroic qualities. Chapter 7 concludes that the gendering of war appears to result from a combination of factors, with two main causes finding robust empirical support: 1 small, innate biological gender differences in average size, strength, and roughness; and 2 cultural molding of tough, brave men, who feminize enemies in dominating them.

    The gendering of war thus results from the combination of culturally constructed gender roles with real but modest biological differences. Neither alone would solve the puzzle. Causality runs both ways between war and gender.

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    Gender roles adapt individuals for war roles, and war roles provide the context within which individuals are socialized into gender roles. For the war system to change fundamentally, or for war to end, might require profound changes in gender relations. But the transformation of gender roles may depend on deep changes in the war system. Multiple pathways of causality and feedback loops are common in biology, acting as stabilizing mechanisms in a dynamic system, and come to the fore at several points in this book. The socialization of children into gender roles helps reproduce the war system.

    War shadows every gendered relationship, and affects families, couples, and individuals in surprising ways. Apart from war and a few biological necessities gestation and lactation , gender roles show great diversity across cultures and through history. Human beings have created many forms of marriage, sexuality, and division of labor in household work and child care.

    Marriage patterns differ widely across cultures. Some societies practice monogamy and some polygamy and some preach monogamy but practice nonmonogamy.

    Of the polygamous cultures, most are predominantly polygynous one man, several wives but some are predominantly polyandrous one woman, several husbands. Norms regarding sexuality also vary greatly across cultures. Some societies are puritanical, others open about sex. Attitudes towards homosexuality also differ across time and place, from relative acceptance to intolerance.

    Today, some countries officially prohibit discrimination against gay men and lesbians, while other countries officially punish homosexuality with death. Gender roles also vary across cultures when it comes to household and child care responsibilities. Different societies divide economic work differently by gender except hunting. Even child care except pregnancy and nursing shows considerable variation in the roles assigned to men and women. Thus, overall, gender roles outside war vary greatly. Similarly, forms of war vary greatly, except for their gendered character.

    Different cultures fight in very different ways. The Aztecs overpowered and captured warriors from neighboring societies, then used them for torture, human sacrifice, and food. A central rack contained over , skulls of their victims. The Dahomey also warred for captives, but to sell into slavery to European traders. Some wars more than pay for themselves; others are economic disasters. The economic benefit of cheap oil was arguably greater than the cost of the Gulf War, for Western powers that chipped in to pay for the war.

    Similarly, the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian steppes who invented warfare on horseback found profit in raiding. Some wars seem almost symbolic because they absorb great effort but produce few casualties.

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    A different form of ritualistic war occupied the two superpowers of the Cold War era, whose nuclear weapons were built, deployed, and maintained on alert, but never used. Some wars take place far from home, when armies travel on expeditions to distant lands.

    Later, European armies occupied colonies worldwide. Cuban soldiers in the s fought in Angola. For traveling soldiers, home was a long way away, and for their home societies, war was distant. For most European peasants of the sixteenth century, war seldom impinged on daily life except through taxation.

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    Other wars, however, hit extremely close to home. In recent decades, civil wars often have put civilians and everyday life right in the firing line. The World Wars made entire societies into war machines and therefore into targets. Sometimes soldiers kill enemies that they have never met, who look different from them and speak languages they do not understand. The Incas of Peru assumed the incomprehensible Spanish invaders to be gods.

    By contrast, in some wars neighbors kill neighbors, as in the Serbian campaign of terror in Bosnia. At other times, they kill at close quarters, as with bayonets. Some, like the soldiers who planted land mines in Cambodia and Angola in the s, have no idea whom they killed. Others, such as snipers in any war, can see exactly whom they kill.

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    Combatants react in many different ways. Many soldiers in battle lose the ability to function, because of psychological trauma. But some soldiers feel energized in battle, and some look back to their military service as the best time of their lives. They found meaning, community, and the thrill of surviving danger. In many societies, veterans of battle receive special status and privilege afterwards.

    Sometimes, however, returning soldiers are treated as pariahs.

    Gender, Agency and  War: The Maternalized Body in US Foreign Policy (War, Politics and Experience) Gender, Agency and War: The Maternalized Body in US Foreign Policy (War, Politics and Experience)
    Gender, Agency and  War: The Maternalized Body in US Foreign Policy (War, Politics and Experience) Gender, Agency and War: The Maternalized Body in US Foreign Policy (War, Politics and Experience)
    Gender, Agency and  War: The Maternalized Body in US Foreign Policy (War, Politics and Experience) Gender, Agency and War: The Maternalized Body in US Foreign Policy (War, Politics and Experience)
    Gender, Agency and  War: The Maternalized Body in US Foreign Policy (War, Politics and Experience) Gender, Agency and War: The Maternalized Body in US Foreign Policy (War, Politics and Experience)
    Gender, Agency and  War: The Maternalized Body in US Foreign Policy (War, Politics and Experience) Gender, Agency and War: The Maternalized Body in US Foreign Policy (War, Politics and Experience)

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