Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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Cynthia Cockburn on Feminism and Militarism

Why (and which?) Feminist Antimilitarism?

This blog post by Cynthia Cockburn provides great insight into the intersections of miltiarism, nationalism, and patriarchy and the ways in which feminism can challenge all these things.

To read the full article please download the pdf.

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Nationalism and militarism are both ideologies (mindsets), and practices that flow from them. Now if you think about it, the inequalities and distortions of gender in a patriarchal society are very characteristic of social systems we call militarist and nationalist. They are kind of ‘brother' ideologies, and have very similar scenarios for women and men, for gender relations. They model an active, aggressive, public kind of man and masculinity. This ‘real man' is sharply differentiated from the proper woman, whose femininity features passivity, domesticity and loyalty. In all three of these mindsets, the male (father, patriot, soldier) is ascribed much higher value than the female. Many women play their traditional part proudly enough in cultures like this. After all they're crucial to the continuity because they reproduce both the population and the culture. But they are valued as wives and mothers, not as autonomous beings. Sometimes I think of it like this: that patriarchy, nationalism and militarism are a kind of mutual admiration society. Nationalism's in love with patriarchy because patriarchy offers it women who'll breed true little patriots. Militarism's in love with patriarchy because its women offer up their sons to be soldiers. Patriarchy's in love with nationalism and militarism because they produce unambiguously masculine men. If these things are true, we have to see a particular form of gender relations as being an intrinsic part of the system that gives rise to wars and keeps them going. And feminism, in challenging patriarchy, challenges the other two ‘isms'. Feminism's theory, our thinking tools, which are purpose-made for tackling patriarchy, are very useful tools for unscrewing militarism and nationalism. 

This piece originally appeared on Cynthia Cockburn's blog

Cynthia Cockburn
Published Date: 
Peace and Security