As the 72 hour humanitarian truce in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to be holding, I’ve been thinking a lot about the gendering of war and nation-building, which reader Kamani also mentioned in response to Masculinities Mondays a couple of weeks ago.
- Firstly, I have not been able to avoid the patronising ‘womenandchildren’ rhetoric in the media coverage of this whole crisis. A few examples:
- In this interview, Channel 4 news anchor John Snow accuses Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev, saying, “You are deliberately targeting neighbourhoods in which you know there are women and children.”
- Reporting on last week’s attack on the Abu Hussein school, Robert Tait of the Telegraph writes, “Many of the dead were women and children.”
- Similarly, Peter Beaumont of The Guardian reported about an attack last Thursday “Most of the injured were women and children…Most of the wounded were moved initially to a local hospital where terrified women and children clung to each other.”
- This Washington Post infographic claims that, as of the 4th of August, 1256 Palestinian civilians had been killed and “of those, 204 were women and 380 children.” If you do the maths, that means that 672 men had been killed – more than triple the number of women killed.
None of these articles explicitly point out the number of men who have been killed, and only the Washington Post infographic mentions the gender of the Israeli soldiers who have been killed (and that’s only if you look closely). So, what are we to make of all this? That men’s lives don’t matter as much? That women are just passive victims of war? That women are, essentially, equivalent to children? While the deaths of these women and of these children are, indeed, tragic, isn’t anyone’s death in such a conflict tragic?
These concerns are not at all new, nor are they isolated to the current conflict in Gaza. Numerous feminist theorists, including Cynthia Enloe, Zillah Eisenstein and Nira Yuval Davis, have all written extensively on the instrumentalisation of women in wars and nation-building rhetoric. Indeed, last year, in reference to U.S. intervention in Syria, Eisenstein wrote:
Calling for the protection of “womenandchildren” allows leaders to frame wars as matters of national security, under the assumption that women and children must be protected for nations to be secure…But this does not make sense, unless you have adopted a patriarchal stance that women are not equal participants with men and a deep part of our common humanity. Misogyny separates women from men as different, lesser than, and in need of protection.
This is exactly what I see occurring with the English-language media coverage of the conflict in Gaza and, actually, in almost every conflict, and if we are going to address gender inequality, we need to call out these quiet, institutionalised forms of gendered discrimination. And, while you’re at it, if you’re searching for a refreshing look at the representation of women in Gaza (a look that defies the ‘womenandchildren’ rhetoric), check out this wonderful collection of photos by Tanya Habjouqa.
- In an opinion piece on Al Jazeera, Marwan Bishara discusses the misogyny and racism that he sees as inextricably tied in to Israel’s militarism, including the real and metaphorical suggestions of rape as an acceptable form of retribution in war. I would argue, however, that a certain type of masculinity, founded on violence and subordination of ‘the Other’, is central to the way both sides construct the idea of a nation in all wars, not just this one.
- Indeed, speaking about women and militarism in Myanmar, social anthropologist and documentary filmmaker, Dr. Khin Mar Mar Kyi, argues that gender inequality is an implicit characteristic of militarised nations. She states,
The military is an extreme form of male dominance, an extreme form of patriarchy. In places of military dominance, women can never be valued, women can never be equal, their rights are not protected and their needs are not considered. In places where the military dominates, women face extreme discrimination.
Speaking about peace and reconciliation in Myanmar, she calls for the full and equal participation of women in peace talks:
We need to include women in peace talks because women are not only half of the population but also half of the resources of our country. You cannot afford to waste half the population and resources in these peace talks. No woman, no peace.
- For Spanish-speakers, in the first of a two-part episode on Colombian TV programe ‘El Sofa,’ Giovanni Muñoz, co-founder of Colectivo Hombres y Masculinidades (Men and Masculinities Collective), talks about the Collective’s work on promoting new ways of being a man in Colombia, that are not based on violence and aggression. Talking about peace building in Colombia, Muñoz explains,
If we really want to talk about peace in our society, if we really want to start forming peace, we have to start forming the men…What we want is…to, in some way, change this macho society that we are in, this society of maltreatment, this violent society; we want to start to change it – it’s possible.
It’s an excellent interview (about 20 minutes long) that also discusses programs in Colombia focussed on women’s sexual rights, increasing the acceptability of physical intimacy between male friends, and transgender rights.
- Meanwhile, focusing on another aspect of the gendering of war, Margarita Rodriguez reports that, in Colombia, many ex-guerrilla women are now searching for their children that were forcibly taken away from them when they were members of rebel groups. Although most female guerrilla fighters who became pregnant were told to have abortions, those that did not had to give up their babies.
- To switch topic to a lighter, but no less important, note, LEGO has taken note of the complaint of 7 year-old Charlotte Benjamin that there were not enough active and intelligent female LEGO characters and has released a female scientists set, designed by geophysicist Ellen Kooijman. In her letter to LEGO, Charlotte wrote,
I love Legos but I don’t like that there are more Lego boy people and barely any Lego girls…All the [Lego] girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs but the boys went on adventures, saved people, had jobs, even swam with sharks! I want you to make Lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun, ok!?!
The set, which includes a paleontologist, an astronomer and a chemist, is available for purchase on LEGO’s website.
- In a move that is hopefully a sign of changes to come, a Ugandan court has dismissed the country’s punitive antigay law. Although the court struck down the law on technical, rather than human rights, grounds, activists in Uganda and around the world are celebrating this progressive step. The antigay law, approved by the government in December 2013, criminalized homosexual acts, with some being punishable by life in prison.
- And Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu continues to publicly push for gay rights, saying
“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place…I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that’s how strongly I feel about this.“
That’s it for this week. Feel free to send us your comments or ideas for topics you’d like to see covered. Have a great week!