Refusing to be a Man?: Men’s Responsibility for War Rape and the Problem of Social Structures in Feminist and Gender Theory


Kirby, Paul. 2013. “Refusing to Be a Man?: Men’s Responsibility for War Rape and the Problem of Social Structures in Feminist and Gender Theory.” Men and Masculinities 16 (1): 93–114. doi:10.1177/1097184X12468100.

Author: Paul Kirby


As the majority perpetrators of sexual violence, it is plausible to see men as responsible for war rape not only as individuals, but also as collective bystanders, facilitators and beneficiaries. Following recent criticisms of individual legal and moral responsibility for rape as a war crime in international law, this article examines how we might think of war rape as a collective action in moral and explanatory terms. First, it assesses existing moral arguments for the responsibility of men in groups for rape, primarily with reference to the work of Claudia Card, Larry May and Robert Strikwerda. Critiquing elements of these arguments, it explores the difficulties in talking about ‘men’ as a coherent group and in discussing ‘collectives’ themselves. Second, the article draws out the connection between accounts of moral responsibility and accounts of causal responsibility. Drawing on critiques of collective responsibility and the long-standing agency/structure problem, it argues that causal accounts focusing on structure pose a serious challenge to ideas of both individual and collective moral responsibility. The complexities of the relationship between moral and causal claims are illustrated through a discussion of Susan Brownmiller and Catharine MacKinnon’s influential perspectives on rape. The seeming paradox of responsibility is emphasised as a problem to be addressed by gender and feminist perspectives that seek to pursue both ethical and explanatory inquiry into the workings of masculinity and the political means for undoing gendered wrongs.

Keywords: rape, wartime sexual violence, moral responsibility, causal responsibility, masculinity, gender, ethics, explanation, structure/agency

Topics: Feminisms, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Gender-Based Violence, International Law, Justice, War Crimes, Sexual Violence, Male Perpetrators, SV against Women

Year: 2012

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