Women Disarmed: The Militarization of Politics in Ireland 1913-23


Benton, Sarah. 1995. “Women Disarmed: The Militarization of Politics in Ireland 1913-23.” Feminist Review 50: 148-72.

Author: Sarah Benton


The movement for 'military preparedness' in America and Britain gained tremendous momentum at the turn of the century. It assimilated the cult of manliness - the key public virtue, which allowed a person to claim possession of himself and a nation to reclaim possession of itself. An army was the means of marshalling a mass of people for regeneration. The symbol of a nation's preparedness to take control of its own soul was the readiness to bear arms. Although this movement originated in the middle-class, Protestant cultures of the USA and England, its core ideas were adopted by many political movements. Affected by these ideas, as well as the formation of the Protestant Ulster Volunteers in 1913, a movement to reclaim Irish independence through the mass bearing of arms began in South and West Ireland in autumn 1914. Women were excluded from these Volunteer companies, but set up their own organization, Cumann na mBan, as an auxiliary to the men's. The Easter Rising in 1916 owed as much to older ideas of the coup d'état as new ideas of mass mobilization, but subsequent history recreated that Rising as the 'founding' moment of the Irish republic. It was not until mass conscription was threatened two years later that the mass of people were absorbed into the idea of an armed campaign against British rule. From 1919 to 1923, the reality of guerrilla-style war pressed people into a frame demanding discipline, secrecy, loyalty and a readiness to act as the prime nationalist virtues. The ideal form of relationship in war is the brotherhood, both as actuality and potent myth. The mythology of brotherhood creates its own myths of women (as not being there, and men not needing them) as well as creating the fear and the myth that rape is the inevitable expression of brotherhoods in action. Despite explicit anxiety at the time about the rape of Irish women by British soldiers, no evidence was found of mass rape, and that fear has disappeared into oblivion, throwing up important questions as to when rape is a weapon of war. The decade of war worsened the relationship of women to the political realm. Despite active involvement as 'auxiliaries' women's political status was permanently damaged by their exclusion as warriors and brothers, so much so that they disappear into the status of wives and mothers in the 1937 Irish Constitution.

Topics: Armed Conflict, National Liberation Wars, Gender, Women, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militarization, Nationalism, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women Regions: Europe, Western Europe Countries: Ireland

Year: 1995

© 2024 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at info@genderandsecurity.org.