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Agency, Militarized Femininity and Enemy Others: Observations from the War in Iraq


Sjoberg, Laura. 2007. "Agency, Militarized Femininity and Enemy Others: Observations from the War in Iraq." International Feminist Journal of Politics 9 (1): 82-101.

Author: Laura Sjoberg


In this era of the increasing importance of gender, many conflicting images of women populate news headlines and political discourses. In the 2003 war in Iraq, Americans saw images of a teenage woman as a war hero, of a female general in charge of a military prison where torture took place, of women who committed those abuses, of male victims of wartime sexual abuse and of the absence of gender in official government reactions to the torture at Abu Ghraib. I contend that several gendered stories from the 2003 war in Iraq demonstrate three major developments in militarized femininity in the United States: increasing sophistication of the ideal image of the woman soldier; stories of militarized femininity constructed in opposition to the gendered enemy; and evident tension between popular ideas of femininity and women's agency in violence. I use the publicized stories of American women prisoners of war and American women prison guards to substantiate these observed developments.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Femininity/ies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Iraq

Year: 2007

Women and War: Militarism, Bodies, and the Practice of Gender


Riley, Robin L. 2008. “Women and War: Militarism, Bodies, and the Practice of Gender.” Sociology Compass 2 (4): 1192-1208. 

Author: Robin L. Riley


Women around the world, in various geographic spaces, social and cultural contexts, as partners, wives, sisters, daughters, mothers, mourners, and victims experience war. Women's experience of war and their participation in it, either as actors or resistors, victims or perpetrators (Moser and Clark 2001), cheerleaders or critics, are always influenced by the construction of gender operating in and around their lives. While constructions of masculinity and femininity are always circulating in and around militarism and war, women's bodies are sometimes primary considerations for military and state leaders; this creates a visibility/invisibility/hyper-visibility problem for women in wartime. In this essay, women's participation in war as soldiers, refugees, prisoners, jailers, activists, and suicide bombers and the accompanying shift in the practice of femininity and masculinity is explored.

Keywords: refugees



"The capabilities of women's bodies are used to expand ideas about femininity in order to support military recruiting goals without calling into question masculine supremacy at the same time that ideas about femininity are used to justify militarized masculinity and obfuscate men's actions in wartime." (Riley, 1193-1194)

"In the build-up to the attack on Afghanistan in 2001, the liberation of Afghan women was used by the US government as part of the justification for the attack (Ayotte and Hussain 2005; Cooke 2002; Spivak 1988; Young 2003). This justification for US imperialism -- white men saving brown women from brown men (Cooke 2003; Spivak 1988) -- was insincere and positioned Afghan women as helpless and in need of rescue -- a popular narrative that upholds notions of militarized masculine supremacy in wartime (Young 2003). Not surprisingly, US military might did not end the oppression of women in Afghanistan." (Riley, 1196)

"In Iraq, women, who constitute 65 percent of the population (Sandler 2003b), had enjoyed a relatively free way of life for the region under Saddam Hussein's police state, which included safety on the streets, if not safety from Saddam Hussein's repressive tactics (Brown and Romano 2006). Since the USA has occupied Iraq, however, the rate of rapes and kidnappings within Iraq has skyrocketed. This is particularly notable given the social and legal discouragement for reporting rapes (Human Rights Watch 2003). Within their society, Iraqi women have become hypervisible. Afraid to leave their homes because of the threat of rape, they are being pressured, sometimes through open harassment on the street, to cover their heads with a scarf, hijab, or abaya (Colson 2003)." (Riley, 1196)

"While the images of the men abused at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq have been seen around the world, less is known about what happened to the women prisoners who were made invisible (Harding 2004, Eisenstein 2007)." (Riley, 1200)

"This gender confusion, where women need protecting but fight alongside men, where they are comrades but not equal comrades, where they want to be treated equally but are not expected to achieve equal standards, leads to what Sheila Jeffreys calls 'double jeopardy' where women in the military, hyper-visible within the ranks, are in danger from both the enemy and their own colleagues." (Riley, 1202)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Gender, Women, Masculinity/ies, Gender Analysis, Femininity/ies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militarism, Political Participation, Sexuality, Sexual Torture

Year: 2008

Gender and the Globalization of Violence: The Treacherous Terrain of Privatised Peacekeeping


Hudson, Heidi. 2004. "Gender and the Globalization of Violence: The Treacherous Terrain of Privatised Peacekeeping." Agenda 59: 42-55.

Author: Heidi Hudson


This article examines how globalisation has transformed the state's security functions and monopoly over violence. The expansion of the global arms dynamic and privatisation indicate increased (re)militarisation which threatens a norm-driven and people-centred global security order. A feminist conceptualisation of globalised security is necessary to remind us not to overestimate the extent to which power has become removed from the state and to offer theoretical and practical insights on how a fusion of masculine and feminine values may assist human and state security. Progress has recently been made in mainstreaming gender in peacekeeping operations, but much still needs to be done regarding implementation. Progress is also threatened by the increased use of private military companies which operate outside of generally acceptable accountability norms. Regulating these companies through international law is a possible solution which could also serve gender mainstreaming objectives. This option may be costly since it entrenches using force in conflict resolution. This could only prove detrimental to the fostering of comprehensive security based on gender justice.

Keywords: privatized peacekeeping, peacekeeping, globalization, global arms dynamic, global security sector

Topics: Gender, Masculinity/ies, Femininity/ies, Globalization, International Law, Peacekeeping, Security

Year: 2004

War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa


Goldstein, Joshua S. 2001. War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Author: Joshua S. Goldstein


Gender roles are nowhere more prominent than in war. Yet contentious debates, and the scattering of scholarship across academic disciplines, have obscured understanding of how gender affects war and vice versa. In this authoritative review of our state of knowledge, Joshua Goldstein assesses the possible explanations for the near-total exclusion of women from combat forces, through history and cross cultures. Topics covered include the history of women who did fight and fought well, the complex role of testosterone in men's social behaviors, and the construction of masculinity and femininity in the shadow of war. Goldstein concludes that killing in war does not come naturally for either gender, and that gender norms often shape men, women, and children to the needs of the war system. Illustrated with photographs, drawings, and graphics, and drawing from scholarship spanning six academic disciplines, War and Gender translates and synthesizes our latest understanding of gender roles in war. (WorldCat)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Male Combatants, Gender, Masculinity/ies, Femininity/ies

Year: 2001

Victims and Vamps, Madonnas and Whores: The Construction of Female Drug Couriers and the Practices of the US Security State


Schemenauer, Ellie. 2012. "Victims and Vamps, Madonnas and Whores: The Construction of Female Drug Couriers and the Practices of the US Security State." International Feminist Journal of Politics 14 (1): 83-102.

Author: Ellie Schemenauer


This article explores how the US "war on drugs" depends on certain notions of femininity and womanhood. In particular, I examine how female couriers from the Americas are constructed at US border sites of international airports in the 1990s. I find that female drug couriers are described in terms of victims and vamps - a take off of the madonna/whore dichotomy. The victim and vamp discourses, I argue, are the performative enactments of a security state that operates according to a racialized logic of masculinist protection. I hold in tension the circulation of the victim/vamp discourses with the story of Paula, a Colombian woman who was caught trafficking heroin in hidden compartments of her suitcase. I use Paula's story to call attention to the political work in dismissing women as agents in the international drug trade.

Keywords: war on drugs, feminist perspectives, race, masculinity

Topics: Feminisms, Gender, Women, Femininity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Masculinism, Security, Trafficking, Drug Trafficking Regions: Americas, North America Countries: United States of America

Year: 2012

Women and Wars: Some Trajectories towards a Feminist Peace


Afshar, Haleh. 2003. "Women and Wars: Some Trajectories towards a Feminist Peace." Development in Practice 13 (2/3): 177-88.

Author: Haleh Afshar


This paper seeks to explode a number of myths about women's absence from wars and conflict; it considers some problems about their vulnerabilities in these circumstances; and offers some feminist perspectives for addressing these problems. The paper considers the conflicting demands made on women in periods of war and revolution, and argues that differing historical processes result in different post-conflict policies towards women. There is, however, a commonality of experiences that universally marginalise women in the post-conflict and reconstruction phases. Even when women have participated actively in wars and revolutions, they are heavily pressured to go back to the home and reconstruct the private domain to assert the return of peace and 'normality'. This paper contends that the insistence on locating women within the domestic sphere in the post-war era may be counter-productive and located in the historical construction of nationhood and nationalism as masculine in terms of its character and demands. With the dawn of the twenty-first century and the long history of women's participation in wars, revolutions, and policy making, it may now be possible to use the symbolic importance given to them in times of conflict to articulate a different perception of nationhood and belonging, and to create a more cooperative and less competitive and hierarchical approach to politics and the reconstruction of nations and their sense of belonging.


Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Femininity/ies, Peacebuilding, Peace Processes

Year: 2003

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