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

by Joshua S. Goldstein    (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
  Book of the Decade Award (2000-2009), International Studies Association

"War and Gender is a fascinating book about an important issue. I thoroughly recommend it to everyone who has an interest in why we humans behave the way we do."
-- Jane Goodall (The Jane Goodall Institute)

"What a marvelous book! Readers will be captured by Goldstein's clear, trenchant writing style, remarkable interdisciplinary breadth, and the wealth of fascinating new details and ideas on every page. Some of his conclusions will undoubtedly be controversial. So much the better. This is definitely a 'must read' book."
-- Eleanor E. Maccoby (Dept. of Psychology, Stanford University)

"Joshua Goldstein's book redefines what we think of both 'war' and 'gender.' It is simply the most disturbing account of the link between sex and violence yet written. Finally, we have a truly multi-disciplinary study of the subject. Distressing, and convincing."
-- Joanna Bourke (School of History, Classics and Archaeology, U. of London)

"A must-read for anyone interested in gender and militarism."
-- Jane Mansbridge (Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University)

Co-winner of the American Political Science Association's Victoria Schuck Award for best book on women and politics, 2002.

   Discussion Forum          Email: jg -at- joshuagoldstein -dot- com             About the Author          About the Cover Photo

Short excerpts and illustrations on:
Women in WWI
Women in Combat
Female Combat
Amazon Women
Feminist Theory
Gender Roles
Gender Difference
Gender Issues
Gender FAQs
Gender Explanation
Gender - Sexuality
Gender Studies
Male Aggression
Boys' Violence
       Excerpts and information about women's roles in World War I
       Goldstein's Op Ed on gender and the war on terrorism (CS Monitor 1/20/02)

ISBN: 0521001803 paperback, 0521807166 hardbound, 523 pp.

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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 and lively 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 across 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. lllustrated with photographs, drawings, and graphics, and drawing from scholarship spanning six academic disciplines, this book provides a unique study of a fascinating issue.

© 2001 Joshua S. Goldstein

Brief Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables

1. A Puzzle: The Cross-Cultural Consistency of Gender Roles in War
2. Women Warriors: The Historical Record of Female Combatants
3. Bodies: The Biology of Individual Gender
4. Groups: Bonding, Hierarchy, and Social Identity
5. Heroes: The Making of Militarized Masculinity
6. Conquests: Sex, Rape, and Exploitation in Wartime
7. Reflections: The Mutuality of Gender and War

References Author Index
Subject Index


Detailed Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables

1. A Puzzle: The Cross-Cultural Consistency of Gender Roles in War

Plan of the Book
The Diversity of War and of Gender

A. The Universal Gendering of War
Myths of Amazon Matriarchies
Gendered War Roles in Preindustrial Societies
Cases of Female Participation in Combat

B. The Universal Potential for War
The Myth of Peaceful Origins
Present-day Gathering-Hunting Societies
Specific Peaceful Societies

C. Feminist Theories of War and Peace
Seeing Gender
Liberal Feminism
Difference Feminism
Postmodern Feminism
Feminism and Biology
Feminism and International Relations Theory


2. Women Warriors: The Historical Record of Female Combatants


A. Female Combat Units
Dahomey in the Slave-Trading Era
The Soviet Union in World War II
Other Cases

B. Mixed-Gender Units
Guerrilla Armies
Present-Day State Armies
The U.S. Experience

C. Individual Women Fighters
Openly Female Fighters

D. Women Military Leaders
Warrior Queens
Modern Political Leaders in Wartime


3. Bodies: The Biology of Individual Gender

The Nature-Nurture Feedback Loop
Gender Differences in Aggression

A. Genetics
The Genetics of Gender

B. Testosterone Levels
How Testosterone Works
Testosterone and Aggression
Social Competition and Testosterone Levels
Stress Hormones

C. Size and Strength
Body Size and Strength
Does Brain or Brawn Win Wars?

D. Brains and Cognition
Brain Development
Cognitive Abilities
Wired for Aggression?

E. Female Sex Hormones and Caregiving


4. Groups: Bonding, Hierarchy, and Social Identity

Humans, Chimpanzees and Bonobos
Primate Diversity

A. Male Bonding
Bonding in Combat
Is Bonding Gendered?

B. Ability to Work in Hierarchies
Childhood Pecking Orders
Managing Conflict within Groups

C. In-Group/Out-Group Psychology
Intergroup Competition
Intergroup Hostility

D. Childhood Gender Segregation
Extent of Gender Segregation
Causes and Effects of Segregation
The Role of Fathers


5. Heroes: The Making of Militarized Masculinity


A. Test of Manhood as a Motivation to Fight
Fear and Functionality in Battle
Combat Trauma
Manhood in War
Historical Examples
The Men's Movement
Toughening Up Boys

B. Feminine Reinforcement of Soldiers' Masculinity
Making War Abnormal
Women's Nurturing of Men Warriors
Other Psychological War Support Roles

C. Women Peace Activism


6. Conquests: Sex, Rape, and Exploitation in Wartime


A. Male Sexuality as a Cause of Aggression
Sex in Wartime
Military Prostitution
Does Sex Affect Aggression?

B. Feminization of Enemies as Symbolic Domination
Means of Feminization
Rape in War
War and Misogyny
Military Homophobia

C. Dependence on Exploiting Women's Labor
Women War Workers
Women's Labor in the World Wars
Gender Inequality and War-Proneness Cross-Culturally
Are Women or Men the Main Victims of War?


7. Reflections: The Mutuality of Gender and War

Sifting the Explanations of Gendered War Roles
Lessons for Scholars of War and Peace
War as a Cause of Gender
Dilemmas of Social Change

Author Index
Subject Index



Recently, I discovered a list of unfinished research projects, which I had made fifteen years ago at the end of graduate school. About ten lines down is “gender and war,” with the notation “most interesting of all; will ruin career – wait until tenure.” Fortunately, other political scientists in those years – almost all of them women – were not so timid in developing feminist scholarship on war. These pioneers laid the intellectual foundations for this project, and were often kind enough to teach me and encourage my gender interests. I am indebted to Carol Cohn, Francine D’Amico, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Cynthia Enloe, V. Spike Peterson, Simona Sharoni, Christine Sylvester, J. Ann Tickner, and others. (And, fortunately, I did get tenure.)

A second debt I owe to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which funded a research leave based on my vague idea of writing an interdisciplinary book about war. When it proved slow a-borning, the foundation staff said simply that they would leave a space on their library’s shelf of “MacArthur books.” Here it is, only seven years late.

The roots of this project – and a third debt – go back further. I grew up on the Stanford campus, with two molecular biologists for parents. I worked occasionally in my father’s lab, and picked up a feeling for the world of natural science. Only in retrospect do I appreciate what an extraordinary privilege it was to grow up inside Stanford when it was still a small town and, for me, an interdisciplinary incubator.

Science and scholarship are never entirely unbiased, since knowledge-production occurs within social and political contexts. Scientists occupy positions in social hierarchies. Arguments serve purposes and reflect political agendas. Personally, I write from a position of privilege and security, as a white, male, North American, tenured social scientist. I have never been in a war or served in the military, though I was born in the shadow of World War II and turned 18 during Vietnam – as a peace activist. My political agenda today is anti-war and pro-feminist, tempered over several decades by an appreciation of the enormous complexity and difficulty of these important changes in human society. All these perspectives, no doubt, affect the character of my book, but I would single out especially that of being a man. Men should pay more attention to gender. We learn about ourselves by doing so. I have, at least.

This book summarizes a large and complex body of evidence drawn from different research communities in a variety of academic disciplines. Bringing this material together requires some translation, but I try not to over-translate others’ voices, nor to massage the mass of sometimes contradictory material to fit a single theory or dogma. The result is a longer book, but a richer one. I have tried hard to be careful, fair, and above all honest – about where the empirical evidence leads, and about how poorly simplistic models and theories describe our complex world.

The research literatures covered here are growing exponentially. My review, with some exceptions, ends in early 1999, although new and interesting works continue to appear (notably Kurtz ed. 1999 and Bourke 1999). Many others will follow. For updates and discussions, see this book’s website,

Exchanging ideas with scholars from other disciplines has been a special pleasure of this project. For their suggestions on a previous draft and on the project, I thank in particular John Archer, Frans de Waal, Mel and Carol Ember, Seymour and Norma Feshbach, Walter Goldschmidt, Jane Goodall, Sir Michael Howard, Paul Kennedy, Melvin Konner, Charles Lawrence, Eleanor Maccoby, Mari Matsuda, Richard Wrangham, and the late Carl Sagan.

In my own discipline I especially thank – in addition to the feminist theorists mentioned earlier – Hayward Alker, Neta Crawford, Randy Forsberg, Peter Haas, Ruth Jacobson, Sarah Johnson, Adam Jones, Stephen Krasner, Nanette Levinson, Jack Levy, Lory Manning, Jane Mansbridge, Craig Murphy, Shoon Murray, Robert North, Jim Rosenau, Bruce Russett, Cathy Schneider, Shibley Telhami, and others. Thanks also to participants in seminars and conversations at Yale, Stanford, Cornell, University of Massachusetts, American University, the University of Maryland, Rutgers, and the Peace Science Society and International Studies Association conferences. For research assistance and support, I thank the incomparable Elizabeth Kittrell, Wendy Hunter, Brook Demmerle, Briana Saunders, Teruo Iwai, Maryanne Yerkes, American University, University of Sothern California, University of Massachusetts, Yale, and Harvard. For seeing the potential of this book, I thank my editor at Cambridge University Press, John Haslam. Thanks to Reena Bernards, Cynthia Schrager, Elena Stone, and Allan Lefcowitz for writing help. For long-distance spiritual support during this long, difficult project, I appreciate Joyce Galaski, Ericka Huggins, and Reena Kling. Finally, thanks to Andra, Solomon, and Ruth for companionship and humor.

About the footnotes

The footnotes, grouped by paragraph of text, provide work and page citations for quotes and specific claims, indicated by an identifier word before the page number. A subject word followed by a colon applies to subsequent citations until the next colon. A citation without identifier or subject word refers to a discussion relevant to the paragraph but not to any particular claim or quote in it. Some authors cited for a paragraph may be dissenting arguments from the paragraph’s point. Some of the footnotes encapsulate running conversations, which the interested reader can reconstruct from the sequence of page citations given.

About the website

Discussions and updates regarding the topics raised in this book may be found at its site on the World Wide Web, Scholarly resources include a searchable list of the References. Join an interdisciplinary conversation, check for errata (sigh), or read the first chapter.

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