Gender Explanation

[Excerpt below is from Chapter 1 of War and Gender]

For information about this book, and a discussion forum, click below:
War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System
      and Vice Versa

Joshua S. Goldstein
(Cambridge University Press, September 2001)

Poster, US Army, WWII
US Army poster comparing rifles to pinups, WWII

“Sex” and “gender” Many scholars use the terms “sex” and “gender” in a way that I find unworkable: “sex” refers to what is biological, and “gender” to what is cultural. We are a certain sex but we learn or perform certain gender roles which are not predetermined or tied rigidly to biological sex. Thus, sex is fixed and based in nature; gender is arbitrary, flexible, and based in culture. This usage helps to detach gender inequalities from any putative inherent or natural basis. The problem, however, is that this sex–gender discourse constructs a false dichotomy between biology and culture, which are in fact highly interdependent.1

More concretely, the conception of biology as fixed and culture as flexible is wrong (see pp. 251–52). Biology provides diverse potentials, and cultures limit, select, and channel them. Furthermore, culture directly influences the expression of genes and hence the biology of our bodies. No universal biological essence of “sex” exists, but rather a complex system of potentials that are activated by various internal and external influences. I see no useful border separating “sex” and “gender” as conventionally used.

I therefore use “gender” to cover masculine and feminine roles and bodies alike, in all their aspects, including the (biological and cultural) structures, dynamics, roles, and scripts associated with each gender group. I reserve the word “sex” for sexual behaviors (recognizing that there is no precise dividing line here either). However, I retain the term “sexism” which is in common usage, and retain original terms such as “sex role” when quoting.

By patriarchy (literally, rule by fathers), I mean social organization based on men’s control of power. Masculinism(ist) refers to an ideology justifying, promoting, or advocating male dominanation. Feminism – my own ideological preference – opposes male superiority, and promotes women’s interests and gender equality.

Seeing gender

In North American political science and history, male war scholars’ interest in the puzzle of gendered war roles has been minimal. The topic has not attracted the funding or publications among male scholars as, for example, the similarly intriguing regularity known as the “democratic peace” (democracies rarely fight each other). Feminist political scientists and historians – nearly all women – pay attention to gender in war, but others relegate gender to the dark margins beyond their (various) theoretical frameworks for studying war. Feminist literatures about war and peace of the last 15 years have made little impact as yet on the discussions and empirical research taking place in the predominantly male mainstream of political science or military history. This omission is measurable by counting the number of headings and subheadings in a book’s index on topics relating to gender. The typical political science and history books about war – the “big” books about war’s origins and history – score zero.56

Doyle’s recent and comprehensive survey of scholarship on war and peace contains six gender–related index entries but devotes only about one–tenth of 1 percent of its space to gender. All the gender references concern women; men still do not have gender. Similarly, when gender occasionally shows up in other mainstream war studies, it does so gratuitously, as a passing note – something that could be interesting, but plays no substantive role in any of the main competing theories about war. (This pattern is less true in recent years than previously, however, and less true in Britain and Australia than in the United States. Men there are more often both subjects and authors in gender studies.)57

By contrast, anthropology – in North America and since decades ago – gives serious attention to gender–related subjects in studying war. Margaret Mead’s conclusion in the first major anthropological symposium on war (1967) called for paying “particular attention…to the need of young males to validate their strength and courage, and to…the conspicuous unwillingness of most human societies to arm women.” Anthropological thinking that connects war and gender is not limited to one ideological perspective, nor just to female scholars. Also, anthropology engages gender even though women are poorly represented among anthropologists studying war. Similarly, independent scholars outside of anthropology, political science, or history – such as Gwynne Dyer (a man) and Barbara Ehrenreich – have engaged both the mainstream war studies literatures and feminist theories of gender in war. And in 1929, sociologist Maurice Davie devoted two whole chapters of his book on war to gender.58

The gender blinders in mainstream war studies carry over to the foreign policy establishment. For example, a recent mainstream foreign policy book about “contending paradigms in international relations” – which sounds promising for the inclusion of gender – lacks any reference to gender in its 19 chapters, all written by men. The influential monthly Foreign Affairs did not carry a single article about gender issues in 1990–96. In 1998, an article on gender appeared, written by a man and arguing that biological gender differences make women more peaceful, so the “feminization of world politics” over the last century (since the suffrage movement) has created today’s “democratic zone of peace.” Foreign Affairs treated the article as a novelty, retitling it “What if Women Ran the World?” on the cover and illustrating it with bizarre century–old cartoons and photos of women in poses dominating men (e.g., with boxing gloves).59

The gender blinders also extend to male postmodern international relations scholars. Each of several recent edited volumes in postmodern international relations contains a requisite chapter about gender, written by a woman, and typically no mention of gender at all in the chapters written by men. In fact, the author’s gender is a highly significant predictor of whether the chapter includes or omits gender (see Table 1.2). Thus, even in postmodern international relations, gender is ghettoized.60

Table 1.2 Author’s gender and attention to gender in 45 postmodern international relations chapters

  Includes gender Omits gender

Author is…    
Male 1 31
Female 9 4

p < .001 by Fisher’s Exact Test (see Blalock 1972, 287). Included chapters are those of Beer and Hariman eds. 1996, MacMillan and Linklater eds. 1995, and Shapiro and Alker eds. 1996.

1 Tuana 1983, 625; James 1997, 214; Oudshoorn 1994; Laqueur 1990, 8.

56 [Number of index entries for women, men, female, male, feminine, feminist, masculine, gender, sex, rape, or prostitution – total is zero unless listed after year.] Historians: Howard 1976; Tuchman 1984; Ferrill 1985; Van Creveld 1985; Keegan and Holmes 1985; Kennedy 1987; Keegan 1993; Kagan 1995; political scientists: Aron 1954; Waltz 1959 (1); Waltz 1979; Beer 1981 (1); Levy 1983; Keohane ed. 1986; Goldstein 1988; North 1990; Vasquez 1993; Brown 1994; Porter 1994 (2); Doyle 1997 (6); Vasquez ed. 2000; cf. anthropologists: Fried, Harris, and Murphy eds. 1967 (2); Nettleship, Givens, and Nettleship eds. 1975; Ferguson ed. 1984 (4); Foster and Rubinstein eds. 1986 (13); Turner and Pitt eds. 1989; Haas ed. 1990 (8); Ferguson and Whitehead eds. 1992 (2); Reyna and Downs eds. 1994; other disciplines: Keeley 1996 (2); Dyer 1985 (2); Ehrenreich 1997a (31).

57 Doyle 1997; Van Creveld 1991, 222; Waltz 1959, 46; Beer 1981, 172; Porter 1994, 177–78; Katzenstein ed. 1996, 16, 47; Keohane ed. 1986; Rotberg and Rabb eds. 1988; Doyle and Ikenberry eds. 1997; Holsti 1985.

58 Foster and Rubinstein 1986, xii; Mead 1967a, 1967b; Fried, Harris, and Murphy eds. 1967; Nettleship, Givens, and Nettleship eds. 1975; Ferguson ed. 1984; Foster and Rubinstein eds. 1986; Rubinstein and Foster eds. 1988; Turner and Pitt eds. 1989; Haas ed. 1990; Ferguson and Whitehead eds. 1992; M. Harris 1989; Harris 1974, 83–107; Divale and Harris 1976; Casey 1991; Mead 1967b, 236; Di Leonardo ed. 1991; Shaw and Wong 1989, 181–82; Dyer 1985, 122–25; Ehrenreich 1997a, 125; Ehrenreich 1997b; Davie 1929, 23–45, 96–102.

59 Foreign Affairs 1997, paradigms; Steuernagel and Quinn 1986, 6; Hunt 1997; Fukuyama 1998, 34–40; Ehrenreich et al. 1999.

60 Whitworth 1994b, 50–55; Beer and Hariman eds. 1996; MacMillan and Linklater eds. 1995; Krause 1995; O’Brien and Parsons 1995; Shapiro and Alker eds. 1996; Pettman 1996b; Patton 1996; Sánchez–Eppler 1996; Ferguson 1996.

To book website:
War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System
      and Vice Versa

Joshua S. Goldstein
(Cambridge University Press, September 2001)