Cockburn is a feminist researcher and writer, living in London,
associated as honorary professor with the Department of Sociology,
City University London, and the Centre for the Study of Women
and Gender, Warwick University. Her most recent book is
Antimilitarism: Political and Gender Dynamics of Peace Movements.
world disarmament has featured prominently in the WILPF events
in The Hague. It is, after all, the key goal in WILPF’s
long struggle with national governments and the international
system since the Armistice of 11 November 1918. On WILPF’s
birthday, 28 April, we mounted a symbolic action outside the
World Forum. Thousands of red plastic discs, symbolizing the
world’s $1776 billion global military expenditure, were
piled in a heap. Women, with shovels and with their hands, scooped
up the coins and transferred them to accounts of their choice
-- ‘health,’ ‘education’ or ‘human
persistent theme in the Centenary Congress and Conference has
been gender relations. One of the commitments in the Manifesto
adopted by Congress is to ‘transform gender from a power
relation to one of partnership.’ And the first plenary
of the Conference addressed the male-dominant gender order as
one of the ‘root causes’ of militarization and war.
Speakers contributed ‘critical perspectives on the construction
of violent masculinities, patriarchy, and engaging men.’
the face of it, the two preoccupations, one with gender relations
and the other with global military spending, may seem to have
little connection. The first speaks of the human, intimate,
individual and personal; the other of the machinery of war,
missiles and military commands. And indeed the mainstream peace
movements, comprising both men and women, tend not make the
mental leap that is needed to bring them into a common analytic
frame. On the other hand, it’s characteristic of the women’s
peace movements, such as the Women’s International League
for Peace and Freedom, the international network of Women in
Black against War, and hundreds of smaller, more local women’s
peace initiatives, that they do so. And the particular feature
of gender relations they point to is the persistence of male
dominance, accompanied (and indeed achieved) by the insistent
shaping of masculinity, the ideal, preferred, form of manhood,
as mentally competitive and combative; psychologically ready
to use coercion; and physically equipped to prevail through
a span of twenty years I’ve had the privilege to meet
and work with such groups of feminist activists, in a dozen
countries, many of them in the Global South. They are generating
a more and more coherent narrative about the causes of war.
One of the things I’ve learned from them is that war doesn’t
stand alone. It's helpful to see it as part of a continuum of
violence. That continuum persists along a scale of force (fist
to bomb), a scale of time (peacetime, prewar, wartime, postwar),
a scale of place (bedroom, city, continent) and so on. As peace
activists, they say, we have to look for the organizational,
economic, social and psychological connections along the continuum
and address it as a whole. One of the things they notice is
that gender is a thread running through the continua in every
direction. Men and women, masculinity and femininity, in relation
to each other, feature throughout the spectrum of violence.
example of women activists who clarify and alert us to a precise
link in the gendered continuum of violence is the remarkable
project in Israel called Gun-Free Kitchen Tables. They protest
against the death and wounding of women, wives and partners
in everyday life by soldiers and police with weapons they take
home with them. These activists point out, loud and clear, that
militarism doesn't stay in the barracks. It comes in the front
door, it hangs in the closet. On a more global level, the women’s
mobilization within IANSA, the International Action Network
on Small Arms and Light Weapons, successfully pressed the United
Nations, during negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty, to acknowledge
precisely what women such as those of Gun Free Kitchen Tables
have been telling us -- the significance of guns in women’s
lives and deaths.
example of continuum-thinking is Okinawan Women Act Against
Military Violence (OWAAMV), who insist on the connection between
the violence inherent in the massive weaponry of the US military
whose bases weigh upon their islands and the frequent rape and
abuse of individual women by individual soldiers. Suzuyo Takazato,
one of its founders, spoke graphically to me of the connection
between patriarchy and militarization, both experienced every
day on her Okinawan islands as violent systems, inextricably
course, the word patriarchy does have an old-fashioned ring
to it. Many Westerners like to suppose that, in the West, in
the post-Enlightenment era, actual rule by the patriarchal head
of family faded away. But Carole Pateman in her memorable book,
The Sexual Contract, has left no room for doubt that
a different version of male dominance has been substituted for
rule by the fathers in modern times: it is the rule of the brothers.
And we are still searching for a word to designate this updated
male supremacism. Fratriarchy, perhaps, or andrarchy, androcracy?
Take your pick. Personally, I like ‘phallocracy.’
But ‘patriarchy’ seems to be hanging in there.
war from their close-in vantage point leads Suzuyo Takato and
other feminist antimilitarists to identify three main causes.
They don’t necessarily put patriarchy first. They may
rather stress, in the first place, economic factors such as
control of exploitable resources, and of markets. These are
often the immediate cause of war.
causal factor they often cite is political: lines drawn between
self-defining groups, 'us' and 'others.' The nation state system
involves multiple struggles over borders. Borders divide one
rival state from another, but usually fail to align with the
borders of ethnic, cultural and religious groups that sometimes
fight each other -- maybe for domination of the state, or simply
for recognition and rights. Racism features in this cause of
war, especially white supremacism.
the economic order, the nation state system -- what then of
the sex-gender order? The feminist analysis tends to represent
patriarchy, not necessarily as an immediate, precipitating factor
in war, but as a root cause, something that predisposes societies
to militarism and war fighting, that makes war always already
this sense, the feminist analysis of war is ‘wholistic,’
it sees multiple causes of war working together. After all,
they emerged together, historically. Gerder Lerner’s book,
The Creation of Patriarchy, usefully takes us back
to the Upper Neolithic. Gradually, from tribal and village society
there emerged a property-owning class, a system of city states
-- eventually empires -- and the patriarchal, patrilineal family.
Only then were the first standing armies created, for the protection
and extension of privilege. War is the child not of barbarism
but of ‘civilization.’
course these systems, dimensions, processes of power are inter-related
-- intersected if you like. You see them working together in
all the institutions around us: class, race and gender power
are present in a bank, in a government, in a religious structure,
in a family even. Watching the evening news, as we relaxed from
the Conference during the week of debate and discussion, we
saw reports of rioting in Baltimore. How could we escape making
the link between economic inequality, racial oppression and
masculine violence, watching these events on American streets
and in the prisons?
news reports were a reminder, besides, that patriarchy is not
only a hierarchy situating men above women. It’s a hierarchical
ranking among and between men too.
men were present among us at the WILPF events. Especially welcome
were those who shared their experience as activists in organizations
of men coming together to address male violence, such as Sonke
Gender Justice, of South Africa, and the gender justice information
network Engaging Men. Together we applied ourselves to devising
strategies for disarming masculinity.
are convinced, after all, as feminists, that gender identities
and behaviours are socially shaped, that we don't have to shrug
and say 'nothing can be done -- it's all given in the genes.'
But where, concretely, are the social programs that set about
transforming gender relations and rewriting the script of masculinity?
They are few and far between. In the UK, for instance, where
there is increasing concern over men’s abuse of women
and girls, the policy response is ‘protection’ of
the victims. “We must take more care of women and girls.”
Policy makers don’t look for the man behind the neutral
word ‘abuser,’ ‘predator,’ ‘offender.’
They don’t ask ‘What is it with men?’ They
don’t have a plan of action. Meantime, a tsunami of cultural
products, video games such as Advanced Warfare and films like
American Sniper, bombard men and boys with the idea
that militarized men are desirable men.
a couple of weeks ago I was astonished and heartened by a report
from Glasgow, a city that's been called the 'murder capital'
of Europe. They have been running a project they describe as
'caring men into change.' The authorities instituted what they
called a Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), and a Community Initiative
to Reduce Violence (CIRV). They have been working intensively
with groups of male offenders. And in a couple of years they
seem to have had an extraordinary effect. They claim to have
halved the number of violent offences in Glasgow, and reduced
weapons possession by 85%.
figures are scarcely credible. If they are accurate, there is
no excuse for holding back. They imply that ‘in a couple
of years’ we could halve the current world annual figure
of 55,000 war fatalities, and cut the annual global military
budget from $1700 billion to a mere $255 billion. ‘Caring
men into change’ needs to happen in every community, and
in every country -- starting right now.