Course: Gender, Sexuality and Violent Conflict: Beyond Oppositional Imagination

Instructor: Dubravka Zarkov

Course description:

Classical conflict studies have had a rather simplified set of assumptions when it comes to war and peace. War is seen as a distinct reality, on the opposite end of peace; it is depicted as a fight between the forces of good and evil, with clear winners and losers; the end of mass violence is taken as the end of conflict; and a linear progress is imagined leading from 'war' to 'post-war'.

Those assumptions about war and peace have relied on un-acknowledged gender assumptions: men are seen as heroic and patriotic soldiers, fighting on the front-lines, defending civilians, who are, by default, imagined as ‘innocent-women-and-children’, in need of male protection.

Feminist studies have questioned such perspectives on both war and gender. For, one thing is clear: the classical images of brave soldiers and powerless women have never been about gender only. The ‘enemy men’ are never depicted as heroes, but as primitive and brute rapists. The ‘enemy women’ are never seen as innocent, but as aggressive instigators of violence against other women and men.

Feminist analysis has sought to highlight women's and men’s social engagements and roles in both supporting violence, and in fighting against it. It had also tried to unpack the ways female and male sexuality, and heteronormativity are implicated in different forms of violence inflicted on both the female and the male bodies; and to point to the intersections of heteronormativity and gender with collective identities (such as ethnicity, race, nationhood etc) as crucial for women’s and men’s roles and experience of war and its aftermath.

Feminist also insisted that there are continuities of different forms of gendered violence in ‘peace’ and ‘war’ alike. Consequently, feminists have argued, understanding of all those dynamics is relevant not just for understanding gender and sexuality, but also for understanding war and peace, and the social and geo-political processes by which they are produced.

Classical theorizing of war is also questioned by critical political economists. Who argue that contemporary wars are not about higher moral values, ideology and winning – even when such rhetoric is used to justify them. Rather, today’s wars are about natural resources and geo-political domination; about perpetuating violence and destruction in one part of the world, so that the other part of the world can live in peace.

This rhetoric seems all the more effective when coupled with gendered images of the so-called African ‘war lords’ smuggling diamonds and ruthlessly abducting children into soldiering; or a Muslim fundamentalist suicide bomber; or a crazed Serb rapist. Making those images highly and selectively visible has a double effect – it makes invisible the truly global dynamics of localized violence; and it naturalizes gendered representations of the primitive Other and the civilized, righteous Self.

Thus, understanding the ideas about war and pace, and the processes by which they are produced and maintained, is inseparable from understanding gendered relations of power. Equally, contemporary notions of masculinity and femininity, and their intersection with sexuality, religion, race, or ethnicity are inseparable from contemporary dynamics of war and violence.

Taking as its starting point the above discussion, this course (1) understands the concepts of gender and sexuality as referring to both women and men, both masculinities and femininities; (2) considers that heteronormativity is crucial for understanding gender; (3) takes an explicitly intersectional perspective, insisting that gender and sexuality are constitutive of other social relations of power implicated in the dynamics of war and violence; (4) assumes that gender and sexuality – as lived realities and as analytical tools – are not only relevant for understanding the lives of women and men in war and peace, but for understanding the very dynamics of war and peace.

The course consists of three blocks: the first unpacks the concepts of gender and sexuality, focusing on the fe/male body, and using intersectional analysis; the second addresses the concepts of war, peace and violence using critical political economy and feminist analysis; the third block brings all the concepts together and translates them into practice, focusing on three specific cases. Those are: reproductive body, victimized body and armed body. Each case brings examples of specific violent practices towards both the female and male bodies, and looks at the bodies as sites of resistance.

Learning Objectives:

  • To enable students to understand core concept of gender, sexuality and intersectionality and use them as analytical tools; 
  • To enable students to critically reflect on the conceptualizations of war and peace, from an intersectional feminist perspective, as well as critical political economy perspective;

Teaching and Learning methods:

The teaching and learning methods consist of a mixture of classical ex-catedra lectures, diverse types of small group work (such as production of posters, analysis of diverse video and textual material, etc) and presentations. The course is supported by diverse teaching and learning material, such as academic literature, a diversity of web-based, visual and textual sources (movies and documentary films; educational videos; poetry; press clippings; activist, practitioner and civil society web-based and printed material) and students’ own life and work experiences.

Indicative Readings:

1. Barnes, B.N. 1997, `Face of the Nation; Race, Nationalisms, and Identities in Jamaican Beauty Pageants,' in Springfield, C.L. (ed.) Daughters of Caliban, Caribbean Women in the Twentieth Century, London, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997, pp. 285-306
2. Bourke, J. 1996,  `Fragmentation, Fetishization and Men's Bodies in Britain, 1890-1939', in Women, A Cultural Review, 7(3): pp. 240-250
3. Butalia, U. 2001, `Women and communal conflict. New Challenges for the Women’s Movement in India’, in  C. Moser and F. Clark (eds), Victims, Perpetrators or Actors? Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence, London: Zed Books, pp.99-113
4. Cockburn, Cynthia, 2001, `The Gendered Dynamics of Armed Conflict and Political Violence’, in Moser, O.N. & Clark, C.F. (eds) Victims, Perpetrators or Actors? Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence, Delhi: Kali for Women, pp. 13-29
5. Enloe, Cynthia, 2002, `Demilitarization – or more of the same? Feminist Questions to ask in the postwar moment’ in Cockburn, Cynthia & Zarkov, Dubravka (eds) The Postwar Moment. Militaries, Masculinities and International Peacekeeping, London:” Lawrence & Wishart, pp. 22-32
6. Kandirikirira, N. (2002) `Deconstructing Domination: Gender Disempowerment and the Legacy of Colonialism and Apartheid in Omaheke, Namibia’ in Cleaver, F. (ed.) Masculinities Matter! Men, Gender and Development, London, New York: Zed Books, Cape Town: David Philip, pp. 112-137
7. Keen, David 2000, `War and Peace: What’s the Difference?’ in International Peacekeeping, 7(4):1-22
8. Zarkov, Dubravka, 2002, `Srebrenica trauma: masculinity, military and national self-image in Dutch Daily newspapers’ in Cockburn, C. and Zarkov, D. (eds) The Postwar Moment. Militaries, Masculinities and International Peacekeeping, London: Lawrence & Wishart, pp. 183-203
9. Zarkov, D. 2007,  ‘The Body of the Other Man’ (Chapter 8) in The Body of War. Media, Ethnicity and Gender in the Break-up of Yugoslavia, (Chapter 8), Duke University Press, pp. 155-169

Recommended Readings:

1. Connell, R. W. 1999, `The Social Organization of Masculinity' (Chapter 3) in  Masculinities, London: Polity Press, pp. 67-86
2. Scott, J.W., 1986,  ‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’, American Historical Review 91:1053-75;  (reprinted in Scott, J. W., 1988, Gender and the Politics of History,  New York: Columbia UP, pp. 28 – 53; revised. edition New York, 1999, pp. 28-52)
3. Lorber, J. 1994, `“Night to His Day”: The Social Construction of Gender’ in Paradoxes of Gender, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, pp. 13-36