Is War Gendered?

Although war affects all citizens, regardless of gender or age, it is inherently gendered and particularly harsh for women. I completely stand by Pamela Delargy’s assertion that conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), particularly against women, is difficult to attribute to one cause, as it is largely dependent on the specific conflict involved. Treatment of and prevention for potential victims of CSRV also proves challenging, not only because the foundations of CRSV can be so muddled, but also because of cultural restraints and the risk of doing more harm than good to those affected.

A variety of reasons for the level and prevalence of sexual violence toward women exist. Some argue that rape is simply in the biological nature of the male, and that aggression toward females is only repressed because of societal taboos (Delargy). Relatedly, the patriarchal societies in which many victims live perpetuate a culture of women as property, or as lesser beings than men. Both of the aforementioned justifications fail to completely explain why CRSV is used as a war strategy however. Soldiers may rape the enemies’ women for multiple reasons related to strategic conflict, some of which are to demoralize the community, dilute the bloodlines, and ensure that the enemy leaves the territory and does not return. (Delargy).

While obviously all efforts to help survivors of CRSV are well intentioned, many have consequences in the affected communities. Punishment of rapists can lead to retaliation, or make it more likely for them to kill their victims to avoid punishment (Delargy). In some societies, it is unfavorable for a woman to even admit to having been raped for fear of disownment by her family. This makes it hard for victims to seek necessary medical and psychological help. Delargy points to support from the community as a usually positive mitigation for survivors, something that the UN Security Council is trying to increase in Syria (UN News Centre). Sexual violence has been used as a war tactic for the past five years in Syria, and efforts to help female victims heal and reintegrate into societies have been set to increase in light of a recent meeting of the Council.

Delargy, Pamela. “Sexual Violence and Women’s Health in War.” Women and Wars. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2013. Print.

“‘Status Quo Simply Cannot Continue in Syria’ – UN Humanitarian Chief.” UN News Centre. UN, 16 Nov. 2015. Web.


9 thoughts on “Is War Gendered?

  1. I agree with you, Allyson! Unfortunately, the world enjoys genderizing everything, and war is no different. It’s sickening that an applicable war tactic is to rape opponent’s women, but it’s also sickening that they then go shoot the opponents. No matter how gendered something is, we are all human and the death and violence suffered from war is detrimental to all.

  2. I agree that war is definitely gendered due to stereotypical norms that males are entitled to have dominance and power over women. I believe that the majority of the reason males choose to act out and rape women in war is due to a high level of testosterone and a sense of entitlement in which they believe their will be no repercussions for their actions, and see nothing wrong with demonstrating their “dominance.” I believe men see females as objects, and in war where there are essentially no rules in many aspects, see fit to treat the women however they desire. I agree with Delargy and Allyson that it is hard to attribute the exact cause of CRSV to one main factor. However, I believe it is definitely true that men act in this aggressive way as a combination of both biology and societal factors. Men are inherently aggressive due to their biological nature, and then this aggression is reinforced by societal and stereotypical factors that the male is dominant over the female. When men start to buy into this false notion, they believe they have the right to treat women based on their desires and needs.

    In addition, raping an opponents women is a devastating and effective war tactic. This disgusting strategy is unfortunately seen by soldiers as acceptable and necessary in order to send a powerful message to the enemy that they have completely conquered their territory. Furthermore, I agree with the previously mentioned post and comment that more needs to be done to ensure the prevention of women being raped in war culture, and assistance needs to be given to reintegrate these rape victims into society. This has to be one of the most horrific experiences for these rape victims, and therefore they need total assistance by the United Nations Security council and other organizations or programs in seeking medical or psychological help.
    -Jon Naji

  3. I agree that war is gendered and historically has always seemed to place men as the “role players” and “dominant figures.” Personally, I believe the main factor for war-time rapes today is culture and misinterpreted religious beliefs. Currently, a majority of the conflicts in the world are in underdeveloped states where women lack the same rights given to men in society. As we can see in Syria with ISIS, women have simply been used for reproduction and sex slaves based off the culture’s reliance on the Qur’an. While the Qur’an does not state that women should be used in this capacity, many soldiers in these misguided religious states and groups use the Qur’an as justification. While developed societies have had a history of war and rape crimes (See WWII Soviet soldier rape), I believe conflict in developed societies might report lower rate of crime against women in battle.
    I understand that I may be making a large assumption as I am aware of current rape “epidemics” within our own military. I believe this issue is rooted from gender inequality and Jon’s point on biology. This problem can only be fixed if we fix our own inequality problem domestically and younger generations continue to move further from ideology that men are the dominant gender in society. Unfortunately, this problem will continue to a difficult one at home and even more difficult in underdeveloped states, but are necessary if we want to prevent these awful attacks against women.
    —Dan Marano

  4. Looking at the concept of war being gendered does bring to mind several aspect of war that are unique and can be traumatizing and damaging to all involved, but in my opinion I do not believe that war is gendered in the sense that it affects one gender or the other, but that it affects both genders in different ways. Historically war has affected men in the sense that men are the actors in war; they are the overwhelming majority of casualties, injured and traumatized in war. Due to universal gender roles, men have always been used as the soldiers in wars and are always those who suffer most of the physical ramifications of direct combat.
    On the other hand women are the ones who experience the horrors of war as objects; like land to be taken or resources to be horded women are at times commodities in the grand scheme of war. The systematic rape of women in non Western nation warfare is so pervasive that it is being used defined as a tool of war. They are used to psychologically damage men who wish to protect them, and essentially demoralize the opponent. It is akin to taking away someone’s food supplies, where they take away the possessions of the people, in this case, women. In both cases war in engendered based on the social expectations of society on the genders; men are expected to be actors in war as they are in society, while women are seen as the objects to be acted upon, and are more like property as seen in some aspects of society.

  5. I definitely agree with your argument that war is gendered. I think that it is important to call special attention to Delargy’s observations on the militarization theory. This is the only model which does, rather effectively, describe the systematic use of rape as a tactic of war. The idea that the military creates hyper-masculine ideal for men within it drives dehumanization of others. This dehumanization makes it relatively more acceptable within that organization to abuse the basic rights and dignities of other humans. The barbarism of this mindset seems to drive military men to commit rapes. Furthermore, it makes more extreme military tactics socially acceptable within that group. I do appreciate the attention you give to the victims after the rape occurs. This is one of the most difficult components of any war. Rape leaves long lasting effects not only on the victims, but on the community at large. Countering these effects is challenging because many traditional responses to rape have been shown to be counterproductive. These challenges make both eliminating rape from warfare, and better understanding how to help survivors the most necessary areas of study in order to remedy some of this mass human rights violation against women.

  6. An interesting take on the emergence of gendered warfare, Allyson! While I understand that women are targets of rape in war settings, I have to agree with eidehena in that conflict impacts both men and women. Certainly rape is awful and its use as a military tactic is barbaric, but how is that unlike a nation-wide draft or religious persecution? Conflict comes from power differentiations in society; who is to say that war is only gendered? War is deeply damaging to all- the bombing of a school or a hospital is the same as raping a woman in my book; they are crushing (yet effective at creating terror or hatred towards one group) the most innocent people as a means of winning.

  7. War allows the ultimate suspension of moral and ethical constraints. Normal rules no longer apply and freed from these rules “soldiers” often believe that any action is defensible if it is protects and advances their cause. Gendered warfare is an extension of this lack of humanity and the embodiment of the us versus them war view.

  8. I completely believe that war is gendered. We have seen the change and the development of what women can do in society and in war. Until recently, women were still not allowed to participate in certain sectors of the military. For example, the Navy Seals program has just started accepting women. Also, the idea that rape and sexual assault is used as a weapon in war degrades women and makes them almost a tool to be used to further a cause. There are many sociological reasons why war is “male” and is an expression of masculinity, we explored that topic in many of my sociology classes.

  9. Have you ever considered the reasons for entering war are gendered? Just read an interesting article by Hoganson on why the US entered the Spanish-American war for reasons of masculinity. I completely agree with your argument although I think war may be far more gendered than the mistreatment of women. Think of how many men are actually doing the fighting and making decisions for jnstance.
    Good job, Allyson!

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