Is War Gendered?

In order to come to a conclusion on whether or not war is gendered, it is first very important to define the term “gendered”. American Heritage Dictionary defines this term as “having or making gender-based distinctions”. The question then becomes, does war have gender-based distinctions? In light of DeLargy’s essay on sexual violence and women’s health during war, I would answer yes. In her argument it is clear that, in the case of sexual assault and its repercussions on the victim’s health during war, both men and women tend to have very different experiences due to their sex and gender.

DeLargy notes many different reasons behind rape during war, but two really stick out as possible reasons behind why women are raped by men, simply because of their gender and sex: humiliation and ethnic cleansing. While men and young boys are also raped during war, it is the war strategies of humiliation and ethnic cleansing that are uniquely used on women simply because of their gender and sex.

First, the strategy of humiliation is used by men to humiliate other men. In a patriarchal society, DeLargy explains, a man’s gendered role is to protect his woman and children. By raping a man’s wife, the perpetrator is humiliating the husband by stripping away his power and masculinity. A man raping a woman’s husband would not have this same effect, as socially her gender designates her to being “owned” by her husband. Therefore, because of her society’s view on her gender role, only she can be used as a tool to humiliate her husband by being the victim of sexual violence.

Second, the strategy of physically carrying out “ethnic cleansing” only relates to women, as the other sex is not capable of giving birth. DeLargy sites the example of sexual violence during the Balkans War, where Serbs kept Bosnian women in “rape camps”, forcing them to give birth and therefore “diluting bloodlines and destroying Bosnian ethnic identity”. DeLargy explains that this act achieved both humiliation and ethnic destruction. This aspect of war solely relates to women, as men biologically would not be able to give birth and thus would not add to the destruction of his ethnic identity.

The strategy of humiliation relies on a woman’s gender, as it is the social construct that allows for humiliation of the husband. Ethnic cleansing relies on both a woman’s gender and sex, as the strategy both humiliates the husband due to social structures and relies on the woman’s physical biology (or, sex) to be carried out. Both of these strategies rely on both the man and woman’s gender roles to be effective during war, therefore indicating that war is gendered.



  • DeLargy, Pamela. 2013. “Sexual Violence and Women’s Health in War.” Chapter in Women and Wars: Contested Histories, Uncertain Futures. Polity.

14 thoughts on “Is War Gendered?

  1. I agree that these are two very important points from Delargy’s article. As she mentioned at the beginning of the piece, there are different ways rape can be viewed in conflict: opportunistic and purposeful, or systemic. The two examples you provide account for the systemic. This type often characterizes rape used as a strategic war tactic. As the article claims, a woman’s role in some patriarchal dominated communities is solely symbolic and reproductive. By targeting women through sexual violence, a group is ultimately “dirtying” the current community, as well as the future community if women are impregnated, such as the ethnic cleansing example.

    • I believe, that at this point in time, it can be reasonably surmised beyond a doubt that war is and has been intrinsically gendered. I, however, will argue that this gendered aspect is representative of the patriarchal nature of the institution of war rather than solely those states that have utilized Pater Potestas (e.g. France under the Napoleonic Code and Napoleon III). This concept of Pater Potestas (power of the father) is inherent in the structure of every military that has existed. Even today, the majority of combat positions within the militaries of liberal governments (e.g. U.S, U.K, etc.) are restricted to men. Women, on the other hand, are typically relegated to noncombat or minimal-combat positions; an exception being fighter pilots. The point being this: contemporary militaries across the world continue to promulgate a masculine dominance within the military structure.
      This structure is the result of an institution that has historically been administrated and ruled by men under the ancient notion of Pater Potestas. Women, as Mary states, became an essence of property; a sentiment that still exists especially in war. The instigation of war creates a sphere around the area of conflict in which the institution of war is thusly generated. I argue that regardless of that states norms, war abolishes all norms so that, in a state where equality was becoming engendered, the anarchism of conflict will destroy those liberal constructions.
      The destruction is a result of the abdication of the state and its replacement by a male-dominated institution that thrives on anarchism. The results are equally destructive but, the utilization of rape is due to this sense of Pater Potestas that pervades the institution of war. Unlike the use of torture, rape is cheap, simple, and effective. As Mary points out, it is psychologically detrimental to the whole of the affected society as it illustrates a sense of emasculation and foreign dominance. This is the result of a devolution that occurs from the anarchic nature of war where the ancient gender roles are once again instituted due to the power given to a male dominated machine of war.
      I do not make this argument to belittle these horrific acts that occur to do no more than demonstrate an archaic and horrid show of dominance. But, I believe that these acts originate from the institution of war as an historically male dominated organization rather than an institution of the state. As aforementioned, rape is a cheap and effective weapon of war to inflict considerable physical and psychological damage to both the victims and their society. This was exemplified in Rwanda and Bosnia where rape was also used a form of ethnic cleansing. In short, the military, regardless of state affiliations, remains a male dominated association that has perpetuated this gendered sphere of war in which women are relegated to a means to an end not because the state instigates it to be so, but because the nature of war, administered by men, delegate it to be so (i.e. Pater Potestas).

      DeLargy, Pamela. 2013. “Sexual Violence and Women’s Health in War.” Chapter in Women and Wars: Contested Histories, Uncertain Futures. Polity. (61-63)

  2. War is definitely gendered. I agree that humiliation and ethnic cleansing are two strategies for which women are sexually assaulted. I believe domestic violence is another interesting factor. DeLargy points out that domestic violence accounts for the most violence against women, during both times of peace and times of war. DeLargy uses Palestine as an example. As tensions rose in the Occupied Territories, there were noticeable increases in domestic violence. DeLargy also points how gender roles change during times of war. While the men are fighting, women take on bigger economic and social responsibilities. For example, in East Timor domestic violence grew as men returned from their military service to find that there were no jobs and women were making family decisions.

  3. I would agree that the two reasons for sexual violence that you mentioned are very important, and cannot be ignored. However, I feel that the element of fear is not one that can be overlooked, either. I would argue that fear and intimidation is the overarching theme in all of the examples given in the article. The goal of this is to break down a group of people in order to either make them utterly submissive, or to force them to relocate, thus serving the goals of the aggressors. While it is important to look at examples of sexual violence such as ethnic cleansing and humiliation and examine the consequences of them, I think it would be unwise to overlook the fear and intimidation as the interconnecting theme among all instances of sexual violence.

  4. I agree with Mary that war is gendered. Her focus on the humiliating effect of rape–onto other men–exemplifies how women are not seen as people, but rather tools of war. This involves the notion that the aggressor is taking what he thinks of as property from his enemy. The physical and psychological trauma of these women is used for the advancement of war agendas, and in effect imposes short-term and long-term negative implications. Delargy illustrates the tragic situations of women as targets during times of war, but also includes despairing facts about the post-war effects sexual violence has on these women regarding their status in their families and even how they may be treated by post-war aid. A line I found especially disturbing from Delargy was regarding “the pressure on women to exchange sex for humanitarian relief or protection” (Delargy 56). Of course this is not always the case in relief work, but the fact that is still occurs shows how women in war-torn areas are at a constant risk of sexual exploitation, violence and domestic abuse. A lack of access to comprehensive healthcare only worsens these issues and sadly can affect children of victims as well.

  5. War is and has been gendered for as long as societies have existed. Out of the reasons Delargy lists the two presented in your website post are definitely paramount, but, I believe are also different based on the circumstances of war. The humiliation factor of female rape is definitely present in all kinds of wars involving both genders; however, when it comes to ethnic cleansing, this is mostly employed during wars which are supposed to have long lasting effects. Also, it is not to say that evidence displaying ethnic cleansing is was necessarily meant to achieve that goal at first. Often times relatively barbaric warriors, such as the Mongols of old times only employed rape for sexual satisfaction; however, their ethnic traits have been passed on as a side-effect. However, women were often referred to as war-time entertainment, effectively letting the sexual satisfaction factor through with the other tactics of war. The worst aspect of this kind of treatment, though, is that many soldiers only view females as simply entertainment, finding no further use for them, eventually disposing of them. The stigma against the female gender renders them useless in the eyes of soldiers, leading to numerous female casualties simply because of their gender.

  6. I think the most interesting part Delargy’s essay was the psychological burden of being in war that almost inspires the rape of women. Delargy discusses how War is so far removed from societal standard in order to numb the soldiers to the killing. In a regular culture killing is an awful horrific act, but in war killing an enemy is celebrated and looked at as a positive. To mentally switch one’s standards from the worst possible thing to one of the best is psychologically straining and would make one reconsider all morals. This new culture where crime is celebrated makes the soldiers go back to barbaric ways of killing and raping. I am not asserting in anyway that the raping is condoned or the raping is not the fault of the people doing it, but the environment they are put in great impacts what they are doing.

  7. Delargy talks about reproductive health solely in the context of women who are already pregnant by pointing to the lack of access to health services pregnant women face during wartime. I believe that access to preventive means during wartime should have also been part of the conversation on whether war is gendered or not.

    I would like to turn the focus to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women or CEDAW. While Delargy just mentions this UN instrument briefly in context with explaining UN “soft law” efforts to protect women, I will like to detail what implications this particular convention has for women’s rights to access means to control their own production. Article 16 of CEDAW provides for the right to decide “the number of spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education, and means to enable them to exercise these rights.” As Delargy mentioned, this convention is binding but “soft law” because international law is hard to enforce. In this case, international treaties like CEDAW rely on state compliance through state passing of national laws that support the missions of the conventions. One of the ways that states can be in compliance with CEDAW is through the implementation of free and wide accessibility to different contraception methods. Other means of state agency are accessibility to education. These preventive approach portion of CEDAW and the possibility of absence of these resources during wartime were not considered by Delargy who only directed their focus on the health risks that pregnant women face during wartime.

  8. I agree with the argument that war is gendered and DeLargy’s point about how both men and women experience different repercussions of war. Today’s view on gendered war may be dubious, but according to DeLargy’s statements about the causes of conflict-related sexual violence, I would agree that war is gendered. Her arguments are clear that both men and women have different roles during wartime and ultimately refer, “women and girls bear the burden of insecurity” due to the conflicts in sexual violence. Almost all conflicts in sexual violence were used as a tactic of war. DeLargy’s argument in which rape is used as a strategy of war is driven by the “power from patriarchal gender arrangements” indicate that women are viewed as inferior and are labeled as men’s property. Therefore, this lead men to feel authorized to rape women.

  9. The most important factor contributing to the sexual violence that occurs in wars is the lack of accountability. The military has the power to control its own justice system, even in cases of sexual assault or violence. Military courts otherwise called military tribunals, have been used to further insulate militaries around the world from consequences and public ridicule. The lack of accountability in the current military justice system has lead to further propagation of patriarchy in the miliary strcuture.

  10. I completely agree with the author’s conclusion that war is gendered. Due to social constructs and gender stereotypes generated by societies all over the world, different strategies of war can be more destructive because of the gender they target. When most people think of the victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they think of soldiers, returning from the battlefield, haunted by the violence they witnessed or carried out. People rarely consider the lasting affects of wartime on women, but as we learned from Delargy’s article, the sexual violence that women experience during the war can be just as detrimental, if not more, to the mental state of a woman, her family, and her community, long after the war is over. The humiliation the author described is a perfect example of how gendered war tactics are so affective, because they don’t only break the victim of these attacks, they also take away honor from her husband, and sometimes the greater community due to their failure to protect her from the enemy.

  11. I agree that war is gendered. I like how Delargy focused on the other side of war that is not mostly considered, which is the impact it has on women. It is heartbreaking to see that sexual violence is used as a tool of coercion to demascluinize the soldiers.Through this women end up suffering the most from the traumatic effects, the stigma that is forever placed on them in society and if unfortunate STD’s. In her article,the inferiority complex between women and men is conveyed as sexual violence is a primary tool used against women in war. It would also have been interesting for the author to include how the females combats in the military also assist in these attacks, due to the fact that men are not the only perpetuators of the act.

  12. I also agree that war is gendered. I agree strongly with Delargy’s first point about the humiliation of man by raping his wife. This point emphasizes a key concept of gender, masculinity, and how gender creates a social structure that creates the scenario that women can be raped with the intention of humiliating a male. Though his second point of “ethnic cleansing” is also a valid point. It is backed mostly by sex, not gender. It is possible to occur because of the victims sex. Making this action of war sexualized, not necessarily gendered.

    commenting for Jim Connolly

  13. I agree that war is gendered, as are most aspects of society. I also agree that rape is used as a weapon of war and can have many damaging effects on individuals, families and communities.
    I understand the argument that rape is used for purposes of humiliation and ethnic cleansing, although I do find some of the statements questionable.
    I do not agree that a man raping a married man would be considered less humiliating than a man raping another mans wife.
    If a married man is raped, he is not only stripped of his masculinity, but also of his perceived power as the leader and protector of the household. Stereotypical notions of masculinity (strength, toughness, and dominance) become invalid when a man is sexually violated. Therefore, humiliation as an outcome of rape, as a weapon of war, is equally as destructive whether executed on a man or a woman.

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