Joshua S. Goldstein – War and Gender (2001)

1 A puzzle: the cross-cultural consistency of gender roles in war


There has been much scholarship on women in war, but hardly any on gender in war.

The sex-gender discourse – that sex is biological and fixed, while gender is cultural and flexible – is flawed because biology and culture are highly interdependent and both biology and culture are flexible.

War will be defined in this text as lethal intergroup violence.

War system will be defined in this text as the interrelated ways that societies organize themselves to participate in potential and actual wars.

In understanding gendered war roles, the potential for war matters more than the outbreak of particular wars.

Causality runs both ways between war and gender. Gender roles adapt individuals for war roles, and war roles provide the context within which individuals are socialized into gender roles.

The diversity of war and of gender

The cross-cultural consistency of gendered war roles… …is set against a backdrop of great diversity of cultural forms of both war and gender roles considered separately. Apart from war and a few biological necessities (gestation and lactation), gender roles show great diversity across cultures and through history.

So why the fuck is this so consistent?

Hypothesis 1: Gender-linked war roles are not in fact cross-culturally consistent.

Here the author reviews myths like the Myth of Amazon Matriarchies. He is looking for counter-examples, but he can’t find any that upheld scrutiny. It turns out that Hypothesis 1 is incorrect and gendered war-roles are indeed very consistent throughout history and across cultures.

While the war-roles for women show more diversity (support troops, psychological war-boosters, caretakers, peacemakers), societies construct war-roles for men in a variety of ways but always pairing masculinity and war-fighting.

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