Mother Politics: Anti-colonial Nationalism and the Woman Question in Africa by Joyce M. Chadya, Journal of Women's History 15.3 (2003) 153-157:
All nationalisms are gendered, . . . they represent relations to political power . . . legitimizing, or limiting, people's access to the rights and resources of the nation state.
– Anne McClintock
Anne McClintock's comment on nationalism succinctly captures the position of women during anti-colonial nationalism on the African continent. Across the continent, especially following World War II, women played a crucial role in the ousting of colonial/apartheid minority governments. However, the top leadership of most, if not all, of the nationalist movements was exclusively male. There was, therefore, a gender bias right from the creation of nationalist movements. This scenario was to be replicated in independent Africa when most of the senior government posts were (and continue to be) held by men. Women still find themselves at the margins of political and economic decisions at the party and government levels.
Locating Women During Wartime
Gendered divisions of labor have historically placed women in the private or domestic spheres—as homemaker, nurturer, and educator. During wartime, women are called upon to serve the nation through constructions of these gendered identities as you see in the following propaganda posters:
Thus, a woman’s role in the private sphere is utilized to create a sense of national unity, rallying for the cause of war. Sending their husbands, sons, and fathers off to war, women are encouraged to support the national war agenda through their consumer choices (or ability to ration said choices), domestic habits and production, and so forth.
The purported vulnerability of women to the enemy is also part of the rally to war. The figure below presents an image of a naked and seemingly unconscious woman being carried away by a caricature of a Japanese soldier. Such wartime propaganda utilizes gendered constructions of female vulnerability and purity in conjunction with a depraved, immoral enemy to embolden our soldiers and allies to act in defense of the defenseless.
Nationalism during war can work to temporarily disrupt gendered divisions of labor as well. As in the case of Rosie the Riveter (figure below) and the women featured in the Hollywood Film A League of their Own, women are called upon to fill traditionally male roles and occupations in an effort to also help with the war effort.
While these transgressions of traditional gender roles do temporarily offer women opportunity to participate more fully in the public sphere, once the war is over and the men come home, women are thanked for their service to country and directed back to the domestic/private sphere.
Times have certainly changed since World War Two and women are now more fully a part of the public sphere. Indeed, they are part of our military, police and fire fighting forces. Nonetheless, the full inclusion of women into these spheres (and of men into the domestic/private sphere) without stigma or bias, still has some ways to go.
Women in the US Military
Watch this video (10:40) which explores the changing role of women in the US military.
Core beliefs of militarism are:
- that armed force is the ultimate resolver of tensions;
- that human nature is prone to conflict;
- that having enemies is a natural condition;
- that hierarchical relations produce effective action;
- that a state without a military is naïve, scarcely modern, and barely legitimate;
- that in times of crisis those who are feminine need armed protection;
- that in times of crisis any man who refuses to engage in armed violent action is jeopardizing his own status as a manly man.
And expanding upon these concepts, Bernazzoli and Flint (2010), assert that militarization also requires a connection of these ideas to national identity, patriotism and moral right. They extend the core beliefs of militarism to include:
- that soldiers possess certain values and qualities that are desirable in civil society;
- that military superiority is a source of national pride;
- that those who do not support military actions are unpatriotic;
- that those who do not support military actions are anti-soldier;
- that for a state to engage in armed conflict is to serve the will of a divine being.
In this section, it should be much clearer how gender, nationalism, and geopolitical codes have been constructed and strategically deployed.