Nationalism, Militarism and Gender Politics: Women in the Military

By Toktas, Sule | Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Nationalism, Militarism and Gender Politics: Women in the Military


Toktas, Sule, Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military


There have been various explanations of different nationalisms (Feinberg, 1997) that focus on various dimensions and aspects (Breuilly, 1994; Gellner, 1983; Anderson, 1983; Connor, 1993; Kedourie, 1970). However, the task of putting forth the gender dimension of nationalism and national identity has been neglected by mainstream theories. Feminist scholars like Nira Yuval-Davis and Floya Anthias (1989: 7-8) have pointed out the roles of women in national state making processes as biological producers of the nation, reproducers of boundaries, transmitters of cultural values to children, symbolic signifiers of difference and active militants in nationalist struggles. The dialogue between modernization and nationalism in non-Western contexts has been addressed by some others. Women in developing countries are argued to be used as hallmarks of secular projects. Paradoxically, although these national projects are politically anti-Western, they are at the same time the mediums of civilizing Western projects by which the status of women has national importance (Kandiyoti, 1996).

Not only attaching a gendered vision of nation and nationalism, left-wing feminists have also developed a critical stance against the nation-state as a form of legitimized violence. Militarism which is considered to function as an imperative and a priority of the nation state enables internal integration and marks borders against the threatening outsiders. Therefore, gender ideology lying at the heart of nationalist and militarist thought has been central to discussions on the impact of assertive nation building processes (Saigol, 1998). However, literature on nationalism and militarism, despite its gendered framework, does not focus on the macro interconnection of patriarchy, nationalism and modernization sufficiently. Therefore, a close up to the impact of modernization on women and gender politics that is the organization and reorganization of gender roles as means of allocation of power, within the specificity of militarism is needed.

For this reason, this essay will problematize gender politics in processes of nationalism, militarism and modernization. It aims to bring in sight the complexity and disorderliness that the interconnections and crosscuts between gender and modernization imply. The article contracts out this task into four parts.

First, it investigates gendered explanations of nation, national identity and nationalism on which masculinity is centralized epistemologically via social discourse. Second, it explores militarism as an extension and manifestation of state sovereignty and national identity with its heterosexual and masculine substantiation. Third, it cross-questions closely the link between nationalism, militarism and patriarchy in the specificity of women's inclusion to and exclusion from the military. Lastly, the article ends with a critical evaluation of the relationship between militarism, nationalism and patriarchy susceptible to modernization.

Gendered Nations, Nationalities and Nationalisms

Benedict Anderson (1983), in his provocative articulation, defines nation as an "imagined community" and Gellner (1983) describes nationalism as the intention that the political and the social unit should be congruent. Nationalism presumes internal unity and equality within the nation and overlooks the hierarchies along lines of gender, class, race, sexuality and ethnicity. In view of that, nation being about hierarchies that involve power relations has been the mere objective of the gendered explanations of nation and nationalism with their exclusive focus on gender.

Mayer (2000) points out that nation is comprised of sexed subjects hence nation is not sexless. Sexuality has a central role in the cultural, social and symbolic construction of gender and national identities. This intersection of nation, gender and sexuality, claims Mayer, is a discourse about a hegemonic moral code which privileges one nation, one gender and one sexuality over others. …

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