Women and the politics of war
Tina Managhan writes in her essay “(M)others, Biopolitics, and the Gulf War” (2005) about the changing
viewpoint of women and their relationship with the military. This change is purported to be a change
from the “rationality of care” as proposed by Sara Ruddick (1990) that Managhan puts in opposition to
the military state. She talks extensively of how the engagement of women into the military enforced a
change in the mobilization of mothers from an organized and very vocal antinuclear movement to a
quiet subliminal whisper of tacit consent of military support that only “contributed to the
remilitarization of American culture....by participating in the war as soldiers and contributing to the
myth of a vital and unified national community” (pp. 208) While much stigma about women and the
roles that they were capable of kept women out of combat positions, women’s positions in both the
civilian and the military workforce in traditionally male positions increased during war time to keep the
economy going. Yet following the Gulf War (or inflated militarized political engagement), the answer to
the feminists’ request for equality in the military is answered at a time very convenient to garner the
support of women to what had become an embattled cause. Here in lies an example of the double-bind
women or any marginalized group faces when attempting to make gains for equality; the gain is often
given when the outcome will actually benefit the group in power the most and result in yet another
marginalization of the group. Managhan goes on to declare the institution of motherhood as just
another culturally regulated institution that is at the mercy of commercialism and politics as any other.
Motherhood and the Dilemma of Difference
DiQuinzio (2005) looks at the dilemma of motherhood through the lens of civic engagement and the
public sphere. While she too, examines the double-bind that women face in attempting to create
change, she posits that “women’s civic engagement is more likely to be accepted when it is based on
motherhood, since motherhood has long been seen as women’s distinctive and most appropriate role.”
(pp. 227). Here, she flips the predator/protector logic described by other writers examining the reality
of feminist gains as opposite to the dilemma of difference but again as a method of undermining the
progress of female autonomy. DiQuinzio appears to also adhere to the brand of double-bind that
highlights that every perceived gain is in fact a loss of freedom in another aspect. The reality of this
concept shines clearly on the progress of the anti-violence movement, giving breath to the same
concerns of one-step forward, two steps back. Like the Million Mom’s March, the anti-violence field
was started by women and has faced the same barriers to progress and the same double-binds that the
MMM faced. The dilemma of difference equally applies as women face being reduced to being
marginalized as either anti-feminine anti-nuclear family radicals or idiot females that use their status of
motherhood without clear logic to reduce males to being unfairly targeted as pedophiles and rapists.
The Dance of Progress toward Equality for Women
Dolan (2007) provides a nice explanation to the progress through history from the choices women’s
groups made in order to achieve any political and social gains toward equality. Dolan highlights from
the beginning how negotiations were processed to give but small parts of equality through a Sophie’s
Choice method. Her example is the Civil War and women’s work to support the abolition of slavery and
so was then offered the choice to make that gain over the same gain for women. This “Sophie’s Choice”
is still used to control growth, stymie progress, and subvert the equalization of all groups and genders
today. Again I relate it to the anti-violence field and working to create human rights to be free from
violence and sexual coercion against the same push to continue to accept the control of women, female
sexuality, and female reproduction as necessary for their protection. Bargaining invades the education,
response, prosecution, and policy of the sexually violent survivor. In today’s world, we continue to hear
that one gain toward equality in addressing the violence survivor is followed by yet another means to
reduce rights, subvert investigation, and detract from prosecution. A survivor’s right to seek
investigation and therefore prosecution is limited in time from the assault; yet the further one gets from
an assault, the easier it is to remember the incident with the calmness that allows for verbalizing the
narrative of the crime. Here, too, the progress of this field echoes the conclusion of the feminist
movement’s theory that “gender discrimination was pervasive in society rather than a consequence of
personal failings.” (Dolan, pp. 25)
As in the feminist movement toward equality in voting, employment, and education; the younger
generation of the anti-violence field moved from using political action to community building and
generating local activism toward smaller gains. This younger generation has come to ask for less than
their fore-bearers did and in smaller steps. While the former generation asked for radical change and
eventually achieved some radical growth (voting rights, the ability to own property, the beginnings of
job equality), the younger generation seems to weight the economics and safety of pursuing radical
growth. However, by taking this cautious, one step forward approach, we often have gains that result in
yet another means of subjugation, oppression, or marginalization.
Dolan’s brief history of women’s advocacy through time displays a nice accompaniment to the essays in
Meagher’s publication. Dolan also highlights how women advocate differently than men, how woman
initially approached advocating for rights through their role as mothers. This “civic motherhood”
became the torch for gaining social advances following the few political gains that were made in the first
wave of feminism. Managhan (2005) and DiQuinzio (2005) both show how the initial gains made
through this advocacy was in fact a double-edged sword of gain and loss.
DiQuinzio, P. (2005). Love and Reason in the Public Sphere: Maternalist Civic Engagement and
the dilemma of Difference. In Women and children first: Feminism, rhetoric, and public policy.
(pp. 227246). Albany, NY.: State University of New York Press.
Dolan, J., Deckman, M., & Swers, M. (2007) Women and politics. New Jersey: Pearson/Prentice
Managhan, T. (2005). (M)others, Biopolitics, and the Gulf War. In Women and children first:
Feminism, rhetoric, and public policy. (pp. 205–225). Albany, NY.: State University of New
York Press.