Masculinity and national identity as legitimisation for military service


What are the values to legitimise the military? In Germany through the process of nation building military service was made to be valued as "duty", linked with the right of citizenship. "Nation", (bourgeois) masculinity and citizenship were closely connected. After World War II "democracy" was the main value, linked with the need for military defence. Since the end of the 80s again a change can be identified, linking military with the "increased international weight of Germany" and the need to defend human rights everywhere. The shift to a more professional army is linked to a shift of images of masculinity, presented by this army.

I. Masculinity

Masculinities do not exist as such, they always have to be seen in a field of gender relations, which are always power relations. Masculinities need complementary feminities to exist. They both are produced together, in the process that constitutes a gender order. It is important to notice that different masculinities are produced in the same social context, which points to the fact that young men are active agents in the process of shaping their own masculinity. Gender relations therefore include relations among men - relations of dominance, marginalisation, complicity with hegemomic masculinity.

Hegemonic masculinity itself is not fixed, but always changing. "Hegemonic masculinity" is the currently accepted answer to the legitimacy of patriarchy to guarantee the dominant position of men and the subordination of women. Hegemony is likely to be established if there are links with institutions of power, i.e. the military.

Although not all men represent hegemonic masculinity. All men nevertheless benefit from the so-called "patriarchal dividend", which means all men have some benefit from patriarchy and the overall subordination of women - maybe some men very little, but still they benefit. Violence against women is a tool to secure the subordination of women. To talk about violence of women shouldn't exclude structural violence, because these structures might be much more important and powerful in securing subordination.

II. Feminity

Among feminities there is no equivalent to hegemonic masculinity. However, one form of feminity can be called "emphasized feminity", which means a feminity which is especially constructed in order to accomodate the interests and desires of men.

All feminities are constructed somehow in relation to the overall subordination of women. Some forms (emphasized feminity) accomodate the interests of men, others are organised by strategies of resistance, non-compliance or combinations of these. The fact that all feminities are constructed in the context of the subordination of women, means:

1. that there is little space for institutionalised power relations among women, which is highlighted by the fact that there is less violence among women,

2. that dominance over the other sex is absent. Which means that among feminities there is no discourse on power, authority, aggression, technology. There also is less pressure to conform to one specific form of feminity, so among feminities there is more diversity.

III. The military as a masculine institution

The military is not only a collection of individual men, but a masculinized institutions. The organisational culture of armies is heavily gendered, and armies put a lot of effort in producing a narrowly defined hegemonic masculinity. The masculinity values within the military are not isolated from values within society. Important aspects of masculinity within the military are: bravery, toughness, physical endurance, aggressiveness, and a special kind of rationality. Within the military different masculinities are produced at the same time, according to the rank of the men. The lower ranks are marked by excessive drinking at (hetero)sexist language (in addition to those values mentioned above); which might be ineffective on first sight, but serves a form of "community building" within the military. Higher officers highlight rationality and technical expertise.

It is important to note that the military leadership image is highly masculine. Even where female leaders within the military are successful to a certain extend (like in France), this is not publicly recognised and doesn't change the image of the military leader.

As a conclusion, it can be said that the military today is the strongest pillar of the gender order, and at the same time the gender order strengthen militarism.

IV. Masculinity and Violence

Violence very much is "men's business". An US survey shows that 91% of those charged with murder are men, 84 % of those arrested because of aggravated assault are men. Similiar figures could be produced for other countries. The same is true for domestic violence and rape. Also youth violence mainly is boys' violence.

On the other side the majority of the victims of violence are men - which is not really recognised in the public discourse. The reason might be that by definition men are not victims, as that doesn't match with masculinity. But men are not only the majority of those involved in physical violence, the same is true with structural violence. Men control most businesses, men hold the state offices, men control the engineering and the sciences. So most structures of violence are controlled by men.

V. Masculinity and Militarism

All (at least most) states are a result of war, which means the military played an essential role for the creation of (most) states. This lead to the incorporation of military values as an essential aspect of masculinity. The German example of the anti-Napolean "liberation wars" shows how the discourse on bourgeois masculinity and national was increasingly militarised over the time to overcome the sceptical view on the military of the bourgeois people. The introduction of conscription at the same time needed this acceptance and strengthened the link between militarism and masculinity.

Again it is important to note the diversity of masculinities within the military. There is more than just the image of the "warrior", there officers as technical experts, there are conscripts and elite forces, all of them produce their own masculinity.

VI. Masculinity and Nationalism

Racism and ethnic nationalism express a "demand for dominance". This at the same time has an effect on women, who are increasingly subordinated and forced to comply with "emphasized feminity": as supporters of men and mothers of warriors. Racism and nationalism increase the pressure to conform with hegemonic masculinity and emphasized feminity and leave little space for forms of masculinity and feminity, which try to resist the patriarchal gender order. Racism and nationalism lead to increased violence against non-compliance with the gender order: sexist and homophob violence are one result.

Introduction by Andreas Speck

From the discussion

1. Masculinity and Militarism

The discussion first focussed on our understanding of masculinity and feminity. The concept of "machismo" was seen as an equivalent to "hegemonic masculinity" in Latin American countries. It was highlighted, that women in the military have to conform to the concept of "machismo", because this is the hegemonic concept within the military.

The discussion then slided into a general discussion on gender and our understanding of gender. We agreed, that there is no biological reason for "masculinity" and "feminity", but couldn't get much further.

2. National identity and militarism

After the break we moved on to the discussion on national identity and how this feeds militarism. First, the question was raised, if national identity is the problem or only nationalist identity. We couldn't solve this problem, as certainly there were different understandings of "nation" within the group. Anyway, we agreed that the construction of some form of "nation state identity" or "nationalist identity" is important to legitimise the military. This might be challenged by a tendency towards multinational armies, like in Europe. But still there is the issue if these armies draw their legitimation from their own nation state and then unite, or if a new European "nation state identity" will be constructed in order to legitimise a truly European army.

The example of Ecuador was discussed, where there is a diversity of indigenious nations within one state. But still some effort is put into the construction of an Ecuadorian "nation state identity" in order to legitimise the army, but this identity doesn't have much to do with the nations living within the state.

We moved to the issue what national identity might mean. Some saw nationality based in culture. Ecuador is characterised by a mix of indigena and European cultures. Almost all countries/states in the world are multinational, even if this might not be visible on first sight. The "national discourse" aims to defend the territory of one nation state, and doesn't have much to do with culture.

Summary by Andreas Speck
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