Militarization and masculinities

Refusing militarism is not possible without refusing hegemonic masculinity

  • Andreas Speck, War Resisters' International

the militarist value system and its practices which are identified
with military service, one is also obliged to question the hegemonic
understanding of masculinity. In Turkey, military service is a
laboratory in which masculinity is reproduced. The patriarchal system
is solidified through military service. I objected to military
service, because I am also against this laboratory manufactured
masculinity. The struggle against militarism defined in heterosexist
terms through sexist structures finds its fundamental expression in
anti-militarism. This refers to freedom of sexual orientation, gender
equality and total and unrestricted freedom

Savda, Turkish conscientious objector, repeatedly imprisoned for his
conscientious objection to military service

I can
easily relate to what Halil Savda writes above. When I was about 13
or 14 – and the army still a long way ahead – I was quite
fascinated with technology, as many young boys are. I even remember
during one holiday going to a Navy open day, looking at the different
Navy ships, helicopters, etc... I could be fascinated by this
technology, but I didn't think much about myself in a uniform, and
being part of the Navy. At that time these two things were quite
separate issues.

Once I got
a bit older, the reality of having to serve in the military got
closer. And increasingly I could not see myself running around in a
uniform, being shouted at, and being part of an all-male and very
macho environment. I was at that time in an almost all-male
environment doing my apprenticeship as an electrician, and could
never relate to the sexist talk and macho posture. Not that I was
consciously much of an anti-sexist at that time, but I just could not
relate to it. This was just for eight hours a day, five days a week,
but thinking about something like this 24/7, without any space to
escape, felt more like horror to me.

I wasn't
aware of being gay at that time, but had already experienced quite a
bit of peer harassment for not taking part in dirty sexist talks, and
other macho posture, in my last years at school. Again, military
service just felt like exponentially worse.

So, when
the time came, I opted for conscientious objection. Of course, there
were also political reasons for the objection, but I think on a
different level my deeply felt aversion against this masculine
environment might have been more important at that time. My
unwillingness to serve was deeply connected to the images of
masculinity linked with the military, which I felt very uncomfortable

Militarism and masculinities – the links

Jeff Hearn
writes: “It is an understatement to say that men, militarism,
and the military are historically, profoundly, and blatantly
” (Hearn 2003). But he also points out: “The
exact nature of the connections between men and the military are
themselves various and plural – thus there are military
masculinities, and not just military masculinity
(emphasis in original).3

And Raewyn
Connell adds: “There are many causes of violence, including
dispossession, poverty, greed, nationalism, racism, and other forms
of inequality, bigotry and desire. Gender dynamics are by no means
the whole story. Yet given the concentration of weapons and the
practices of violence among men, gender patterns appear to be
strategic. Masculinities are the forms in which many dynamics of
violence take shape

For men,
especially in countries with compulsory military service, serving in
the military is an important part of “becoming a man”. As
Turkish gay conscientious objector Mehmet Tarhan puts it: “Military
service creates a definition of normality for itself through the
exclusion of women, gays, disabled persons and children and
generalizes this definition to the rest of the society. The
heterosexual man becomes the norm that the regime prefers and
identifies with. The rest are considered as either surplus/excess or
property to be protected

This link
between militarism, violence, and masculinity is not at all “natural”
– it had to be constructed, and what has been constructed can also
be undone. In fact, it is historically a quite recent development.
Joanne Nagel shows that for the United States the connection between
militarised forms of masculinity – the ideal of soldiering – goes
back to the late 19th and early 20th century.6
In Germany, this process happened in the early 19th century –
German bourgeois masculinity, which was not convinced of military
service, had to be reshaped and militarised. At that time, as Ute
Frevert points out, “the male gender character more and more
incorporated soldier-like elements. Military values and assumptions
about order ... thus more and more became the general ideal for the
male nation
Similar arguments can be made for the construction of Jewish
masculinities through the Zionist project.

on why young men perform military service points to a very close link
with masculinity. Hanne-Margret Birckenbach, a German peace
researcher, did some extensive research, involving a range of
interviews, on the subject of “willingness to serve among youths”.8
To put this research into context: Germany is a country with
obligatory military service, where the right to conscientious
objection is recognised but conditioned upon performing substitute
civilian service.

In her
conclusions, she writes: “Those willing to serve expect that
military service would help them to become adult men. Serving in the
military is connected to the expectation that this provides
masculinity and with it the right and power to play a natural
dominant role. However, the image of masculinity of these youth is in
no way directed towards proving themselves in military combat, but
rather towards meeting challenges in everyday civilian life,
especially in the field of employment
” (Ibid, p. 230). In
short: "Under the guise of ‘no to killing vs. yes to
killing for the purpose of defence’ conscientious objectors and
those willing to perform military service argue not only about
military violence, but also – without being aware of this – about
ideals of masculinity

Ayşe Gül
Altinay comes to similar conclusions in relation to Turkey. She
quotes a young man, Ibrahim, as saying: “You do not become a man
until you serve in the military. It is a sacred obligation. And
people make fun of those who have not served. I, for one, did it just
because I would feel a lack without it. I am flat-footed. If I had
wanted, I could have been excused from military service. But I did
not want to be excused. So I did it
Altinay concludes, very much like Birckenbach did in the German
context 20 years earlier: “In this context, military service is
not only, or perhaps not even primarily, seen as a service to the
state, but one that defines proper masculinity. It is a rite of
passage to manhood

Women and masculinities

As a
woman, I am a consumer of masculinities, but I am not more so than
men are; and, like men, I as a woman am also a producer of
masculinities and a performer of them
writes E.K. Sedgwick. A quote from an Israeli woman makes this very
clear: “I know that I prefer men who are combat soldiers to
others who are just
This was also true for Germany in the 1980s, where girls generally
preferred boys who had done their military service.13
Thus, through women's expectations of what it means to be a man, they
contribute to the creation of certain forms of masculinity.

Changing masculinities

It is
important to be aware that hegemonic masculinity is changing, away
from the “warrior” image, towards a more professional business
masculinity. This is not to say that traditional masculinities,
oriented toward physical strength, no longer exist – they certainly
do – but they are losing their status as the hegemonic form of

As Melissa
T. Brown points out, the Army “has offered men several versions
of masculinity: the soldier firing high-tech weapons, the
professional who makes important decisions under tough conditions and
saves lives, the caring surrogate father and provider of relief and
protection, the bearer of marketable skills, and, of course, the guy
who successfully gets into his girlfriend's bedroom

Of course,
masculinity is only one aspect when men or boys make their
decision about whether to perform military service, mandatory or
voluntary. Economic aspects should not be undervalued – military
service is often a prerequisite for a career in civilian life, and
leads to the connections needed for moving quickly into positions of
power. Signing up voluntarily is seen in many places as the only way
to get out of poverty, or to get higher education.

However, I
don't think we can afford the luxury of continuing to ignore issues
of gender in our antimilitarist work. As Cynthia Enloe writes: “As
we have accumulated more and more evidence from more and more
societies, we have become increasingly confident in this assertion
that to omit gender from any explanation how militarization occurs,
is not only to risk a flawed political analysis; it is to risk, too,
a perpetually unsuccessful campaign to roll back that

strategy for peace must include a strategy of change in
”, writes Raewyn Connell. “This is the new
dimension in peace work which studies of men suggest: contesting the
hegemony of masculinities which emphasise violence, confrontation and
domination, replacing them with patterns of masculinity more open to
negotiation, cooperation and equality


Savda, Letter
from Halil Savda
14 April 2009,;
more information on Halil Savda is available at

also: Andreas Speck, “Be
a man” - Willingness to serve and masculinity
Presentation at the WRI/New Profile seminar on Gender and
Militarism, August 2008,

Hearn, Foreword: On Men, Women, Militarism, and the Military. In:
Paul Highgate (ed.): Military Masculinities. Identity and the
, Westport and London, 2003.

Connell, Masculinities, violence, and peacemaking, Peace

No 2443, June-August 2001,

Tarhan, “For there was no shelter under which I could hide...”,
Interview with Mehmet Tarhan for the Spanish newspaper Diagonal,
January 2006,;
more information on Mehmet Tarhan is available at

Nagel, Masculinity and nationalism: gender and sexuality in the
making of nations. Ethnic
and Racial Studies

Vol 21, no 2, March 1998.

Frevert, Soldaten. Staatsbürger. Überlegungen zur historischen
Konstruktion von Männlichkeit. In: Thomas Kühne (ed.):
Männergeschichte – Geschlechtergeschichte. Frankfurt/New
York, 1996.

Birckenbach, Mit schlechtem Gewissen – Wehrdienstbereitschaft
von Jugendlichen. Zur Empirie der psychosozialen Vermittlung von
Militär und Gesellschaft.
Baden-Baden, 1985.

Birckenbach, Das ambivalente Verhältnis zur Gewalt. Psychosoziale
Grundlagen militärischer Kampfausbildung. Antimilitarismus
, no 7/1986.

Gül Altinay, The myth of the military-nation. Militarism,
gender, and education in Turkey
. Basingstoke, 2006, p. 82.

K. Sedgwick, ‘Gosh, Boy George, You Must Be Awfully Secure in Your
Masculinity’ in M. Berger, B. Wallis and S. Watson (Editors)
1995, quoted in: Alan Greig, Michael Kimmel, James Lang,
Men, Masculinities & Development: Broadening our work towards
gender equality
May 2000, Gender in Development Monograph Series #10,

Klein, “Our Best Boys” The Gendered Nature of Civil-Military
Relations in Israel. Men and Masculinities, Vol. 2, No 1,
July 1999, pp. 47-65.

Birckenbach, “...besser vorbereitet auf den Krieg.” Schüler
– Frieden – Bundeswehr.
Verlag Jugend und Politik,
Frankfurt, 1982.

T. Brown, “Be the best”: Military Recruiting and the Cultural
Construction of Soldiering in Great Britain. GSC Quarterly
No 5, summer 2002.

Enloe, Beyond 'Rambo': Women and the Varieties of Militarized
Masculinity. In: Eva Isaksson (ed.): Women and the Military
System. Proceedings of a symposium arranged by the International
Peace Bureau and Peace Union of Finland
. New
York/London/Toronto/Sydney/Tokyo 1988.

Connell, Masculinities, violence, and peacemaking,

No 2443, June-August 2001,

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