Femininities and masculinities: Analysing militarism through the lens of patriarchy

A purple banner with a yellow Broken Rifle
Natalia García Cortés


Militarism can be analysed from different perspectives; from class to race, to gender. You can make links between militarism and other social problems such as climate change, internal and external displacement, discrimination and many others.

For many decades, feminists have criticized how power and control work in a patriarchal system, and coincidently antimilitarists has criticized these same things in a militarized society, resulting in different actions and “languages” to change and understand the same phenomenon.

Looking at militarism, but through the lens of patriarchy[1], it is possible to see and understand how both share the same values and are based in hegemonic masculinities and femininities.

In an insightful presentation made by the feminist antimilitarist Koldobi Velasco during the First Forum of Activism, Human Rights and Social Justice at Las Palmas, she explained the relationship between militarisation[2], militarism[3] and patriarchy. She argues that patriarchy and militarism share the same values (or as she call them counter-values): Hierarchy; violence; obedience; individualism; disdain for life, for human beings, and for the environment; authoritarianism; victimization and minimization of women; uniformity; homogeneity; exclusion; control. Both try to repress dissent and defend the interests of the ruling class. Also, women’s bodies are colonized, controlled, seen as a military objective, as a weapon, as a battlefield.

Patriarchy defines masculinity, defines male roles, its values, its characteristics, and demand men accomplish them. Men should behave according to these mandates everywhere, every time. At the same time, it defines femininities and how women should behave and act, everywhere, every time. Militarism uses these two sets of roles and characteristics, to say what is desirable and what is not, what should be encouraged, what should be controlled and dominated, and how.

I have heard many times that women ,and especially feminist women, shouldn’t be complaining about the current situation we are living in. In most countries we can vote, we can study at universities, we can access jobs (although we are never fairly paid in comparison to our male colleagues or we don’t have the same opportunities), but also in most of the countries we don’t have to do the military service. Considering this and the matter that summons us, what do women or feminists have to say about war, militarism and compulsory military service? Why is this something we should be concerned about? I can see why this is not clear as it seems that the only ones that are being “directly” affected by these are men, as usually they are the ones drafted and - most of the time - forced to take up weapons. But the truth is both women are men are being affected, in specific and different ways, by militarism.

We are so used to living in a patriarchal culture that we can hardly perceive that we are trying to think and behave as the system wants. Even when we have taken time to question these imposed values and roles, it is difficult, and it takes time to change them.

Armed forces and the police clearly represent traditional male roles. What is asked of military or police members is exactly what men are asked to be. Sometimes men are offered different ways to fulfil these masculine expectations, to exercise power, to use these values; not everyone who joins the army or supports militarism are soldiers, some men perform administrative tasks, invest in the military industry, or work for technology companies or banks that benefit from war. And even when men don’t want to follow this imposed masculinity, joining the army or doing military service, they are forced or persuaded to do it because they don’t have any other job opportunity, or because they cannot access civil benefits such as education, public positions or travel freely inside or outside their countries unless they have done the military service. 

But women also join armies, and this happens for many reasons. Some women do it for tradition, others because they feel the need to protect their country or because they find joining the army as a reasonable and rewarding job opportunity. Many may want to escape from gender role expectations, but looking very closely, beyond a relative role changes on a personal level, nothing in the structures changes; armed forces are no less patriarchal, less violent or more egalitarian;, although this is the intention of many armies and police bodies by allowing the incorporation of women into their ranks: that so-called purple-washing[4] mentioned in one of the recent Centrè Delás’[5] reports.

This patriarchal system always finds new ways to use the ideas, discourses and practices that once were against it to its own benefit. More than ever, legislation in different countries uses a gender equality discourse to try and incorporate women into their own violent and military structures. For example, the Labour Party in Mexico proposed reforming the Military Service Law to introduce compulsory military service for women and in Finland, the government has made a proposal that involves introducing civilian service for women.

In Colombia, after the protests during November and December 2019 which faced extreme violence from the anti-riot unit (ESMAD), the newly elected mayor - aware of the demonstration that was going to happen in January - came up with a “solution” to avoid these inconveniences with the protesters and the anti-riot unit. The anti-riot unit wasn’t going to be at the demonstrations, but instead the officer’s mothers! I know, it might sound like a joke, but sadly, it isn’t. The proposal was to replace the unit with the agent’s mothers, so during the protests, people wouldn’t be driven to make graffiti or start a confrontation with the police. Patriarchal culture has always been contemptuous with the mothers’ role in our societies and has always seen the work they do as un-productive and not important. However, in this specific situation it was useful, only because they were going to carry out the role performed by the police and the anti-riot unit.

Militarism is the exacerbated expression of the values ​​of patriarchal culture. It’s part of the media, the education we receive, our daily lives and even our relationships and social interactions. And that is the trap, to make it so normal, so natural, so obvious, that nobody dares to question it or see it. Fortunately, antimilitarists, inspired by feminist’s analysis and activism , have been exposing and challenging the relationship between patriarchy and militarism more and more frequently over the years.


[1] Domination system that is based in the oppression and control from one group (men-masculine) above another (women-feminine), in order to maintain their privileges, usually by violent practices and ideas. 

[2] Armed forces presence and incidence in different institutions and actions with private and/or public financing support.

[3] Ideology that sustains the militarization of societies. Justifies military responses and, therefore, the existence of armies to face national or international conflicts, disguised as security and protection for the population.

[4] As in the report, instrumentalization of women and feminism to promote a false image of gender equality and modernity.

[5] Center of Research on issues related to disarmament and peace in the Spanish State.


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