Ecofeminist Analysis of Militarism and the War on Terrorism

Ecofeminist Analysis of Militarism and the War on Terrorism

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Ecofeminist Analysis of Militarism and the War on Terrorism

   Since the start of our retaliation against terrorism, war, and the military-industrial complex used to support war, have become extremely important topics. While accomplishing its primary objective, war also destroys the innocent. War hits the young, old, women and children. The environment is partially destroyed in the country in which the war is fought. Both a feminist and environmentalist perspective are useful when analyzing militarism and its policies of domination and oppression.


Feminists see the military system as another patriarchal institution of domination that values the masculine over the feminine. War usually exploits women and other marginalized groups.


Environmentalists proclaim that the military-industrial complex is the nation’s largest industry responsible for the most pollution and mass destruction in the world.  Janis Birkland, a well-known ecofeminist and author of the essay entitled "Ecofeminism: Linking Theory and Practice", argues that this discussion would force us to accept that the enemy is not "out there" but also within us (36).


Militarism becomes an environmental issue and a feminist issue. To combine the two ideologies, ecofeminism creates a more complex thorough analysis of the destructive nature of militarism. Ecofeminism creates a new understanding and a new vision of criticizing the established military culture that exists in our world today. Ecofeminism links the oppression of women and nature as one in the same. The same system that exploits and oppresses women also turns and degrades the environment. The military destroys the environment and perpetuates the patriarchal culture by reinforcing the masculine is dominant over the feminine. Ecofeminist analysis allows citizens to become more aware and informed about the destructive nature of the military.


Militarism, a policy or principle of supporting the maintenance of a large military establishment, is more than just war and destruction of life notes James A. Donovan, a retired military general and author of Militarism, U.S.A. (25). The military is involved in nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Economic, social, cultural, and our natural world are immensely affected. Stephen E. Ambrose and James Barber, editors of The Military and American Society, assert that the military dictates our foreign policies, economic policies, allocation of natural resources, college and university programs and funding, degradation of the environment, and the education of millions of non-highschool graduates (4).


When analyzing militarism and all the social and environmental consequences, ecofeminism creates a comprehensive holistic perspective.

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It does not ignore that the military is inherently sexist and misogynistic. It does not ignore that the military's record on environmental awareness is nothing short of horrific. Ecofeminism looks at the military-industrial complex with both an ecological and feminist perspective. It acknowledges all the points of feminist analysis. The military institution is a patriarchal institution that exploits and oppresses marginalized groups. The military and its weapons manufacturers are continuously manipulating the phallic image for its weapons as a selling device and implication of sexual dominance. When creating its armies, the population is lead to believe that the sex roles expectations and its concepts of masculine and feminine are correct, all for the love of your country. When engaging in warfare and testing their weapons of mass destruction, the environment is callously ignored, all for the defense of the nation.


Socially constructed ideals of masculinity and femininity are used by the military to manipulate both the soldiers and the citizens. Training of soldiers requires an intense "deprogramming" of the individual . The soldier must take on a nationalistic mentality and focus. Men are taught to hate and push back their "feminine" side. The instillation of patriarchal values are used when the soldiers are ridiculed by being called "sissies", "wimps", or "girls". By creating this atmosphere of domination of the masculine, the female is seen as a lower class and often times, not even human notes Birkland (35). The idea of emotion, a "feminine" trait, is drilled out of the soldier's heads. The rejection of emotions prepares the soldier to kill. Drill instructors call their privates such demeaning terms as "faggot" or "pussy". Masculine traits are held in higher esteem while the feminine traits are undesirable. Feminine characteristics are not desirable in the military because they are seen as weak or inferior. This does not make one a good soldier. In this process of intense training, according to Ambrose and Barber, no improved values are added but rather the patriarchal institution continues to be held in the highest respect (15).


The masculine doctrination that all soldiers must be subject to are the concepts of honor, duty, loyalty, and courage. These are highly masculinzed characteristics because in patriarchal culture, there exists a heirarchy of dualism. The masculine is considered to be higher ranking than the feminine. With such a system, the outcome is an either/or situation. A soldier is either courageous or a coward. In the military, an intensely masculinized institution, these concepts are dominant throughout the soldiers training.


According to Donovan, author of Militarism, U.S.A., the new soldier is exposed to four main tenets when going through the training process. Honor is the core of the military's tenets. The military uses honor as one of its tenets because it is effective in creating a single goal. The single purpose of the soldiers are to prepare them to fight. Duty is another important ideal of the soldiers' training. It is every soldiers' duty to perform the best job that they know how. By performing their duty, the soldiers serve the country and their military families. The military does not want its soldiers seen as cold-blooded killers but instead as patriotic citizens who are serving the good of the public. Loyalty to one's squadron or infantry is also very important. Courage in battle is the final characteristic of a good soldier. One must be brave in the heat of the battle. These are all very masculinized concepts which in the hierarchal dichotomy, a system which creates an either/or scenario and places them in a ranking system, feminine characteristics are seen as inferior and opposite traits of a good soldier (37-40).


In the propaganda of recruitment, at the citizen's level, Birkland states that these ads tell of very segregated gender roles. Men are to be adventurous and aggressive. They are to go to war and prove their masculinity. Women are to raise the brave young soldiers with patriotic values and thoughts. She is to sit at home and wait for his return. She is expected to remain quiet and not question why her children die for a country that does not treat her as an equal. War suggests that children are raised by women while the men are fighting. In Francis A. Beer's book entitled Peace Against War, she cites studies that suggest when children are raised mainly by the mother they tend to associate with their mothers as role models, thereby incorporating more "feminine" characteristics (300).


The concept of "them vs us" thinking, disguises the hidden power and domination drive. It fuels the war when the powerful tell the citizens that it is about nationalism and the "other". Birkland states that these dualism, good/evil, capitalist/communist, and male/female are one of the underlying principles of patriarchy (37). The dualism in effect places one above the other. The heirarchy which the male/female dualism occurs places the female below the male. Birkland also notes that an effective strategy to create public support for the war is to challenge the nation's sense of masculine pride (35). The nation must continue the image of being in control and the other as the bully or enemy. These masculine traits are highly valued while the constructed feminine characteristics are seen as weak and illogical.



Donna Warnok, author of Patriarchy is a Killer, says:


"Veteran Richard Hale reported that on the way to Vietnam troops were told, 'There's a lot of loose ass over there men, and they just love GI dick. And the best of all, they are only Gooks, so if you get tired of them, you can cram a grenade up their cunt and 'waste' them.' Many soldiers seized the opportunity; stories of wartime atrocities abound. 'This is my rifle,' the troops chant, 'This is my gun.' They slap their crotches; 'One is for killin', the other's for fun.' Four hundred thousand Bengali women were systematically raped by Pakistan soldiers. Misogyny and homophobia are basic components in military indoctrination. 'When you want to create a solidarity group of male killers,' goes the Marine philosophy, 'you kill the 'woman' in them (online)."


This may seem an extreme example of just how demeaning and degrading the military views women. This is not so extreme. The military is one the largest industries and therefore "employs" millions of young men and women who are members of this society that have been indoctrinated with such patriarchal institutional values. The above clearly demonstrates that without a feminist perspective, institutions as powerful as the military would go unquestioned and therefore unaccountable to their misogynistic principles.


Proponents of militarism argue that its reasons for existence are that of containment and deterrence. Containment and deterrence are military terms used to justify the defense of the nation. Birkland explains that these goals are not to defend a militaristic policy, rather they simply are justifications for dominance. These justifications are irrational because they do not defend life nor is it a reasonable way to accomplish security because it threatens all life on earth (39-41). Military supporters argue also that dominance is natural as well as human aggression. This is a very masculine concept and perpetuates dominance. They are unwilling to see peace as an alternative because of its negative "feminine" traits. Birkland states that "They are hooked on images of machismo and power" (41). If one accepts that dominance and human aggression are natural then there seems to be no argument against military supporters. However, when one looks at the culturally defined definitions of what the patriarchal society deems as "natural" this argument can no longer be used effectively. Masculinity and femininity are culturally defined concepts therefore they are not natural (biological).


Ecofeminism attempts to reevaluate the system. Ecofeminists look at the ideological and psychological pressures on the masculine ego that fuels the abuse of power. The traditional femininity or environmental approach is to suggest that the military institution can be changed through reason, education, and /or religion. This approach denies the importance of the individual's actions in daily life about socially constructed sex and gender roles. The system is not the target of analysis, rather the individual is seen as the burden of solution. Ecofeminism seeks to change and create a new system, a system which does not put the blame and pressure on the individual.


In a political context, the linking of environmental issues with "women's " issues serves many purposes. Ecofeminism, in its holistic scope, creates more arguments for the issues and reasons for actions . If one can prove that militarism is not only environmentally destructive but also leads to the exploitation of women and other marginalized groups, the cause is that much more stronger.


Ecofeminism seeks to deconstruct or reinvent the current system. In both critiques, feminist and ecological, the goal is to point out the sexism of the appeal to a generic mankind and humanity and to uncover, instead of a comprehensive appeal, the connections between sexism, racism, imperialism, classism, and environmental exploitation. An example of an ecofeminist deconstruction is feminist analyst Joni Seager. Seager, as discussed in Noel Sturgeon's book entitled Ecofeminist Natures, identifies the patriarchal characteristics of governments, militaries, and corporations as one of the main factors in their continuing responsibility for environmental degradation (149).


Ecofeminism has dedicated itself to exhuming not only the horrors of warfare, but the growing environmental consequences that last for generations. This new vision that ecofeminism creates, hopes to show that the products of the military-industrial complex and war destroys the living and those yet to be born. By allowing citizens a more complete picture of militarism, they become more aware and someday will change the system so it will not exploit, degrade, or destroy life on earth.



Ambrose, Stephen E. and Barber, James. ed. The Military and American Society. New York: The Free Press . 1972.

Beer, Francis A. Peace Against War. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Company. 1981.

Birkland, Janis. "Ecofeminism: Linking Theory and Practice." Ecofeminism. Women, Animals, Nature. Ed. Greta Gaard. Philedelphia: Temple University Press, 1993. 13-59.

Caldicott, Dr. Helen. Missile Envy. New York: Bantam Books. 1984.

Donovan, James A. Militarism, U.S.A. New York: Charles Scribners Son's. 1970.

Sturgeon, Noel. Ecofeminist Natures. Routledge, New York. 1997.
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