- Women Participants in Armed Violence
With over forty major armed conflicts occurring around the world in the past decade, it hardly proves surprising that women participants in organized violence have appeared more commonly on our television and computer screens, and on the front pages of newspapers and magazines. 1 In the United States, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the "global war on terror" have produced images ranging from the girl-next-door P.O.W., Jessica Lynch, to the burka-wearing suicide bomber.
Academic scholarship on women in armed conflicts has increased alongside popular portrayals. Scholars in political science, sociology, anthropology, and other social sciences have generated much of this new work, part of an emerging literature often called "gender and militarization." Feminist political scientist Cynthia Enloe blazed the trail for this scholarship—and continues to lead it (two of the books considered here [End Page 172] feature pull quotes from Enloe on their back covers). 2 Antimilitarist and feminist in orientation, these scholars are committed to fully deconstructing the "gendered armor" of militarization and understanding what it means both for militarization and for the construction of gender.
Historical scholarship on women participants in war has remained largely disconnected from this growing literature on gender and militarization. Only one of the five historical works on women participants in armed conflict considered for this review, for example, cites the ample literature on gender and militarization. The historical literature is also far more heterogeneous in its theoretical approach and methodology, a phenomenon that may contribute to its separation from the interdisciplinary field of gender and militarization. Whereas the scholarship on gender and militarization sits squarely in the most recent evolutionary phase of feminist studies of women and gender, in emphasizing the social construction of gender and its relationship to the phenomenon of militarization, the historical literature on women participants in war spans all the major evolutionary phases of feminist studies of women and gender. If the books reviewed here represent the field as a whole—and they seem to—historical work aims as much at recovering the stories of women participants in war and enumerating their contributions to war as it does considering how their contributions reconfigure the history of war, women and gender, or create new understandings about how gender and war are socially constructed. 3 While there are understandable reasons for the extensive recovery work still underway in this field—and while much of it proves fascinating—the persistence of pure recovery and contributory history in this field may limit the impact of this scholarship to understanding women and war as well as compound the isolation of women's history from the dynamic interdisciplinary scholarship on gender and militarization.
Continued emphasis on recovering women participants in armed conflict reflects the staggering degree to which women's participation in war and violence has been systematically overlooked. Whether as participants in military campaigns or home front mobilizations or whether as symbols of the war's purpose or as its sacrifices, women were long invisible. When the history of war was the sole purview of traditionally trained military historians, they did not see women at arms...