Gender and Military History - Pt 2
Monday, January 9, 2006, 02:02 PM - War and GenderA guest post by Michael Dolski, a graduate student at Temple University.
Ed. note: Michael published this merely as a response to the comment thread of his previous post on this subject, but it is so thoughtful and informative I didn't want it to get buried. I've done a bit of very light editing and have added links where appropriate.
Having just braved the AHA convention held over the past couple days here in Philadelphia, I can provide a couple of examples of gender in military history.
The first is drawn from David Corlett and his paper entitled “Casualties of War: Community, Gender Identity, and Morality in New England’s Early Indian Wars.” Corlett describes how women transcended gender bounds while reacting to periodic incursions by hostile Indians. Such women would take charge of their households in the absence (or even at times in the presence) of the traditional male authorities, which may have been serving militia duty elsewhere. Also, Corlett examines the humiliation or the ‘unmanning’ of the male population that came from ineffectual responses to Indian attacks. Essentially, these men were failing to live up to their expected role as protectors of home, family, and community. These transgressions in gender roles were then used in propaganda and rhetorical outbursts in order to spur men on to actions while shaping the nature of their response. Corlett asserted that men were driven to further savagery in battle as a result of rage built up over their demasculization.
One other example comes from Paul Quigley’s paper, “A Nation Defined by War: Consolidation and Collapse in the Confederacy.” Quigley emphasizes the role that the war played in fostering a separate sense of Southern nationalism. One of the factors that he highlights as formative in this process is the differing conception of gender roles between the North and the South. Quigley asserts that the varied ideals of masculinity and femininity in the two sections served to heighten the divide between them; all of which came to a head due to wartime experiences.
I think these are interesting examples of how gender offers another analytical component for studying military history. Unfortunately, if I remember correctly, neither of these two scholars claims to be military historians. In fact, at an earlier roundtable during the conference, which was labeled “New Approaches to the Study of the Military in the United States,” every single panel participant readily professed the fact that they were not military historians. Maybe I was a little sensitive, but it just seemed as if they relished the fact that they could dip into the realm of military history while asserting (I think rightfully so) that military historians often ignore the issues and discussions that occur in the other areas of history.
Now, all is not lost, as Richard Kohn argued in a different session. Military historians have their various audiences and obviously are meeting the needs of the policy-making community as well as history buffs and those generally interested in military affairs. Brian Linn also pointed out that current trends are poor indicators of future hot topics. He has done rather extensive research on the Philippines, including the excellent book, The Philippine War, 1899-1902. Linn has become a recurrent commentator on current issues surrounding the War on Terror largely because of his work on counterinsurgency warfare. He said that when he began his studies nobody thought this would lead to any wider notoriety or would perforce have relevance beyond the direct issues he considered.
My overall point was to show how I became persuaded over time to agree with what now appears as the rather insightful assertions that Mark posted regarding gender and military history. I do not think that gender is a sine qua non for all military history and that everything to date has to be reformulated in order to directly address this topic. Rather, I feel that gender is one of several analytical concepts that military historians need to begin thinking about if not incorporating into their work if they wish to remain current with the rest of the discipline.
Memory, the area I am more interested in, is another great example of this. Avowed non-military historians have done most of the work on memory and war or battle, a point noted by Michael Allen during the conference (a cultural historian studying a military topic). I think the clear and constant distinctions between historical fields have been morphed into sort of preemptive claims in this regard. Non-military historians research areas related to military topics, but then can fall back on their status as cultural or whatever manner of historians when and if they fail to correctly depict the actual military side of the events. By failing to engage in these discussions military historians invite others to do so in their place.
I am not sure that most military historians have been convinced of the need to address these matters. I certainly offer this as a tentative assertion, but it seems to me that many are willing to acknowledge the potential relevance of concepts such as gender and then completely fail to include them once it comes time to research or publish some material.
Part 1 - Part 2
Gender and Military History - Pt 1
Tuesday, January 3, 2006, 08:29 AM - War and GenderA guest post by Michael Dolski, a graduate student at Temple University
Mark invited me to compose a guest entry about a month ago due to several e-mails we had exchanged. The heart of the matter was that I admitted appreciating the significant possibilities that gender offers for the study of military history. My viewpoint on this matter is the issue at hand because I was not always convinced of this.
My first exposure to Mark’s ideas on gender and military history came from an early posting entitled How I Came To Do This; a more detailed examination is in Meet the New Patriarchy, Same as the Old Patriarchy. I was skeptical to say the least. A large part of my skepticism came from ignorance, as is so often the case. This specifically deals with the concept of gender as a tool of analysis. I simply equated gender with women’s studies until I had to consider this further over the past couple of months. For me, this early post by Mark represented a "squishy" attempt (to borrow Allan Millett’s terminology) to revise military history and make it more palatable for the rest of academia. I thought that inserting gender into this was nothing more than the post-modernist/post-structuralist bent of changing "his"-tory to "her"-story.
As indicated, my conversion or enlightenment is a relatively recent affair. This stems from several months of frantic reading and discussion, much of which took place out of my comfort zone in military history. The major turning point for me came from reading Bonnie Smith’s The Gender of History. Smith shows the inherently gendered nature of professional history. This signifies that the issues considered by historians as well as the historical development and organizational culture of the academy reflect gender bias.
The excellent point to draw from this relates to the post-structuralist trend in history, which identifies the influences on and biases of the historian as integral components of the final product--history. She demonstrates that gender biases represent an overwhelming influence on individual historians. This becomes an even larger issue by determining which matters to investigate and by shading the interpretation of the events under consideration.
Upon reading this book it is easier to see that gender influences our beliefs and very ways of approaching the world, including history. Smith also explains that studying gender must go beyond simply inserting women into the traditional narrative of history. Gender includes the very concepts of male/female and masculine/feminine. To look at one in isolation will necessarily produce distortion by excluding the negative basis of comparison. Gender is important because it forms a large part of the way that we view the world. This influences the people and events in the past as well as the subsequent examination of them through the process of history. However, what does this mean for the study of military history?
Reading Smith forced a confrontation with an area of personal ignorance and bias. This significantly challenged my self-assured understanding of history and demanded adaptations to assimilate new information. Yet, initially I did not apply this to my areas of interest in military history. This comes from an unfortunate aspect of graduate education: the immense amount of material students are responsible for and the hectic pace of covering it precludes stepping back and considering the larger ramifications of it all.
Nevertheless, I did come across something that shows the role of gender and even sexuality as they relate to topics of concern for military history. I am referring to Dagmar Herzog’s recent book, Sex after Fascism. Herzog presents a compelling analysis of the way that gender and sexuality influenced Germany under the Nazis and afterwards. She shows that sex roles and rules were an important component of Nazi racial policies. More interesting, perhaps, is the discussion of the postwar attempts to address the crimes of the Nazi regime. Both of the divided German states repressed or avoided the atrocities of their recent past. One way that they did this (more so in West Germany) was to enforce sexual conformity and to reestablish what was believed to be the conservative, patriarchal society that predated the Nazis. The point is that gender and sex roles played a significant part in the manner that these societies tried to come to terms with the horrors committed during World War II. Also, these issues influenced the actual conduct of the war (i.e. the German toleration of rape by their soldiers in the East but not in the West).
So, why should I bring up these two particular works in this forum? The basic premise is to illustrate how I came to accept Mark’s assertion that gender is an interesting and useful analytical tool for military history. Consideration of this will open up a range of possibilities for any aspiring or even established historians working in this field. This goes beyond, for instance, examining why modern Western societies have tended to exclude women as combatants in their militaries (which still remains an interesting question, especially in this time of potential flux in the matter). Including gender roles in studies of military history can take the form of explaining the influence of conceptions of masculinity on the propensity for war or it may assist with explaining homefront-battlefront dichotomies. These are just a few easy examples and I am sure that many of you can provide insightful additions to this.
To wrap this post up I would like to point out just one more thing. Mark has convincingly described how the academic community partially marginalized military history. This is certainly the result of two related trends: academic history has moved away from ‘traditional’ topics such as military history and military historians have failed to engage fully with these changes. This highlights the importance of issues such as gender. I am not advocating a complete restructuring of the historical narrative or rejection of all that fails to take account of gender. However, by overlooking this significant influence on lived reality as well as historical methodology we are only handicapping ourselves. This is evident in two ways. First, historians produce partially distorted or incomplete history when they ignore relevant influences on the people and events, such as gender. Second, military historians will only further exclude themselves and their topics from the rest of the academy by failing to engage with the subjects or themes that many other areas are now looking at. In the end, these matters provide military historians with an excellent opportunity to show how their subject matter is relevant to the rest of academia and necessary for a full understanding of history in general.
Part 1 - Part 2
The War and Gender Gap
Monday, November 21, 2005, 02:07 AM - War and Gender
That's Prof. Reina Rennington of Norwich University on the left, looking radiant; I'm on the right, looking like an Idaho potato. The pic was taken last month when Reina gave a presentation at the Mershon Center on the state of military history. I've been meaning to write a post about her talk and hope to get around to it in a few days. But my immediate need for the photo is different. And simpler.
Note that here we have two military historians, one female, one male, which happens to be the exact ratio of women to men on the planet. And war, I think no one interested in war would deny, has powerfully shaped the history of that planet and so, willy nilly, the entire population of that planet, in pretty much equal measure. Yet few historical subjects are more heavily skewed in terms of gender than ours. Military historians tend overwhelmingly to be male. So do students who take courses in military history.
This evening I put the Winter 2006 History 380: The History of War course roster on a spreadsheet to explore the composition of the 158 students currently enrolled. Of these, 71 (45 percent) are history majors; the other 87 (55 percent) are majoring in everything from Accounting to Zoology. After History the largest cohort of majors is in Political Science (15 students, 10 percent), closely followed by International Studies (14 students, 9 percent), and Criminology (6 students, 4 percent). The remaining 52 students (33 percent) are distributed over a broad range of majors: essentially they comprise a representative sample of the undergraduate population.
The number of female students is another story. Students are not formally identified by gender so I had to guess at one or two of the names, but as nearly as I could figure only 22 female students (14 percent) are enrolled in the course. The good news is that in absolute numbers History 380 has enrolled at least half the number of female students as one would find in a 300-level course in women's history, and fifteen of the 22 are non-history majors. The bad news--or rather the challenge--is that I don't have a ratio closer to a fifty-fifty split between women and men.
And right now I don't have the slightest idea how to achieve it. While it's not unreasonable to suppose that giving more attention to women and war would help--and to advertise the fact--that's far from a sure bet, and anyway a bit patronizing to suppose that women are interested only in women. Is it simply the stereotypes concerning military history that account for the disproportion? Or is it something deeper?