HOMEStrategies for building awareness for the potential of peace education in Cameroon Ben Oru Mforndip
Has Democracy Enhanced Development in Africa? Conrad John Masabo
Permanent Emergency Powers in France: The ‘Law to Strengthen Internal Security and the Fight Against Terrorism’ and the Protection of Human Rights Lena Muhs
Women’s Political Representation in Sri Lanka: Leading towards Prosperity or Peril Pujika Rathnayake
Lack of empathy as a threat to peace Victoria Scheyer
The death of democracy in Honduras Daniel Bagheri S.
The Persons Who Changed the Lives of Terrorists and Criminals Surya Nath Prasad
RECENT ARTICLES Teaching Peace from Tales of the City: Peace Education through the Memoryscapes of Nagasaki Patporn Phoothong
Reflections of Refugees in Africa Wyclife Ong'eta Mose
Challenges and prospects of AU to implement the Ezulwini Consensus: The case of collective security and the use of force Tunamsifu Shirambere Philippe
The Right to Food Shant Melkonian
Freedom of Expression Under Threat in Zambia Mariateresa Garrido
Douglas Janoff on LGBTQIA Human Rights Luciana Téllez
Common Things: Communication, Community, Communal Peacebuilding Lina Patricia Forero Martínez
The political Crisis of the 2017 Honduran Election Daniel Bagheri S.
Water Security in the Sixaola River Basin Adrián Martinez Blanco and Diana Ubico Durán
Reborn Arunima Chouguley
An Open Letter to the American People: Political Responsibility in the Nuclear Age Richard Falk, David Krieger, and Robert Laney
Last Updated: 04/05/2006Stand By Your Man
American war movies have a tendency to slip themselves into time-honored gender role clichés - women as comforters, women as patriots, women as whores. In doing this, they not only ignore the rich and varied roles that women have played in times of conflict, but they reinforce certain stereotypes that are best either broken down or left out. In some cases, lessons can be drawn from examples of African film and literature.
The vast majority of war-related films have been produced in America and, as a result, are dominated by Western concepts of masculinity and femininity. The lack of African films in this genre is noticeable and may be explained by the lack of a strong African film industry. This has led to a dependence upon foreign funding which has produced a large number of development-related films focusing on issues such as education and HIV/AIDS (Hungwe, 2000). Perhaps as the film industry in Africa grows, the number of war-films will increase and we can then gain a better understanding of the perceived role of women during war. Based on Western war-films and novels, as well as African post-conflict films and novels, it would appear that the dominant role of women in this genre is that of caretaker, peacemaker, victim or whore. There are very few films that depict women as warriors and films that do so generally relegate these women to minor characters or background action. While this is a misrepresentation of women during conflict throughout history and the world, these films are simply reflecting the masculine and feminine stereotypes that dominate our societies.
Women and men are socialized from childhood on to adopt specific gender roles – man as warrior, woman as caretaker. These gendered roles, strongly influenced by cultural expectations, are reflected in both film and novel. In so doing, they are presented as “natural” and thus reinforced. Femininity is often associated with such traits as emotionality, prudence, co-cooperativeness, compliance, affection, gentleness, sympathy, dependence, support and nurturing. In contrast, masculinity tends to be linked with rationality, power, strength, competitiveness, ruthlessness, aggression, assertiveness, independence, risk-taking behavior, courageousness, and adventurousness. Based on these cultural stereotypes, in both film and novels, male characters are predominantly depicted as being more dominant, violent and powerful than their female counterparts (Chandler, 2002). While this is largely a white, middle-class heterosexual, “Western” concept of masculinity, it spans across a variety of cultures including many of those in Africa as depicted in both The Lord of War (Niccol, 2005) and Black Hawk Down (Scott, 2001) in which arms dealers or American soldiers encounter the hyper-masculine militias of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan. This type of masculinity often devalues characteristics associated with the feminine and opens the door for hero worship and the glorification of war.
Cynthia Enloe, an expert in feminist international relations, asserts that the international political system is dependent upon “patriotic wives” to play a specific role, and that power relations would be jeopardized should they refuse to conform (Enloe, 2000). Whether consciously or not, at some level policy makers and military officials are aware of this and encourage stereotypes that will allow for them to carry out foreign policy, including military action. This is evident in war films whether made for overt propaganda purposes, such as the 1942 award-winning Mrs. Miniver, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 anti-war film Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979), or the hyper-masculine entertainment oriented Rambo (Kotcheff, 1982) films, all of which embrace traditional gender stereotypes and honor the “heroic” masculine.
Monica Henry is a Master's candidate, studying Gender and Peacebuilding at the Unversity for Peace