The Myth of Peaceful Women

In the past few weeks, we have dwelled over the different roles associated with peacebuilding, especially ones that hold particular weight in our identity. Gender is one of the first roles that comes to mind, and its role in peacebuilding is particularly interesting as different practicioners and academics have very different perspectives of it. Throughout this reflection, I will briefly analyze some of the main ways in which peacebuilders thought of women and their role in the field, and then proceed to explain my perspective on nature vs. nurture.

Perhaps one of the most compelling perspectives on women in peacebuilding is that they are not real actors in it, and as such play very little role in influencing decisions. For example, during our panel with military officers at the beginning, all of whom had served in either Afghanistan or Iraq for at least over a year, one of them admitted to only having interacted with women only once during his entire time on the field. An interesting documentary we watched with Professor Poethig called “Redefining War” on the discourse surrounding women on the frontline looked at how with the shift of international focus from national security to human security, there was more emphasis on the pacifying role of women in war – which brings us to the dilemma on whether women truly are more “naturally” peaceful than men. Professor Monteville stressed on the destructive effect of testosterone in foreign policy and the fact that the mature male brain is not fully formed until they’re 26 years old; a compelling premise for a battle cry to involve more women in the field.

However, the biological argument is definitely brought to discussion when in extraordinary circumstances, women are given the same social status as men and their genitalia does not stop them from committing the same level of aggression as men. The first case that comes to mind is the “sworn virgins” in rural mountainous Albania, where by radical social code they adopt the social role and status of a man, while vowing to remain abstinent for the rest of their lives. Despite the fact that this is one of the most conservative isolated communities in Europe, and that the “sworn virgins” had lived fully as women until the point of the decision, there was no distinction between the level of social aggression that the “sworn virgins” were capable of committing to fulfill their role and men. Furthermore, despite this being one of the most conservative isolated communities in Europe, it was the first one to accept cross-dressing unanimously for as long as it served a cohesive purpose – there was absolutely no dissent with  regards to the way the “sworn virgins” were treated by the community for as long as they embodied their male role.

This example truly illustrates my perspective on the nature vs nurture debate on gender and te role it’s currently playing in peacebuilding. Whether it’s “sworn virgins” only being respected because they perform the male gender, or the female prison guards being respected only when they act uber-masculine with their counterparts, we keep dwelling in the nature of gender as a social construct. This construct in itself is so deeply ingrained within our society and its patriarchal tendencies that even when the glass ceiling is “broken” and women are allowed into male spaces, they have to embody the performative male.

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.