Confronting Militarized Masculinities to Achieve Peace and Justice
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
The Kroc School is hosting Dean Peacock as a visiting scholar. Master of Arts in Social Innovation student Amanda Larson met with him for a Q&A to discuss his work at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), where he is the director of the Confronting Militarized Masculinities Initiative.
You’re the Director of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s initiative to confront militarized masculinities, support women’s rights and advance feminist peace. What do you mean by militarized masculinities and feminist peace?
Across the world, many men feel significant pressures to conform to a narrow set of stereotypical gender roles. Although mediated by their particular location within multiple hierarchies of power—their country of origin, class, experiences of racism and discrimination, these pressures and expectations to prove their manhood are surprisingly similar in many parts of the world. Far too many men are still socialized to equate successful manhood with being powerful, tough, dominant over women, with sexual conquest, and risk taking, with stoicism and never acknowledging fear or asking for help, not backing down from a challenge or confrontation, being willing to use—and often glorifying—aggression and violence, and in many settings, the excessive use of alcohol.
These ideas pressure men to view compromise and negotiation as a sign of weakness, to form bonds of default solidarity with other men rather than women, to defend one’s “honor”, to be patriotic, and to regard it as their duty to be prepared to use force to “protect” country and family. Here, masculinities are defined in opposition to femininities and sexual diversities endorse and often encourage the subordination of women.
Militarised masculinities are not dramatically different from hegemonic, or dominant, masculinities. They are different only by degree, emphasis and openness to critique. Prevailing ideas about manhood simultaneously reflect long histories of powerful men manipulating ideas about manhood to pressure usually poor and working class men into fighting wars that seldom serve their interests. In societies undergoing militarisation, they are easily harnessed and weaponized to support and accelerate conflict and war and advance the political and economic interests linked to the war economy. Ideologies about manhood pressure men to endorse militarism—despite the high costs that come with it. Manhood and masculinities are primed to enable war and conflict.
Militarised masculinities reflect, reinforce and legitimate the patriarchal notion that safety and security are best achieved through the threat or use of force by the military, militarised police, and widespread use of prisons, rather than through the provision of care, social welfare, health, education and action to advance equality and justice.
Even against this backdrop of widespread pressure on men to accept rigid, inequitable and ultimately harmful ideas about manhood, many men have joined in solidarity with women and people of all genders to reject these expectations and work to undo them in pursuit of a world characterized by gender justice, and, more recently perhaps, for freedom from gender itself.
WILPF is the oldest women’s peacemaking organization in the world, established in 1915 during the First World War. How did it come to be that WILPF is taking on this work with men?
WILPF’s work with men is not new. WILPF has been calling on men—especially men in positions of power—to prioritise peace over profits, populism and war for over a hundred years. For WILPF, dismantling patriarchy and patriarchal power has always been core to upending the gendered root causes of war and to advancing feminist peace.
WILPF recognises that patriarchy is a system that benefits a relatively small group of powerful men at tremendous cost to women, less powerful men and to the planet we all live on. In this way, WILPF sees that men too have a clear stake in change and expects men to act in solidarity with women.
Rooted in this analysis, WILPF has over the last ten years built steadily stronger working relationships with the MenEngage Alliance, a global alliance mobilising men to take action for gender equality in over seventy countries around the world. The two organisations have carried out joint advocacy at the UN and together recently launched a new global initiative to confront militarised masculinities with MenEngage which I have the good fortune to coordinate. WILPF is clear that we’re stronger when we women and men and people of all genders work together for feminist peace.
Is there any self-care practice or reading that is helping you make sense of the world/militarized masculinities/men’s potential for peace?
I spend as much time in nature as I can. This summer I found tremendous solace walking the trails of Lassen National Volcanic Park and swimming in the lakes sprinkled throughout that amazing landscape. When I’m in Cape Town, I walk at sunset along the Sea Point promenade and watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean and always find a sense of peace and awe there.
In terms of books, there’s so much great literature to read! Currently I’m moving between Mike Messner’s Guys Like Us: Five Wars, Five Veterans for Peace, an account of US war veterans now opposing militarism and working for peace; Valerie Hudson’s The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide, which provides strong empirical evidence that the more subordinated women are the more likely there is to be poor governance, corruption and conflict; Beth Richie’s Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, And America’s Prison Nation, which explores the ways in which the battered women’s movement in the US inadvertently contributed to mass incarceration and failed to meet the needs of many survivors by relying on carceral approaches to address domestic violence; Mike Hearn’s Men of the World: Gender, Globalisation, Transnational Times, in which he sets out to “make some gentle way forward towards the abolition of men” by which I take him to mean he yearns for a world where we’re all free from gender itself, an aspiration I share.
And because self-care obviously requires fiction too, and perhaps inspired by my time in the woods near Chico where he took his first writing classes at Cal State Chico, I’ve been revisiting the amazing short stories of Raymond Carver whose refusal to provide easy answers always draws me in.