On the fuselage of a bomber flown during World War 2 you would see an image, often, of a beautiful young woman, either naked or partially naked.
What was that beautiful young woman doing there?
Boosting morale, I hear. She was a symbol of everything they loved and held dear. She was what they were fighting for.
They would get into these aircraft and unload death and destruction on the enemy. Including his women.
War is a men’s game. So is nationalism, the matrix of wars.
Nationalist movements have a way of being disappointing to women. This makes women a disappointment to nationalists. Nationalists are always complaining about their women.
Women are indispensable to nationalist movements. The symbol of the nation is often a woman. The nation is called “Mother.” Mother Ghana. Mother India. Poland, the motherland. Mother Ireland. China, the mother (Taiwan, the child). Examples abound.
Invasion and conquest are often called “rape.” War posters portray it vividly.
Very often it’s more than a portrayal.
Women’s bodies become another battleground where opposing groups of men act out their conflicts. You want to destroy your enemy’s pride and sense of manhood? Deprive him of the ability to defend his women.
Rape the hell out of his women – in front of him, whenever possible. Force his women into prostitution. Force his women to bear your offspring.
The “Yugoslav Wars” of the 1990s brought this type of strategy to light for a lot of people, such as myself, who understood that these things happened in wars but who had never seriously contemplated them – probably because there had never before been extensive media coverage of it.
These have always been the kinds of things women go through while men battle it out for “the nation.”
Of course, women can also be drafted into the nationalist cause, fighting wars of liberation alongside men. But regardless of whether they fight actively, women assume a vital role. The nation is seen as an extended family, and women are the reproducers, the nurturers, the ones who pass along to the next generation all the cultural values of the nation.
This is their real value to nationalists. And this is why, typically, women’s freedoms are curtailed under nationalist regimes.
When the new nation drafts its Constitution, the Constitution might declare that all citizens have equal rights. But the reality is that women are often no better off than they were without Constitutional “rights.” The rights exist only on paper.
Nationalism doesn’t change traditional concepts of women’s roles, even with talk about “equality.” Far from it: nationalism strengthens the most conservative view of women’s roles. In fact, the more idealized the role of women is, the less freedom women have in actuality.
For example, Serbian nationalists, beginning in the late 1980s, became more and more alarmed at the decreasing birthrate in parts of Serbia – and the rising birthrate in Kosovo. The prime role of women as mothers of the nation took on huge importance.
Politicians were calling upon women to produce babies, for the sake of their country. The historical and symbolic figure of the bereaved Mother Yugovich, who lost all nine of her sons in battle with the Ottoman Turks, was held up as a model for women, of the mother sacrificing children in defense of the nation.
Just in case women were slow to get the point, however, measures were proposed or enacted to give them that extra push. There was a proposal to impose special taxes on unmarried people. In addition, a proposal to outlaw abortion was enacted (and later withdrawn).
Similar proposals against abortion were considered in Croatia and Slovenia.
Religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, were weighing in, either by calling for a ban on abortion or by insisting on a minimum number of children per woman.
While nationalists see women as an integral part of the nation, they typically also see women as an internal threat to be strictly controlled. Some ethnic nationalists hold that in a future ethnostate, women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. They recognize that women’s thinking is significantly different from men’s in some ways, and that women’s concerns won’t always coincide with men’s.
And this is the problem for nationalists of all stripes. Women just don’t care about many of the same things men do. And they don’t see the appeal of nationalist movements to nearly the degree that men do.
Melanie Reid, married to a Scottish nationalist, wrote a few years go about women’s lack of interest in the Scottish Nationalist Party (which was working to overcome this problem). She surmises:
We can play armchair psychology all day, but it seems indisputable that most women don’t start wars of independence, however benign, because they’re too busy trying to run a peaceful home and bring up children in a stable environment.
Continuity, stability, freedom from conflict: these are feminine urges and always have been.
I’ve read that White Nationalists complain either that they have a hard time finding compatible women or that they have women who simply don’t share their views.
It’s self-evident: women don’t always have the same drives men do. We have our own drives. These trump what men want, and what men demand. We can be given incentives. And clearly we have been forced to go along.
But you can’t make us care more about what concerns you than about what concerns us.
Urvashi Butalia, an Indian feminist and historian, in an article about nationalism in India, opens with a quote from a woman named Ramrati, a construction worker in north India.
I don’t understand what you mean by this nation business. What does it have to do with me? All I’m concerned about is my family and where their next meal is coming from.
Why should I feel any concern for this thing you call a nation? After all, no one asked me how I felt when it was being made.
Whether you’re a feminist or not, you know exactly what she’s talking about.
- Butalia, Urvashi. March 1996. “Mother India.” New Internationalist (277).
Chiarenza, Barbara. 2006. Gender In War. Sarajevo: Center for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies.
Hughes, Donna, and Mladjenovic, Lepa. 2000. “Feminist Resistance to War and Violence in Serbia.” In Rycenga, Jennifer, and Walker, Marguerite E., eds. Frontline Feminisms. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.
Polignano, Michael J. April 12, 2010. “Women and White Nationalism.” The Occidental Quarterly Online.
Reid, Melanie. April 16, 2007. “Nationalism, Like Gangs and Testosterone, Is a Man Thing.” The Times Online.