• Kathrine Bjerg Christensen
“Women are nurturing mothers, and men are strong protectors!” - These are common gendered
stereotypes of men and women and their roles in society. However, if these are the general narrative
of men and women, then how do we explain that throughout history and today women directly
engage in conflict and war.
International relations (IR) scholars across different academic fields have engaged in this
conversation, theorizing and conceptualizing on how to understand women’s direct participation in
war. Feminist IR scholars especially have been interested in investigating this and argue for a
gendered approach to IR and global politics and that war, conflict and security are highly gendered
and part of an overall power hierarchy which consistently places women in a subordinate position.
Feminist perspectives towards understanding women’s roles in violence and the affects this has for
understanding security has caused tensions between conventional IR scholars and feminists, in
particular in terms of the degree to which gender is to be understood as a cause or a symptom of the
challenges associated with understanding women’ violence and changes in security perceptions.
This project will provide a critical review and analysis of the literature concerning WWPV and
WSM to detect if there are similarities and/or differences in how the scholarship explains women’s
engagement in violence. The literature review consists of 20 articles from scholars from different
disciplinary fields and is supported by expert interviews with three IR scholars of gender, war, and
security. The interviews provide additional and detailed perspectives to understanding the topic and
the challenges in theorizing and conceptualizing on the women and violence. The comparison of
WWPV and WSM is part of a larger debate on questions of war and security matters, in light of the
emergence of new actors, such as non-state military groups, which challenge the traditional state
security paradigm.
It can be concluded on the basis of the critical review and analysis that a number of the same
narratives were being produced and reproduced in the literature on both WWPV and WSM. One
example was the narrative of motherhood, which was significant in both bodies of literature as an
explanatory narrative in understanding women’s involvement in violence and the discomfort it caused for society, men, and the non-state organizations when women participated in violence.
Despite similarities there were also differences in the degree to which some of the narratives and
concepts were applied. In the WSM literature there were a tendency to analyze and discuss the
question of women’s legitimate place in the military on the basis of their physical abilities and
whether it was beneficial for both women and the institution. In the literature on WWPV the
analysis of physical abilities were to a lesser degree discussed, whereas the gendered power
hierarchies causing differences in the positions that men and women are allowed to fill were often
Additionally, the review of the literature revealed that the group of scholars conducting research on
WSM was more evenly gender balanced than scholars working on WWPV. Furthermore, there was
an interest from non-feminist scholars to engage in the conversation on WSM, whereas in the
literature on WWPV, the scholars were all women and all took a gender and/or a feminist
perspective to understanding women’s roles in violence and the connection to security.
Ultimately, the differences in academic paradigms, especially between feminist and non-feminist
scholars, made a coherent understanding of security difficult. However, both non-feminist and
feminist scholars seemed to conclude that an awareness of gender (not necessarily a feminist
perspective) is significant to understanding security.
Publication date31 May 2013
Number of pages75
ID: 76963931