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There is a myth that men fight wars to protect the ‘vulnerable people’ in society, yet women and children are 90% of casualties in modern war, and 75% of refugees (Tickner and Sjoberg 2010, p. 204). Some feminists claim that this ‘myth of protection’, the belief that wars are fought to protect women, the elderly and children, is a form of structural violence. Caprioli uses Galtung’s description to illustrate what structural violence is:
“Structural violence has four basic components: exploitation which is focused on the division of labour with the benefits being asymmetrically distributed, penetration which necessitates the control by the exploiters over the consciousness of the exploited thus resulting in the acquiescence of the oppressed, fragmentation which means that the exploited are separated from each other, and marginalization with the exploiters as a privileged class with their own rules and form of interaction” (Caprioli 2005, p.164).
The ‘myth of protection’ is perpetuating all of these four basic components at the same time by keeping women out of the military, controlling the consciousness of women by convincing them they need to be protected, separating women from each other by keeping them in the private/domestic sphere, and marginalizing them due to their apparent lack of contribution to this important part of society. Not only is this narrative a lie in that women contribute to combat and war in a number of different ways, but it is also a lie that armies protect the weak. Women contribute to the war effort by raising their children to participate in it, providing support for their fathers, sons and husbands at war, taking paid and unremunerated work to help with the war effort, participating in combat themselves, and in many other under-acknowledged ways. War is a cultural construction that depends on the myth of protection for legitimacy, which helps us see how certain ways of thinking about security have been legitimated while others are silenced (Tickner and Sjoberg 2010, p.205).
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One of the serious problems in protecting women in times of conflict is that since women’s immunity is assumed, belligerents often disregard the effect it has on them (Tickner and Sjoberg 2010, p.204). In reality, due to the fact that they are not ‘counted’, women and children are among the most vulnerable. Tickner cites Orford’s 1996 paper that “tells us that accounts of sexual assault by peacekeepers have emerged in many UN peacekeeping operations” (Tickner 1997, p.627). There is also the fact that women must compete with the military for scant resources that only get harder to access in times of war (Tickner and Sjoberg 2010, p.204). We can already see here that there are ways in that a countries’ own military or an allied ‘peacekeeping’ force can contribute to women’s insecurity, whether directly through violence or indirectly in competition for resources. One of the contributing factors to this is the masculine monopoly on force. “By circumscribing the possibilities of the female deployment of legitimate force, the masculine state effectively denies the development of what Stiehm calls a ‘defender’ society, one ‘composed of citizens equally liable to experience violence and equally responsible for exercising society’s violence'” (Blanchard 2003, p.1297). Due to its monopoly on legitimate force, the state is more willing to let the weak suffer during war and conflict as a ‘necessary sacrifice’ while diverting resources to the military, the exact opposite of what the ‘myth of protection’ would have suggested.
The reasons put forward for the masculine monopoly on force are numerous: male bonding, how the state wants to avoid ‘wasting wombs’, physical nature, natural dispositions. Psychological tests have proven that the phenomenon of the male bonding experience is not an exclusively masculine experience and that similar situations arise in mixed groups (Skjelsbæk 2001, p.52); due to advances in modern warfare, physical strength is of less importance. Blanchard quotes Ruddick in saying that modern warfare “seems to require, as much as physical aggression, a tolerance of boredom or the ability to operate a computer under stress, characteristics that are neither distinctly ‘masculine’ nor heroic” (Blanchard 2003, p.1299). Each of these reasons can be individually disproven, which again begs the question, if not structural violence, then why are women generally excluded from the military?
The question comes down to two different schools of thought: the essentialist and the constructionist. Essentialism believe that the differences between men and women are biological in nature, and that in this school of thought, “gender identities and differences are perceived as the result of stable underlying factors” (Skjelsbæk 2001, p.49). Constructionism, however, is more sceptical of things that are described in terms of being natural or given. Skjelsbæk quotes Hare-Mustin and Marececk in saying “Whereas positivism asks what are the facts, constructionism asks what are the assumptions; whereas positivism asks what are the answers, constructionism asks what are the questions” (Skjelsbæk 2001, p.50).
Using gendered lenses to look at conflicts in Yugoslavia and El Salvador, we can go a long way in questioning the legitimacy of the essentialist standpoint while illustrating how untrue the ‘myth of protection’ is. “The essentialist claim is that women will, if given power, naturally seek peaceful solutions to conflicts because this is seen to be part of women’s essential nature” (Skjelsbæk 2001, p.52). Skjelsbæk had a number of women interviewed to relate their experiences in conflict. Women from Yugoslavia told stories about their men leaving them behind to go and fight in the war. This exposed them to systematic and deliberate mass rape, motivated in part as an attempt to promote Serbian ethnicity. This disproves the ‘myth of protection’ and lack of female involvement in war in that it was this very myth that had the men leave and expose their women to systematic rape (Skjelsbæk 2001, p.53-56). In this sense, the women were very much victimized in war. In the case of El Salvador, there was significant female participation in the revolution. Many of these women in their interviews looked back on their years in conflict fondly, as an escape from the ‘machismo’ society they lived in. One of the direct results of female participation in this conflict was a solidarity among them and a new willingness to leave relationships they did not want to be involved in (Skjelsbæk 2001, p.56-58). Here, by using a gendered analysis approach, we can undermine the essentialist view that women are not suited to war. We can also see through our ‘gendered lenses’ the proliferation of wartime rape in Yugoslavia proves that the myth that wars are fought to protect the weak and vanquish the wicked is a falsity. Other gendered studies go further to show this as false – one of the more notable focused in the DRC (Baaz and Stern, 2009). One of the limiting factors of this argument is that essentialism and constructionism are both theories in that they choose to view the world in a certain way and neither can be completely disproven.

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