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The Lie of ‘Women And Children’


Although the US and Russia have agreed to a deal in which Syria's Bashar al-Assad would hand over his regime's chemical weapons, civil war continues to rage throughout the country and millions remain homeless as refugees. It is more imperative now than ever that anti-war sentiment remains mobilised in the US.

The repetitive mantras political leaders cite in support of war should be thoroughly interrogated. Among the most problematic of these mantras is the phrase "women and children". US wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – and, most recently, a possible attack on Syria – have been justified by calling for the protection of "women and children".

US President Barack Obama, for instance, defended his proposal to attack Syria by citing the danger of chemical weapons to "women and children" – and US Secretary of State John Kerry has used the same phrase.

Patriarchal gender distinctions are often invoked to supposedly protect one's nation – but this form of nationalist rhetoric in fact seeks to discipline and punish.  If the use of chemical warfare is inhumane, it is inhumane for each and every human body, not just for women and children. Age and gender need not be specified.  Yet the patriarchal, nationalist narrative insists on distinguishing women and children from the rest.

Furthermore, by declaring that poison gas is unacceptable and crosses the "red line" drawn by President Obama, other forms of warfare are thereby sanitised and neutralised in comparison.  Yet no one, let alone "women and children", can be saved as long as war continues.

On ‘womenandchildren' 150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Misogynist nation-building

Meanwhile, many politicians and leaders persist in referring to their nations as "motherlands". The countries are depicted as mothers, or reproducers, of the nation and are neutralised and naturalised as such. 

This female, maternal body becomes the lens through which the nation is viewed: an imagined and imaginary site.  All nations are gendered and raced, but silently so. Women are a metaphor of fantasy: more prescient for what they symbolise than the things they actually are. 

No matter that hundreds of thousands of US women serve in the armed forces, or that Afghan women have been active fighters against US forces, or that Syrian women have fought on both sides of that country's civil war. line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Zillah Eisenstein has written feminist theory in North America for the past thirty years. She is an internationally renowned writer and activist and Distinguished Scholar of Anti-Racist Feminist Political Theory at Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York. 

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