The decision for the United States to go to war in Libya appears to have been made by female policymakers in the Obama administration. An article in the Christian Science Monitor discerns a “gender gap” in foreign policy formulation in the White House, suggesting that bellicose women policymakers pushed for military intervention in Libya.
The notion that bellicose women can instigate military action connects nicely with my own research on women, gender, and violence. When I present research on gender and violence during the French Wars of Religion, I often get questions and comments suggesting that women could not really have been seriously involved in warfare. Many scholars and students seem to have bought into the popular myth that war is exclusively a masculine domain.
Recent historical research demonstrates that women have long been involved intimately in the practices of warfare, and not just as victims. John A. Lynn’s Women, Armies, and Warfare in Early Modern Europe offers a fascinating portrait of women’s involvement in armed forces throughout the early modern period. My own research shows that many women were active participants in religious and civil warfare in early modern France.
It is time to rethink the notion of warfare as a purely masculine sphere.