1, 2, 3, 4: FEMINISTS DON’T WANT ANOTHER WAR by Carol P. Christ

War is a feminist issue for many reasons, most importantly because war is always war against women.

Patriarchy, war, rape as the “spoils” of war, and the taking of women and children as slaves in the wake of war arose together.  Recent blogs on Feminism and Religion have addressed the war on women—from the rape culture, to Humane Vitae, to the Catholic Church’s and other church’s  attempts to remove birth control from health care, to the tolerance of sexist hate speech in the culture at large. While the issue of Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut is being focused on in the press, the drums of war are being sounded again in the Middle East:  the US is considering bombing Iran or supporting Israel if it decides to do so.  Feminists must stand together against war and the harm it does to women, children, and all living things.

Military spending is 28-38% of US government spending.  US government spending accounts for 40% of total global arms spending. The US and its allies are responsible for up to 75% of total global spending on the military. It does not take a mathematical genius to figure out that if good-sized chunk of this spending were cut, the US budget could be balanced, the deficit covered, and there would be plenty of money left over for the social good. It also does not take a mathematical genius to figure out that the US and our allies do not need to be spending three times more than all of our potential enemies combined in order to defend ourselves. This is not even taking into consideration that in a nuclear era, there probably is no way to protect ourselves against the crazed or foolish actions of a lone individual or a group of them–whether in a “rogue” or “civilized” state.

It is also well-known that women and children suffer immensely from war. Civilians are killed almost indiscriminately in “modern” wars. Rape is an ordinary part of war–it is not something that began to happen in Bosnia or Africa in recent years. Raping women as the “spoils” of war is testified to in the Bible, the Iliad, and the war chronicles of Julius Caesar. As recently as the 1970s in military training, US soldiers were taught “this is my rifle (pointing to rifle), this is my gun (pointing to penis), this is for fighting, this is for fun.” Rape of women within the military cannot be ended until and unless the unspoken assumption that soldiers are “allowed” to rape “in exchange” for killing is brought out into the open and renounced. It may require renouncing war to undo the constructed connection of manhood with the power to kill and rape.

The first slaves in human history were most likely women (many of whom had been or would be raped) and children captured after the men had been killed. The desensitizing of human emotions that is part of military training may have been necessary before it could be claimed that one human being “owning” another was or is part of “civilization.”

The valorization of the warrior in western culture can be shown to be at the root of the dualisms of rulership–mind over body, male over female, rational males against irrational others, and humans over animals and nature—that have led to so much injustice. Military training requires that the soldier learn to ignore (be trained out of listening to) “ordinary” human emotions, including “this hurts me” and “I don’t want to hurt or kill anyone.” “Disciplining” emotions rather than “feeling” them becomes a cultural norm and violent discipline becomes understood as the “normal” way to “train” children. The values inculcated into the warrior come to permeate absolutely everything. Men who resist this training are told they are unmanly. Even “anti-war” candidate Barack Obama seems to have caved in to the war machine.

I believe that patriarchy and war are Siamese twins. They cannot be separated. We will never eliminate one unless we eliminate the other. Yet this is not even a conversation we can have today on the progressive left–let alone in the White House or the halls of Congress. Even liberal feminist Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi refused to meet with Code Pink—apparently because nonviolent feminists trying to end war seemed like lunatics to her. This is why radical antimilitarist feminism is so important. We have an analysis that gets to the intertwined roots of patriarchy and war. We must bring it forward.

Republican President and former General Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the encroaching powers of the military-industrial complex. These powers are greater than ever today. This is why it is likely that the US will enter into another war in the near future. There is too much money involved. And this is why it is important for feminists to stand together against both patriarchy and war. We must introduce the connections between the two into our national conversation. Otherwise the great likelihood is that wars will continue, there will be no money left over for the social good, and one day we will all perish together.

Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement.  She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute

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Author: Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ is a leading feminist historian of religion and theologian who leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, a life transforming tour for women. www.goddessariadne.org

33 thoughts on “1, 2, 3, 4: FEMINISTS DON’T WANT ANOTHER WAR by Carol P. Christ”

  1. I always find these discussions interesting because they always seem to leave out the idea that women are sometimes part of state sponsored wars and perpetrate state-sanctioned violence.
    If we constantly teach that men (patriarchy)=violent=bad then aren’t we necessitating the opposite side that women=nonviolent=good? What does that do besides teach men that they can never be part of nonviolent solutions? And that women cannot be agents in their own change?
    I saw this recently at play during my visit to the United Nations in NYC during the Commission on the Status of Women. The theme this year was “Rural Women” and, because there were not actual rural women present at these talks, I spent a lot of time hearing about these victimized women and how we (mostly western, first-world women) needed to change their situations (for them). Most of it had to do with the violence they suffer because of war and how if we eliminate war everything would be dandy once again. There was no discussion about, as I stated earlier, the fact that women sometimes participate in state-sanctioned violence against other women (and men). What do we do about that?
    And, although I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this point, I’m not sure eliminating patriarchy is the way to achieve what we want. Patriarchy is here and it’s going to stay here, so we may as well try and work within/alongside that system to interrupt and disrupt it, rather than try to overthrow it completely. I’m usually a super-optimist, but this, like state-sanctioned marriage, is something that’s not going away. Separatism doesn’t work as a long-term strategy. I believe there are times we need to be separate to figure out goals and a plan for moving forward, but to really make change, I think we have to eventually come back into the main discussion that’s happening.
    In the spirit of discussion and learning, I appreciate this blog entry and would love to hear a reaction to my thoughts. :)


  2. Dear 2 girls,

    I am amazed that you would read me as saying things I absolutely did not say in this blog. The fact that you did is symptomatic of the fact that these discussions simply cannot be had or had easily in our culture–even among feminists.

    I DID NOT REPEAT DID NOT SAY THAT MEN=PATRIARCHY. If anything, I said the opposite–that patrarchy arose in a historical period, that it has not been eternal or universal, and that it can end. If that is so, and men were living before patriarchy arose, then all men are not patriarchal. Indeed when I said that military training desensitizes men to ordinary feelings including “this hurts” and “I don’t want to harm or kill anyone,” I was saying that even in patriarchy men have to be “trained” to be willing to kill under conditions of warfare. I think if you read what I said again you will see that I was not talking about “male nature” = violent but rather that conditioning produces violent behavior.

    In fact, in a recent blog, I wrote that all children who are treated violently learn to suppress their own feelings and to replicate violent behaviors with their children. This occurs with girls and boys, mothers and fathers. In the case of men, cultural images equate being a man with not giving in to “girly” feelings, which is something the military has exploited. But can women participate in violent child-rearing, You betcha. And can they be avid supporters of war–yes! See my earlier blog on violence in child-rearing and my comments to Turtle Woman in the replies.

    Is patriarchy here to stay? It may be, but I sincerely hope not. I don’t expect it to go down without a fight–one we are witnessing right now over birth control. I sincerely hope patriarchy and the interlocking series of oppressions it brings forth–including military discipline’s harm to the souls of men–is not here to stay. If so, my prediction, is that human beings are not here to stay and we will likely take far too much of the rest of the world with us when we go.

    In matrilineal, matrilocal, woman-honoring societies men were not oppressed, they were valued as all the children of the mother were, and they helped to bring up their sisters’ children. Apparently they had very wonderful sex lives with women–in societies where sex and violence were not connected and rape was something that never or almost never occurred. See: https://feminismandreligion.com/2011/08/05/exciting-new-research-on-matriarchal-societies-by-carol-p-christ/
    If you look closely at the black and white photo, you will see that men supported the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. And well they should–for war is not a good thing for them either!!!!
    I also posted the Imagine Memorial on one of my blogs, because I do repeat I do recognize that men can “imagine all the people living life in peace…” And if imagining that means I am a dreamer, well so be it. I have been called worse.


    1. YAY Carol… I have experienced that because I am white it is assumed I am a part of some non-colored group that is out-of-touch with those of color and genders; therefore, those people ignore what I am “actually” stating. I know you to be an aware activist for men and women changing partriarchal values about violence and war! Keep talking. Jayne.


  3. @ Carol: Clearly I responded before I had had enough coffee. It’s true that women can buy into the patriarchal system as much as men can, and that not all men buy into it, but the word “patriarchy” is so historically loaded to mean “men” that I used them interchangeably and maybe I shouldn’t have.

    That still doesn’t get to my thought about the fact that so often these discussions leave women who participate in violence (state sanctioned or not) out. What to do about them?

    “The valorization of the warrior in western culture can be shown to be at the root of the dualisms of rulership–mind over body, male over female, rational males against irrational others, and humans over animals and nature—that have led to so much injustice.” I am in complete agreement with this statement, but again, it seems as if you (and others who write about this topic) make it just about the men when there were (are) plenty of female warriors. What to do about them? Do they complicate this good vs. evil struggle?

    In conversation,


  4. I think it is very rare that women soldiers go out and rape either males of the opposing side or females. If you don’t address the issue of rape in war, I think you miss a crucial point about why men do love to go to war. So rape is part of the package deal, the subtext of the military recruiting machine as we all know. I don’t see an end to patriarchy any time soon. Male soldiers and female soldiers are not analogous at all. And I see most aspects of male dominated spaces as emotionally deadening, and emotion supressing. Even men who aren’t trained in the military, quickly fall in line with the deadening corporate environments they inhabit. The worst industries are the ones that are the most male dominated… I won’t name any names here :-)

    It is sad that Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t meet with code pink, and certainly it was sad that so many women go along to get along, supporting “wars for freedom.”


    1. But rape has nothing to do with sex, it has to do with power. So I don’t know that rape is a reason men “love” to go to war. And, if I’m understanding this post correctly, men don’t automatically “love” to go to war, it has to be trained into them. I’m totally with you, though, on the fact that we have to recognize and address rape as a weapon of war.


  5. Thanks so much for pointing these things out. I’d add (not to be a policy wonk) that the total amount that the U.S. spends on war/military/”defense” is actually greater than the statistic you cited if you factor in expenses of the budget going to “past military” (see, e.g., https://www.warresisters.org/content/how-pie-chart-figures-were-determined-fy2013).

    I am a pacifist for principled reasons but I always tell folks that you don’t have to share the same reading of the Gospel as mine to see that violence begets violence and that the money spent in war is not commensurate with what we “get” from incurring those costs.


  6. Women including feminists have supported wars. I was wondering over the weekend if the subtext of appointing 3 women in a row as secretaries of state (when women are not “equally” represented in all branches of government) is to undermine feminist anti-militarism.


  7. Quoting from 2 Girls: “the word ‘patriarchy’ is so historically loaded to mean ‘men’ that I used them interchangeably and maybe I shouldn’t have.

    If you want to speak clearly and be understood, I cannot recommend conflating the terms. :) To be honest, I cannot agree that they even can be conflated, any more than “feminist” is the same as “feminazi,” or “matriarchy” means “man-hating woman”… or (to quote your blog Needing to Feel) “woman” means “a person who enters heterosexual relationships with men, a person who, even if they are educated, will eventually become a wife and mother, a victim that needs to be fought for and taken care of, and a person who is talk about rather than included in conversation.”

    That is emphatically NOT what the words mean, even though misogynistic media would have you believe otherwise.

    Regarding your query about what to do about women who participate in violence, I would approach this question from two angles: first, I believe there are fewer women warriors than you realize. I’ve actually done a bit of historical study on the nomadic warrior women of the Central Asian steppes during the late Bronze and early Iron Age. After having seen the statistics, and comparing them to modern day statistics, I was fascinated to realize the statistics roughly matched, and there are at most approximately 10% to 15% actual warrior women in cultures which valorize them. This is particularly interesting to me because that seems to be a consistent number with many social minorities which are (today) perceived as transgressive or “deviant.”

    Secondly I will note that women, just as much as men, are products of the culture in which they were raised. It would seem logical, therefore, that in order to change the people (regardless of gender) you will need to also change the culture. This is, in fact, what I believe Carol espouses.

    Hope this helps.


    1. “That is emphatically NOT what the words mean, even though misogynistic media would have you believe otherwise.”

      Totally in agreement here, I was actually referencing what the NGOs at the UN had defined it to mean during last year’s Commission of the Status of Women (which is when that blog was written).

      To the last part, absolutely. People are totally a product of the environments they live in. I was never denying that, my original point was that when people talk about war, they always forget about the women who participate in it.


  8. What amazes me most about “American” war (and thank you Carol, for this post), is that within the country, we argue over birth control distribution, at what point abortion is equivalent to murder and yet we have very few qualms about sending men and women to war. If we, as Eleanor Humes Haney claims, “as a country have made a commitment to respect for life that is reflected in the way we deal with conflict in our economic and social policies,” than at what point does that respect for life extend to those outside this country who may have different values (or resources) than us?

    As a woman surrounded by military men -brother, best friend- it is sad to watch the desensitization of humanity hit so close to home. And it is even more sad that when I mention it to them, they have no clue as to what I’m referring…


  9. Jennie –“And it is even more sad that when I mention it to them, they have no clue as to what I’m referring…” this last bit was haunting. Are you talking about BEFORE they were in the military vs. AFTER they were in the military? And that they weren’t aware that they had changed, or that desensitization had crept into them? Is this true of both men and women friends?

    I’ve met women in the military who might strike me as slightly desensitized, but never to the degree that thousands of men from all walks of life seem deadened and desensitized. It is especially apparent when I’m in different types of male dominated spaces — gay male spaces vs. straight male spaces. The straight males being horrifyingly deadening, the gay men not as much.

    And you would have to radically change American culture to get out of this emotional human mess.
    Does an empire ever give up its empire willingly?


  10. In response to being a “dreamer” and John Lennon’s music, I believe that there is something inherently very wise about allowing yourself to dream. I think there is something extremely courageous about having enough heart to feel that many people working together can change the world. It is naive to think that it will be easy and without a fight, which Carol made clear, patriarchy will not just cease to exist easily because it came into existence by means of domination.

    As we have seen with many separatist movements throughout current history, many changed culture mostly within their bubble of culture or became a type of capitalist fad simply because they didn’t directly resist and engage those in power. Maybe they believed that soon everyone will want to join them in the end, which never actually happens because people who want to dominate aren’t suddenly going to look at separatist groups and say, “hey, that looks attractive and fun, maybe I should join.” I think feminism, more than ever in the U.S., will have to engage actively and decisively in a very political and radical manner if the tide is going to change. I think women and men of all generations will need to resist and struggle together if patriarchy is going to be confronted in an effective way. I think organization, funding, courage, and responsibility are words that may have to be at the forefront of how patriarchy will be challenged.

    It is with compassion that I understand why many would rather accept patriarchy and learn to change within it than actually have to struggle to overthrow it. But I also see this as a rather privileged position. When the land base is destroyed and I’m choking on the air which happens to be occupied by predator drones, perhaps working within patriarchy won’t look like such do-able deal. We can simply ask our Native sisters, for they understand cultural occupation too much.

    We know matriarchy can exist because we have pre-history and many current smaller scale examples of peaceful societies. The question I often ask myself is, how do we take down a domination culture as peacefully as possible the way a matriarch would? I don’t see this as being an entirely clean job simply because so many people are entrenched in dominator thinking and are entirely apathetic. And although I am against war, I think the spirit of the warrior woman has everything to do with people coming together in order to implement such movement. At the rate we are destroying the air and land base, I don’t think we have time to simply try to change the world by the Individuality Self-congratulation Awards under “be the change you want to see.” I think there is a reason that we are not all spiritual masters. Yet, as humans we are inherently social creatures with the capacity to organize and ban together. That is where power is most accessible.

    And what will we create in order to sustain ourselves once domination societies have ended? I know Permaculture has many lessons to teach us about sustainability and peace. I think the dreams become richer when the roots are firmly in place.

    Just some thoughts…and thank you, Carol, for inspiring and spreading the word.


  11. “War is a feminist issue for many reasons, most importantly because war is always war against women…. Rape is an ordinary part of war–it is not something that began to happen in Bosnia or Africa in recent years. Raping women as the “spoils” of war is testified to in the Bible, the Iliad, and the war chronicles of Julius Caesar.” Thanks so much for this article, it is very true.

    Buddhism and Eastern religions in the West appear to be represented by the compassionate, smiling face of the Dalai Lama, the peacefulness of Japanese pagodas or hundreds of Hindu Goddesses .So to some degree it is understandable that your argument stops around the borders of biblical lands, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

    It would have been a little more helpful, if you could have included for example:
    The Japanese ‘comfort women’ during World War II
    The rape of thousands of Tamil women in the recent Sri Lankan conflict by Buddhist army
    The systematic rape of Sikh girls and women by Hindu soldiers in 1984

    As your article specifically mentions that “the US is considering bombing Iran or supporting Israel if it decides to do so”, also your focus on the Bible,” the US and its allies” in the article, this may lead some to conclude wrongly that war atrocities only perpetrated by countries following predominantly Judaism, Christianity or Islam – as if war against women doesn’t exist in countries following Eastern traditions.


  12. Thanks Andre, you are right, rape is a part of war, the world around, and war is part of patriarchy, the world around. Sadly.


  13. From Christina Nevans

    I would like to copy this to your anti-war blog because it is matriarchal in approach in that it began with a poster of a mother and child and went onto showing caring men too. But I cannot do it technologically. It is very beautiful I think..

    Israel “hearts” Iran: peace campaign takes off on Facebook | The Envoy – Yahoo! News

    Amid rising fears that an Israeli strike on Iran could transpire, an Israeli couple’s lonely peace bid has become a surprise hit on Facebook.



  14. also from Christina Nevans:


    Congresswoman Barbara Lee has introduced legislation that, in her words, “directs the President to appoint a Special Envoy for Iran to ensure that all diplomatic avenues are pursued to avoid a war with Iran and to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”1
    Click here to automatically sign the petition.

    Tell your member of Congress to co-sponsor Rep. Lee’s bill to avoid an unnecessary and costly war with Iran.


  15. I have a somewhat different attitude to war than most people on this blog. Not because I am a man, but because of my age, background, and the country I live in.

    I believe the second world war was a necessary war, it could have been prevented, but by the time it took place it was needed. So I can’t go with the “all wars are wrong” approach.

    That was perhaps the last war that needed to be fought. But some of the recent actions may have been necessary, the intervention in the former Yugoslavia, for instance.


  16. War is purely about male supremacy, and the ability to use women violently. Wars for “freedom” have absolutely nothing to do with the freedom of women. Nothing to do with it at all. War is about a war on women, and you might say there is a never ending “cold war” on women– rape, wife beating, terrorizing of children within families, incest… the cold war to control women, belittle them, and use them as reproductive cattle. There is no country in the world where men don’t wage this cold war on women. But then it escalates into a “shooting war” and we see whole cities decimated, and that’s ok. World War II was no different from any other war, and now that rape is being better documented in histories of this conflict, we can see its similarity to all other shooting wars of male aggression.

    The gun culture, the flag waving, the national anthemns, the uniforms, the military training itself, all reinforce this idea that real men kill and rape and then make up reasons for this later.

    Since women and children bear the brunt of all the conflicts, perhaps we really need to continue to get out the truth that all war is about male aggression gone crazy, that it is a form of male mental illness, and that we could end it, and create worlds where there were no war for hundreds of years.
    The goddess cultures, backed up by science, anthropological digs– the societies that have no record of violence, weapons etc. And frankly, I don’t see men really commiting to this, becuase they will all cite World War II as an exception. Exception for whom? Women of all nationalities— German men raping European women, American men raping German men as they marched into Berlin? It is all about rape, torture, and getting medals and acclaim for this later, that and preferential hiring treatment so women working in factories get kicked out of jobs because the boys coming home earned them. The whole story is so predictable and sickening.

    All war is really the same war.


  17. Typo, I meant American men raping German women as they marched into Berlin. Conveniently left out of almost every history book on WWII. I wonder why.


  18. As I grew up with a father who had been in the military, and knowing that he too was taught to ignore his own “ordinary” human emotions because that would be unmanly. I find this has hurt him as well as others psychologically who are in the military. It would be a positive in the military to embrace human emotions, as I believe it would have the people who are for war think twice about the innocent women, children and men who end up being the victims. As Eleanor Humes Haney states on friendship, “We are able to be friends with one another, and the earth, and all that is and can be. Friendship helps up to remember that our good must fit in signifincant ways with the good of the rest of being.”
    Instead of war, we should be friends with one another, respect one another, have equality with one another, have peace and cooperation with one another.


  19. Once I read this..”I believe that patriarchy and war are Siamese twins,” the first thing that came to mind was a quote that Eleanor Humes Haney said in her essay What Is Feminist Ethics? “Women’s oppression historically has preceded the oppression of others and has been used as a way of conceptualizing and justifying the oppression of others.” I believe this is true because women have been victims of patriarchy since the beginning of time and along with that, war has been one of the things that has also been done since anyone can remember. They do go hand in hand because they involve oppress of people. What needs to be done in both situations is for the oppressed and those in positions of advocacy for the oppressed to stand up for their rights, and the common denominator of these too are women.


  20. This directly relates to the essay The Combat Exclusion and the Role of Women in the Military by Judith Wagner in Feminist Ethics and Social Policy.

    While reading this essay I learned that there are various views of feminism. Not all feminists have the same views as each other. Typically, women and feminists are identified as being peaceful and protesting against the war. However, some feminists believe their way of fighting for justice is by serving in the military. The very first paragraph of the essay states, “Many women and feminists have for years been identified with anti war and anti militarist efforts, and have both been initiators and staunch supporters of pacafist movements.” But the essay goes on to explain that an increasing number on women are serving in the military beyond traditional military roles.


  21. Yes Ashlee, some women and some feminists simply want entry into society as it exists now, including the military. Many of women assume the military is a “neutral” institution and do not know about the ways in which rape is built into military culture in suble and not very subtle ways. This is why rape is such a big problem within the US military today and prosecuting it done so half-heartedly.

    Other feminists (and the Green Party) want to do away with all forms of domination and violence in societies. This is a radical agenda and accomplishing it will not be easy.


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