"Feminine" & "Masculine" entities of war, and the complexities of using these terms

In Sexual Violence and War: Mapping Out a Complex Relationship, Inger Skjelsbaek brings our focus to ideas of feminine and masculine entities in a war. It talks about how rape, among other forms of violence, “communicates” masculinization of the perpetrators and the feminization of the victims- regardless of who the victims are (female, male, a community, or a whole nation). And in Marsha Henry’s article of why one should not write their thesis on sexual violence in war, one of the reasons she mentions is ‘singularising grammar’ in which she writes “singularising grammar tend to reinforce and crystallize binaries and binary thinking. Only one sexed subject can be the victim and the opposite sexed subject remains perpetually the perpetrator.”


I would like to bring the attention to the terms we use when talking about the victims and the method of shaming them: “feminization” and “masculinization” regardless of the sex of the victim. This takes Marsha Henry’s concern even further by now implying it is not just reinforcing the victim-perpetrator binary among sexes, rather it intensifies the weak-strong binary (which we can elaborate more on by including terms such as the guilty-heroic, shameful-honourable, et al) by ascribing attributes to femininity and masculinity respectively. If “feminising” is used interchangeably or synonymously with an entity being submissive, should we be concerned about the usage of these terms? Skjelsbaek suggests that this is due to the hierarchical power relationship the identities are prescribed. Thus, one can argue that when academic texts (or otherwise) mention feminization of victims, they are describing the already prescribed attributes rather than suggesting this is the association that should be accepted as norms. However, is this justification enough to not hold accountability in reinforcing the socially constructed gender binaries (and their attributes) when talking about dominant and submissive roles?


The argument of Inger Skjelsbaek’s third conceptualization of the relationship between sexual violence and war ‘Social Constructionism’ does a commendable job at beginning to understand the reasons both females and males are targeted. This argument is framed using the words “Women in the war-zone are victims of sexual violence in order to masculinize the identity of the perpetrator and feminize the identity of the victim.” And Janis S. Bohan states “the factors determining a particular transaction as feminine or masculine are not the sex of the actors but the situational parameters within which the performance occurs.” Separation of the actions, done by perpetrators to the victims as entities, from their sexes is not synonymous to isolating the actions from the character traits of femininity and masculinity. This method of creating a binary, however different from the female-male binary, positions itself to intensify the traits of the binary, painting one set as weak and the other as strong.

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