Peace as a Feminist Issue

Being a male in my mid-twenties, it never occurred to me that I would be writing a blog yet alone an essay on feminism. Yet here I am, challenging all you men and even women out there to see if you can discover that perhaps you too, have a bit of feminism in you. I guess due to the society we live in and the tough time most feminists get in the media, feminism has often been regarded as a group of ‘hairy-legged women’ screaming out for equal pay who hate men.


Key members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom led by Jane Addams (photo taken between 1915-1920)

After researching the involvement of women in peace movements and the impact of women-led peace movements like the United States section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, I learnt that the women who led and participated in these organisations from the beginning of the 20th century showed great courage, determination and commitment.

What I found and what I hope to show you is that the feminists and pacifists leading these organisations, did not necessarily hate men, but they hated the militaristic society that was created by men and believed that they could do a better job at running the world, and doing it so in a peaceful manner.

So what exactly is feminism? It’s a complex question. Like any ideology, there are many interpretations. The reality is, within this all-encompassing movement are different, sometimes overlapping factions; some concerned with fighting only for women’s issues, some who fight for peace and yes, even some of those stereotypical ‘hairy-legged women’ who hate men.

The women’s peace movement of the 20th century grew out of both feminism and pacifism, a group of women intent on injecting women’s values into the world through peaceful ways, and it was a reaction to the oppressive patriarchal world they saw around them.

While the campaign to win the right to vote brought the movement together, it matured and developed and with a world at war, some members started to take a broader view, becoming concerned not just about voting, but with fundamentally changing the structure of society to create a world at peace – defined not simply as just the absence war.

They sought to do that by turning an existing nurturing stereotype of women to their advantage. Specifically the idea that men were inherently violent and that woman were inherently peaceful. The pacifist section broke away from the traditional suffragettes, but instead of joining with a broader pacifist movement that existed within male structures, they deliberately established women-only networks in order to put women into influential positions so that they could symbolically create the distinction between ‘women and peace’,  ‘men and war’.

Mary Burguieres (1990) provides three clear approaches to describe the differing feminist approaches to peace.

       1.     To accept the male and female stereotypes, but use them to a feminist’s advantage.

       2.     To reject the female stereotype.

       3.     To reject both male and female stereotypes.

Burguieres saw Addams as encapsulating the feminist peace movement, and showed how she used the passive female stereotype described in her first approach, to undermine male militarism in the formation of her group, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.


Jane Addams

The writings of Jane Addams really provide us with insight into her thoughts about peace, and the strategies she wanted to use to achieve peace in wider society. In her Newer Ideals of Peace in 1907 Addams talked about the need to have strong and common goals at the international level. She held that there was nothing to be proud of in having a militaristic society that boasted about defeating great foreign evils in WWI but then neglect to address domestic evils such as social inequality.

Addams made it very clear that her understanding of peace was about more than just putting the away the guns. For Addams, men represented war, and war represented every single ounce of injustice that was in the world. This was her challenge, to convince the public that men were just no good at doing peace. Ironically it was the very structures of patriarchal society that gave Addams and the women-led peace movement the ‘ammo’ to fight this ‘war’. Women in the peace movement would OWN peace just as men had owned war, and nothing could derail this Peace Train.

The WILPF held strong through much controversy by maintaining their strong ideological stance and women-only structure. These women influenced subsequent women’s

movements by providing an ideological and structured model that was replicated by American peace movements such as Women Strike for Peace and Another Mother for Peace formed in the second half of the 20th century. Organisations such as these mirrored the aims and language used when Jane Addams first established the WILPF.

Just as Addams produced books declaring the militaristic influence of a male-driven society, books about Nuclear disarmament in the 1980s such as Education for Peace: A Feminist Perspective by Birgit Brock-Utne, reiterated the same attitude that women were inherently peaceful.


Californian women protesting against Iraq War in 2002

Even though women have been so influential in calling for peace, it’s important to say that peace is not exclusively a feminist issue. You only have to look to men like Gandhi and Mandela to see this.

Looking back on my views towards feminism before this essay, before this blog, I could see that I only really saw feminism from that one stereotypical perspective. After this experience, I now see feminism as a much boarder ideology, which at its roots is really focused on all human rights.

6 comments on “Peace as a Feminist Issue

  1. Hi Tom, thanks for your interesting blog. I totally agree that it’s not only women leaders who champion peace, at the same time though, it’s not only male leaders who engage in war – Margaret Thatcher and Indira Ghandi come to mind.

    Your post mentions Burguieres’ three approaches to feminism and how Addams accepted and used the female stereotype to advocate for peace. I attended the Manning Clark lecture given by Germaine Greer last year. She is frustrated at the lack of progress that feminism is making and wondered whether women shouldn’t just embrace their stereotype – as nurturing, maternal citizens…to claim the role of securing the environment as women’s space.

  2. Christy Doran says:

    Mr. Vidot, perhaps it should be you, rather than Germaine Greer preaching the feminist concerns. Too often I find myself frustrated at those who call themselves feminists, but seem to be too narrow in their objectives. Feminism, like you argue, is and should remain focused on achieving a greater level of equality on all human rights issues.
    On a different note, I like the style you’ve written this blog in.

  3. mhis300 says:

    Great post, Tom – though perhaps I’d say that Mandela was not always a peace activist…

    • Hi Tom,

      I think that this is a really fantastic post, not only because of the way you have approached the topic itself but also because it also really relates to the idea of bringing academic scholarship to the world in a more accessible way. History has the ability to make people rethink their stereotypes and to contextualize their present as having ties to the past.

      I think research such as yours showcases the warped perception that society has developed concerning feminism. Feminism is about gender equality not about burning bras and not shaving your legs. Moreover, it is an important area of scholarship that allows people to consider the implications of masculinity, chauvinism and gender prejudices.

      As you said at the start of your blog, you wanted to challenge readers “to see if you can discover that perhaps you too, have a bit of feminism in you”. I think many people actually endorse feminist beliefs and thus are feminists. Yet, many of us tend to reject the “feminist” label largely based on stereotypes.
      So, I think that the way in which you explore the role of feminism within peace movements and in particularly the way in which you concluded your blog is great – “After this experience, I now see feminism as a much boarder ideology, which at its roots is really focused on all human rights”. Throughout the entire piece you not only reinforce the ways in which feminism has made an important contribution to society, – but also showcase a need to stop the knee-jerk reaction against the term ‘feminism’ and for the public to move away from statements such as “I’m not a feminist, but…” and rather assert “I’m a feminist, because…”.

    • frankdyball says:

      Being a male in my late seventies, it never occurred to me that I would write a blog let alone an essay on ‘female genteel class of the nineteenth century.’ Yet I did, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I want more! So I accept your challenge. I plan to enroll in MHIS348 – Women Making History, in the first session,2014. Thanks for the motivation.

  4. alexandra says:

    Nice work, it is good to see people breaking down the barriers of ‘feminism’ and that its not all extremist opinions. Interesting to see some of the ways that women’s have been injected into society without all the ‘burning bras’ that does appear to go hand in hand with any kind of feminist movement. Well done for breaking out of your comfort zone Tom.

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