Zillah Eisenstein

My writings, thoughts, and activism.

Honors Seminar: Sexing The Gender Of War (Spring 2006)

This course examines the historical, political, and cultural construction of gender in its
racialized formulations within the context/construct of militarization. We will attempt to
see and understand the integral relations of war as part of politics; that “war is politics in
another form”, and see what new meaning can be found in viewing war and its
relationship to a wider militarization as part of articulating the racial and sex/gender
hierarchy of the nation and globe.
We will focus on the singularity of U. S. capitalism and its militarist phase, or what can
be termed “war capitalism” and the way it reconstructs patriarchal relations through a redivisioning of the relationships between: war and peace, public and private, combatant
and noncombatant, civilian and citizen. Given that these relationships are key to the
practices of patriarchy across the globe; given that women and girls disproportionately
make up the new global proletariat; given that women and girls are a majority of refugees
and migrants; given that there is a great increase of women in the U.S. military; given
that suicide bombers are increasingly girls/women in Israel, Palestine, and Chechnya;
given that rape is continually used as a part of war we will theorize the centrality of
gender (re)formulation for human rights work being done by the United Nations.
Part of our examination of gender will involve an inquiry into the relationship between
sex and gender; between the relationship of being female and becoming a woman—and
being male and becoming a man. We will explore pluralizing sex beyond the usual
notion of male and female; as though there are more than two sexes. And we will
pluralize the notion of gender to more than two—meaning man and woman—as well.
What happens when both sex and gender are more fluid and multiple and how is this
defined in times of war?
I want students to be able to better `name’ the present system of power relations usually
defined as globalization. You will therefore examine the sexed, gendered and racialized
constructions of present day capitalist market `fundamentalism’. I term the extremist
embrace of the privatized market and its neo-liberal justification `market
fundamentalism’. This phrase is meant to bring critical viewing to the way neo-liberal
`fundamentalism/extremism’ is used to justify constrained and regulatory notions of men and women’s lives. You will be asked to think through and find your thoughts in this
Besides bringing attention to the structural relations of patriarchy within the global
economy we will continue to seek a better way of representing and understanding the
multiple and varied expressions of women’s resistance to their oppression and
exploitation. We therefore will trace the multiple and varied practices and resistances by
women to this moment of globalized war economies. I hope to give voice to the myriad
practices committed to women’s rights, justice, equality, determination, and liberation.
We will query whether feminisms, as a term, although plural, is a terminology that
sufficiently grasps the cacophony of practices and beliefs that embrace women’s
struggles for self-determination in multiple cultural forms.
This then leads to our main intellectual query for this course that is to clarify the
difference between cultural relativism and polyversal humanism. Polyversal humanism is
the term I have developed in my last two books for moving beyond a singular universal
standard for democratic and feminist practices while recognizing the requirements of
human rights while not denying cultural particularities. Culture and rights are not locked
in opposition here.
Some more particular concerns will focus on the tension between diversity (pluralism)
and equality (sameness) that will interface with the discourse of cultural relativism.
Interestingly, affirmative action initially was developed to create equality of access, not
diversity per se. So how does pluralism embrace the universal recognition of human
equality? A connected issue to explore is the way the wars of/on `terror’ underpin the
justification of the new militarism. Yet the war on terror led by the United States is
bringing more terror to the majority of women’s lives in Afghanistan, Iraq, Algeria,
India, etc. I want to theorize this and engage in the international dialogues surrounding
this discussion as a citizen of the United States in order to flesh out the present
restructuring of the U.S. state for war capitalism. This seems particularly interesting with
a president who fully embraces and engages in a new militarism and masculinism, while
he has done no military service and rallies for `wars on terror’.
Each student is expected to attend every class session prepared. There will be two
analytic papers based on the course readings required for course credit.
Please buy the books listed below at the I.C. Bookstore.
1. Anne Fausto Sterling. Sexing the Body
2. Michel Foucault. Society Must be Defended (omit 115-180; and 218-246)3. Cynthia Enloe. Maneuvers
4. Richard Trexler. Sex and Conquest
5. Zillah Eisenstein. HATREDS
6. Arundhati Roy. War Talk
7. Mahmood Mandani. When Victims Become Killers
8. Yoshimi Yoshiaki. Comfort Women
10. Brenda Moore. Serving Our Country; Japanese American Women in the Military in
11. Sunita Mehta. Women for Afghan Women
12. Zillah Eisenstein. Against Empire


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