ABSTRACT

In this chapter, I explore how motherhood is commonly understood as agency in gendered stories of war and peace. The aim of the chapter is to contextualise the nuanced way of thinking about motherhood, agency and war that this book offers, i.e. to emphasise the value of a grammatical rather than material understanding of agency and use of motherhood as an idea rather than a practice. Within the system of signs in war, there are certain myths about male and

female identities that become accentuated; female identity is seen as lifegiving, whereas male identity is seen as life-taking (Skjelsbæk 2001: 220). Thus, women are designated as non-combatants and, in effect, peaceful, because of the part they play in the reproductive process. Historically, it is predominantly women who in greater numbers have organised against militarism and committed themselves to working for peace. The historical association of women, resistance, peace and non-violence is long: according to Nira Yuval-Davies the image of women resisting wars has been in existence in the Western public imagination at least since Lysistrata was first shown in Athens in the fifth century BC (Yuval-Davies 1997: 94). Likewise, mothering as a series of daily acts and motherhood as an idea about what those acts together should stand for each have long political histories. Cynthia Enloe argues that it is difficult to make sense of any state, past or present, without taking seriously that state’s attempts to craft ideas about motherhood that pressure women as mothers to do certain things judged useful to the state (Enloe 2000a: 260). At the same time, mothering and motherhood have also been key sites for

women’s efforts to resist the state through participation in civil or peace movements. Some of the more prominent examples of women’s protest against war include movements such as the Women’s Peace Party that drew together over a thousand women during the First World War and subsequently founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF); The Greenham Common Peace Camp in Britain protesting against US military

presence; the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina; Women in Black, an anti-war movement originated in Israel but also active in the former Yugoslavia; CodePink, a US organisation that among other things organises annual rallies on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day against US involvement in current wars, to name a few. Indeed, women peace activists often invoke the ‘natural’ peacefulness of

women and thereby use gendered identities provided by traditional narratives of war as a platform for political action. In this way, the gendered nature of war creates a political space for women as peace activists; peace has become a subject that women could legitimately speak about (Steans 2006: 59). In particular, women’s legitimacy as peace activists has been, and continues to be, made through their roles as mothers, linking motherhood, peace and women’s rights (Segal 2008: 23; Steans 2006: 59). Since all women are perceived to be potential mothers, motherhood is an attempt at unifying women involved in such transnational political activity in order to overcome other potential barriers of race, class and religious differences among activists (Steans 2006: 59). Despite the close links between peace and femininity visible in women’s

political activism, however, most feminist scholarship in IR, due to a predominant constructivist orientation, is critical of such essentialist claims rendering women ‘naturally’ peaceful. What is more, some feminists are wary of the ‘patriarchal risks’ in relying on motherhood as a political idea and therefore question whether motherhood really is the best site from which to launch resistance to, for example, state militarism (Enloe 2000a: 260). It also needs to be pointed out that similarly to how women have used

traditional perceptions of gender roles in their protesting as peace activists, women also frequently utilise existing stereotypes to pursue their political objectives in warfare. Albeit this is nothing new, it is feminist scholarship that has noticed how women are not only exploiting their label of innocence in becoming spies and smugglers but also using motherhood as an explicit strategy for political violence. For example, in Northern Ireland it was women who had central responsibility for transporting, moving, hiding, cleaning and storing weapons and explosive materials simply because they were much less likely to be stopped and searched (Alison 2004: 457). In Sierra Leone, women were found smuggling weapons through military checkpoints in bags of women’s underwear or hidden on their own or their children’s bodies (Coulter 2008: 63-4). In Sri Lanka, Tamil nationalist women have utilised cultural expectations related to their behaviour and dress to gain access to targets as suicide bombers, hiding belt bombs under saris or dresses, as a female Black Tiger combatant did in the 1991 suicide-bomb assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (Alison 2004: 456). In addition, as the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) is often disguised under the women’s clothing to make her appear as if she is pregnant and thus beyond suspicion or reproach, Mia Bloom argues, notions of femininity and motherhood are complicated (Bloom 2007: 143). Also, as this particular ‘strategy of motherhood’ has been seen in various places, Mia Bloom argues, feigning pregnancy

unites women suicide bombers in places as diverse as Turkey and Sri Lanka (ibid.: 152). ‘The advent of women suicide bombers has transformed the revolutionary womb into an exploding one’ (ibid.: 143). In this chapter, Caron Gentry’s distinction between ‘active’, ‘passive’ and

‘twisted’ maternalism is offering a rough structure (Gentry 2009) as I go through how stories of motherhood, agency and war are typically told. In the first section, I build on above all Sara Ruddick’s work on a Maternal Peace Thinking. This maternalist position is linked to women’s peace movements and agency is understood as ‘active’. The second section discusses motherhood and agency in gendered stories of war and shows how maternalist war stories are linked to militarism and nationalism. The third section focuses on maternalist stories in agency in political violence and, more specifically, on how representations of female terrorist attacks are not only gendered but rely on maternalist narratives which ultimately deny the individual women any agency of their acts. I conclude the chapter by discussing how my grammatical rather than material approach to agency and treatment of motherhood as an idea rather than a practice facilitates the telling of alternative stories of motherhood, agency and war.