The Gendered Nation

October 28, 2009

Tomorrow I’m supposed to give a quick presentation in seminar about our readings for this week, which revolve around the interplay of gender and nationalism. So, here’s a quick taste of some of the ideas I’m working through:

The first doesn’t touch on the reading specifically, but instead talks about a radio program. Specifically that Radiolab episode I told you all to listen to a while back. A neurologist went to Africa to study baboons (I’m not sure which country), and while he was there he heard about this resort that had started to throw its trash out back in a big heap. A troop of baboons found this dump and moved in. Normally baboons are incredibly violent and exceedingly active. These ones got lazy with such a huge supply of food right in front of them. It wasn’t too long before another troop figured out what was going on and sent some raiders in to fight and steal food from the lazy troop. The story would end there except at some point a piece of infected meat got thrown out. They later determined that the infection was tuberculosis, and while it moves slowly in humans the disease goes through a baboon like wildfire. Every baboon in the sedentary group died, and so did the marauders from the other group because of their close contact. Here’s where it gets really interesting; those marauders were the alpha males of the group, and with them gone the women essentially took over the troop. Now, twenty years on the troop is peaceful. Basically, they don’t act like baboons. Its a bit of a stretch, but there’s the kernel of an idea about gender in here.

Next is the idea of gender-centrism. I’m sure there’s an academic name for it, but I’m trying to bring it up alongside ethnocentrism. Similarly to ethnocentrism, gender-centrists take for granted that their view of the world is the “neutral” view of the world, the objective one. In the context of nationalism, where movements have traditionally been led by men, this leads the nation to take on unconscious gendered characteristics. I think we actually had a great example of ethno- and gender-centrism this summer in the United States, as a bunch of grumpy old white guys grilled a Latina Supreme Court nominee for having the temerity to suggest that it was possible to view the world differently.

Another example of this is to think of the way that territory is talked about. During times of peace a nation’s territory is often talked about in masculine terms, but as soon as that territory is threatened (I’m generalizing from the West) it becomes feminine. Specifically, look at Soviet propaganda during the Great Patriotic War, in many of these images, images of women exhort men to defend their country. Pictured is the best example I could find quickly using google. It’s telling you not to talk, the implication being that if you do you’ll doom her. (Kinda like “loose lips sink ships.”)

That’s all I’ve got for now, still working!


4 Responses to “The Gendered Nation”

  1. Jessie said

    I like your argument concerning gender-centrism, and if you found some more examples, the third with the image would be really strong.

  2. Katie said

    I think all three are pretty fascinating. It must be hard to choose!

    Evan and I had a conversation not too long ago about the overabundance of books specifically about women, how they think and feel and look and act, from a sociological viewpoint, I suppose. Meanwhile, there is a total lack of paralleling books about men (for example in the RSP library there is a ton of material devoted to the subject, but not a single book just about Russian men). Evan made the great point that as men typically play the big roles in politics, war, exploration, etc., it’s as if the historical tomes basically ARE the books on men. Which makes me think that the books on women are basically like compensation…

    As for the poster, I think that one is more saying “don’t gossip/don’t chatter like an idiot,” but I know there are other posters that more closely convey the mindset to which you’re referring. If I find one I’ll let you know. :)

  3. Evan said

    I think you make some interesting comments here. I wrote a comparative analysis of combat motivation on the Eastern Front for my senior seminar and found many examples of how important the idea of the “Rodina” or “Motherland” was to the Russian soldier. Interestingly enough, however, everything I’ve heard of German propaganda during the war spoke in terms of the “Fatherland.” Perhaps that could be attributed to the affects of National Socialism or maybe it was just a natural development emanating from German history, I don’t know. It would be interesting to compare the differences between different countries in regards to this concept.

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