Womens Status

Another explanation links women's status with the frequency of war. Feminist theories of war offer a variety of contradictory views linked by their concern with women's status. Difference feminism focuses on biological (or otherwise innate) qualities that distinguish men as a group and suit them for fighting. This approach underlies women's peace movements. Liberal feminism, in contrast, portrays women as men's equal in war, celebrating the historical record of women combatants, support troops, and factory workers. Postmodern feminists also criticize the "essentialism" of difference feminism, and show how binary oppositions based on gender operate in wartime narratives to reinforce the power of dominant groups. Harding (1986, p. 129) describes the "social con-structionist strain of recent anthropological literature" which argues that "absolutely nothing—no behavior and no meaning—[is] universally and cross-culturally associated with either masculinity or femininity. What is considered masculine in some societies is considered feminine or gender-neutral in others and vice versa; the only constant appears to be the importance of the dichotomy." However, this approach does not explain the near-universality of gender roles in war.

Empirically, across cultures, women's status seems to correlate with infrequency of war as difference feminists might expect, but only mildly so (Goldstein, 2001, pp. 396-402). Measuring women's status is difficult, and studies suffer from assumptions about direction of causality between women's status and warfare (which most likely is bidirectional).

One review of a dozen cross-cultural studies finds that societies with frequent war tend to have wife beating, along with warlike sports, beliefs in malevolent magic, severe criminal punishments, and feuding (C. R. Ember & Ember, 1997). Women's status and power vary greatly across 150 cultures worldwide in another study, and gender relations are very unequal in 33% of the societies with "endemic or chronic" war, but in only 17% of the others (Sanday, 1981, pp. 6-7, 174). In a sample of 33 gathering-hunting societies, warfare decreases women's domestic and political status (Hayden, Deal, Cannon, & Casey, 1986). In Ross's statistical analysis of 90 "small scale, preindustrial societies," war seems to be more likely in societies with high gender inequality, harsh child-rearing practices, and the absence of fathers from child rearing (Ross, 1990, pp. 55-56,60). In another sample of 82 societies, low female decision involvement correlates with low internal war (between same-language communities), high external war (across language lines), harsh child socialization, and strong fraternal interest groups (Ross, 1986, pp. 848-850). However, Whyte (1978, pp. 129-131, 156-157) finds only mild mixed effects of war on women's status. Thus war frequency correlates somewhat with gender inequality cross-culturally, but modestly and unevenly.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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