The need for a queer perspective

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Cattis Laska and Hanns Molander

Militarism is not just a war, an army or a fighter jet. Militarism is a system, a logic and a set of norms that perpetuates and recreates our societies and our daily lives. Queer analysis of power is a political tool that can help us to challenge these norms, and thus, to also challenge militarism.

The militarist ideology is deeply rooted in the heterosexist system, which forms social norms for gender/sex and sexuality. Militarism, just as society in general, is based on the construction and assumption of two opposite genders; one in need of protection (feminine) and one that protects (masculine), and their mutual interdependence and attraction. Militarism defines masculinity as powerful and aggressive, and femininity as humble and passive, and thus reproduces the construction of gender/sex. Heterosexism also includes the presumption that most people are heterosexual and that heterosexual relationships are ‘normal’ and therefore better. These assumptions and prejudices about gender/sex and sexuality have been used, and are used, to marginalise, discriminate and criminalise LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) people who challenge the legitimacy of these norms. To really challenge militarism, we need to challenge gender and sexuality norms, both in society as a whole and within our own movements. And as well as directly challenging the militarist ideology imposed on us, we also need to work on ways to create a truly peaceful and secure world.

This article explores some examples of antimilitarist work that the direct action for peace network Ofog have been doing in Sweden. Counter-recruitment is often the focus of this work.

Workshop for high school classes

Since the military's primary target group for recruitment is 15-25 year olds, high school students are a crucial group for Ofog to work with. We have put together a workshop to discuss war and militarism, mainly directed at high scool classes, but also other groups targeted by military recruitment. Of course, one of the goals of this workshop is to counter recruitment, but it also raises critical awareness about war and militarism in general. From doing these workshops, it has been very clear to us that young people have few ways of getting the information they need in order to make an informed choice on whether to join the military or not, even just in terms what to think of the military and to know what they're really doing. We want to create space for young people to discuss what peace and security mean to them, what they need in order to feel secure, and what their thoughts are on the military.

Actions against the Swedish Armed Forces recruitment campaign 'Have you got what it takes?'

The first recruitment campaign after compulsory military service was abolished used slogans like 'Your grandmother doesn't care if Sweden's air space is violated' and 'Your friend doesn't care if there's a natural disaster', followed by 'Do you have what it takes to have an opinion?'. In this campaign, those presented as not having opinions – as not caring - were never male: they were either female or gender-neutral. And thus 'to have what it takes' was to be male and to challenge these people, as well as to have a macho attitude, to be able to fit into a hierarchy, to have enough physical strength, and to be ready to use violence. Ofog's response to this campaign was to question the truth of the statements, giving the people 'without opinions' another voice that was not passive but active, saying 'We've got what it takes'. But our sense of 'having what it takes' is different – it means nonviolence, non-hierchical structure, equal access to knowledge, and so on.

Military: Your grandmother doesn't care if Sweden's air space is violated. Ofog: But on the other hand she's really pissed off that the US Air Force tests bombs in Northern Sweden (credit – Ofog)

Stockholm Pride Festival

Another example is that the military, both in Sweden and in many other parts of the world, is currently using LGBTQ communities to legitimise their activities. By creating a (false) public image of a 'modern' and 'open' military, they seek to create acceptance for militarism and military 'solutions'. It is very important to organise against this 'pinkwashing' by the military - to refuse to be used to legitimise death and destruction. Together we must show that only an antimilitarist world is a really secure world for LGBTQ people and others.

The Swedish Armed Forces participated in the Stockholm Pride Festival in 2011 with the slogan 'Openness - part of our reality'. This was part of their recruiting campaign 'Welcome to our reality', where they promoted themselves as a challenging, exciting and open workplace. At their tent in the 'Pride Park', Ofog did a die-in with a banner saying 'Your reality kills'. With this we wanted to show what their reality really is: war and death. We also blocked their tent for a few hours, preventing them from recruiting. In the Pride parade, which concludes the Pride festival, the organisation for LGBT soldiers marched in military uniforms by a big truck with the slogan 'Openness - part of our reality'. We walked beside them for the whole parade, holding speech bubbles saying: 'My job kills', 'I'm just as good at killing as heterosexual soldiers' and 'Here I walk defending my human rights, while my job is is about violation of other people’s human rights'.

Die-in in Pride Park, Stockholm, 2001. The banner says 'Your reality kills' (credit - Ofog)

Summer course: 'The militarisation of our lives and societies - feminism as resistance'

Last summer we organised a four-week summer course on the topics of feminism and antimilitarism: how to use feminism as an analytical tool for understanding war and militarism, and how to use feminism as a practical tool or method to stop war. In order to counter militarism and militarisation, we need to understand the connections between patriarchy, gender, war, and militarism. Since much of Ofog's work is focused on direct action, we recognise that we also need space and time for reflection and discussion on what security means to us, and how we can realise it.

It was therefore also important for us to bring 'recruitment by and resistantance by queers' as a theme to the June 2012 Darmstadt conference on the 'Militarisation of youth'. As well as the need for feminist and queer activists need to see the struggle against militarism as a central part of their struggles and movements, antimilitarist activists need to include a queer analysis in their work against war. Besides the many reasons mentioned above, queer youth are especially vulnerable as a target group for military recruitment because of the discrimination and oppression that exclude them or see them kicked out of their schools, homes and workplaces. Those doing counter recruitment work need to be familiar with queer perspectives and issues, and to be sensitive to these.

Because 'queer and antimilitarism' was a new theme to many people who took part in the workshop that we facilitated at Darmstadt, much of the time was spent on explanations, resulting in limited discussion. This demonstrates the need for us to work on this issue, and establish it as a central part of counter recruitment work specifically, as well as of antimilitarism in general.

We need to discuss what we consider to be part of the antimilitarist struggle, how issues considered 'other' (including heterosexism, but also, for example, racism or ableism) can be raised within the antimilitarist movement, and how we can integrate them. We need to respond to the military's appropriation of words and struggles that should be incompatible with it because they are based on human rights (which the military fundamentally contravene). And we need to devise ways of reaching out to members of these groups in risk of being recruited.

The struggles against oppressive structures based on gender/sex and sexuality are essential in the struggle against militarisation. Consequently, we need to continue to work against heterosexism, transphobia and patriarchy, in our own movements and in the rest of the society. And we need a queer perspective, not as something 'extra', but as something that permeates our antimilitarist work.

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