Masculinity and Protection: By any means necessary

By Zama Madondo

In ​Gendering the state: Performativity and protection in international security​, Jonathan D. Wadley (2009), notes that the state is largely thought to be ungendered by International Relations scholars. Feminists argue that when an entity is considered ‘genderless,’ it is often masculinized, its masculinity made universal, and its theories made partial (while masquerading as impartial). According to Wadley, this ‘genderlessness’ in international relations ignores how key actors are defined and differentiated by gender norms. Ignoring gender also does not account for processes in which gender identities are created and maintained.

In this essay, I will attempt to account for this gendering process through my analysis of security performances and their impact on the “protected.” I will do so by investigating why and how masculinized performances of protection are carried out by the United States of America (U.S.A), using three theories: the theory of performativity (Judith Butler), hegemonic masculinity (Raewyn Connell) and intersectionality (Patricia Hill Collins), and a case study on the war on women (anti-abortion). I will begin my analysis with Butler’s theory of performativity and its relation to the gendering process. Secondly, I will assess hegemonic masculinity’s role in state masculinization through war and protection. Thirdly, I will propose an intersectional framework as a tool to analyze intersections of race, class, gender and power within security performances. The essay will conclude with my critique on Wadley’s assessment of masculinity and protection. I will begin with the first of these: exploring the connection between Butler’s theory of performativity and the gendering of states.

The theory of performativity and the gendering of states

According to Judith Butler, neither subjects nor bodies exist pre-socially, but are developed and re-developed performatively within relations. Butler believes that people can only be understood by becoming gendered and by conforming to normative standards of gender intelligibility, therefore, no subject is without gender. The process through which the subject (human or state) develops is called performativity. Butler states that “there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender – identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results.” The actor’s appearance of continuity and solidity is due to repeat performances interpreted through “socially constituted and maintained norms of intelligibility.” Butler’s theory of performativity implies that there is a formula to create intelligible subjects, and that this formula includes gender, as it is “regulated by a compulsory, naturalized and normative heterosexuality.” The cultural grid of heterosexuality determines the meanings or norms that gender performances have. Here, a subject must be performatively constituted “as feminine or masculine.” Just as people cannot exist without gender, and states are thought of as people; then states must also be gendered. Therefore, the U.S.A often recreates itself in terms of gender through war and masculinized performances of protection.

Hegemonic masculinity, protection and war

According to Wadley, statemaking, war-making and protection are interconnected activities. War-making is often used to display “stereotypically masculine traits.” David Campbell notes that societies have been historically feminized in relation to the masculine leaders that control them. Therefore, war can masculinize leaders, while allowing them to act in a manner that conforms to masculine ideals. Kronsell and Tickner’s definition of hegemonic masculinity is described by Via (2010) as “certain masculine norms that have become dominant in specific institutions of social control and remain in those institutions to maintain patriarchal social and political orders.” It is an “idealised, relational and historical model of masculinity that subordinates other forms of masculinity.” Via continues by saying that “masculinities are prized in political and military leadership, even when that leadership is performed by women.” According to Raewyn Connell, although hegemonic masculinity represents only a small percentage of men, its “idealization and cultural pervasiveness” forces actors to conform to it. Therefore, states conforming to hegemonic masculinity can position themselves as “powerful subjects”, thus motivating them to perform in a manner that conforms to hegemonic masculinity. Masculine performances are crucial in making a state a “unitary actor” that emphasizes the ideas of masculinity and femininity in times of war.” Ann Tickner acknowledges that gender is central to creating state unity, as the state acts as a “citizen warrior” who protects citizens from danger in times of war, by strengthening the boundary “between a secure self and a dangerous other.” However, the “dangerous other” is not always a foreign country attacking from the outside, but the “protected” citizens themselves.

War on women

War is described by the Oxford dictionary as “a sustained campaign against an undesirable situation or activity.” In the case of the United States (U.S), the “undesirable situation or activity” is women having access to abortion. While discussing anti-abortion laws recently, senator Kirsten Gillibrand said “I hope America’s women are paying attention because President Trump has started a war on America’s women.” Abortion is legal in all fifty states under the Roe v. Wade 1973 Supreme Court decision. However, this year, a number of stringent anti-abortion bills have been passed which restrict a woman’s access to the procedure. Alabama has the strictest ban that makes abortion virtually impossible regardless of rape or incest. Doctors performing abortions in Alabama can face up to ninety-nine years in prison. Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri also proposed “heartbeat bills” this year, which were successfully signed into law. The heartbeat bill bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Donald Trump and  Jerry Falwell Jr. 

According to CNN and ​Time Magazine, abortion was not always a moral and public issue. In fact, abortion was thought to be a decision between a woman and her doctor, and abortion drugs were a thriving business. Drugs were “advertised in newspapers and could be bought from pharmacists, physicians and even through the mail. If drugs didn’t work, women could visit practitioners for instrumental procedures.” All of this changed when superstar Televangelist preacher Jerry Fallwell, joined a political coalition before the U.S presidential elections in the 1980s. Fallwell and his coalition founded the Moral Majority, an anti-abortion, anti-Equal Rights Amendment and anti-gay rights for a “moral America.” Their plan was to get a representative for their conservative views voted into office. Once in office, the representative would elect pro-life judges into the Supreme Court to repeal Roe v. Wade, and inspire the “untapped majority” of Evangelicals to participate in politics. They eventually settled on Ronald Reagan as their representative. Reagan publicly endorsed the Evangelical political agenda, sparking Evangelical participation in politics. However, he was unable to get evangelical laws passed. Years later, Jerry Fallwell’s son, Jerry Fallwell Jr., became a prominent Evangelical voice in support of Trump. Just like Reagan, Trump had the same campaign slogan and he too vowed to elect pro-life judges into the Supreme Court to challenge Roe v. Wade (which he has done). According to ​Time magazine, Trump has the support of 70% of Evangelicals today. The Guttmacher Institute’s 2017 study states that 75% of women seeking abortions are from poor or low-income backgrounds, and 49% of these women are living below the federal poverty line. The same institute observes that the women most affected by a lack of access to abortion procedures in the U.S are poor black and Hispanic women.


According to Patricia Hill Collins, intersectionality is a term that has been applied to knowledge projects with the purpose of understanding all dimensions of power relations including race, gender, class and sexuality. Collins views intersectionality as a “knowledge project” or a “constellation of knowledge projects.” Intersectional knowledge projects are suitable for the analysis of the impact of security performances for the following reasons:
1. They acknowledge that “racism, sexism and class exploitations “mutually construct one another”” and that domains of power (structural, disciplinary, hegemonic and interpersonal) “intersect with and co-produce one another,” resulting in unequal material and social realities that define those affected by them. These social domains create a “matrix of domination” which frames social interactions and identities
2. Intersectional knowledge projects recognize that groups and individuals occupy various distinctive positions in the matrix of domination, which influence the experiences and thus the knowledge or standpoint of these groups and individuals.
3. Intersectional knowledge projects acknowledge that groups and individuals can simultaneously experience both privilege and disadvantage. Using intersectionality as an analytical tool, helps one to understand complexity. As divisions do not solely exist between “protector” and “protected”, but also exist along the lines of race, gender and class, it is therefore pertinent that an intersectional framework is applied when analyzing security performances and their complex impact on the “protected”.


As performances of protection become more central to state security, the connection between these performances, hegemonic masculinity and gender (performativity) needs to be factored in. Feminist scholars agree that “…protection offered, while beneficial in specific instances; is a bad arrangement for the protected. Protection is therefore less about what is provided than it is about the effects of the performances undertaken in its name.” In the case study on the war on women (anti-abortion), the U.S government’s willingness to act as a “citizen warrior” that protects unborn babies by preventing women from making what is deemed to be a “bad” or “regrettable” moral decision (having an abortion), serves as a justification for inflicting extreme violence through the use of masculinized performances of protection (shaming women, surveillance, harassment, restrictions, socioeconomic burdening and the imprisoning of doctors). These masculinized performances of protection are detrimental to the “protected” because they silence women’s agency, they feminize the population, and they maintain and perpetuate social inequality. In addition, evidence points to abortion being a socioeconomic issue instead of a moral one.

Although Wadley makes some valid observations in his article, I felt that the following points were missing from his assessment of masculinity and protection: an acknowledgment that war is not only external to the state, that violence is not only physical, recognition of the influence of religion (and other internal entities) on state priorities, the idea that the “protected” could simultaneously be the “dangerous other;” and the idea that the “protected” are not just one, equally-affected homogenous group. As long as these aspects are ignored, the nuanced experiences of those who are most affected will continue to go unacknowledged and under-represented. Hegemonic masculinity and gender norms will also continue to be used to establish, position, understand, govern and gender states; thus perpetuating patriarchy and security performances that are detrimental to the state and to those it claims to “protect.”

Zama Madondo is a student of Gender and Diversity Studies at the Rhine-Waal University in Kleve, Germany.

1 Comment

  1. I am so impressed Zama to see a scholar that is emerging in you . Well penned and substantial urgument.
    Yibambe Mnquhe, Mathonsi.


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