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 primarily 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, ‘genderlessness’ in international relations ignores how gender norms characterize and transform leaders. Dismissing 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 by analyzing 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 Wadley’s aforementioned text as a basis. I will also explain and apply the theories of Judith Butler, Raewyn Connell, and Patricia Hill Collins to a case study on the U.S.A’s war on women (anti-abortion). I will begin by detailing Butler’s theory of performativity, its relation to the gendering process, and how it influences the U.S.A. Secondly, I will explain the role of hegemonic masculinity 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. Finally, the essay will conclude with my critique of Wadley’s assessment of masculinity and protection. I will begin with the first of these: explaining the connection between Butler’s theory of performativity and the gendering of states.

The Theory of Performativity and The Gendering of States

Judith Butler argues that bodies and subjects come to exist through repeat performances within social interactions. Butler believes that people can only be understood by becoming gendered and conforming to normative standards of “gender intelligibility,” meaning that no subject is ungendered. Performativity is the name of the process through which subjects are gendered. Butler states that “there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its
results.” Moreover, Butler proposes that the stable appearance of gender is due to the “regulated repetition” of its performance, which is based on heteronormative social expectations and “discursive practices.” Just as people cannot exist without gender – and states are thought of as people – then states must also be gendered. As a result, 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, state-making, war-making and protection are interconnected activities. War-making is often used to display “stereotypically masculine traits.” Wadley says David Campbell argues that masculine rulers have historically feminized their populations. Therefore, war can masculinize leaders while allowing them to act in a manner that conforms to masculine ideals. Sandra Via describes hegemonic masculinity 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 on to say that “masculinities are prized in political and military leadership, even when that leadership is performed by women.” Raewyn Connell argues that although hegemonic masculinity only represents the minority of men, its cultural dominance forces actors to conform to it. Conforming to hegemonic masculinity also enables states to gain influence in the international realm. According to Wadley, masculine performances are also crucial in making a state a “unitary actor” that emphasizes the ideas of masculinity and femininity during war. Wadley also notes that 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.” Under the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, abortion is legal in all U.S. states. However, this year, stringent anti-abortion bills restricting women from accessing abortion were passed. Alabama has the strictest ban which makes abortion virtually impossible regardless of rape or incest. Doctors performing abortions in Alabama can face up to ninety-nine years in prison. Ohio, Missouri, Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi proposed heartbeat bills which were signed into law. The heartbeat bill bans abortions after a fetus’ heartbeat has been detected, which tends to happen six weeks into pregnancy. 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. CNN’s Jessica Ravitz says 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.”

Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr. 

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, which was against abortion, Equal Rights Amendment, and 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 to 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 supporter 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 name given to “knowledge projects” and it helps to analyze and understand power relations of class, gender, race, and sexuality among others. 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 provided by Collins: 1. They acknowledge that “racism, sexism and class exploitations” “mutually construct one another” and that “domains of power” (“structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal”)
“intersect and co-produce one another,” which influences the socioeconomic circumstances of those within them. “Social domains” form part of a “matrix of domination” which frames social interactions and identities 2. Intersectional knowledge projects recognize that people and groups occupy various unique positions in the matrix of domination, which influence their experiences and “standpoint.” 3. Intersectional knowledge projects acknowledge that people and groups can experience both advantages and disadvantages at the same time.
Therefore, 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) need to be factored in. According to Wadley, 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, feminize the population, and 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 regarding masculinity and protection, 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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