love and war: how militarism shapes sexuality and romance
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Will the battle of the sexes ever come to an end? Love and War by Tom Digby offers a lens onto how this debate came about by considering the social constructions of men, masculinity and heterosexuality through capitalism and the military. Love and War is a critical interrogation of men’s role in romantic heterosexual relationships. It is a philosophical take on masculinity and how militaristic ideas of masculinity shape sexuality and romance. Tom Digby argues that the social constructions of gender in militaristic ‘Western’ societies are inherently oppositional in order to fuel society’s need for military projects. In interrogating Western societies’ militaristic projects, Digby argues that the gender binary is fundamental to military projects. The maintenance of heterosexuality—institutionalised using biological arguments—is possible under the guise of assumed oppositional genders.
What makes this book a key contribution is its weaving together of contemporary pop-cultural examples and scholarly work to highlight the day-to-day realities that men and women face. Using a critical feminist approach to examine men’s gender roles under non-militaristic and militaristic societies—ranging from indigenous societies to contemporary societies—the book provides a complex understanding of gender, in particular that of men and of heterosexuality.
Chapter 1 analyses how, in militaristic cultures, the gender binary is imperative for the institution of militaristic ideologies by thinking of genders (men and women) as oppositional (adversarial) yet complementary, and inherently heterosexual. Digby debunks assumptions that societies are naturally militaristic. Chapter 2 discusses traditional gender roles as premised on, what Digby calls, transactional heterosexuality—the idea that relationships are based on transactions. He argues that in culturally militaristic societies, men are conditioned to be warriors and their female partners provide the nurturing aspect. Cultural developments, however, exemplified by women’s economic independence, indicate the weakening of men’s bargaining power in transactional heterosexuality. Chapter 3 describes the cultural programming of warrior masculinity in militaristic societies, which prepares boys to be emotionally and physically ready for combat through various rites of passages, even when boys and men may not engage in actual physical violence. Warrior masculinity thus conditions boys and men to be emotionally disabled in heterosexual relationships. In Chapter 4, Digby discusses how faith in heterosexual relationships is an ongoing belief system that stipulates women must believe men will take care of them. He argues that men are holding on to traditional notions of romance even as women seek independence through careers. In Chapter 5, Digby argues that, at some point, masculinity in war-reliant societies will momentarily or forever be exposed for its instability and flaws, revealing that its promises can never sufficiently nor fully be achieved. As a result, in heterosexual relationships, the pay-off of masculinity is incomplete for female partners, and traditional masculinity—principally tied to the three ideal traits of provider, procreator and protector—is becoming less relevant in changing societies. Chapter 6 defines gender terrorism to discuss how ‘boys and men are subjected to humiliation, violence, and the threat of violence as ways of controlling their behavior’ (p. 137) and as a means of policing men’s gender. Chapter 7 discusses cultural and institutional de-gendering shifts in the US military that indicate a break away from militaristic masculinity of non-care to one of caring; according to Digby, these shifts are exemplified in changing attitudes in care towards veterans and their families, women entering combat, and technological advances that do not require hyper-masculine soldiers for combat. Chapter 8 ends with noting that warrior masculinity is diminishing in relevance and that masculinity itself is culturally evolving, non-linearly. However, to deeply advance this process, gender itself must be demilitarised so that people do not suffer the consequences of this masculinity.
At times, Digby seems to make sweeping generalisations and to be essentialising gender roles; moreover, his analysis lacks attention to race, ethnicity and class as variables, let alone as intersectionally constitutive of the shape of dominant masculinity. That said, when taken as a whole argument, it can be seen that the author is getting at patterns that persist in so-called Western countries, namely the United States. Furthermore, Digby gets at the root of ideological constructions of gender. Scholars of philosophy and gender and sexuality studies will benefit from engaging with this book. Several concepts offered by Digby facilitate complex thinking on gender and heterosexuality in militaristic societies. An important argument the author makes is that while material conditions are changing for women in the direction of gender equality, ideologies that perpetuate the gender binary persist. I agree heartily with the author that the current system of heterosexuality analysed in the book must be dismantled if we are to free ourselves from its oppressive consequences. Love and War’s engaging writing style also makes it accessible to audiences outside of the academy.