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Updated Up To 23/01/2018
Volume 2, Number 1 (January 2004) : 113-45
From Essentialism to Constructivism?
The Gender of Peace and War in Gilman, Woolf, and Freud
Yael Feldman
Rubric A: Then and Now


Is there a “natural” fit between gender and the pacifist or military impulse?

The article traces the trajectory of the thinking on this issue ever since the initiation of women into the peace movements of nineteenth-century Europe, placing it in the context of the general philosophical shift from essentialism to constructivism. It is argued that the demotion of “the maternal” -- the emblem of pacifism since the early 19th century -- took place in the later work of Virginia Woolf, well before the post-gender heydays of the 1980s. Although the term gender was obviously not available to Woolf, she undermined the conventional division between the sexes through her use of the term androgyny, which prepared her to take on the conventional discourse about aggression, war, and maternal pacifism. A contrastive analysis of the uses and abuses of sexual difference and the maternal metaphor in the works of Woolf and the 19th-century pacifist Charlotte Gilman shows that while amalgamating liberal and radical positions, Woolf’s Three Guineas (1938) in fact anticipated – via its hostile dialogue with Freud – not only the gendering of peace and war but also the contemporary psycho-political analyses of the nexus of sexuality and nationalism.

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