By Charlotte Duval-Lantoine
The years 2014 and 2015 were turning points for Canada and its military. The Canadian Armed Forces left Afghanistan in March 2014, ending its thirteen-year participation in a conflict that had a lasting mental and physical impact on many servicemembers. A month later, in April 2014, the Quebec magazine L’Actualité featured serious allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the military and revealed the chain of command’s inability to handle the situation when accusations are made. The articles published shed light on the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct in the ranks of the institution and shook the military. In response, the Chief of the Defence Staff of the time, Tom Lawson, demanded an External Review, which Justice Marie Deschamps conducted. Released in March 2015, her report identified in the Forces a sexualized culture that was hostile to women and LGBTQ+ servicemembers. In October 2015, the advent of the Trudeau government brought about increased visibility to the Women, Peace, and Security agenda in public discussion. At the same time, women and gender in the military have become important issues in the fields of international relations, defence, and security.
Published in December 2015 by the University of Alberta Press, the edited volume Gendered Militarism in Canada: Learning Conformity and Resistance includes itself in this historical context for the Canadian Armed Forces. The discussions it brings forward aims to address the increased concern over gender issues in the military. The foreword by Patricia Gouthro promises the text, written by academics in Education and educators, will “challenge the perception of Canadians as ‘peacekeepers’.” (ix).
In her preface, the editor, Nancy Taber, explains that her intent was to publish a cohesive volume of essays that centres on Canada and the way its society constructs gender (and intersecting oppressions), militarism, and learning. Taber presents militarism as an overarching concept that includes beliefs systems and that positions violence or conflict as connected to but not equated with war and militaries. The volume also approached learning as a lifelong process that goes from children compulsory education to a variety of contexts of informal learning that can occur in one’s life.
Taber also sets the goal of questioning the belief among Canadian society that “Canada is an unproblematically peaceful and equitable country.” (xi-xii). She writes the “authors explore various reasons Canadian educators should be concerned with examining the intersection of learning, militarism, and gender” (xxi).
The contributions to this book deal with a wide range of topics: the representation of women of colour in the World Bank’s video game Urgent EVOKE; the representation of men and women on the Canadian Army’s and women non-for-profit organization’s Facebook pages; the way the guide to the citizenship test teaches military history; how entertainment and popular culture convey a very Americanized militarism in Canada; how militarism both promotes an ableist (discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disability) society while also making the bodies of servicemembers disabled; the lack of LGBTQ+ education in the Canadian Armed Forces; the issue of having the military teaching gender to other armed forces in times of conflicts and peacemaking; the prevalence of militarized motherhood; how young girls in high school experience cyberbullying; and how sports in high school promotes a highly militarized masculinity, especially among disadvantaged communities.
However, despite this diversity of topics, Gendered Militarism in Canada does not fully meet its promise to deconstruct Canadian militarism, its gendered aspects, and how it is learned and reproduced. Authors provided pathways of reflection on how militarism, gender, and learning intersect, the question revolving around rethinking the way one can teach in a less militaristic fashion or unweave militaristic lessons. It is in part due to how complex of a concept “militarism” is.
In the introduction, Taber takes the time to explain what she means by militarism in the context of the book. She presents Cynthia Enloe’s conceptualization of the term, as it is a useful tool to discuss how militarism is learned and perpetuated. Enloe, a prominent American feminist scholar, views militarism as civilian embracing “militaristic values (e.g., a belief in hierarchy, obedience, and the use of force),” in all aspects of society and everyday life (xviii). Exemplifying Enloe’s theory of militarism in the Canadian context, Taber cites the government’s allocation of $83 million to the commemoration of the centenary of World War I, which she views as a glamourization of the military. Taber also adds that militarism is gendered in that it advances a representation of men as physically and mentally strong and ready for combat, while women are weak, and both the target of protection and violence.
Unfortunately, the definition Taber put forward in the preface is put in the background of the discussion each contributor brings forward. Militarism as a concept ceases to be as clear as she established. Many times, militarism appears as a sister ideology to, or even as encompassing, the patriarchy, neoliberal capitalism, nationalism, patriotism, imperialism and colonialism, heteronormativity, and gender binary. While an interesting argument, and in line with the choice of conceptualizing of militarism as an “umbrella term” (meaning that Taber and the contributors view it as present beyond militaries and the context of war), none of the authors clearly explain the connections and the dynamics between these ideologies and sources of societal control. And it is uncertain that militarism is the root cause of these other ideologies on which societies and states operation
As a result, the concept of “gendered militarism” and its characteristics in a Canadian context remain unclear. The gendered aspect of militarism is not present in every chapter, and mainly involves the discussion of cis-gendered (relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex) women or men. Heteronormativity (the belief that gender binary and heterosexuality is the natural norm) is approached only through a gender binary lens. At other times, some contributors seem to force the connection between militarism and the social issues they address. The chapter on cyberbullying of teenaged girls in Canada links harassment online to militarism by mentioning that Apple and Microsoft, as well as American cellphone providers, have contracts with the American Department of Defense. In the discussion on the representation of young, racialized women and of international social issues in the World Bank’s video game Urgent EVOKE (a game meant to empower young gamers to engage and find solution for a wide range of global social issues), the only mention of militarism is how the representation women in the Middle-East echoed justifications for the West to get involved in Iraq and Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 (one of the scenarios included the mission to save a young woman kidnapped by a Taliban-like organization).
These criticisms, however, do not lower the value of this work. It is because two things are important to keep in mind when approaching this edited volume. First, albeit having an overarching objective, Gendered Militarism has a very specific target audience: “feminist, adult, and teacher educators in universities, and their students,” which can also include “community educators and activists.” (xii) The target readership is knowledgeable in feminist and educational issues. The sentence also suggests that Taber intends this book to be read and discussed in class, with guidance from a teacher or educator. Second, there is no Canadian literature studying the dynamics between gendered militarism and learning.
Therefore, the conceptual gaps Gendered Militarism in Canada presents can only be addressed through further scholarly discussion and debates on the subject matter. Additionally, the topic at hand is a very complex one, and an edited volume of 233 pages is obviously not enough to provide answers to the issue of militarism and its gendered aspects in Canada.
This work is better described as an explorative project on the topics of learning and gendered militarism, intended to generate a scholarship on their intersection and connections with other concepts, such as hegemonic masculinity, neoliberalism, and imperialism. All in all, Nancy Taber edited a book that presented the argument that gendered militarism is pervasive in Canada, and that it goes beyond military individuals and military life, and she invites her peers to engage with such an idea.