Misogyny, or hatred of women, is at least as old as recorded history. Traces of misogyny can be found in most major religions including Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Eminent thinkers such as Aristotle, Rousseau, Hegel, Darwin and Nietzsche are not free of misogynist concepts. And misogyny is highly present in the daily life of modern secular societies.
Various explanations exist for the continuing prevalence of misogynist ideas and behavior. Attraction-Fear: Men are intensely attracted to women and consequently fear the power which this attraction gives women over them. Fertility-Jealousy: Men are jealous of female fertility which is essential for the perpetuation of the human species. Mother-Power: Men are raised by women and resent their long subordination to a mother figure. Size-Aggression: The typical size advantage of males over females stimulates male aggression.
While the exact explanation of misogyny remains uncertain, it is well established that warfare induces the most brutal and extensive forms of misogyny. Warfare requires abrogation of the behavioral norms customary during peacetime. In peacetime, murder is prohibited; in warfare, killing is mandated. In peacetime, destruction of valuable property is punished; in wartime, demolition of enemy possessions is fervently encouraged. In peacetime, infliction of wounds is avoided; in wartime, creation of injuries is required. Given this general nullification of peacetime morality, it is not surprising that restraints on sexual violence — and rape in particular — are drastically weakened during warfare.
Rape can have a number of militarily useful purposes. It can be a reward for hazardous combat. It can be a means of humiliating and exacting revenge upon a hated enemy. It can also be a way of creating solidarity among male soldiers. Although incidents of sexual violence occur in virtually every army, here are some particularly horrifying examples.
During World War II, the Japanese army forced an estimated 200,000 women into sexual slavery at military brothels. Most of these so-called “comfort women” were Korean, Chinese, Filipino or even Japanese. In addition, Japanese soldiers raped an estimated 20,000 Chinese women during their vicious assault on Nanking in December 1937.
At the end of World War II, the Red Army, enraged by the massive mortality inflicted by the German military on the Soviet people, raped an estimated two million German women, many of whom were raped multiple times. As a female Soviet war correspondent reported, “The Russian soldiers were raping every German female from eight to eighty. It was an army of rapists.”
During the Rwandan genocide from April to July 1994, soldiers were encouraged to rape Tutsi women as part of the effort to destroy the Tutsi ethnic group. It is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 Rwandan women were raped in this four month period.
Human beings are capable of colossal evil. Warfare foments many forms of atrocious behavior including misogyny. Ending warfare will not automatically end misogyny, but finishing misogyny is surely impossible without terminating warfare.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.