Josie Glausiuszis a journalist who writes about science and the environment for magazines including Nature, National Geographic, Hakai magazine and the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. She is the author of Buzz: The Intimate Bond Between Humans and Insects (2004), and lives in Israel.
During the opening months of the First World War, in the midst of the incendiary jingoism roiling Britain, the poet Dorothea Hollins of the Women’s Labour League proposed that an unarmed, 1,000-strong ‘Women’s Peace Expeditionary Force’ cross Europe ‘in the teeth of the guns’ and interpose itself between the warring armies in the trenches. Hollins’s grand scheme did not materialise, but neither did it emerge in a vacuum; it was nurtured by a century of activism largely grounded in maternal love. Or, as her fellow peace activist Helena Swanwick wrote: the shared fear that in war ‘women die, and see their babies die, but theirs is no glory; nothing but horror and shame unspeakable’.
Swanwick helped to found the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, an organisation dedicated to eliminating the causes of war. She hoped for ‘a world in the far-off future that will not contain one soldier’. Many activists believed that if women had political power, they would not pursue war. But how true is this? Do incidences of violent conflict alter when women become leaders, or when their share of parliamentary representation rises? In what sense do women mother wars?
If you ask this question out loud, not a minute will pass before someone says ‘Margaret Thatcher’, the British prime minister who waged a hugely popular war in the Falklands that led to her landslide 1983 election victory. Thatcher is hardly the only woman leader celebrated for her warmongering. Think of Boudicca, the woad-daubed Queen of the Iceni people of eastern England, who led a popular uprising against the Roman invaders; or Lakshmi Bai, Queen of Jhansi and a leader of the 1857-58 Indian Mutiny against the British; or even Emmeline Pankhurst, who led British suffragettes on a militant campaign of hunger strikes, arson and window-smashing, then, in 1914, became a vociferous supporter of Britain’s entry into the Great War.
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