Tay Blyth-Kubota, director of “Power on Patrol”: What is militarised masculinity? Is it a helpful concept?
Oswaldo Montoya, gender activist: In a patriarchal society, the role, or the image of a man as a soldier, as a warrior, as a combatant, as a fighter, as a commander, is extremely appealing for boys and men. This is one of the most effective ways to be accepted, to belong, to prove our membership to the social category of “men”.
Why? Because the military enacts power as it is understood by patriarchy: power over.
“Power over” is about domination. It is to impose one’s will, one’s way, which is the essence of masculinity in a patriarchal order. Why? Because it uses force. It resorts to violence to “resolve” any dispute, any conflict, or even to prevent the emergence of conflict when used as a threat of violence, as a warning. It stems from the arrogance of self-righteousness. Again, it is about domination. I’m superior to you. I don’t need to consider your perspective. I don’t need to negotiate with you. You are wrong if you go against me. If you challenge me in any way, you are wrong, and I’m gonna stop you no matter what, and if you don’t obey, you deserve to be punished.
The “romantic” patriarchal cross-cultural narrative behind militarised masculinity is based on the idea that one of men’s duties in society is to be the protectors of their tribe, their land, by any means necessary.
Because in this ideology men are endowed with the physical and mental strength to fight, using force if necessary. By doing so, they will protect the village. This narrative also applies in colonial terms, with men being the ones equipped to conquer other territories and dominate “the other”, the savages, to bring progress, because they feel entitled to land everywhere, and to other people’s lives who may be considered as less than human.
Tay Blyth-Kubota: What is the difference between militarised masculinity and toxic masculinity?
Oswaldo Montoya: Militarised masculinity is toxic masculinity. It is poison. It’s a mindset, a lifestyle, an institutional setting based on the use of force, threat, and competition to deal with relationships. The outcomes of that are destructive. Of course, there are other manifestations of toxic masculinity, but the militarised ones are among the most valued by patriarchal cultures.
Tay Blyth-Kubota: Why do you think men are part of the solution needed to change the social structures and dismantle the power and domination that supports militarised masculinities?
Oswaldo Montoya: Men have been the driving force in creating these social structures of militarism. Most, if not all, of the military elite, are made of men, as well as the majority of the soldiers and intermediate leaders. Men are part of the solution to end this culture of war and militarism because they have been part of the problem, to say the least.
An implosion starts when a meaningful portion of men rebel against this system of power and domination that depends on men for their subsistence. Of course, men cannot change this alone, only in allyship with women and with nonbinary people.
Tay Blyth-Kubota: In your experience, what factors contribute to the attraction of men to join the military and become militarised?
Oswaldo Montoya: In patriarchal cultures, boys and young men are craving validation and confirmation of their supposed “superior” gender status. Feminism and the many global crises have challenged the whole structure of patriarchal masculinity to the point that boys and men feel more insecure than ever. Since resorting to organised violence continues to be seen as the domain for boys and men, their involvement as soldiers or even better as military leaders, is a reassurance. In a military uniform and holding weapons of war, they display the power they need to feel validated.
Boys and men are manipulated by the culture of war and militarism.
They are given an honorable role. They become heroes, “respected” by others. They even become sexier for women imbued in patriarchy. The armies as an institution give boys and men a structure, a kind of “family” with fathers and older brothers to look up to. They are usually financially compensated as well and have easier access to other material resources from the communities they operate. Because the military industry is very profitable and receives huge financial support from public funds, they can have promising careers.
As a young man, I experienced many of these perks of military life, even though my military experience was relatively brief compared with others. I served as a volunteer in a government-sponsored militia in 1983 for a period of six months. After that, in 1984, I fulfilled a mandatory military service requirement for young men in my country, serving in the regular army for a period of 2 years. I felt part of that heroic corporation of patriotic young men who were “defending” the country. I was obsessed with getting into combat to prove myself as a man and to be further admired by others, in the same way that I became obsessed with having sexual intercourse with women for the same reasons. They were part of my job description as a man that I had to fulfill if I wanted to be considered a “true” man. They were our rites of passage into manhood. And the rulers of my time knew that hundreds of thousands of young men were in my same vulnerable situation and exploited that. And the leaders of the opposite side also knew about this and manipulated the young men who were our enemies. And we all fell into the trap of buying these male narratives.
Tay Blyth-Kubota: And how can this be confronted?
Oswaldo Montoya: We have to wake young men up! Or better said, we have to create the conditions for young men to wake up themselves. Education that fosters critical thinking is one way to go. But even before a transformative formal education system plays a role, boys and girls need to grow up in families and communities that make them feel accepted with a deep sense of belonging so that later in life they don’t carry emotional deficits which others manipulate. This has to be confronted holistically through a system change in all areas of life – education, health, economy, politics, etc. It’s about a total overhaul that dismantles the patriarchal culture of war and replaces it with a culture of peace beyond patriarchy and domination.
Tay Blyth-Kubota: What do you say to those who claim that militarisation is the only way to guarantee security?
Oswaldo Montoya: I have to admit this is an argument that sounds convincing. When you see others as “crazy people”, meaning that, the “others” are the bad guys – not us, because “we are the good guys” – then it seems logical that with “crazy people” you cannot negotiate. You cannot use much diplomacy. You need to stop them by force to keep your people safe. You speak their language so that they ‘understand’ and so you speak louder. That’s it. Pretty effective. Boom. Put them in their place as villains and protect your people.
But for this argument to become convincing you have to buy the whole narrative of “villains vs. saviors” and position yourself on the savior side. The others are the villains. You can make a children’s story with this but the reality is much more complicated. I believe nobody is a ‘villain’ by birth. We have to go to the root causes of militarism and war. They are a dysfunctional response to conflict. But why is conflict created in the first place? Because some groups are not meeting their human needs. They have been excluded, feel oppressed, mistreated, forgotten so they are going to engage in conflict against those who they perceive are the holders of power. It is not a coincidence that irregular military groups, violent extremists, and terrorist groups are fueled by excluded, unemployed, poor young men. A history of slavery, colonisation, and systematic inequalities creates resentment and backlash. Here we are talking about structural violence enacted by institutions that oppress large portions of the population, violating their human rights.
So, the solution is not a crackdown on dissidence, rather an examination of the origin of the dissidence of conflict.
Criminal behaviors, terrorist attacks, authoritarian regimes are just the symptoms of a world order that does not work, that perpetuates injustice. These people also need to feel secure and not threatened. I subscribe to the notion of common security: no one is safe until all of us are safe. We need peace and security for all. This assertion is based on a radically different worldview. It’s based on recognising our interconnectedness as human beings and as part of a larger earth community that can only function in balanced relationships, in cooperation with each other.
Militarisation only gives a false sense of security. It does not work in the long run and history is full of examples.
Tay Blyth-Kubota: So how can men in power be persuaded?
Oswaldo Montoya: Talk to them about what would be their legacy. Tell them about the power to do good. Enlarge their vision, so that they not only see the short-term gains of the military machinery but the long-term harmful effects for their own people. We are all destroying ourselves. The planet is in peril. I’m not sure how much effort needs to be put into persuading men in power. Their self-interest and benefits from the culture of war and militarism may stand in the way of them being persuaded. And yet, maybe there are some who commit to change and to be allies.
Tay Blyth-Kubota: What can men bring to feminist peace activism?
Oswaldo Montoya: More hands at work! More voices for peace and justice. We need men to catch up on the historical feminist peace work led by women and join them. Men in positions of power can be more instrumental in advancing the goals of feminist peace.
Tay Blyth-Kubota: From your perspective, what are the key lessons that men are learning from feminist peace efforts and their collaboration with feminist activists?
Oswaldo Montoya: We are learning about the visionary proposals for peacebuilding put forward by feminist women across the world, in which peace is not a passive stance defined as the absence of war or a naive position, but a truly subversive and radically transformative proposal for a new world based on justice, equality and prosperity for all.
Tay Blyth-Kubota: How can men support women’s leadership? Why is this important?
Oswaldo Montoya: I don’t know if it’s about supporting women’s leadership or just respecting women’s leadership, acknowledging it. So, it starts with learning about the history of women’s leadership in peacebuilding and in opposing the systems of war. This is important because men have failed to bring peace. The world can no longer afford ‘peace talks’ only among men at the table.
Tay Blyth-Kubota: What are the challenges that women and men face in working towards a more equitable and feminist society particularly in societies that are militarised?
Oswaldo Montoya: The worrisome trends in terms of the rise of authoritarian populism in politics lead to heavily patriarchal and misogynist national leaders. This idea of a strong man and masculine leadership is hard to overcome. The increasing militarisation as something that our countries need. The corruption that is fueled by the greed of the elite that trickles down to all levels of society. The perdurance of economic systems that prioritise profits over people and the environment. The fundamentalists of all kinds are gaining traction.
Tay Blyth-Kubota: In what ways are you hopeful for the future?
Oswaldo Montoya: Many people are waking up. Many men, young and old. The ideology of war and violence has been contested not only by feminists but by many social actors, such as faith-based leaders, who used to sanction it, and now the alarming consequences of war and militarism are more obvious: forced migration, environmental destructions, public health crisis, poverty, death, etc. When the night is in its darkest moment, it begins to dawn. We are hitting bottom, and this is waking people up. It will be up to us to make a decision on what kind of world we want to pass on to the next generation.