Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance

(Full disclosure: Tom Digby is a colleague of my wife’s and a pal. He gave her a copy of his book and after she finished it, I read it.)

Yesterday this article was going around Twitter, or at least the parts I bump up against. It’s a discussion of “Gamergate” and how that “movement” represents a reactionary male attempt to maintain control on whatever it is that passes for geek culture. This is correct, but only partially so. “Gamergate” is a misnomer because it has nothing to do with (video)gaming and never did. It’s all about straight white men trying to silence women (and anyone else who isn’t one of them) in any arena where those men are, and doing so through harassment, threats, and violence.

If Gamergate were simply immature male nerds, it would actually be a little easier to deal with, but the movement has found allies such as Mens’ Rights Activists, the right-wing, FOX News, and anti-Feminist Christina Hoff Summers, none of whom give a fig about videogames or “geek culture” but are very interested in pushing back against Feminist gains. While the average Gamergater stalking that hashtag on Twitter might think he’s doing something about some nebulous concept of journalistic ethics, these allies are simply happy to have footsoldiers in a much larger battle.

And a battle it is. Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance, by Tom Digby, a philosophy professor at Springfield College, lays down an argument that America, as a militaristic society (one that values and puts faith in war and warlike behavior as a social tool), has developed concepts of gender and sexuality that serve a conflict more than a community. The “Battle of the Sexes”, Digby says, is a literal battle on literal battlefield because we can only process these things in terms of war.

In such a society, the argument goes, the gender lines are firm and fixed. Men have a duty, women have a different duty, and anything that violates this segregation is a tool of the enemy. The male role is that of procreator, provider, and protector. It is his duty to spread his seed (as a wartime population is always in need of replenishing), provide security for his family, and fight to protect what is his. He must be willing to suspend or repress his emotions so that he is able to kill others without concern for their lives and sacrifice his own without similar concern. The woman’s role is to bear the children the men sire, provide whatever the man asks for, including and especially sex, and otherwise stay out of the man’s way.

Thus, women who demand something more to life than serving a man or men and women who do not sort comfortably into one of two genders or a single sexuality cause problems for this machine. They interfere with its smooth running and therefore jeopardize the entire enterprise, just as if whoever the perceived enemy is had purposely sabotaged it.

And the fuel for this machine is a steady diet of fear, hate, and unfocused militaristic propaganda, pointing out threats in all directions and calling for constant violent retribution. Movies, TV, videogames, comics, and other forms of media in which only a non-stop barrage of violent action can possibly do anything against the number of threats facing our usually white male protagonist. These images keep up the militaristic society, and the militaristic society develops these images. It’s no surprise, then, that a videogaming culture fed an endless supply of military, football, and other male power fantasy simulations would react to female “trespassing” as they have, nor that there would be an already organized anti-Feminist community to welcome them.

Digby isn’t pointing out anything particularly revelatory here. It doesn’t take long to look at American society and note that it hates women and loves guns. But along the way he connects some especially subtle dots. He lays out his examples with wit and humor, and in layman’s language, and goes places I had no idea existed.

The most interesting part, though, is at the end, when Digby points out that not only is such a militaristic culture outdated for a civilized country, it’s outdated even for a militarized country. The type of war that a militaristic society is intended to fight isn’t at all how wars are fought anymore, and thus the roles we’ve asked genders to play aren’t even valid when it comes to actual war. We demand our military have the latest and most efficient weapons and technology, but we still seek to operate them with a bronze-age population. Digby sees this as hopeful that we will change our society in response, but I’m more pessimistic and wonder: when the actual military has outgrown your militarization, maybe it’s not designed to fight the war you think it is.

Digby’s book is a helpful way for someone like me, an average Joe just trying to reconcile these different things that sure seem related into a cohesive narrative. It’s a book that helps you look at the Gamergate phenomenon and realize it’s not about the soul of geek culture (I’d need to be shown there’s both a culture there and a soul to even be had) but is far more nefarious and far-reaching. It’s a part of a larger, more organized whole, and Love and War shows it’s been going on for a long time.

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