Exposing Nuclear Phallacies

Exposing Nuclear Phallacies Edited by Diana Russell N.Y.: Athene Series, Pergamon, 1989, 335 pp paperback

By Nancy Howell (reviewer)

Many people oppose nuclear war, and many people oppose sexism and celebrate a feminist view of the world. It is not surprising that some of these are the same people. Indeed, women, and feminists, have long been leaders in the disarmament and peace movements. But this book is the first explicit outpouring of the perspectives of feminists on the issues of peace and war, and the results are often unexpected and sometimes delightful.

Much of the delight comes from the ability of feminists to include such a wide range of their humanity in any activity. Here we have a meditation on a wonderful old curse-prayer (by Alice Walker), some rich reminiscences of demonstrations and peace encampments and political campaigns and even conversations that mattered to these writers, and who share the meaning of these events with the reader. There are warnings of the dangers of numbness and the need for (and recipes for) "unnumbing" - a process which many women describe as a kind of a conversion experience.

We see the process at work in Helen Caldicott's farewell speech made in 1986 before she want back to Australia. There is an interview with Rosalie Bertell of Toronto, who works with the World Council of Churches, on implications of nuclear technology for the world. Susan Griffin writes about the symbols and ideologies of nuclear weapons. And Carol Cohn helps us understand the language of denial as spoken by the military establishment. Some of the analysis blames men (as opposed to "people" or "society") for nuclear warfare, looking at the problem as one of "toys for boys," an extension of male phantasies of violence and destruction. Other papers stress the ways that gender stereotyping "disarms" women's anger by making them feel ashamed of being "emotional" or uninformed about arcana of weapons.

Diana Russell tells the story about how she and a small group of friends responded to their horror at the TV show "The Day After" by creating "the Reagan flashers" (also known as FANG) in San Francisco in 1983. Dressed in Ronald Reagan masks (popular at Halloween that year) and raincoats, with model missiles extending from the crotch of their pants, the women "flashed" passersby outside the TV station, the Federal Building, and other San Francisco locations. They found it fun to express their rage as well as their fear, and they protested effectively, if unconventionally, by sending out press kits, efficiently arranging for media coverage, while holding signs full of puns like that in the title for the book ("nuclear weapons are a big phallacy" and "stop masturbating with missiles.")

Some feminists are so angry with men for the exploitation and violence they have suffered that it rather weakens the appeal of the peace movement for them that success would mean that men would be saved too. Indeed, that is the point of the curse-prayer that Walker provides. But most want even more to save the only planet we have, and all the possibilities for peace and conflict that need a future to be worked out. Feminists are experienced fighters on the frontiers of gender conflict, with depths of strength, of humor, and of determination. The book ends: "And let us remember Margaret Mead's wise words: 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.'"

Nancy Howell is a sociology professor at the University of Toronto.

Peace Magazine Dec 1989-Jan 1990

Peace Magazine Dec 1989-Jan 1990, page 22. Some rights reserved.

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