Review: Citoyennes Militairement Incorrectes

Andrée Michel, Paris And Montreal: L'harmattan 1999. Paperback

By Lynn McDonald (reviewer)

Andrée Michel is an activist sociologist who has had a long career (she is now directrice honoraire) at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, publishing a formidable number of books, notably on women and the family. At the same time she participated in the important events of the women's movement in France and encouraged the next generation(s) of women activists. Her research and action in later years moved increasingly into issues of social exclusion, internationalism and the peace movement. She brings all this to bear in her latest book, Citoyennes militairement incorrectes.

Michel here gives a sizzling analysis of the place of women in opposition to war, "while their contemporaries glorified war and warriors, they preceded or equaled those few masculine theorists who refused to join the chants for war....There is then writing specifically of women on peace and war that is only beginning to be identified."(p.11) She identified the illustrious Christine de Pisan of the fourteenth century, but quickly moved on to contemporary examples.

The bulk of Michel's analysis deals with "security"as it has been pursued in the last few decades, with enormous military budgets and armaments production and the export of arms to Third World countries. She notes that 96% (of 130) wars between 1945-75 took place outside Europe, with Europeans benefiting from the sale of arms.

Michel holds that women are the "principal victims of a militarization of the planet,"and that they represent "the principal potential resistance to 'over-armament.'" Using United Nations data she notes that women constitute 83% of the poor of the planet and the education of Third World women is sacrificed to militarization. More specifically, the illiteracy of Third World women is the price of the nuclear bomb (p. 33), a point made with data on Pakistan and India.

Like earlier women peace advocates, for example Nobel Peace Prize winners Jane Addams and Emily Green Balch, Michel does not consider that women are of a different essence from men, "because they pay the price of violence, war and injustice." Women resist because they understand that these military practices are a human work, part of the system of patriarchy, and not of "biological fatality or divine decree." (p. 150)

Michel deals also with the implications for ordinary violence in day-to-day life from the high level of arms production, notably in the United States. She cites a statistic that in an average week in the United States more people are killed by bullets than in a year in all of western Europe. A young U.S. adolescent is 12 times more likely to be killed by a gun than a young person in all other industrial countries.

The last chapter reports on women's resistance to "over-armament." Women have long known, she argues, that the best method to prevent war is to demystify the prejudices that surround it, oppose arms production, nuclear tests, and military bases and to demand the conversion of military spending to peaceful objectives.(pp. 131-33) She lauds the role of women's peace organizations, like the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the role of women in the creation of permanent organizations for international law. Women have been tenacious in their contribution to such endeavors, even against the determined resistance of the great powers who were hostile to their creation.

Balancing the sober presentation of facts and unhappy inferences from them is a series of cartoon illustrations (by Floh). The writing style is vigorous and Michel's broad coverage welcome. For Canadian readers her attention to conflicts in Europe and its former colonies will be especially instructive. The book is a fine addition both to the literature on women's contribution to peace and as an analysis of the problems of militarization.

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2001

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2001, page 29. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Lynn McDonald here

Peace Magazine homepage