The History of the Culture of War
11. Male domination 5,000 years of increasing monopolization of the culture of war by the state

The History of the Culture of War

What is culture and how does it evolve?

Warfare in prehistory and its usefulness

The culture of war in prehistory

Data from prehistory before the Neolithic

Enemy images: culture or biology

War and the culture of war at the dawn of history

--Ancient Mesopotamia

--Ancient Egypt

--Ancient China

--Ancient Greece and Rome

--Ancient Crete

--Ancient Indus civilizations

--Ancient Hebrew civilization

--Ancient Central American civilization

Warfare and the origin of the State

Religion and the origin of the State

A summary of the culture of war at the dawn of history

The internal culture of war: a taboo topic

The evolution of the culture of war over the past 5,000 years: its increasing monopolization by the state

--1.Armies and armaments

--2.External conquest and exploitation: Colonialism and Neocolonialism

--3.The internal culture of war and economies based on exploitation of workers and the environment

--4.Prisons and penal systems

--5.The military-industrial complex

--6.The drugs-for-guns trade

--7.Authoritarian control

--8.Control of information

--9.Identification of an "enemy"

--10.Education for the culture of war

--11.Male domination

--12.Religion and the culture of war

--13.The arts and the culture of war



Summary of the history of the culture of war


In a number of domains women have gained more rights in recent times. For example, as we have noted, women have gained the right to vote, there are now more women elected to parliaments and there are now women in military and elite schools although they remain a small minority in most cases. These changes have been achieved through the revolutionary struggles in the 19th and 20th Centuries for women's suffrage.

Although contemporary societies continue to be dominated by men, this domination has diminished in recent years. Women are increasingly involved in the military, with the extreme case being the Israeli Army, although they remain a minority of the officer corps. In political life, there are an increasing number of women elected to leadership positions. As this is being written, the most egregious culture of war, that of Israel against the Palestinians, is under the political leadership of women, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Israel, with the essential support of the Secretaries of State of the United States, Condoleezza Rice and her successor, Hilary Clinton. In the major capitalist enterprises, traditionally dominated by men, there are an increasing number of women in leadership positions. Even among religions, there are a few sects in which women can now become priests, although that is still not the case for some of the largest religious bodies such as the Roman Catholic Church.

The fact that increasing numbers of women are involved in the culture of war is in contradiction to a frequently-stated claim that the culture of war is due primarily to "patriarchy," i.e. male domination. No doubt, male domination is an essential part of the culture of war, but it is only one part and not, by itself, determinant.

Looking back over recorded history, one can see how it has been the culture of war that has perpetuated male domination. Let me start by quoting again the following passage in my study, Why There Are So Few Women Warriors (1983):

"With the advent of internal war, patrilocality, and exogamy, there came a profound shift in male-female relations. The male monopolization of warfare was instituted and extended to hunting (in order to preclude the use of weapons by women) and to the initiation rites of the young (male) warriors. The inequality of power between men and women was institutionalized in a way from which we have never recovered."

The inequality of power between men and women was further strengthened with the origin of the state, in which war played a decisive role. The rulers of the state were those who had been victorious in war, and as a result, from its origins the state has been dominated by men. There have always been a few exceptions. We have already mentioned the Pharaoh Hatshepsut in ancient Egypt. In more recent times, one can point to the long reign of Queen Victoria in England, a period marked by British military domination of an empire on which it was said that "the sun never sets."

The historical examples of women rulers stand out because they have been so few and exceptional. The vast majority of rulers have been men, and it may be assumed that this is related to the primacy of warfare as a function of the state, and the fact that military leaders have always been men.

As for elite education, it is only in the recent past that women have gained entrance:

Cambridge Colleges from 1960 to 1988
Oxford Colleges in 1974
Yale College in 1969
Harvard College in the 1970's (merger with Radcliffe)

The French opened their most elite university somewhat earlier than the U.S. or U.K. Although Leon Blum's new School of Administration in 1936 refused admittance to women, its post-war successor ENA, Ecole nationale de l'Administration, was integrated from its opening in 1946.

Organized religion has similarly been dominated by men since the beginning of recorded history, and this can be understood to some extent in its relation to the man as warrior. In the monotheistic religions, the image of the messiah, as described by the Jewish prophet Isaiah and fulfilled by Jesus, according to Christians, is a man from the lineage of the great warrior king, David, who assumes the throne and brings peace. The spread of Christianity as an organized religion came later when it was adopted by the Roman emperor Constantine (280-337), who established Byzantium as the capital of a new Roman Empire, renamed Constantinople after his death. As for the prophet Mohammad, although he was not primarily a warrior, a turning point in his career was the Battle of Badr which he directed and emerged victorious in the year 624.

In recent years, the Protestant churches have been exceptional with many denominations ordaining women as ministers. In at least one denomination, the Univeralist-Unitarian, the number of women ministers now outnumbers men.

Buddhism has also been male-dominated, although it cannot be explained simply in relation to warfare because the Buddha and the early monks were not warriors. At the First Council of Buddhism, held after the death of the Buddha in the 5th Century BC by 500 male monks, the monk Ananda was put on trial with one of the charges being that he had called for the admission of women into the order. I find no mention of women in later Councils, although the question has been revived in Buddhist circles in recent years. The spread of Buddhism took place during the reign of the renowned warrior and emperor Ashoka who ruled the Mauryan Empire in South Asia from 269 to 232 BC. Ashoka unified a vast empire, at first through warfare and later through wise administration after he came under the influence of the teachings of Buddha and renounced violence throughout his kingdom.

Male domination in the family and economic enterprises, eventually including the rise of great capitalist enterprises, has historically mirrored the male domination of the military, the state, elite education and religion. At the dawn of history, women were subservient to men in the family and barred from most civil participation or the ownership of property in China, Greece and Rome. This was in keeping with religious law as well, as indicated by the Bible for the monotheistic religions and Confucianism in the case of China. Ancient Egypt was exceptional in allowing legal equality to women.

In Europe and its colonies, the legal status of women did not change very much from its Roman precedents until the last few centuries. Up until 1882, when Parliament adopted the Married Women's Property Act, a woman's property in England was considered to be the property of her husband: In France, it was not possible until 1965 for a married woman to work, to open a bank account or to dispose of her own property without the consent of her husband.

Since women could not work or own property they were not able to participate directly in the great development of the capitalist enterprise in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. It is only recently, with legal reforms and access to elite education that women have begun to break through the "glass ceiling" of male domination in the economy.

Continued on next page

To take part in a discussion about this page, click below on the Culture of Peace Dialogues:

discussion board

World Peace through the Town Hall


1) The difference between "peace" and "culture of peace" and a brief history of the culture of war

2) The role of the individual in culture of war and culture of peace

3) Why the state cannot create a culture of peace

4) The important role of civil society in creating a culture of peace

--Peace and disarmament movements

--Ecology movement

--Movements for human rights

--Democracy movements

--Women's movement

--International understanding, tolerance and solidarity

--Movements for free flow of information

--The strengths and weaknesses of civil society

5) The basic and essential role of local government in culture of peace

--Sustainable development

--Human rights

--Democratic participation

--Women's equality


--Transparency and the free flow of information

--Education for a culture of peace

--Security and public safety

--Some ongoing initiatives

6) Assessing progress toward a culture of peace at the local level

--Culture of peace measurement at the level of the state

7) Going global: networking of city culture of peace commissions

8) The future transition of the United Nations from control by states to popular control through local governmental representatives

9) What would a culture of peace be like?