The war in Ukraine: Mucho Macho

A woman and a child walk as they flee from Ukraine to Hungary, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, at a border crossing in Beregsurany, Hungary, February 25, 2022. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

A reflection on the machismo or the masculism of war, by Sarah Babiker, for El Salto Diario (27/02/2022) …

I know that this outburst, outside the framework of geopolitics, devoid of the contextualisation of historical background, economic interests, or international balances, may seem superficial and puerile, but these days I cannot rid myself of a thought that repeats itself without my even wishing it, like conceptual garlic that adds bitterness to these fearful times. How macho, how male, I feel, what an excess of machismo, I intuit, how much male chauvinism is ahead of us, I tremble.

First we have Putin’s “no one has it bigger than me”, a leader who waves the most toxic flag of toxic masculinity: the exercise of power as a maxim, violence as politics. And it is that to threaten, now latent, now ostentatiously impudent, unpredictable and arbitrary, is the modus operandi par excellence of the violent man, the one who dominates through fear, the one who feeds on the fear that he instils and bases his own value on, as person, as a father, as a husband, as a professional, as an agent, in the feeling of prevailing over the will, life, and freedom of others.

But it’s not just the obvious Putin. There is also the Ukrainian president, clad in military clothing, armed and firm, showing no emotion other than love for his country, the only love that seems to have always ranked high among hegemonic masculinity, the only one worthy of sacrifice: a love which is shown wielding a gun. Zelenski’s gesture has been praised internationally, as the only and clearest way that a country’s ruler can take to protect his people. Everything is forgotten, everything is silenced, fighting for your country is grabbing a weapon, kissing your wife, hugging your children, and staying on to fight, that is the story we see every day in the media.

There is the video of the thirteen Ukrainians defending an islet in the Black Sea, those brave men who refuse to surrender to the Russian army, even if it means their immediate death. “Russian warship, fuck off!”, they say, and everyone celebrates. “What balls!”, they cry out on the networks, the word patriot appears everywhere, that so empty signifier, in which the historical vertigo of so many wars in which so many people were killed without knowing why or for what stirs, in a machine lubricated by the interests of others.

Is it because it has been a long time since we have seen a war live, in prime time —a privilege that other less white, less European wars have not had, less performed by beaten soldiers, with a mix of weaponry of the latest technology and 20th century aesthetics—that I don’t remember such a display of uniformed masculinity, volunteers enlisting, men with a martial air and straight eyebrows looking directly at the camera.

Yesterday the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, looked straight at the camera and with aplomb, standing in front of his troops, among those aerial shots worthy of any video game, opportunely compared on the networks with a Hollywood blockbuster, which burst into this accelerated sequence. The martially arranged, rows and rows, of bearded soldiers, the toxic masculinity of the others, the fundamentalism of the others, which rubs shoulders so much with white fundamentalism, which sucks from the same manna of violence, with threats and fear as a way of imposing its domain. What a textbook example of that masculine pact that Segato talked about, summoning Kadirov, your obedient friend, whom you put at the head of the country with fire and blood, to join your imperialist crusade with that mercenary army that reeks of testosterone!

A lot of machismo crossed with racism, with Poland welcoming Ukrainian families fleeing the war, while building a wall against those fleeing other more distant wars, whom it nonetheless condemns and repels like an enemy army. A masculinity that accuses men fleeing wars they can never win of not staying to resist, that establishes martyrdom as a mandate for the male, that codifies their racism with the filter of patriarchy: other women are always victims without agency, other men are either a threat or cowards. A racism that permeates the idea of who deserves to be saved, with Ukrainian citizens and police officers who exclude black people from the right to flight and refuge.

What do we have as a counterpoint? The hunt for those, men and women, with the fear of war on their faces, risk demonstrating in Russia, a state at war with its citizens. Branded as traitors and deserters, this is how pacifists are treated when the ideology of war rules. An ideology of war that spreads beyond the borders of the conflict: ridiculed as naive and unrealistic, this is how those who shout “No to War!”, are treated outside of Russia.

After so much questioning of the feminisation of politics, repeating that the solution is not (only) for women to govern, after warning against essentialist womanism, and repeating that there is nothing genetic, purely feminine in betting on dialogue and denying violence, however, it is necessary to put on the table that this machismo —which is not consubstantial with men, nor genetic, nor irreparable— is a central vector of the wars that have existed and the wars to come.

That one does not have to be a woman to want peace, but that having been socialised away from the drive for power as a mandate, oblivious to the ability to impose oneself as a privilege, after having generally been educated to care for the lives of others, expels women from the logic of these exercises of death into which the Putins of the world throw themselves. It is urgent to point out this warlike machismo of wealthy oligarchs who play war, so drunk with power that one day they buy half of London from you, on another, they organize a bacchanal with hundreds of women on the Mediterranean coast, and yet another day, they come and they bombard a country, while threatening even Sweden itself, that threatening rich white Europeans should be listed very high in the Olympics of military machismo.

It is against this oligarchic, racist, authoritarian and warlike machismo that a militantly pacifist feminism, lucid and pregnant with other paths, with other alternatives that distance us from the scenario of violence and death that we contemplate stunned, and it as stunned, that we must stand up. Let’s not let ourselves be intimidated, let’s not let them prevail, if there is a worthy battle to embark on, around which to unite, it is to oppose war, all wars.

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