Why does masculinity devolve into madness in the face of violence? Why is it that we time and time again see a marked increase in the horrific misdeeds committed by men toward women when conflict arises? Throughout history, including up to this very day, a consequence of large-scale violence and war is a significant increase in the rate of gender-based violence that women experience in the form of rape and specific targeting by combatants. During widespread conflict, the breakdown of society and normalization of violence that extends from war into broader society is a commonly used explanation for rampant gender-based violence. Hypermasculinity, a term used to describe an increase in aggressive and misogynistic masculine traits, is also used in explaining why gender-based violence is practically treated as a given component of war. Even after a conflict has been politically resolved, the impact that widespread violence and societal conflict has on the people that experience it and live through it is profound, traumatizing, and proves difficult to overcome.
Historically, women have been treated as spoils of war and routinely victimized when communities were razed. This still happens in contemporary conflicts where we see rape used as a weapon to further traumatize and dehumanize specific communities and as a means to project power. Today in Syria, in addition to the higher incidences of direct gender-based violence, we see a different kind of indirect violence perpetrated against young women and girls in the form of child marriage practices, where families use their children as what is in essence a bartering good out of a pure need to survive. Even after a conflict has politically met its end, the violence experienced in conflict cuts deeply into the communities that are attempting to recover from its lasting impacts. In Liberia, high incidences of intimate partner violence are still reported a decade removed from the end of the civil war that tore through the country.
We need to help, but how? How do we recover from war and the cycle of violence that it fuels? How do we help women who experience violence during war, for that matter? Trauma from violence exposes everybody to the after-effects of war, but providing support through empowering and providing social services to both men and women can help with moving away from a violent society and contribute toward peacebuilding and maintaining stability. Politically empowering women and other marginalized populations, spreading awareness of the specific kinds of violence women experience while holding those responsible accountable for their crimes, and bringing women to the negotiation table needs to happen if we hope to distance ourselves from the ugliness of history. We also need to focus on a positive form of masculinity to contribute toward a peaceful and prosperous society, and move away from the hypermasculinity that pushes men and boys towards violence during times of conflict and disaster. While we have a long way to go, these steps will help us move towards gender equality and a more prosperous society.