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Gender and Nuclear Weapons

Gender and Nuclear Weapons


“Nuclear weapons are loaded with symbolism—of potency, protection, and the power to “deter” through material “strength”. For many, such symbolism obscures the real point of the existence of these arms—to destroy—and their horrendous effects. Possessing and brandishing an extraordinarily destructive capacity is a form of dominance associated with masculine warriors (nuclear weapons possessors are sometimes referred to as the “big boys”). Nuclear weapon discourse is also mired in dichotomies such as hard versus soft security, strong versus weak, active versus passive, and national security versus human security. With remarkable consistency, the masculine-identified sides of these pairs are tacitly attributed more value than the other. Those talking about humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and calling for their prohibition are accused of being divisive, polarising, ignorant, and even emotional”.

In the News:

  • It is important to understand the gendered meanings and characterizations embedded in the discourse and politics of nuclear weapons. Just as the humanitarian discourse undermines the perceived legitimacy of nuclear weapons, a gender discourse undermines their perceived power and currency. It also helps illuminate possible solutions. By challenging the discursive equation of nuclear weapons with masculine strength and power, we confront approaches to nuclear governance that work in favor of the indefinite retention of nuclear weapons by a handful of states.

  • A gender analysis that highlights the patriarchy and social constructions inherent in the valuation of nuclear weapons helps to multiply, amplify, and deepen arguments for nuclear disarmament and question the role of a certain kind of masculinity of the dominant paradigm. Disarmament, which is sometimes accused by its detractors as weak or passive, can instead be shown for what it is—as rational, just, moral, and necessary for security.

Peace Science Insights:

  • To the untrained eye, nuclear politics may appear very far from considerations of gender in international politics. Political leaders generally justify their nuclear policies on the basis of national security or economic cooperation, both of which seem neutral and ungendered at first glance. However, research has revealed fundamental ways in which gender actually influences nuclear politics globally, reinforcing unequal power relations between different countries and legitimizing particular nuclear policies.
  • Gender is used as a tool for structuring value and legitimizing particular practices in global politics—including nuclear weapons possession. Once we begin to train ourselves to see the operation of gender in various spheres of political life, we can start to bring its operation to light. We then can call out the way in which, for instance, appeals to masculinity normalize nuclear deterrence or the feminizing of nuclear-abolition activists delegitimizes their concerns.


  • “Sex, Gender, And Nuclear Weapons”. By Ray Acheson For ICAN and Reaching Critical Will. 2015.
  • Peace Science Digest, Volume 2, Special Issue: Nuclear Weapons. “What does Masculinity and East/West thinking have to do with Nuclear Weapons?”
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