Male Sacrifice

August 2nd, 2009 by Pelle Billing

I visited the American Military Cemetery in The Netherlands yesterday. More than 8000 American soldiers are buried there, most of them represented by white crosses.

All of these soldiers have one thing in common: they were men, and they died because they were men.

Never has my experience of male disposablility and male sacrifice been stronger than when walking around that cemetery. It angers me that many feminists will dismiss male war sacrifice by saying that “men are the ones who start wars anyhow”. Saying that is akin to dismissing women traditionally being stuck in the home by saying “that’s where women have chosen to be anyhow”.

We all need more compassion when discussing gender issues.

The men who lie buried in Margraten, The Netherlands, fought to keep Nazism as bay. As such, they are heroes. And as always, when humankind needed a dangerous task to be performed, men came to the rescue.

Margraten American Military Cemetery

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11 Responses to “Male Sacrifice”

  1. Jim Says:

    “It angers me that many feminists will dismiss male war sacrifice by saying that “men are the ones who start wars anyhow”. ”

    Because it’s a dishonest dodge. Men often expereienced women as the driving force behind war. The figure of Queen Meidhbh in the Tain Bo Culaigne is a personification of this insight. In Njallssaga there is a key passage in which Njall’s wife talks him into a revenge killing that ends up bringing the family down, and she is presented as the voice of conscience. There’s a reason why there are at least as many goddesses of war as there are gods.

    And as to the laughable claim that women suffer the most in war, women benefit from wars as much as they suffer from them, because there are women on both sides.

  2. Pelle Billing Says:

    “Men often expereienced women as the driving force behind war.”

    I agree. Women can also be the reason that violence erupts in bars and clubs.

    But these phenomena are hard to “prove” or argue for in a discussion concerning gender issues. Women have silent power in relationships, in homes, in bars, in workplaces that is less visible than male power – so how is one to demonstrate this in a discourse on gender issues?

    I’m still struggling with that topic.

  3. Jim Says:

    “so how is one to demonstrate this in a discourse on gender issues?”

    There is an established method in anthroplogy, don’t know the exact term for it, by which you use material from folklore and mythology to identify cultural norms. There is a similar method that uses literature from a period or a culture for the same purpose. Novels of maneers have been used this way – The Dream of the Red Chamber is one example – it is frequently cited as a source on the culture of the Chinese elite during the Qing Dynasty. I don’t know if Jane Austen’s novels have been used the same way, but I don’t see why not.

    So when you see figures like Meidhbh assembling an army and starting a war in a pagan Irish source, it tells you something about the position of women in relation to war in that society. And when you see that one of her main mythic attributes is the raven, and that she is very often referred to in connection with goddesses whose names translate to “raven”, that tells you something more general, something beyond a specific work of oral literature. Then when you compare that material to material from an adjacent culture, in this case Norse culture, you find that ravens as a symbol are always very closely associated with war, that says more about attitudes across a big area of Europe, at least during a fairly long period in the past.

  4. Pelle Billing Says:

    Great stuff Jim. I’ll see what I can do with those pointers.

  5. Jim Says:

    Well, then, there’s more.

    The next thing to remember is to expect these cultural norms to change. Let’s look at chivlary. You see the term thrown around in gender discourse as if it refers to the same things always. It doesn’t.

    In Iron Age Ireland, the period of the Tain and of Meidhbh, there was a very clear set of cultural expectations that also show up in the Mabinogi, which records material from a slighltly later period in Wales. These and related stories are clearly the basis of a lot of the Arthurian material. You see a theme of a woman rejecting an older, more suitable lover for someone she chooses repeated over and over – The sons of Uisliu (Dierdre), The Pursiut of diarmaid and Grainne, Tristan and Isolde and also the business where Guinevere steps out on Arthur with Lancelot. But there are differences in these stories, and the differences form a pattern. The pattern is the progressive reduction of agency and freedom of maneuver for the female characters, and it coincides historically with increasing influence of Latin culture in Western Europe as the Middle Ages progress. So for instance in the stories I am talking about, Deirdre just goes out on the fort’s ramparts and puts a social injunction on Noisiu, and off they go, but Isolde mistakenly drinks a love potion and falls in love with Tristan, against her [ever-virtuous] will.

    So when feminsts says that chivlary is a tool of male dominance, they are right – when it comes to one phase of chivalry, and when they deny that it priveleges women, they are wrong – when it comes to another earlier phase. Actually chivalry has always priveleged women, even while it was denying them freedoms.

  6. Pelle Billing Says:

    I’m not sure I get the connection to chivalry. If women were rejecting an older more suitable man, was she then not rejecting his chivalry too? And in the earlier phase, when women were making choices themselves, how was chivalry a factor? Did she choose the man who took the greatest risks?

  7. Jim Says:

    She counldn’t reject his chivlary because he was bound by custom to show her all the same deference either way. Her conduct towards him didn’t affect the requirremtns society palced on him.

    What were these requirements?

    1) Absolute non-aggression. Fionn Mac Cumhaill (the older man) was a warriror and Dierdre was a lady. He could kill any number of peasant women; they didn’t count, but physical violence or even verbal violence against a lady would have made him a pariah. That little piece of chivalry survives to the modern day in those cultures.

    2) He was subject to “geas” from her, a form of injunction under which he was bound to carry out her wishes. It had the force of taboo. Only ladies and druids could impose “geasa” on warriors; warriors could not inpose “geasa” on ladies or druids. Basically ladies had the same status as priests/wizards.

    3) She could demand his protection if she was threatened or insulted. If she was insulted , she could demand that he avenge that insult, and failure to do so would shame him and not her. She personally would not have to take any action to enforce this demand, since society would enforce it for her by means of ridicule and ostracism.

    Her conduct, of whatever sort, had no effect on any of these expectations on him.

  8. Pelle Billing Says:

    Thanks for the added explanation Jim.

  9. Eivind F S Says:

    I felt this post in my belly, Pelle.



  10. JayDee Says:

    Forgive me if I shouldn’t be commenting on a years old post.

    Shortly after I was introduced to the notion of male disposability (I picked up ‘The Myth of Male Power’ thinking the title was a joke, then read it cover to cover) I visited the War Memorial in Melbourne. Very powerful sense of sacrifice that day.

    “But these phenomena are hard to “prove” or argue for in a discussion concerning gender issues.”

    I was recently reading about the WWI conscription battle in Australia. There were apparently women’s pro-conscription organisations. Campaigning around the notion that fighting and dieing in wars is something men must do. Petitions. Publicly shaming men who didn’t volunteer. Rhetoric like “Australian women agree with those of Sparta of old: ‘Come back with your shield, or on it!’”

    I very much doubt this sort of thing was unique to Queensland in the 1910s, and so should be a matter of historical record. How easy it would be to dig up is another story.

  11. Pelle Billing Says:


    Great comment.

    Someone should definitely dig deeper into this, because I’ve heard similar stories in the past.