Gendered prisons: (Re)construction of identities in war

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John Western


gender role, Irish, Catholic

Subject Categories

Human Geography | Sociology


The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the spatial construction of gender roles in a time of war. During a period of armed conflict both women and men are perceived as beings who exemplify gender-specific virtues. The relationship of gender and identity in this case is a paradoxical one: war--usually a catalyst of change--can often become an agent of conservatism in the manner of gender identities. This conservatism can be seen in the wartime spatial designation of women to the private/domestic realm. For when a society is in armed conflict there is a predisposition to perceive men as violent and action-oriented and women as compassionate and supportive to the male warrior.

War has traditionally been considered the quintessential proving ground for masculinity. We need therefore to understand the gendering of men as a social factor involved in warfare. For this reason, this dissertation will explore the experiences of Irish Catholic men and women, with an eye to the mechanisms of power that inform both men's and women's relationships with each other, and, most importantly men's interaction with other men. Thus one topic will be an exploration of how the formation of wartime friendships becomes exclusionary of women as a result of the spatial designation of men to public arenas such as the battlefield. As part of this analysis I will focus on a theme of "hyper-masculinity as spectacle" thereby arguing that the gendered spaces of war have triggered a gaze which essentializes gender identities whereby images of bravery, loyalty, duty and heroism have historically been male-dominated (Messner, 1992).

These gender tropes do not portray the actions of women and men in a time of war, but function instead to re-create and secure women's position as noncombatant and men's as warriors. This is a second topic: women have historically been marginalized in the consciousness of those who have researched the events of war.

The present research, largely based on interviews I conducted in the Fall of 1993, in an Irish Catholic community in Belfast, will offer both female and male interpretations of what women did and how they were affected by the upheavals of the Irish Nationalist struggle in Northern Ireland.


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