Sovereign Masculinity: Gender Lessons from the War on Terror (Studies in Feminist Philosophy)

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After 9/11/2001, gendered narratives of humiliation and revenge proliferated in the U.S. national imaginary. How is it that gender, which we commonly take to be a structure at the heart of individual identity, is also at stake in the life of the nation? What do we learn about gender when we pay attention to how it moves and circulates between the lived experience of the subject and the aspirations of the nation in war? What is the relation between national sovereignty and sovereign masculinity?

Through examining practices of torture, extra-judicial assassination, and first person accounts of soldiers on the ground, Bonnie Mann develops a new theory of gender. It is neither a natural essence nor merely a social construct. Gender is first and foremost an operation of justification which binds the lived existence of the individual subject to the aspirations of the regime.

Inspired by a reexamination of the work of Simone de Beauvoir, the author exposes how sovereign masculinity hinges on the nation's ability to tap into and mobilize the structure of self-justification at the heart of masculine identity.

At the national level, shame is repeatedly converted to power in the War on Terror through hyperbolic displays of agency including massive aerial bombardment and practices of torture. This is why, as Mann demonstrates, the phenomenon of gender itself demands a four-dimensional analysis that moves from the phenomenological level of lived experience, through the collective life of a people expressed in the social imaginary and the operations of language, to the material relations that prevail in our times.

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About the Author:


Bonnie Mann is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. A longtime feminist and social justice activist, she is the author of Women's Liberation and the Sublime: Feminism, Postmodernism, Environment (Oxford University Press, 2006), and many articles.

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"What does gender do in the life of a nation? In this splendidly written and passionately engaged book, Mann traces out how sovereign masculinity, committed to a vision of itself as invulnerable and self-justifying, has created a framework to conduct a war that on moral and rational grounds is against the best interests of the soldiers who fight the war, the citizens who support the war, and to democratic institutions and practices themselves. Ranging over discussions from Simone de Beauvoir and phenomenology to the political and cultural representations of war and torture, Mann probes how gender operates both in the innermost space of its citizens and in the aspirations of national manhood. A fresh and critical feminist engagement with the gendered lessons of the war on terror, Sovereign Masculinity deserves a wide readership."--Robin May Schott, Senior Researcher, Danish Institute for International Studies


"Bonnie Mann made me sit up and take a fresh look at which American masculinized aspirations and anxieties fuel the last decade's 'war on terror.' Her feminist ideas will spark useful conversations."--Cynthia Enloe, author of Seriously! Investigating Crashes and Crises as if Women Mattered


"Arguing that gender has 'ontological weight' and is always profoundly constitutive of selves and their worlds, Bonnie Mann brings together phenomenological, psychoanalytic, discursive, and materialist strands of feminist theory to illuminate the many and complex circuits of masculinity at play in America's war on terror. She powerfully illuminates the gender-logics that operate to connect such particular, egregious acts as the 'feminizing' sexual shaming of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib with the mass imaginary of the United States as the embodiment of inviolable 'sovereign masculinity.' This important book both demonstrates the continuing vitality of feminist theoretical tools for understanding the production of sovereign masculinity and offers an impassioned call for the feminist disruption of its dangerous operations."--Sonia Kruks, Danforth Professor of Politics, Oberlin College


"This book is a must read for those who want to understand the complexity and nuance of sovereign masculinity...There is a lot of heart in this book, and I am a little envious of the way in which Mann mixes the scholarly with her passionate activism. It is just the kind of book that is sorely needed in a badly broken world. Mann has left me with a whole host of questions, as well as provided me with invaluable points of critical clarification, inspiration, and, definitely, a gender lesson." -- Journal of the Society for Contemporary Thought and the Islamicate World


"Mann's insightful contributions...welcome updating of the analyses of gender and gendering processes, gendered politics, and gendered violence." -- Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy


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