Why are women invisibile in discussions about nationalism?

jill vickers Discussion

Recently, I wrote a post about women's participation in nation-making by participating in secessionist projects.The result?

Silence...not one comment...not even a complaint. Unfortunately this is common  for H-Nationalism. Despite extensive research  that shows

the importance of mass participation by women in  nation-making in countries as diverse as India and Finland, the US and the Phillipines, Scotland

and Catalonia women are invisible in our discussions.  Why is this ?  Or will  silence also meet this post ?


14 Replies

Post Reply

For women involved in the Polish national movement, see _Workers, women, and social change in Poland, 1870-1939_/
by Żarnowska, Anna, 2004

In the Irish case, two key works on women in the nationalist movement are:

Unmanageable Revolutionaries: Women and Irish Nationalism, by Margaret Ward (1996)


Irish Nationalist Women, 1900-1918, by Senia Paseta (2014).

Both works discuss the key role of women in nationalist activities and their marginalization within Ireland's new constitutional governance regime.

Thank you for this reference John!
Given women's continuing struggle for rights and political representation in Poland, one big question raised is why participating in nationalist projects has positive outcomes for women in some while in others any positive outcomes are short-lived.

One factor is if women are already independently mobilized on their own behalf i.e. seeking the right to vote, nationality rights etc. Sometimes they become mobilized to achieve such rights within nationalist movements, as occurred in Greece and Quebec. Another factor is the degree to which women are fragmented or can achieve solidarity across ethnic, tribal or religious divisions.

Also important is the contribution organized women make to the outcomes of nationalist projects. Would the Finnish nationalist project have been achieved without the participation of organized women? Certainly the Indian project became a mass movement the British ultimately could not ignore mainly because many thousands of women participated in every phase. What other nationalist projects succeeded or failed because of the mass participation of women? Is it not likely that the mobilization of women is a key factor in the outcome of nationalist projects?

Why is this major factor ignored in mainstream theorizing of nationalism? How will that theorizing change as we discover more texts like that by Anna Żarnowska?

Maria Bucur has written a bit about Romanian women and nationalism, mostly related to the extension of civic rights to women. There are a few other articles (only available in Romanian) that focus on broader aspects of Romanian women's participation in nation-building, but otherwise not an awful lot has been written on this topic.

I'm assuming, Jill, that you're not asking for references to gender history in the more encompassing sense, but studies that focus on nationalism and nationalist movements? If that's correct then I'd like to point you towards the work of Jitka Maleckova, a Czech scholar of the Middle East, nationalism, and gender. Her main book is to my knowledge not available in English:

Urodna půda: zena ve sluzbach naroda [Fertile Soil: Women Serve the Nation], Prague (ISV),2002.

BUT, among her articles and chapters the following (in English) might touch on the issues that interest you:

"Where Are Women in National Histories?" in The Contested Nation: Ethnicity, Religion, Class
and Gender in National Histories, eds. Stefan Berger and Chris Lorenz, Palgrave Macmillan, pp.

"The Emancipation of Women for the Benefit of the Nation: The Czech Women's Movement",
in Women's Emancipation Movements in the 19th Century: A European Perspective, eds. S.
Paletschek and B. Pietrow-Ennker, Stanford (Stanford UP) 2004, pp. 167-188.

"Nationalizing Women and Engendering the Nation: The Czech National Movement", in
Gendered Nations: Nationalisms and Gender Order in the Long Nineteenth Century, eds. Ida
Blom, Karen Hagemann and Catherine Hall, Oxford-New York (Berg) 2000, pp. 293-310.

One other interesting addition I ran across awhile ago was Alexander Maxwell's "National endogamy and double standards: Sexuality and nationalism in East-Central Europe during the 19th century." journal of social history 41.2 (2008): 000-20.

You've raised an interesting issue and I look forward to following the trail of replies!


Dear All, 

I've created a page that will automatically hold all H-Nationalism content pertaining to gender and nationalism studies based on the keyword: Gender and Nationalism Studies.  The page is here and already holds our current thread.  H-Nationalism would love to see more discussion of this subject, and if any of you are interested in helping out in an editorial capacity on this front, please let me know at dmprior@unm.edu.  

Kind Regards, 



... and, let me add that H-Nationalism has a short bibliography dedicated to Gender & Sexuality available here.  The bibliography could really use an update from a specialist or group of specialists on this topic.  That would require at least one scholar who was familiar with or willing to learn how to use Zotero, a free online bibliographic program. 

Thanks very much for the references and for the interest shown...
I already see that one problem is language with important texts on the theme in languages I don't read. Much can be gained by sharing our experiences across language barriers. For example, the rich literature in French on gender and nationalism in Quebec is surveyed by Micheline de Seve in the special issue of the Journal of Canadian Studies (2000) on the theme of 'Canadian Women's Experiences with Nationalisms ' that also focuses on Indigenous nationalisms.

I've been teaching a course the last couple of years on Gender, Sexuality and Decolonization in the 20th Century, using case studies from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. The assigned readings I've used thus far are below, although I'm always looking for new additions. It does sometimes seem like this literature is growing alongside, but not always well integrated into general discussions of nationalism...

Nira Yuval-Davis. Gender & Nation. London: Sage, 1997.

Kumari Jayawardena, Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World. Zed Books, 1986.

Mayer, T. (ed) Gender Ironies of Nationalism: Sexing the Nation. Routledge: London and New York.

Uma Chakravarti, “Whatever happened to the Vedic Dasi? Orientalism, nationalism and a script for the past,” in Sangari and Vaid (eds.) Recasting Women, pp. 27–87.

Partha Chatterjee, “The Nationalist Resolution of the Women’s Question” in Sangari and Vaid (eds), Recasting Women, pp. 233–52.

Lata Mani, “Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India,” in Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid (eds), Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial History (Rutgers University Press, 1990), pp. 88–126.

Ann McClintock. “‘No Longer in a Future Heaven’: Women and Nationalism in South Africa.” Transition 51 (1991): 104-123.

Amina Mama. “Sheroes and villains: Conceptualizing colonial and contemporary violence against women in Africa.” In Feminist genealogies, colonial violences, democratic futures, ed. M.J. Alexander and C.T. Mohanty (1997):pp. 46–62

Honor Ford-Smith, “Unruly virtues of the spectacular: Performing Engendered Nationalisms in the UNIA in Jamaica,” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 6.1 (2004): 18-44.

Mrinalini Sinha, ‘Refashioning Mother India: Feminism and Nationalism in Late-Colonial India,’ Feminist Studies, XXVI (2000), pp. 623– 44.

Henrice Altink, “We are equal to men in ability to do anything!”: African Jamaican women and citizenship in the interwar years’, in Francisca de Haan, Margaret Allen, June Purvis, Krassimira Daskalova, eds., Women's Activism Global Perspectives from the 1890s to the Present. (Routledge, 2012): pgs 77-89.

Susan Geiger, “Tanganyikan Nationalism as 'Women's Work': Life Histories, Collective Biography and Changing Historiography,” The Journal of African History Vol. 37, No. 3 (1996), pp. 465-47

Luise White, “Separating the Men from the Boys: Constructions of Gender, Sexuality, and Terrorism in Central Kenya, 1939-1959.” The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 23, No. 1 (1990), pp. 1-25

Sita Ranchod-Nilsson, “(Gender) Struggles for the Nation: Power, Agency and Representation in Zimbabwe,” in Sita Ranchod-Nilsson and Mary Ann Tetreault, Eds., Women, states and nationalism (New York, New York: Routledge,2000): pp. 1-17.

Aaronette M. White, “All the Men are Fighting for Freedom, All the Women are Mourning their Men, but Some of us Carried Guns: A Raced-gendered Analysis of Fanon’s Psychological Perspectives on War,” Signs, Vol. 32, No. 4, 2007: 857-884.

Veena Das, “Chapter Three: National Honour and Practical Kinship: Of Unwanted Women and Children,” in Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India, (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995): 55-83.

Pippa Virdee, “Remembering partition: women, oral histories and the Partition of 1947,” Oral History Vol. 41 No. 2 (2013): 49-62.

Tanya Lyons, Guns and Guerilla Girls: Women in the Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2004): 251-279.

Thomas, Lynn M. Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction, and the State in Kenya (University of California Press, 2003): pp. 1-20 and 79-102.

Joseph Alter, Gandhi's Body: Sex, Diet, and the Politics of Nationalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000): pp. ix-xvii and 28-54.

Laura Briggs, Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico (University of California Press, 2002): 74-108.

Leslie K. Dwyer, “Spectacular sexuality: nationalism, development and the politics of family planning in Indonesia,” in Gender Ironies of Nationalism, pp. 25-64.

Amy Kaler, "A Threat to the Nation and a Threat to the Men: The Banning of Depo-Provera in Zimbabwe, 1981," Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Jun., 1998), pp. 347-376

M. Jacqui Alexander, 1994. "Not Just (Any) Body Can Be A Citizen: The Politics of Law, Sexuality and Postcoloniality in Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas." Feminist Review No. 48 (August): pp. 5-23

Marc Epprecht, “The `Unsaying’ of Indigenous Homosexualities in Zimbabwe: Mapping a Blindspot in African Masculinity,” Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Dec., 1998), pp. 631-651

Film: Virgin Margarida (Marfilmes 2012).

If you have not encountered it, I'd recommend reading Prasenjit Duara's article "The Regime of Authenticity: Timelessness, Gender, and National History in Modern China," History & Theory 37.3 (1998), 287-308. It's less about women nationalists than about how Chinese nationalists imagined "Woman" in the nation -- but it places gender squarely in the frame of nationalism studies.

Ryan Dunch
University of Alberta

Do have a look at my article 'Janus and gender: women and the nation's backward look' in Nations and Nationalism, 6(4), 2000, 541-61. Also my edited book 'Art, Nation and Gender: ethnic landscapes, myths and mother-figures' (Ashgate 2003).
Tricia Cusack

Thanks Nicole for sharing a great bibliography...and thank Ryan for referring us to an interesting text .
Nicole also observes that the burgeoning literature on sex/gender and nationalism isn't being incorporated into
the 'mainstream' literature....questioning its invisibility. Ryan makes an interesting distinction between how (male?)
nationalists Imagine 'woman' in the nation and how women activists experience nationalism and conceptualize
themselves in the nation. The former focus on sexuality and reproduction; the latter on agency and change..
on hopes that participating in nationalist projects will provide opportunities for achieving reforms.

I forgot to mention this in my earlier comment, but the journal Aspasia: The International Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women's and Gender History might also be of interest to those researching women and nationalism. 

Dear all,

In that context, I'd like to point you to my own work on banal nationalism and sexuality, in my recently defended PhD on '(Trans)national Queers Online: An Analysis of LGBTQ Websites in Poland and Turkey'.

In that work, I deal with many aspect of the complicated relationship between nation/alism and sexuality, drawing on such concepts as 'homonationalism', 'queering the nation', 'domesticating the nation', and of course 'banal nationalism'. My condensed conclusions could be found in two recently published articles:

- Szulc, L. (2016) Domesticating the nation online: Banal nationalism on LGBTQ websites in Poland and Turkey. Sexualities 19(3): 304-327. Available at: http://sex.sagepub.com/content/19/3/304.abstract

- Szulc, L. (2015) Banal nationalism and queers online: Enforcing and resisting cultural meanings of .tr. New Media & Society 17(9): 1530-1546. Available at: http://nms.sagepub.com/content/17/9/1530.abstract

All the best,
Lukasz Szulc