On the sexing of military history
Human conflict is a sexed activity. War cannot be understood without understanding why males have done almost all of the fighting and most of the dying in just about every human conflict ever recorded.
Women do suffer in wars. I am not minimizing this at all. Rape and abuse and exploitation are facts of conflict history that must be acknowledged with clear eyes, for they are often enough the seeds of even more violence. At the beginning of “history,” Homer and Herodotus blamed entire wars on male violence towards women. Among real clans of hunter-gatherers — in the jungle or the highlands or the islands — fights over women are a leading cause of documented group aggression.
The struggle is real.
In war, women have primarily been resources for men: as unpaid labor, as soldiers’ wives, as excuses to launch a thousand ships. Women are certainly capable of killing other human beings. Nevertheless, women do less than 4 percent of all the murdering worldwide. And while women murder men at far lower rates than men murder women, almost four-fifths of all homicide victims are men. Women are five times as likely to be murdered than to murder someone else. Few prolific killers have ever been female.
Male sexual dimorphism is enhanced by the testosterone of puberty. Male adolescence confers denser bones and muscles, a larger heart and lungs, and enhanced capacity for violence. Manhood rituals and warrior codes exist to channel all this energy. It is the cradle of sports culture, for example.
Female sexual dimorphism, on the other hand, is organized around reproduction in ways that male human morphology is not. Upper-body strength diverges more than lower-body strength. Whereas a woman can keep pace with a man of the same height on a march, she will never run as fast or swing a sword with the same force.
None of this diminishes the Viking queens and Scythian riders etc who turn up in archaeology. Armies have followed women into battle many times, but the vast majority of their warriors were men.
Rather, I want to start this new project with an important acknowledgement that sex, meaning human sexual dimorphism, matters for understanding conflict history. The rare woman who disguises herself as male to serve in uniform does not diminish the reality that her profession has always been male-dominated, and that our evolved sex differences advantage male bodies in war.