Using gender as a weapon

By Ella Deignan

Lysistrata is an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BC. It’s a comic account of a woman’s extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War between Greek city-states by denying all the men of the land any sex, which was the only thing they truly and deeply desired. The women wield the objectification of themselves (based on their gender) as a weapon to break out of their traditional stereotypes of being submissive and empower themselves to create change.

A weapon is used as “a means of gaining an advantage or defending oneself in a conflict or contest.” The weaponization of gender can occur in multiple different instances: redefining the oppressive language of one’s gender, using it as a defense, or using it to discriminate against another gender, to name a few. To break down this definition, we can look at two different examples of women’s weaponization of their gender that contrast.

Similar to Lysistrata, women can use their gender as an advantage, for example, using their sex appeal to make money. There, they are using their gender and manipulating society’s sexualization of women as a means of providing for themselves. Further, they are redefining the oppressive language used towards women by using it as empowerment: “pussy power”. By taking ownership over sexuality and not being ashamed or afraid of it, women are weaponizing their gender to gain an advantage in many places in society. To those who argue that women using sex as a tool is demeaning, this weaponization of gender has given women the freedom to choose what they do with their body and finally own their sexuality instead of letting men dictate women’s worth. 

On the contrary, some women use their gender and the stereotypical characteristics of their gender to defend themselves. A general example is when women use the stereotype of feminine weakness/emotion to get out of consequences by showing a soft side that will gain sympathy.  Specifically, it is common for some women to start crying and show emotion when pulled over. This weaponization of gender is in defense, manipulating society’s expectations of women to gain sympathy.

The weaponization of gender is a manipulation of society’s stereotypes on gender, as we can either use it to empower gender expression and freedom of sexuality or manipulate society’s stereotypical expectations in self-defense. Is the weaponization of gender useful and positive in society, or is it demeaning and discriminatory? Is it both? To what extent is the empowerment of sexuality demeaning to women’s worth in media and culture? What other examples of gender weaponization have helped empower or manipulate? Where do you see gender weaponized in your life?

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