Gendering Amnesia Part 1: An Analysis of Collective Memory in Post-War Lebanon

Gendering Amnesia Annie Gergi Feminist Foreign Policy Lebanon War Memory

One of the most widely discussed legacies of the Lebanese Civil War, which ravaged the country from 1975-1990, is the collective amnesia or collective 'forgetting' surrounding the war. This exploration derives from the need for a gendered analysis of collective memory in post-conflict politics. Specifically, this series analyses how Lebanon's state sponsored collective amnesia empowers a militarized form of masculinity as hegemonic. The first part of this series seeks to theorise memory and interact with the concept of masculinity. There exist powerful links between gender and memory - links that provide the potential to process the past in ways that might lead to a brighter future.

Part 1

In order to profitably embark on an investigation linking memory, gender and post-conflict politics, it is necessary, first, to define the generally amorphous notion of memory. The discerning investigator will find that it is a challenge to differentiate between history and memory. Both history and memory are formations of the past and reflect a kind of remembrance of events that have occurred. Yet it is imperative that history and memory are distinguished so that these two forms of storytelling, and their impacts, can be analysed and critiqued individually. Sune Haugbolle captures this distinction when he describes memory as an actual or active phenomenon, "tying us to the eternal present’’. In contrast, history then emerges as a representation of the past. Memory can therefore be seen as an active and constantly negotiated phenomenon that links the past to the present. It is this link between past and present that necessitates a critical analysis of memory in order understand the importance of memory in the present. When it is accepted that memory takes on a life form, it then becomes clear how memories are created and thus shaped in relation to the societies through which they emerge.

For the purpose of clarity, this paper adopts Haugbolle’s definition of collective memory, which categorises memory narratives into two groupings. Haugbolle describes collective memory, on its basic level, as comprised of both public and private memory. According to this definition, there are personal memory narratives that emerge as part of individual remembrance, and then there are narratives that are formed as part of the national or public setting. Although these categorisations will help structure this investigation of post-war memory in Lebanon, the interaction between memory narratives is not so even-folded, especially when we analyse the relationship between the public and private in the context of Lebanon.

It is apparent that when connecting memory to relations of power or politics that gender is inextricably connected.

To highlight how memory narratives in post conflict settings are gendered, it is useful to canvass previous scholarship that has engaged with these connections. Erica Resende and Dovile Budryte discuss a recent spurt of scholarship on the connections between memory, trauma and politics in International Relations. These explorations focus on the connection between memory and identity, and its ability to affect not only national discourses but also international relations globally. Specifically, Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider examine the impact of memory on human rights - and the way processing of events, most notably the Holocaust, has shaped the current human rights paradigm. Although unrelated to this specific inquiry, the significance of memory and the processing of ostensibly irrational events becomes clear when we explore how these commemorations have shaped the world we live in. It is apparent that when connecting memory to relations of power or politics that gender is inextricably connected.

Jenny Edkins, for instance, stresses how trauma and memory is manipulated by political factions in the aftermath of crises, in order to stabilize new political orders. Although Edkin’s research is undertaken in a Western context, and states, invariably, have their own unique features and structures - as evidenced by Lebanon’s confessional sectarianism - many of her connections between power and memory were chillingly applicable to the case of post-war Lebanon. However, even in Edkin’s study, a gendered analysis was left wanting. 

Rebecca L. Graff-McRaes highlights this latter point in her examination of the gap in gendered analyses of memory in post-conflict processes. She notes that even within the widely applied transitional justice paradigm, ‘’memory is ultimately aimed at the acknowledgement of truth and wrong doing’’. These truth processes may provide space for women to share their experiences of conflicts; however, they still lack a detailed record of how memories of war and measures of commemoration are inherently gendered. This becomes extremely problematic, especially when it is understood that war is a gendered phenomenon. Marysia Zalewski notes, ‘’like militarization, demilitarization will be deeply gendered’’, and it is a gendered analysis of demilitarization processes that this study wishes to deconstruct.

There has been an emergence of research and studies on men and masculinity within a European, American, and Australian context. Studies on masculinity emerging specifically from the MENA region, on the other hand, are lacking.

In regards to the Middle East region, and Lebanon specifically, scholarship on gender has tended to predominantly focus on women. This is unquestionably necessary—without oversimplifying—when it is recognised that women are often excluded institutionally and structural systems of sexism continue to add to the subjugation of women. This also becomes necessary when it is accepted that analyses of politics and history tend to marginalise the participation of women, if they are included at all. Miriam Cooke directly confronts accounts of the Lebanese Civil War that erase women’s participation. In particular, she examines women’s writings on the war, challenging the idea of war as “man’s affair” and observes how their writings from the margin are able to challenge and displace what is perceived as the centre.

Through an analysis of the connection between memory and gender in post-war Lebanon, this paper asserts that there is a link between dominant memory narratives and a certain kind of militaristic masculinity, labelled as hegemonic. It is, therefore, required that we define what we mean when referring to hegemonic forms of masculinity and masculinity within the study of gender more generally.

R.W. Connell’s illustration of masculinity as a configuration of gender practice provides a sensible point of departure. As he vividly describes, masculinity (and gender more generally) are ways in which social practice is ordered. ‘’Gender,” according to Connell, “refers to the socially and culturally constructed categories of masculinity and femininity.’’ Moreover, masculinity is relational, meaning it is able to define itself through a multiplicity of other social formations. Not least among these: femininity, race, sexuality, and other forms of social identity.

This leads to the recognition that there exist multiple masculinities, immediately marring the perception of a fixed masculinity and rather exposing its ability to change and interact through the very same social frameworks it appears visible. How, then, do certain norms or associations linked to masculinity appear as dominant? These appear visible through hegemonic forms of masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity can, as a result, be described as the form of masculinity that is able to retain power within any given setting.

There must be recognition of not only the socially constructed nature of masculinity, but also the violent and very real outcomes these constructions can produce.

War is a culturally formed phenomenon that is produced by and produces certain meanings and myths about gender. Militaries, specifically, become a key site for examining how masculinities are produced, as they reinforce certain ideals about sexual difference. The realisms these sexual differences produce must also be stressed, as it becomes clear how gender constructions and beliefs about sexual difference also play a part in constructing certain realities, the reality of war. There must be recognition of not only the socially constructed nature of masculinity, but also the violent and very real outcomes these constructions can produce.

To understand how militaries produce and are produced by formations of masculinity, it is vital to analyze the specific context through which they emerge. For instance, due to Turkey’s mandatory military conscription within the Turkish Armed Forces, the socialization of militaristic masculinities would undoubtedly have a larger impact on society than states without conscription. In the Lebanese Civil War, for example, there existed multiple and fragmented military practices, making an analysis of the construction of masculinities more ambiguous with no single national army. Therefore, sectarian identities can be seen as interlinked with the construction of militarized masculinities in the country.

Although it would be inaccurate to argue that there are fixed gender determinants that naturally posit men as fighters and women as peace-makers, it is necessary to engage with the reality of war and structural violence as idealized features of masculinity within certain contexts. Connell notes, ‘’it is, overwhelmingly, the dominant gender who hold and use the means of violence. Men are armed far more often than women.’’ Violence and war become vehicles through which hegemonic masculinities are able to assert dominance and maintain social orderings which allow men to marginalize women as well as other men. War therefore becomes one of the most outward and performative displays of patriarchal assertion. However, it is through war a kind of paradox is exposed. Both Cynthia Enloe and Connell assert that a legitimate hierarchy would have little need to intimidate, and in fact, war exposes the fragility of the gender ordering. Therefore, war can at once be seen as a display of power as well as a sign of weakness. 


Annie-Marie Gergi is the FFP editorial intern and recently completed her master's in Gender Studies and Law at SOAS, University of London. Follow her on Twitter: @agergi


Annie Gergi