Public scholarship

Peer-reviewed publications

Meredith Loken, forthcoming. ‘Both Needed and Threatened:’ Armed Mothers in Militant Visuals," Security Dialogue 

Because women are assumed non-violent, their participation in militant groups can humanize organizations and legitimize rebellion. But gender beliefs are deeply engrained and consequently women’s involvement can generate resistance. This article explores how militants navigate these tensions through their political visuals, specifically analyzing images of ‘armed mothers’ across six diverse conflicts. Leveraging life-giving as the ‘natural’ role for women, these images signal violent disruption of everyday life and authorize political violence in response. But they also stress the temporariness of gender role expansion, promising and preserving a ‘return to normal.’ Militant groups contextualize, justify, and humanize violent struggle this way even in cases where women rarely participate on the frontlines.

Meredith Loken, Milli Lake, and Kate Cronin-Furman. 2018. “Deploying Justice: Strategic Accountability for Wartime Sexual Violence," International Studies Quarterly 52(4): 751-764

Why do governments and militaries publicly condemn and prosecute particular forms of abuse? This article explores the Sri Lankan government's decision to promote limited legal accountability for state-perpetrated rape committed in a country otherwise renowned for widespread impunity. We argue that rather than representing a turn against impunity, the symbolic stance against conflict-related sexual violence in a small number of high-profile cases served an explicitly politico-military agenda. The state deployed legal accountability in specific cases to garner political legitimacy among key domestic audiences. The Sri Lankan government drew on the symbolism of female victimhood to mobilize support at a time when support for military counterinsurgency was waning. We show that governments can uniquely instrumentalize sexual violence cases to establish moral authority and territorial legitimacy. Through an examination of the domestic legal response to state-perpetrated human rights abuses, we illustrate the many ways in which women's bodies—and the law—can be mobilized in war to serve military ends.

Meredith Loken and Anna Zelenz. 2018. “Explaining Extremism: Western Women in Daesh,” European Journal of International Security 3(1): 45-68

Women have participated extensively in armed, Islamist struggle. In recent years, foreign women have traveled from the West to join Daesh. Their participation perplexes policymakers, government officials, and researchers who call attention to the group’s gendered regulation, violence, and widespread use rape. Consequently, observers often argue that women are deceived by the organization or seduced by the promise of romance. This suggests that women would not, under rational circumstances, choose to join the group. In this article, we address two resultant questions: why do Western women join Daesh? Are their motivations distinct from other Islamist recruits? Using an original dataset of social media activity from seventeen Western female recruits between 2011-2015, we evaluate these explanations and conclude that women are primarily driven by religious ideology that adopts an expressly gendered frame. We find that feelings of isolation in the West also drive migration. We suggest that female, foreign recruits are not unique in their motivations and share many similarities with male fighters and women in other Islamist organizations. This research has valuable implications for security studies and counter-terrorism, which tend to treat extremist women as unique. Female recruits should be taken seriously as insurgents intent on establishing an Islamic caliphate.


Supplemental appendix

Meredith Loken. 2017.Rethinking Rape: The Role of Women in Wartime Violence,” Security Studies 26(1): 60-92


There is widespread variation in scope, scale, and forms of rape across and within conflicts. One explanation focuses on the integration of women in armed groups. Scholars and international organizations posit that the inclusion of women in armed groups discourages wartime rape. They advocate women’s increased participation to combat rape and other forms of civilian violence. Using an original dataset of women's involvement as combatants in civil wars between 1980- 2009, I argue that the participation of female fighters has no significant impact in constraining an armed group's propensity to rape. Female combatants do not lessen rape because organizational factors, primarily culture, drive violence in armed factions and encourage conformity irrespective of individual characteristics. Advocating further militarization of women in an attempt to reduce conflict-related rape may be an ineffective policy prescription.


Corrected data

Meredith Loken. 2014.#BringBackOurGirls and the Invisibility of Imperialism,” Feminist Media Studies 14(6): 1100-1101


"The dualistic construction of women as worthy of political recognition due to their relationship to a more privileged agent works powerfully in the age of hashtag activism through its ability to draw emotional response and impassioned reaction from a non-contiguous and apathetic populous. However, this imagination also risks infantilization and positions women as full political and social actors only through their potential as property. The enthusiastic Western adoption of #BringBackOurGirls must also be treated skeptically for its failure to consider its own imperial dynamics. The claiming of Nigerian schoolgirls as “our girls” seeks to promote women’s rights in the Global South while paradoxically ignoring the intersections of race, class, and colonialism actively rooting the social media uprising... #BringBackOurGirls reconstitutes the figure of “Third World Woman” as a person accessible (and therefore less dispensable) to the West by claiming her as ours. She becomes our girl, contextually indistinguishable and thus deserving protection from her communal struggle-in-kind."