Book project: My book project, Militant Women: Violence and Legitimacy in Civil War, asks why some rebel organizations successfully threaten the state, control territory, and generate civilian support while others fail. I argue that women’s participation is critical because it affects how civilians view an insurgency, making rebels appear more legitimate because they seem inclusive and well-integrated into local communities. Women’s participation also makes insurgents stronger and leads to more effective tactics and strategies, further generating civilian support. In the manuscript, I first theoretically engage how women’s involvement shapes state and non-state actor conceptualization of ‘participation’ in political violence; I then use qualitative and quantitative techniques to establish the effect of women’s participation on rebel successes, particularly focusing on contributions in non-combat roles. Next, I analyze rebel propaganda to show how organizations exploit essentialist gender beliefs to frame female participation as legitimizing evidence that they are not fringe extremists. Finally, I explore how international and domestic legal actors respond to or fail to hold women accountable for human rights violations during conflict.
This project is the product of extensive original data collection. I created an original, cross-national dataset of women’s participation in front-line, support, and leadership roles in 147 rebel groups formed between 1960-2016. In addition, I conducted archival research in Northern Ireland and collected political posters and other propaganda related to women’s participation or gender representations during the Troubles. From this and other archives, I collect over 2,200 posters from archives memorializing global civil wars (see MVDP below). I use them to demonstrate how violent groups capitalize on gender stereotypes in their propaganda to build legitimacy and support.
Militant Visuals Data Project: I am interested in civil conflict's visual politics. The Militant Visuals Data Project (MVDP) is an on-going effort to systematically collect and code visual militant propaganda and other images, primarily posters and social media visuals, and some similar materials like cards and smaller visuals. Data collection is in progress: the MVDP hosts visuals from cross-national militant groups operating since 1960. The project will also include case histories of militant visual operations and their co-production across organizations. This project is expected to produce a series of articles. Once published, the MVDP will be publicly available.
Women, Gender, and Iconography in the Contemporary American Militia Movement (with Kanisha D. Bond): The contemporary militia movement is a relatively understudied yet significant element of the American radical right, which is experiencing a renaissance of attention and political retrenchment. While this new spotlight tends to highlight the complicated relationships between men and women in this community, research on gender and militia mobilization rarely extends beyond examining the role of masculinity in this process. To explore how gender dynamics inform the movement’s ideology and activities more broadly, we focus in this paper on the ways that militia ideology is both constructed and communicated through groups' staging of sex, sexuality, and gender in their iconography. Using an original database of 341 U.S.-based militia organizations, we analyze a representative images disseminated by these groups for evidence of how they use sex, sexuality, and gender to legitimize their actions, normalize ideology, recruit new members, and consolidate cross-group platforms. We conclude that militia iconography--thus, militia ideology--relies heavily on gendered representations of paramilitary activity, duty to country, family, and citizenry, rule by the people, and nostalgic political superiority . We further suggest that images depicting women’s participation in and affiliation with militias provides particularly critical infrastructure and is a key vehicle for legitimizing and normalizing this ideology.
Legitimate Targets: Rebel Violence Against Sexual Minorities: Jamie J. Hagen and I explore why some rebel organizations target gender and sexual minorities (GSM) during civil conflict. We conclude that rebel organizations target sexual minorities as a method of statecraft.We leverage feminist and queer IR literatures to suggest that regulating sexual behavior is an essential state function, one that governments perform as a method of defining sovereignty, designating citizens from non-citizens, and securitizing morality. We argue that rebel organizations can thus demonstrate political legitimacy by identifying moral boundaries and exerting authority to enforce them. We document widespread, global abuses and demonstrate that state persecution of gender and sexual minorities make these groups ‘legitimate targets’ for violence during conflict. Beyond our cross-national study, we conduct an in-depth analysis of violence against gender and sexual minorities in the Syrian Civil War. We highlight the gaps in international law and policy that mean these abuses go largely ignored, demonstrating that the international community fails to recognize these violations as ‘gender-based violence.’