Week 11: Anti-Militarist Feminisms


Cover of Gidra magazine
Gidra: The Monthly of the Asian American Experience was a revolutionary Asian American movement monthly newspaper from 1969 to 1974. This March 1970 cover features a revolutionary Asian female peasant with a rifle and baby, signaling support for Vietnam, North Korea, and China. Reproduced in Steve Louie and Glenn Omatsu, eds. Asian Americans: The Movement of the Moment, 17. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 2001. (mouse over to zoom)


“The IWCs [Indochinese Women’s Conferences] served as both the culmination and the catalyst for women’s activism for peace and liberation. Women of different racial, sexual, and national backgrounds embraced diverse strategies for ending the [Vietnam] war and held varying understandings of what constituted freedom.”
– Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, Radicals on the Road, 264


These readings explore women’s transnational and grassroots challenges to U.S. militarism and violence. The readings highlight women’s mobilization to close U.S. military bases in Vieques, Guam, Hawai‘i, Panama, and the Philippines as part of broad-based environmental and anti sexual violence work. They also consider women’s involvement in transnational solidarity efforts to support the revolutionary projects of Cuba and Nicaragua; to contest U.S. military and cultural imperialism in Nicaragua, Korea, and Vietnam; and to fight apartheid. These readings are animated by themes about the relationships between gender, environmental justice, human rights, and sovereignty.


Secondary Readings

Kim, Suzy. “The Origins of Cold War Feminism During the Korean War.” Gender & History 31, no. 2 (July 2019): 460–479.

Kim argues that the Korean War was the crucible for a transnational feminism that united women globally across national borders, race, ethnicity, and ideology in the Cold War. Using maternal difference as a strategy to bridge divides among and between women, the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) facilitated a framework for feminists to support mothers’ rights and be transnational peacemakers. WIDF considered peace, anti-colonialism, and anti-racism necessary for women’s rights globally and worked to sway international perception against the war. Despite WIDF’s calls for women to unite for peace, women used maternal claims to both oppose and support the war. North Korean women defended the war as militant mothers seeing peace and pacifism separately, believing militarism essential for self-determination. Kim explores the long-term effects of this mobilization around the Korean War to explore the clash between a liberal feminist emphasis on natural rights versus socialist feminism’s emphasis on structural inequalities.

McCaffrey, Katherine T. “Because Vieques Is Our Home: Defend It!: Women’s Militarization in Vieques, Puerto Rico.” In Security Disarmed: Critical Perspectives on Gender, Race, and Militarization, edited by Barbara Sutton, Sandra Morgan, and Juli Novkov, 157–176. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

McCaffrey shows that Puerto Rican women’s protests against the U.S. Navy’s live bombing off the coast of Vieques drew fluidly on both the feminine and the feminist from the 1970s to today. In so doing, Puerto Rican women forged new political space for women as wives, mothers, and homemakers. As opposition against U.S. militarization around the island grew from the 1970s, the island fishermen and leadership sidelined women’s activism. In 1999, however, Vieques women emerged as movement leaders united over militarization’s impact on cancer rates and declining family health. Positioning the need for change as rooted in domesticity, the Vieques Women’s Alliance utilized ribbons and prayer meetings for peace, and housewife tactics, including demonstrating with pots and pans. The women sought to clean up the health and environmental problems caused by U.S. Naval presence and defend their homes. The Alliance both continued and expanded decades of work for demilitarization and, by highlighting women’s experiences, marked themselves as public leaders.

Frain, Sylvia C. "Women’s Resistance in the Marianas Archipelago: A US Colonial Homefront and Militarized Frontline." Feminist Formations 29, no. 1 (2017): 97–135.

Frain categorizes the colonial-militarized Marianas Archipelago as a space that is both a home front and front line of the United States where American colonizers apply gendered notions of protector and protected to validate unrestricted military power and the second-class citizenship of inhabitants. Using frameworks from feminist security studies’ notion of transoceanic fluidarity (the decolonized concept of transnational solidarity that is more inclusive of Indigenous Chamoru women in Oceania), Frain examines Maga’håga’s (Chamoru women leaders’) resistance to colonization and militarization. Frain demonstrates the limits of representation for those living in this “U.S. possession,” citing two non-Chamoru women from the archipelago who support the American militarization policy called the “Pivot to the Pacific Policy”: Congresswoman of Guåhan Madeline Borallo and Rear Admiral Bette Bolivar. Meanwhile, Chamoru women, called the hagan Guåhan, descend from a matrilineal society and are responsible for defending indigenous culture, community, land, air, and sea from the U.S. military. Although much of the activism described in this article is from the early 21st century to today, it is rooted in ongoing struggles around the U.S. military dating back to the World War II.

Choy, Catherine Ceniza. "Towards Trans-Pacific Social Justice: Women and Protest in Filipino American History." Journal of Asian American Studies 8, no. 3 (2005): 293–307.

Choy explores Filipino American women’s transnational activism in the 1970s through the stories of Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz and Carol Ojeda-Kimbrough. Both women were activists in the Philippines before moving to the U.S., and both played a key role in the Anti-Martial Law Movement that protested the military dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Choy argues that the Anti-Martial Law Movement in the U.S. was embedded in the Asian American Movement and that Filipino American activism transcended national borders. Filipino activists who were compelled to immigrate for their own safety found that U.S. immigration acts passed during the Cold War hindered their and others’ ability to do so, radicalizing the activists to address injustices in the U.S. as well. Though rendered largely invisible in Asian American history, Filipino American women’s trans-Pacific political struggle offers a window into how they sought to address U.S. imperialism and a U.S.-supported Philippine militarism, both of which perpetuated racial, gendered, and economic inequalities.

Wu, Judy Tzu-Chun. Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and feminism during the Vietnam Era. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013.

This book explores the activism of internationalist U.S. activist men and women of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds who opposed the Vietnam War. Wu coins the term “radical Orientalism” to explain the dynamic that pervaded their identification with revolutionary Asian nations and political figures. Radical Orientalism inverted the traditional hierarchy of West over East, and instead privileged, and sometimes romanticized East over West. Seeking to distance themselves from U.S. imperialism, militarism, and racism, North American activists celebrated and learned from Asian people who resisted colonialism and neocolonialism. Several chapters focus on the transnational feminism that emerged from the 1971 Indochinese Women’s Conferences in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada. These conferences provided “an unprecedented opportunity for large numbers of North American women to encounter female leaders from Southeast Asia.” North American women came away from these encounters transformed, understanding the gendered implications of war and U.S. empire, aware of the sexism they faced in their own country, and emboldened by the model of their revolutionary Asian “sisters” to follow their examples.

Primary Sources

Lorde, Audre. “Equal Opportunity,” April 1984. Published in Feminist Studies 14, no. 3 (Autumn 1988): 42–44.

Through this poem, Lorde critiques the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. The work draws comparisons between a woman-of-color government official boasting of equal opportunity for women in the United States and the violent experiences of Grenadian women during the military invasion. By doing this, Lorde seeks to cultivate a sense of anti-imperialist consciousness and shared sisterhood through oppression among women of color in the United States. In the 1984 introduction to the poem, Lorde draws connections to the experience of Black women in apartheid South Africa and the Black women killed in the police bombing of the headquarters of a Black liberation group in Philadelphia.

This blog that was cited in Sylvia Frain’s article "Women’s Resistance in the Marianas Archipelago: A US Colonial Homefront and Militarized Frontline,” which is listed in the suggested secondary source readings for this section addressing women’s anti-militarism and transnational solidarity. The blog is run by an Indigenous Chamoru woman and includes music, poetry, and blog posts dealing with issues like the experience for Indigenous Chamoru people living in diaspora, U.S. militarization of sacred spaces, and Chamoru the maintenance of Chamoru culture.

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