Upcoming talk by professor looks at media, ethnicity and gender in Balkan war

Dubravka Zarkov, a professor at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, the Netherlands, will examine how female and male bodies were represented in the Croatian and Serbian press in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in her talk at York University on Monday, April 7.

The talk, titled "Media, Ethnicity and Gender in the Break-up of Yugoslavia", will take place from 12:30 to 2pm in the Seniors Common Room, 305 Founders College, Keele campus.

Right: Dubravka Zarkov

Zarkov’s work has focused on gender, sexuality and ethnicity in the context of violent conflict, with special attention to dominant constructions of masculinities and femininities in media representations of victims and perpetrators of war violence. In her talk, Zarkov will address how, after the war through which the former Yugoslavia disintegrated, the use of sexual violence against women as a war strategy has become one of the major feminist concerns.

Few knew that men were also sexually assaulted during the war in the Balkans. For the most part, the plight of these men remains largely invisible, says Zarkov, who teaches in the Department of Gender, Conflict, and Development Studies at the Institute of Social Studies. This is what led Zarkov to wonder why the visibility of sexual violence against women and men has been so different, in public and in feminist analysis, and why some women and men remained totally invisible, while others were overexposed.

Drawing on her research on sexual violence against men in Bosnia, Zarkov will address these questions. In addition, she will explore other examples of men sexually assaulted in contemporary and past wars and political violence, including colonial violence and racist violence, as well as what’s happening in Iraq. She will argue that sexually violated male bodies pose a particular challenge to feminist analyses of gender and actions regarding war and violence.

Zarkov is the author of The Body of War: Media, Ethnicity and Gender in the Breakup of Yugoslavia (Duke University Press, 2007) and the editor of Gender, Violent Conflict, Development: Challenges of Practice (Zubaan Books, 2008). She is also the co-author of The Postwar Moment: Militaries, Masculinities and International Peacekeeping (Lawrence & Wishart Ltd., 2002). She is a member of the advisory board for Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice, an international women’s human rights organization advocating for gender-inclusive justice and working toward an effective and independent International Criminal Court.

In The Body of War, Zarkov proposes that the Balkan war was not between ethnic groups; rather, ethnicity was produced by the war itself. She explores the process through which ethnicity was generated, showing how lived and symbolic female and male bodies became central to it. She argues that both the representational practices of the "media war" and the violent practices of the "ethnic war" depended on specific, shared notions of femininity and masculinity, norms of (hetero)sexuality, and definitions of ethnicity.

She draws on contemporary feminist analyses of violence to scrutinize international and local feminist writings on the war in the former Yugoslavia. Demonstrating that some of the same essentialist ideas of gender and sexuality used to produce and reinforce the significance of ethnic differences during the war often have been invoked by feminists. Zarkov points out the political and theoretical drawbacks to grounding feminist strategies against violence in ideas of female victimhood.

The talk is hosted by York’s International Development Studies with the support of York’s Centre for Refugee Studies and the Centre for Feminist Research. Bring a lunch; coffee and tea will be available.

To order a copy of The Body of War, visit the Duke University Press Web site.