4: ‘You Can’t Kill the Spirit’ (But You Can Try): Gendered Contestations and Contradictions at Menwith Hill Women’s Peace Camp


In the mid-1990s, Menwith Hill Women’s Peace Camp outside the US National Security Agency military base in Yorkshire was the only full-time women-only peace camp in the UK. Its inhabitants were united mainly by a brave and passionate commitment to non-violent direct action (NVDA), and a tolerance for Goddess songs. While the unifying slogans and shared language of the peace camp often invoked lesbian feminist and Radical Feminist themes, it was not necessary to be an actual believer. These cultural norms were effective as humorous, affectionate totems in the building of collective identity, not proof of essentialism. While camp was a women’s space, it was not a gendered space as such. Gender was at once much more vibrant and various than in the mainstream, while also fading into the background. This chapter will reflect on some of the roles, meanings and contradictions of sexuality and gender in the peace camp. It will do so in the light of more recent developments in the feminist movement and protest cultures in the UK, such as the ‘spycops’ sexual abuse scandal and the so-called ‘gender wars’ in which the meaning and exclusions of the category ‘woman’ are under renewed scrutiny.

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