Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, social media feeds have brimmed with portrayals of Ukrainian women’s remarkable spirit of resistance. In one widely shared video, a woman confronts a Russian soldier occupying her city, telling him to put sunflower seeds in his pockets so that when he dies on Ukrainian soil his grave will sprout the national flower. In a similarly widely shared tweet, a female parliamentarian described how her weekend gardening plans were scuttled by the need to learn how to handle a gun.
Yet, as women’s contributions to the war effort have gone viral, much of the response, including in the media, has adopted a breathless tone, portraying them as a novelty to be marveled or gawked at. In addition to doing these women a disservice, this kind of framing displays ignorance of the long history of women’s wartime mobilization.
Women’s participation in political violence, in Ukraine and elsewhere, should not come as a surprise or be portrayed as an aberration. To the contrary, it is an integral and routine part of conflict dynamics.