Preemptive Strikes: Women Strike for Peace, Antinuclear Pacifism, and the Movement for a Biological Democracy, 1961–1963

Peace & Change, Volume 46, Issue 2, Page 164-182, April 2021.


This article examines the social, political, and environmental features of the Women Strike for Peace (WSP) movement from its inception in 1961 to the passage of the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) in 1963. I offer the analytical framework of “biological democracy” as a conceptual bridge between environmental and sociopolitical approaches to WSP. The movement’s gendered critiques of US foreign policymaking, its organizational structure, and its participation in the production and distribution of scientific knowledge demonstrate how progressive women used maternalist discourse to oppose US Cold War policies in the early-1960s. WSP participants leveraged their social proximity to the biological condition of the family as “givers and guardians” of life to dissent against the nuclear arms race, heighten female voices within Cold War geopolitics, and increase public awareness of the hazards of radioactive fallout caused by ongoing atmospheric nuclear weapons testing. By coopting conventions of maternalism and domesticity as justification for their cause, WSP women effectively mollified patriarchal and anti-communist attacks as they organized against Cold War militarism and nuclear irradiation. In so doing, they offered a vision of US democracy that responded to individualized, feminine activism and prioritized public health over nuclear armament.

This was originally published on Wiley: Peace & Change: Table of Contents.