Gender and the Drug War

Conference: March 31 and April 1, 2016


The Spring 2016 conference examined how gender plays a role in the drug war as viewed by the varied disciplines that inform sociolegal studies.

Both as participants and as cultural symbols, women have played a central role in drug commerce, drug cultures, drug policing, and drug treatment—especially if illicit pharmaceuticals are included. From 19th century battles over Demon Rum to 21st century reckonings with “crack,” “meth,” and “Oxy,” women have suffered many of the worst harms of drug wars, even as other women have benefited from the moral entrepreneurship of anti-drug campaigns. And cultural constructions of gender--male as well as female--have intersected with constructions of race and other politically potent categories of identity to represent the threat (and promise) of drugs.

Yet, as Nancy Campbell and Elizabeth Ettorre have argued, prevailing gender politics has tended to render women’s roles, and the political deployment of gender, invisible. Under NIDA’s biomedical disease model of addiction, for example, brains have no gender. The most important humanistic challenge to this sort of context-free vision has, for good reason, focused on race; we believe that such challenges will be more powerful, and more beneficial, if they fully incorporate gender as well.  “Gender and the Drug War” brings together historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and public analysts to further that project.

Contact: David L. Herzberg,