Recommended Reading: Women as Weapons of War
Women as Weapons of War isn’t a new book–it came out a good 2 years ago now–but the recent suicide bombings by Chechen women in the Moscow subway system have re-ignited some interest in women’s roles in warfare. Thus it was that ABC News this week interviewed feminist philosopher Kelly Oliver about her book, in which she chronicles the use of women as weapons in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–both by the U.S. military and the Iraqi insurgency. The book is a great read [full disclosure: I have worked with Prof. Oliver on research related to the book], and contains a lot of pretty incredible information that’s publicly accessible, but simply not talked about: the rate of rapes of women soldiers by their own fellow soldiers, and the CIA’s use of women interrogators–and sometimes fake menstrual blood–to try to “break” Muslim prisoners are two that stuck with me. Oliver also has a great chapter called “Sexual Freedom as Global Freedom?” in which she deconstructs the very sort of unveiling-as-liberation attitude we were discussing in the Boobquake and Bill 94 Sagas, which she wittily refers to as “the Right to Bare Arms.” She writes:
If the liberation of ‘women of cover’ from ‘backwards traditions’ results for them in new forms of discipline and the commodification of sexuality, we might ask what function this rhetoric performs in terms of shoring up images of freedom and privilege for Western women…These images [of oppressed women in burquas] do seem to highlight the value placed on women’s freedom in the West. Moreover, they appear as reminders of a time seemingly now long past when Western women’s freedom was not valued, when women did not have the right to vote or to hold public office, when women were relegated to the domestic sphere and were considered the property of their fathers or husbands. But it was not so long ago (a matter of decades) that laws were still on the books in several states indicating that women were not persons, that strict dress codes were enforced in all public schools, and women were (and still are) barred from certain jobs, sports, and public positions. Seeing Muslim women as victims of ‘backward’ traditions helps to construct women’s oppression as a thing of the past for the West and cover over the ways in which women continue to be disadvantaged in the United States and other so-called Western cultures.
So, Oliver’s point is that women are used both as military weapons and propaganda weapons, even as they are represented as the ostensible objects of liberation. For more examples, definitely check out the ABC interview here, even if you don’t have the time or inclination to read the book for yourself.