Women as Weapons of War

Women as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex, and the Media

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Women as Weapons of War
    Book Description:

    Ever since Eve tempted Adam with her apple, women have been regarded as a corrupting and destructive force. The very idea that women can be used as interrogation tools, as evidenced in the infamous Abu Ghraib torture photos, plays on age-old fears of women as sexually threatening weapons, and therefore the literal explosion of women onto the war scene should come as no surprise.

    From the female soldiers involved in Abu Ghraib to Palestinian women suicide bombers, women and their bodies have become powerful weapons in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. In Women as Weapons of War, Kelly Oliver reveals how the media and the administration frequently use metaphors of weaponry to describe women and female sexuality and forge a deliberate link between notions of vulnerability and images of violence. Focusing specifically on the U.S. campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, Oliver analyzes contemporary discourse surrounding women, sex, and gender and the use of women to justify America's decision to go to war. For example, the administration's call to liberate "women of cover," suggesting a woman's right to bare arms is a sign of freedom and progress.

    Oliver also considers what forms of cultural meaning, or lack of meaning, could cause both the guiltlessness demonstrated by female soldiers at Abu Ghraib and the profound commitment to death made by suicide bombers. She examines the pleasure taken in violence and the passion for death exhibited by these women and what kind of contexts created them. In conclusion, Oliver diagnoses our cultural fascination with sex, violence, and death and its relationship with live news coverage and embedded reporting, which naturalizes horrific events and stymies critical reflection. This process, she argues, further compromises the borders between fantasy and reality, fueling a kind of paranoid patriotism that results in extreme forms of violence.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51245-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Kelly Oliver
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll
    (pp. 1-18)

    Because this war is unlike others in that there is no front line, women are engaged in combat along with men. Women soldiers, not technically allowed on the front lines, continue to see action, to kill and be killed. A shortage of military personnel leads to stretching of the rules regarding women in ground combat forces. But reportedly the American public is no longer shocked at the idea of women dying in war; there is no more attention paid to fallen women than to fallen men.¹ Women’s participation in integrated units for the most part goes unnoticed. The women in...

  6. 1 Women—The Secret Weapon of Modern Warfare?
    (pp. 19-46)

    The figures and faces from wars in the Middle East that continue to haunt us at the beginning of the twenty-first century are those of women: think of the Palestinian women suicide bombers, starting with Wafa Idris in January 2002; or the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch early in the U.S. invasion of Iraq just over a year later; or the shocking images of Pfc. Lynndie England and Army Spc. Sabrina Harman at the Abu Ghraib prison the following spring. These images and stories horrify yet fascinate us because they show young women killing and torturing. Their stories...

  7. 2 Sexual Freedom as Global Freedom?
    (pp. 47-66)

    From the rhetoric of liberating “women of cover” and debates in the United States Congress over women in the military, to sexual abuses at the Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay prisons, gender, sexual difference, and sexuality are coming to play a major role in the construction of the Western notion of “global freedom.”¹ In this chapter I argue that global freedom is being defined in terms of sexual freedom, imagined as the freedom to expose the female body, to wear any clothing, and to shop for that clothing. Women’s freedom in the West has been reduced to the freedom to...

  8. 3 Perpetual War, Real Live Coverage!
    (pp. 67-108)

    In this chapter I identify some of the ways in which both visual and narrative images reproduce and justify violence. Specifically, I examine media representations of the United States occupation of Iraq and images sent back home from Iraq by U.S. soldiers. I argue that these images are evidence of the latest forms of colonialism and imperialism, in which racism and oppression are not only still present but enlivened by new technologies; they are part and parcel of the history of imaging technologies as used in colonial enterprises. I discuss how visual technologies—such as digital cameras, cell phones, wireless...

  9. 4 Innocence, Vulnerability, and Violence
    (pp. 109-150)

    If the teenagers from rural United States involved in prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib are just average kids in an extreme situation “having fun,” then we need to consider how mainstream American culture produces these fun-loving individuals who can abuse others while maintaining their innocence. If we can explain, even excuse, violence in the name of fun—just joking, just having fun—then perhaps we need to investigate our notion of fun and the ways in which it exonerates us from responsibility for violence.

    The Nike slogan “Just do it” seems more appropriate to a fun-loving culture than “Don’t just...

  10. Conclusion: Witnessing Ethics Again
    (pp. 151-166)

    In the context of criticizing the Bush administration’s foreign policies, retired Army colonel Lawrence Wilkerson said that he could understand the “bestiality that comes over men when they’re asked to use force for the state.”¹ Did he really mean “bestiality”? While one meaning of the word “bestiality” is “humans behaving like animals,” more commonly it means humans having sex with animals. Did Wilkerson mean to suggest that during war soldiers turn their enemies and prisoners of war into animals by sexualizing them—think of Abu Ghraib. Or did he mean that soldiers themselves behave like animals? Or both?

    In the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 167-184)
  12. Texts Cited
    (pp. 185-194)
  13. Index
    (pp. 195-208)