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Feminism & War
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Feminism and War
Confronting U.S. Imperialism
Edited by Robin L. Riley et al.; Zed Books, 2008, 288 pp.
Feminist geopolitics," writes Jennifer Hyndman, "aims to recast war as a field of live human subjects with names, families, and home towns." The intersection of feminist critique and anti-imperialist resistance to the so-called "war on terror" forms the subject of this illuminating collection of essays from a range of scholars and activists who convened at the Feminism and War conference in New York in October 2006.
The essential premise of the project was to wrest back from pro-war mainstream discourse a feminism which it had appropriated for the purpose of furthering an imperialist agenda. As Zillah Eisenstein explains, "Imperial democracy mainstreams women's rights discourse into foreign policy and militarizes women for imperial goals." In particular, Jennifer Fluri and Shahnaz Khan identify the Bush administration's attempt at rallying people around the cause of women's rights in Afghanistan as a disingenuous appeal which not only misrepresents the history of that oppression as a relatively recent phenomenon, but also serves to cast Afghan women as a people waiting to be rescued.
Each of the 21 essays connects a feminist critique with broader patterns of dominance based on class and race—patterns which are reflected within the United States. It is this holistic methodology which gives Feminism and War its singular relevance.
Jennifer Fluri is unequivocal in her assertion that the U.S. war in Afghanistan was not about confronting Islamic misogyny, but rather "the imposition of U.S. congressional and other government discourses that cite humanity and rights, while disseminating these ideals through a 'rational' and efficient destruction of people and landscape to secure our enduring power, military superiority, and 'free' market reconstruction."
In this context Huibin Chew challenges the mainstream assumptions that the success of individuals like Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton comprises a final victory for feminist principles. These assumptions inform the construction of U.S. society as a model of gender equality—a construction that is exploited by pro-imperial "feminisms." Challenging sexism, she argues, is not merely about breaking misconceived gender expectations on an individual basis. A focus on individual achievements overlooks the fact that sexism is "an institutionalized system, with historical, political and economic dimensions," and so "relegates a task that can be achieved only through collective action or organizing to the realm of individual exploits."
Such an approach necessarily entails a broader examination of the structural make-up of a highly militarized U.S. society and it is for this reason that Angela Davis encourages us to "place state violence, war, prison violence, torture, capital punishment on a spectrum of violence." So the scope of the study is by no means limited to a discourse on the disproportionate burden of suffering endured by women in countries under attack from U.S.-led aggressions. The people of the United States are paying a heavy price for the militarism necessary to this project and this manifests itself in a wide variety of ways.
Eisenstein notes that domestic violence is three to five times higher in military couples than civilian ones; men who have been in combat are four times more likely to be physically abusive. Berta Joubert-Ceci reminds us that U.S. wars are being paid for by large cuts in social welfare, with poor working-class families bearing the brunt. The overarching class dimension of the analysis is encapsulated by Leilani Dowell: "It is the policies of the ruling class—including policies that institutionalize sexism and racism in society; policies that fuel war and aggression and take money away from jobs programs, education programs, healthcare; policies that create poverty, which promote and perpetuate this violence."
The primary focus remains, however, on the essentially neo-colonial framework within which the discussions on gender, class, and race must be understood.
In her lucid critique of international legal systems, Elizabeth Philipose emphasizes the importance of acknowledging that all hitherto existing legal frameworks—including those dedicated to the protection of human rights—have been constructed for the service of that same ruling class that has historically pursued policies of imperial domination: "Without recognising the colonial function of the use of torture, we miss the point that structurally the [War on Terror] is a war against racialized peoples for the retention of 'First World' domination."
This point is also considered in Isis Nusair's discussion of the numerous cases of sexual abuse against men and, to a far greater extent, women in U.S. prisons in Iraq. Nusair argues that sexual abuse serves as a means of breaking the spirit of a colonial people, in order to dominate them: "The aggressive, hostile and violent act of unveiling, stripping, penetrating and tearing apart Iraqi bodies...where the body is left nude, exposed and laid bare, is a guarantee for the colonial power that the body consequently the mind become knowable, observable, visible and thereby able to be manipulated." By contrast, public knowledge of, and discussion about, the rapes of hundreds of Iraqi women is kept to an absolute minimum, as any acknowledgement would "shatter the civilizing and rescuing nature of the U.S. military mission in Iraq."
The breadth of the analysis in Feminism and War goes beyond the somewhat parochial approach implied by Leslie Cagan's essentially sound observation that "All the values of feminism are contradicted—if not rendered impossible to achieve—by the realities of war and the machinery of war-making." This study is not merely focused on the ways in which imperialism and militarism obstruct the cause of women's liberation; the interaction between feminism and war is often far more nuanced.
The complexity of the relationship between imperialism and feminine identity is perhaps best exemplified by Cynthia Enloe's chapter on the public relations activities of the U.S. military. As Enloe notes, the end of conscription in the U.S., Canada, Britain, and elsewhere prompted military recruiters to employ, at considerable expense, the services of top advertising agencies, with a view to persuading young men and their most important "influencers" to appreciate the merits of a military career. Women—as girlfriends, wives, and mothers—were among the most important "influencers" and, accordingly, a highly derivative construction of feminine identity has formed the central focus of many Army recruitment advertisement campaigns over the past few decades. Enloe encourages feminists and anti-imperialists to question and challenge the "militarized ideas about—and practices of—the heroic veteran, the sacrificing mother, the loyal girlfriend" that are represented in such campaigns.
A final section dedicated to activism reminds us of the importance of activism and organization as an essential complement to—or, rather, culmination of—intellectual activity in the ongoing struggle against U.S. imperialism; as activist Nellie Hester Bailey insists, "If we do not have agitation, we will not have change. We never have and we never will."
Scholarly, accessible, and uncompromising, this collection is essential reading for anyone who is remotely convinced by the feminist pretensions of the U.S.-led missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. For those in Britain and the United States seeking to resist the onslaught that is carried out in our name, Feminism and War provides an invaluable intellectual framework for anti-imperialist activism.
Nathaniel Mehr is co-editor of the London Progressive Journal.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.