Wednesday, September 22, 2010

So, Did We Win?

[TW: Sexual assault, gender-based violence, murder, war]

In Iraq, I mean.

Now that President Obama has declared an end to combat operations, and given that the 7+ year war in Iraq was predicated on an "intelligence failure" that former President Bush has said was his "biggest regret," what would a victory look like?

President Obama has said that "the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country," but I am left wondering: Which Iraqi people?

In war, victory and defeat have not always meant the same for women as they have for men.

We need only look at our own Revolutionary War for an instance of gender-discrepant war outcomes. While some men predicated a war on the self-evident truth that "all men" were created equal and, therefore, imbued with certain rights, looking back we see that these men were at once too literal regarding the word "men" and too figurative with respect to the word "all." On September 4, 1783, the day after the war formally ended, many black women and men were still enslaved and most other women were still some form of male property. Native American women and men, meanwhile, continued to have a decidedly less equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit happiness than did whites.

Western feminists are sometimes criticized for critiquing patriarchy, sexism, and rape culture in Western society instead of engaging in the More Important Task of single-handedly solving the plight of Middle Eastern women.

Yet, in the dominant discourse surrounding the Iraq War, advancing the status of women was not consistently or loudly offered as a rationalte for invasion, nor was our military's failure to advance the status of women consistently or loudly rendered as a criticism of the war in non-feminist narratives. Clearly, solving the plight of the Middle Eastern woman is a task of the utmost importance only for feminists and not for the general population or the mainstream media, which naturally has More Important Things To Do than talk about or solve the plight of the Middle Eastern woman.

(And, of course, can't you already hear the criticism: Well, Western feminists aren't making us care enough about Middle Eastern women! Because people need that extra special prompting to consider half of a region's population.)

Thus, it was with interest that I came across this article in ColorLines about how the war has not exactly been a victory for Iraqi women. Beginning in 2003, as this article explains, hundreds of thousands of young men were killed in violence or fled the country, leaving women without marriage partners. In a conservative nation where marriage remains an important life marker for women and life as a single woman is restricted, lack of marriage partners is a big deal:

"Women who cross the 30-year threshold and are single face powerful social stigmas and live under heavy limitations. Generally, they must continue living with their parents or other family. If they are not wealthy, educated or employed, they are often reduced by relatives to servitude — cleaning, washing, cooking and watching over small children.

Work opportunities are limited. At jobs or in public, unmarried women are sometimes seen as vulnerable, without the protection of a husband. Some almost never leave their houses."

Men's rights activists like to cite statistics noting that most of the people who fight and die in wars are men. But what they tribalistically overlook are the things that men do, to "other men's" women, in wars. Not only is the male rape of women (and female soldiers) a weapon (sometimes in the form of friendly fire) of war, but the majority of those displaced by war, especially in Iraq, are women and children. After US invasion of Iraq (PDF):

"[M]ost women in Iraq now only go outside with a male escort and rape is commonly committed by all armed groups; they also report that the killing of women is increasing. 'Honor killings,' or the murder of a woman or girl usually by a male relative to restore 'family honor,' have increased dramatically....Approximately 50,000 Iraqi women and girls in Syria have been forced into prostitution."

Law professor Catherine Mackinnon has described war as a particularly ejaculatory method of conflict resolution. When it is (mostly) men doing things to (mostly) other men, a war is seen as occurring- a metaphorical pissing contest. When it is (mostly) men doing things to women, or doing things that affect women, what is happening to women is seen as an ancillary by-product of war, rather than part of the actual war itself or as a war against, say, women. It is woman's natural role in life to be on the receiving end of the things that men feel compelled to do.

In this way, even if "we" win, women don't.

Even if "they" win, women don't.

No comments: