Women and War

16 02 2009

The theme for this semester’s feminist reading group is Women and War, which got me thinking about the way we think about women and war… There is much talk about the negative affects of war on women: rape as a weapon of war, sexism within military ranks, etc. While this is all certainly valid and important, it is also important to consider the role of women as perpetrators in war.

What comes to mind is the Abu Ghraib scandal, and how it faded rather quickly. Why? One of the reasons could be that females perpetrated the torture, and female torturers are perceived as less legitimate because how much harm can “the weaker sex” inflict? How bad can torture be if “the weaker sex” is doing it? Women are supposed to be passive and weak and their diminutive presence in society falsely implies that the harm wasn’t as serious.

Showing female torturers also helps to legitimize the military because it falsely implies that it is actually democratic because it seemingly appears to practice gender equality. It makes people forget about, or not think about, how sexual harassment and sexual assault are still prevalent within the military.

Our society has a limiting perspective of women that boxes them in as victims. This narrow view also heteronormalizes sexual violence where the perpetrators are male and the victims are female. However, as Abu Ghraib has showed us, women can be perpetrators as well. We need to expand our discourses to understand women as perpetrators as well as victims.

Housing IS a basic human right

16 02 2009

At President Obama’s Town Hall meeting on February 10th in Fort Meyers, FL., a homeless woman named Henrietta Hughes stood up and implored the president for help:

I have an urgent need, unemployment and homelessness, a very small vehicle for my family and I to live in. The housing authority has two years’ waiting lists, and we need something more than the vehicle and the parks to go to. We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom. Please help.

Hughes and her adult son have been homeless for “a long time” – after her son lost his job in computer programming, they lost their house. She has been looking for a job herself, despite being on disability for cancer, but has not been successful.

Obama kissed Hughes on the cheek and told her, “We’re going to do everything we can to help you, but there are a lot of people like you.” His staff members met with her after the meeting and she left feeling satisfied and grateful for having been acknowledged.

However, conservative pundits have been very quick to criticize Hughes for trying to “milk the system for all its worth.” Michelle Malkin has been publicly taunting Hughes:

Hughes didn’t explain the cause of her financial turmoil. Obama didn’t ask. And if we conservatives dare to question the circumstances — and the underlying assumption that it is government’s (that is, taxpayers’) role to bail her out — we’ll be lambasted as cruel haters of the downtrodden…Well, pardon my unbending belief in fairness and personal responsibility, but why should my tax dollars go to feed the housing entitlement beast?

…That is quite harsh… What I do not understand is why conservatives are trying so hard to tear Hughes to pieces. She is one of many individuals who have been adversely affected by the country’s economic structures and policies. Also, “personal responsibility” only goes so far. It is time that people stop falsely attributing issues like poverty as individual problems. Like the whole if you worked harder you wouldn’t be poor. Well, it’s not that simple. What about the political, social, and economic institutions and systemic structures that cause and perpetuate poverty among certain populations?

And Hughes is not looking for free hand-outs from the government. She is justifiably asking for housing, which is a basic human right. When Malkin and others need to get off their pedestal and stop being blinded by their own privilege. Just because someone is not as educated, wealthy and fortunate as you does not mean they deserve to be living on the street.