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.