Military and Feminism: Protecting…. what?

I recently read a posting on by Samhita about the new cover of TIME magazine. The cover features an Afghan girl with her nose cut off and the title: “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan”. Samhita does a fantastic job of pointing out some of the bigger problems with this cover here, but I wanted to add some of my own thoughts to it.

Last semester I took a Feminist Media Theory class, and in that class one of the things I was struck by was the use of women to promote a military agenda. When the US begin its war in Afghanistan, women were used as a part of the reasoning for going in; we had to save and liberate those poor women! Because in some twisted way, the presence of the US military would definitely liberate these women — the US military has a fantastic track record with respecting and liberating women. Samhita says “…I am a transnational feminist and ardently believe that militarism in its essence is antithetical to feminism. It is very difficult to have one with the other, since militarism is predicated on the belief that masculinity and violence are effective solutions and bring peace.” I think that quote says it well — there is nothing about feminism and the military that go together.

The military is extremely paternalistic — its goal is to protect people from some unwanted fear or threat.  I’m not just talking about the US military here, but the concept of a military in general.  In this case, the paternalistic manner of the military goes one step further.  Here we have threat of what could happen to women and girls if the US military leaves.  This ‘father figure’ can’t possibly leave because women and girls are still being abused.  Never mind that this abuse happened while the US military was in place.  These poor women and girls need us to stay to protect them.

Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely think that feminists from around the world should take the treatment of women and girls as a feminist issue (provided we can do so without taking anyone’s voice, or putting words into anyone’s mouth!).  I just think that using the force of the military is not going to solve that problem.

I can’t look at this image without thinking about how fitting it is that the subject of the photograph is a young girl.  I can just picture the editing room where they put the cover together, with the editors standing around the table filled with takes from the photo shoot and possible headline ideas.  I can see one editor pick up the photo and the headline and lay them down in the middle of the table with absolute satisfaction and amazement at finding these two perfect halves.  I can see the other editors smiling at the other editor, wishing they had found that perfect combination.  I mean, really, it’s a scene from a movie almost.

Maybe that’s my issue with it: it’s too fabricated.  It’s too … “hey, let’s remind them of how we are protectors of the weak and powerless! oh and hey! let’s remind them that those people are largely women or women of color!”   It’s like the people at TIME choose to ride the wave of the feminist backlash that crops up now and then; like they felt it was time again to remind us all that women are weak and frail and need strong protectors to liberate them.  (Because feminism had the gall to happen without men in charge!)

My final thought on the cover is this: just what was the US military doing when that girl was abused? If that is an example of what can happen if we leave the country, what does it say about the effectiveness of the our presence there now? Am I to ignore the fact that that happened while we were there and will most likely continue to happen until the influence of patriarchal violence ceases? I’m concerned that we are just “veil-washing” (to coin a term) all over again.

What are your thoughts on the cover? Is there a place for the military in feminism?

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2 Responses to Military and Feminism: Protecting…. what?

  1. rcribay says:

    (Preface: this will be an extremely vague comment.)

    I very recently read some quote by someone who said something along the lines of only those who are still nursing children are fit to lead a nation into war.

    • So kind of the idea that mothers should lead wars because they know the cost? Or more along the lines of the idea that that would make militarism more of a feminist issue? I’m not sure I agree with either. The first one I think relies too much on the stereotype of women, and mothers specifically, being gentler or more ruled by emotion than their male counterparts. The second I think is an example of playing with the master’s tools (to reference the wonderful Audre Lorde!). Women leading the charge doesn’t make the concept of military any less paternalistic.
      It’s an interesting quote tho, I’d be interested to know where it came from and who said it.

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