Sunday, March 11, 2007

Women Soldiers Facing Two Battlefields

Via Feministe, I found this article, "The Private War of Women Soldiers," at Salon. Helen Benedict shares some of her research for an upcoming book on pervasiveness of sexual harassment, sexual assualt and rape in the U.S. military. Female soldiers find themselves facing unbearable catcalls in the mess halls, are afraid to go to the latrine at night for fear of being jumped by fellow soldiers or they are pressured/coerced into sex by commanding officers.

What is even more disturbing is how few avenues exist for women to seek redress for these injuries. In fact, in at least one case a rape survivor served time in a military prison for refusing to sign a statement that she wasn't raped.

Benedict ends this piece with following meditation:

It is for their comrades that soldiers enlist and reenlist. It is for their "battle buddies" that they risk their lives and put up with all the miseries of sandstorms, polluted water, lack of sanitation, and danger. Soldiers go back to Iraq, even if they've turned against the war, so as not to let their buddies down. Comradeship is what gets men through war, and is what has always got men through war. You protect your battle buddy, and your battle buddy protects you.

As an Iraq veteran put it to me, "There's nobody you love like you love a person who's willing to take a bullet for you."

So how does this work for women? A few find buddies among the other women in their squads, but for most there are no other women, so their battle buddies are men. Some of these men are trustworthy. Many are not.

How can a man who pressures you for sex every day, who treats you like a prostitute, who threatens or punishes you if you refuse him, or who actually attacks you, be counted on to watch your back in battle?

"Battle buddy bullshit," said GarcĂ­a from the Military Police. "I didn't trust anybody in my company after a few months. I saw so many girls get screwed over, the sexual harassment. I didn't trust anybody and I still don't."

If this is a result of the way women are treated in the military, where does it leave them when it comes to battle camaraderie? I asked soldier after soldier this, and they all gave me the same answer:


When I read articles like these, I immediately envision how the right wingnuts will spin a story like this. Most likely the line of argument they will take is that women don't belong in combat situtations (women are default fighting on the front lines since the lines of battle are far from clear in Iraq). Women do not belong in the military, so the flawed reasoning goes, because they are vulnerable to rape.

And yet, what is so unsatisfactory about this sort of tack is that there is nothing natural or inevitable about this situation. If you believe that men are incapable of becoming anything but vile rapists of their fellow soldiers in combat situations, then I fear your portrait of men is worse than any caricature that wingnut pundits make of femi-nazis. There is simply no excuse for this behavior and should never be tolerated.

The fact that it is tolerated may be rationalized as the inevitability of male sexuality under duress, but that narrative is clearly wrought by patriarchal privilege. That the military allows this kind of treatment of female soldiers is a clear sign that profound misogyny is at work in the military: the military simply does not value the humanity of its female soliders; they are makeshift prostitutes at best, and walking pornography a worst.

Lastly, let me point out how disturbing it is to think that these assualts and rapes have anything to do with pent up male horniness. This is about control, power, dehumanization . . .and this is what being in war does to soldiers. It robs them of their humanity.

I couldn't help be feel sick this morning as I turned on CNN, which was running a tribute to 4 dead soldiers. The parents, friends, and wives of these dead soldiers will never recover from their losses. And, it hit me deeply (more so than most days) how utterly depraved the President is to keep sending young people to their death, not caring for them properly when they return, and creating a generation of war wrecked men and women. Nothing about this war is good.