What if you wanna read about military rape culture?

Well, check out my new article in the Spring issue of Ms. magazine on newsstands now. So excited to be included in a mag I have read for over 20 years!

What if Peace was Profitable? (A review of Iron Man)

I am re-posting this review from last year as I anxiously prepare to view Iron Man 2. I have not watched ANY previews or read any hype so as to go in without (too m)any preconceptions of the sequel. I will be posting a review at the Ms. blog (and will cross-post here). Until then, let’s revisit my take on the first Iron Man:

The film starts with Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) in full-on cool mode, swilling whiskey on the rocks and quipping “no gang signs” when a soldier holds up a peace sign. A bit later, this womanizing head of a mega-weapons corporation notes that there is no profit in peace – that it would, in effect, put him (and many others) out of work. Yet, Stark has a change of heart (quite literally) after being almost fatally wounded in a secret snuff attack by his partner and nemeses, Obidiah (played with tycoon nastiness by Jeff Bridges). With the help of Yinsen, another captor, Stark is saved and has a new heart in place – literally, a technological heart that keeps him alive, but also, more significantly, a heartfelt awakening to the realities of war and weaponry.

However, as Sarah Seltzer at RH reality check writes, “the movie seems to imply that his moral doubts kick into gear mostly because the dark-skinned baddies got their hands on his stockpile.” Or, in other words, Stark isn’t too concerned about militarization and arms dealing until the arms are in the hands of the ‘evil terrorists.’ Unfortunately, the film does nothing to trouble the ‘you’re either with us or your against us’ dichotomy. According the logic of the film, the Afghan baddies are ‘against us’ (except for Yinsen, the doctor who saves Stark and is, of course, conveniently nixed before the film is in full throttle). Moreover, as the side character from SHIELD (the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division) plays a considerable role in saving Pepper Potts and Iron Man while also making the annihilation of Obidiah possible, the film suggests that the real enemies are ‘over there’ and what we really need are bigger ‘shields’ to protect us – a message with which the current administration would certainly approve. And, even though the baddie is a corporate white guy, he is not framed as bad because he makes weapons or loves wealth and power, but because he trades with the wrong people (the Middle Easterners that the film stereotypically casts as terrorist cave dwellers). This representation of ‘baddies’ using U.S. weapons for evil purposes is furthered when Khan finds the remnants of the first Iron Man suit in the desert in order to retool them for his own use. Here, good U.S. weapons (the Iron Man suit) are stolen by bad terrorists (Khan). Thus, the message is not so much anti-weapon as anti-weapons for (middle-eastern) Others.

Once back in the good ole U.S.of A. (yet another dichotomy the film fails to unpack: US good, Middle East bad) Stark, the head of a corporation at the heart of the military industrial complex, announces at a press conference that his company will no longer make weapons. Heads start spinning and stocks start dropping – just as they would in the real world if Lockheed Martin or General Electric decided to disavow making weapons. Weapons are big business – one of the biggest – and, as the film in its techno-glam super-hero style vaguely reveals, this business requires perpetual war (as well as selling weapons to as many buyers as possible- whether ‘friend’ or ‘foe’).

While its nice to think some of the pro-peace, anti-military industrial subtext will travel home with theatre goers, when I asked one of the boys that joined my kids and I at the movies what he thought the movie was trying to say about war, his enthusiastic reply was “Weapons Rule!” Unfortunately, I think this is the message that many will ultimately take away from the film – that technology rules and what we really need is “better weapons” which could rule the world in an ultra-cool way – via Iron Men! Seems like this type of weapon would in fact be Bush’s wet dream – wasn’t that the sort of look he was aiming for when he donned the flack suit and announced “Mission Accomplished”? Can’t you just see Bush all rigged up in that neato red and gold Iron Man suit, quipping “I ain’t only gonna smoke you outta your caves, I’m gonna fire blast you out!” Of course, Stark plays a much different Iron Man than Bush would – he has a heart and a brain, and really does seem to have turned against the idea that weapons are the answer – only problem is, the audience may not be able to make that turn with him when the movie makes it look so damn much like “Weapons Rule!”

*As an aside, is there any reason Pepper Potts has to wear heels so high she can barely walk? And, why the hell didn’t she ever get to gear up in a Iron Woman suit? I suggest purple and silver, with no heels.

**For great analysis of this film, see WOC PhD and Feminist Underground.

What if you are fond of Fonda? (On Jane Fonda’s continuing feminist and peace activist work)

Well, despite my best intentions, I didn’t post too much on Women’s History last month… So, now that the month is over (!), I wanted to include at least one post devoted to a woman still making history – Jane Fonda. I have chosen her for a number of reasons – because I recently wrote about her for an encyclopedia of women in military history, because she has been in the news quite a bit lately regarding her plans for world fitness day, because she continues to be an important feminist activist even though she is often overlooked by our youth obsessed culture (which includes a rather youth obsessed feminist movement as well…), and, lastly, because she has personal relevance for me given my dad loathes her as “a traitor” and I have long loved her not only for her “feel the burn” antics but also for her life-long devotion to feminism.

I knew of Jane Fonda first as an actress and aerobics guru . I loved On Golden Pond, and my sister and I regularly popped her workouts into our Beta-max player to “feel the burn.” It wasn’t until years later that I learned of her anti-war and feminist activism. My dad, like many former military peeps, still views her as a traitor.

Now 72, Jane Fonda continues to fight the good fight and remains active both literally – she will launch world fitness day on May 1 – and intellectually/politically through her continued devotion to empowering girls and women, critiquing militarism and patriarchy, and working to eradicate violence globally.

Born December 21, 1937 in New York City. Fonda is a well-known actress and anti-war activist who rose to fame in the 1960s. Known in the 1980s for her exercise videos, she is now perceived as an anti-war icon by some and a traitor by others.

Conflicting views of her anti-war activism stem mainly from her longstanding and very vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. Though she devoted years of her life to educating herself about war, its effects on soldiers and civilians, and worked tirelessly with GI’s, peace activists, and leaders, she was often framed as “just an actress” who had no business speaking out about the war. The response to her work was gendered in the extreme – and remains so to this day.

Fonda became a well-known opponent of Vietnam War in the early 1970s, especially its reliance on civilian bombing. From 1970 to 1975, she used her celebrity status to raise money for various anti-war groups. She traveled across the United States in 1970 visiting GI coffeehouses run by veterans and civilians.  Her reputation for strong antiwar speeches and generosity in funding antiwar causes soon resulted in large crowds at public appearances.

During this time period, Fonda made significant contributions to the United States Serviceman’s Fund and formed the “Free the Army Tour” with Fred Gardner and Donald Sutherland. Free the Army toured through1972 and was then made into film titled F.T.A. Fonda played a major role in the Winter Soldier Investigations into war crimes. She raised funs for Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), founded the GI Office in Washington D.C, which provided legal aid for draftees, and helped to establish the Indochina Peace Campaign, an antiwar education organization.

Credited with helping connect the Vietnam antiwar movement with the cultural mainstream by some, Fonda was vilified and attacked by others. A large part of the attacks stem from Fonda’s 1972 trip to Hanoi, a pivotal moment in her anti-war activism. While in Vietnam, she spoke out against the war, highlighting the mistreatment of civilians, calling the war a lost cause, and condemning both the Johnson and Nixon administrations. She argued the war was for the benefit of U.S.businessmen and not in the interests of American citizens generally. Her speeches and talks emphasized the tolls of war on individual families, on children, and on poor or underprivileged communities both in Vietnam and in the U.S.

Fonda is often credited with publicly exposing the strategy of bombing the dikes in Vietnam. While in Vietnam, Fonda also visited American prisoners of war and publically claimed the POW’s assured her they had not been tortured. This resulted in much animosity towards Fonda. In the years following her Hanoi visit, many accusations Fonda had caused POW suffering and torture circulated. The infamous photo of her seated on an anti-aircraft battery used against American pilots fueled her future characterization as “Hanoi Jane.” Fonda apologized for this photo sixteen years later in an interview with Barbara Walters. Directing her comments  to the soldiers who served in Vietnam, Fonda carefully crafted her apology so as to only include the photo incident and not the rest of her antiwar activism. In a 60 Minutes interview on March 31, 2005, Fonda reiterated she did not regret her trip to North Vietnam in 1972, with the exception of the anti-aircraft photo.

Named in 1999 by ABC News as one of 100 most imp women of 20th Century, Fonda continues her work as a peace activist. She has continued to place particular emphasis on war’s impact on women, often iterating that war is rooted in patriarchy and acts as one of the greatest threats to democracy. In 2002 she visited Israel and demonstrated with the Women in Black against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip. More recently, Fonda has argued that the so-called War on Terror will result in more terrorist attacks and an increased global hatred of Americans. Fonda and George Galloway organized and anti-war bus tour for 2005 but postponed the tour to focus on to the relief operations in the Gulf Coast necessitated by Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, Fonda participated in an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. Currently, Fonda remains active in feminist and peace activist movements, focusing in recent years on war in the Congo and violence against women.

References:

Burke, Carol. Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight. Boston: Beacon, 2004.

Hershberger, Mary. Jane Fonda’s War: A Political Biography of an Antiwar Icon. New York:  The New Press, 2005.

Hershberger, Mary. Jane Fonda’s Words of Politics and Passion. New York:  The New Press, 2006.

What if the soldier-as-rapist is not an aberration?

(Cross-posted here at Ms.Blog)

Fort Bragg soldier Spc. Aaron Pernell, 22, an indirect fire infantryman who has served two tours in Iraq, was charged with sexual assault in February. Pernell appeared in court Tuesday on 13 charges including rape and attempted rape. What’s unique about these charges are that they were made at all: thousands of other military rapists have escaped punishment in the past fifteen years, according to the Denver Post in its excellent investigative series [PDF].

As the Ms. Blog recently reported, a new Pentagon study confirms that militarized sexual violence (MSV) is on the rise. Yet, while crimes such as those Pernell is charged with are all too common, perpetrators regularly escape punishment and often re-enter the civilian world with no criminal record.

Since one-third of women who join the military are raped or sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers, we must recognize that the soldier as rapist is all too common. Given that rape and sexual assault rates rise in the civilian world during wartime, we must also recognize that militarized sexual violence is trickling down into our communities. As more soldiers return home, we can expect more crimes like those Pernell is charged with.

In fact, areas surrounding military bases have already seen increasing numbers of sexual assault. Stacy Bannerman, author of When the War Came Home, calls this “collateral damage,” writing:

In the past five years, hundreds, if not thousands, of women have been beaten, assaulted, or terrorized when their husbands, fiancés, or boyfriends got back from Iraq. Dozens of military wives have been strangled, shot, decapitated, dismembered, or otherwise murdered when their husbands brought the war on terror home.

The practice of granting moral waivers–which allow people to enlist who have records of domestic violence, sex crimes, and manslaughter–may also exacerbate rates of MSV. Further, as Professor Carol Burke documents, many soldiers enlist as teenagers to escape troubled or violent homes. Since such abuse (if not addressed) tends to be cyclical, filling our military ranks with abuse survivors without addressing childhood trauma, offering psychological counseling, or implementing anti-abuse training, is a recipe for continued violence. These factors, in conjunction with the prevalence of PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder) in returning soldiers, which has been linked to enacting violence, likely means that rates of MSV will not be going down anytime soon.

Though Pernell’s case is a horrific one, sadly it is far from unique. To read more on this subject, watch for my feature article in the upcoming Spring issue of Ms. magazine.

What if Obama’s State of the Union speech ushers in an age of government sponsored reality TV: “Education Idol,” “Obama’s Biggest Little Losers”and“The Amazing Race to Control the World”?

Before I read around the net for reactions to the state of the union, I thought I would formulate some of my own. So, here are thoughts on a few areas close to my heart: Education, Body Image, and Militarism.

On education, Obama referred to the “national competition to improve our schools.” Wow, will there be a reality TV show to go along with that? How about “Education Idol”?

I agree with Obama that “one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education.” Too bad he doesn’t back this belief with monetary support. Alas, there always seems to be enough money for war but not for education.

On body image, Obama gave a nod to Michelle Obama “who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.” Oooh, sounds like the makings for another reality show! How about “Obama’s Biggest Little Losers”?

Instead of targeting body size, how about targeting high fructose corn syrup and ultra-processed Franken foods. Oh no, food corps wouldn’t like that, and now they hold the purse strings…

On militarism, Obama resorted to euphemism again, hiding war cries under the guise of “national security” and “terrorists.”

There seemed to be a big gap in the war portions of his speech – the military budget!!! Why no mention of how our war-happy stance has a lot to do with our current economic collapse? Why no talk of curtailing military spending or cutting back on our bases around the globe?

Seems all his war talk could have the makings of a reality show too – how about “The Amazing Race to Control the World,” “American’s Next Top War,” or “Country Swap”?

To sum up my reaction, I found most of the speech to be about as believable (and disheartening) as reality TV.

I heartily agree with Obama that “America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity,” I just think Obama and the US government define freedom and human dignity a little differently than I do.

I don’t find that occupying the globe with our soldiers, bases, and prisons is the best way to bring about freedom. I don’t find that championing corporate capitalism promotes human dignity – to the contrary, it puts profit before people.

If he really wants to stand on the side of freedom and human dignity, Obama must think about de-militarizing the globe and decreasing the corporate stranglehold on our world. Oh yeah, and supporting education with more than just words would be nice too.

What if…? Short Takes 1/14/10

  1. Want to help the people of Haiti? The SOA Watch website, an organization dedicated to closing the School of the Americas,* has donation options listed, as does The F Word. I am wary of the Red Cross after all the 9/11 and Katrina rumors about their corrupt and discriminatory practices. You may want to avoid having your donation dollars go toward credit card company profits though, as HuffPo warns of here. Also, for a good article on why women and children will be disproportionately affected by the disaster, see Tracy Clark Flory’s article here.
  1. Post-racial society my ass! For scary coverate of the rise of white power groups in the US, see “White Power USA: The Rise of Right-Wing Militias in America.”
  1. Sick of hearing about the “mancession” when you only make 73 to 78 cents to the dollar for every man or when being female results in chronic under and un-employment? For a good take on why the term “Mancession” is inaccurate go here.
  1. Check out the intro post for my new guest column at Womanist Musings, “Monstrous Musings.” Posts on all things monstrous will come out every other Thursday.

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*The SOA, as the SOA Watch website explains, the School of the Americans “is a U.S. Army training school that trains soldiers and military personnel from Latin American countries in subjects like counter-insurgency, military intelligence and counter-narcotics operations. Under Department of Defense jurisdiction, this school is funded by U.S. taxpayer money.”

What if…? Short Takes 12/14/09

1. Watched last week’s Xmas episode of The Office and LOVED Phyllis as Santa. Michael, being his regular (cis)sexist self, mocked her as “Tranny Claus,” insisting HE be Santa yet again. Phyllis rocked as Santa! Yeah for female Santa (and gender-queer Santa)! As for Mrs. Claus, I am damn sure she does a lot more than make cookies.

2. Obama gave himself a B+ on Oprah? Hmmm, methinks there is a bit of grade inflation going on. I gave him an A when he entered, especially as he jumped on repealing the Global Gag Rule. But his top student status declined from there. For effort, maybe a C-. For war cry, an F. For being in bed with bio-pharm, big corps, and those who love empire, an F. Don’t think this all averages out to a B+. Better luck next semester, Obama!

3.While if I had my way, we would figure out a way to eradicate the necessity for the military rather than fighting for equality within the military, I understand the need to transform the existing system until we can obliterate it (much like with patriarchy). One area in dire need of transformation in the military is the hyper-masculine ethos that translates into a rabidly sexist war machine. Not only does this result in the sexual assault of 71% of women in the military, it means they are treated like crap when they return home from service. They don’t get the “you’re a hero” attitude nor the resounding welcome into the warrior-hero boys’ club. Nope, instead they are rendered invisible yet again, treated as if all they did in Iraq was brew the coffee, keeping the homefire at the base burning. (For an article discussing the treatment of female vets, go here.)