Masculining Women in Positions of Power and Militarism as a Fashion Statement

In our society why do women feel the need to act or present themselves as more masculine in order to be taken seriously within a position of power? Specifically within the military?  And why is dehumanizing violence a fashion statement in our country? These are two questions which Cynthia Enloe attempts to answer in chapters 5 and 6 of her book, Globalization and Militarism, Feminists Make the Link.

One idea that I took away from chapter 5 is the way in which women are pressured into presenting themselves as more masculine as they gain power in society. One place that we can look at this outside of the military is at everyday jobs. As women in different parts of the world are given the opportunity to be in higher positions of power more and more, the feeling of pressure to conform to masculine ideals builds. For example, when women are promoted to positions typically given to men, they often feel the pressure to conform to the standards set by the men in their position before them. At least, this is my common experience when dealing with women in position of power. We all know the story of the female employee going out to the strip club with her male co-workers to try to fit that role. I think that this masculinization is incredibly problematic and that it is something that we should use our feminist curiosity to explore. I’m sure you can think of other spaces in which women are challenged to take on a more masculine presentation in order to be able to preserve power.

So a main point she made was that female soldiers feel the need to sometimes be more violent than their male counterparts. While her focus was on American women in the Abu Gharib and Guantanamo, this can be seen in other parts of the world as well. actually did a story about the nation with the highest ratio of women to men, Israel. What they found was that Israeli women soldiers tend to be more violent towards Palestinian civilians than men.

“According to one soldier, “A female combat soldier needs to prove more … a female soldier who beats up others is a serious fighter … when I arrived there was another female there with me … everyone spoke of how impressive she is because she humiliates Arabs without any problem.”’

I think this is right on with what Enloe talks about when she talks about female soldiers becoming masculinized. So very obviously, this is not just a United States issue, but rather one that occurs in most if not all militaries that include women in their ranks.

So does this mean that we should not allow women into militaries for fear that they might become masculinized? Definitely not. The obvious problem is that women are not taken seriously if they do not conform to this male perpetrated stereotype that soldiers have to be masculine. So as Enloe points out in the book, the military’s big questions is how can we admit women into this male dominated space (the military) without making her masculinized while also keeping the military from becoming feminized?

My answer to that would be, maybe we need a little feminization up in there.

I think we need to be less scared of what a feminized version of the military might look like, because obviously our own military is infatuated with doing nothing but dominating other countries, and specifically the people within those countries (think about the prisoners of war  and the many civilians who are raped by American soldiers). But, as Enloe states:

“In a patriarchal culture – in rich countries and poor countries, in countries with diverse cultural traditions – any person, group, or activity that can be feminized risks losing his or her (or its) influence, authority, and even self-respect. So long as any culture remains patriarchal, then, feminization can be wielded as an instrument of intimidation. -Enloe 96

So on that note, chapter 6 talks about the way in which the violence enacted in militaries becomes a fashion statement, and how we perpetuate this violence by wearing things such as camouflage or khaki. Why do we feel the need to dress up as the people who systematically rape civilians and torture prisoners? In what way is this “cool”? I’ve always wondered why camouflage was so big, long before I realized the alarming rate at which soldiers rape civilian women or kill innocent people, but then again I was raised to be skeptical of the military. So that might have something to do with it. I think this fashion came out somewhere in the middle of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and has continued since. People have seen wearing camo as a form of patriotism and supporting our troops, which is why is has gained so much popularity.


I seriously do not understand a culture in which we idealize military strength and masculinization so much. What kind of image are you giving off when you wear these kind of things? And what does that say about the society that we live in? It may seem trivial to be so hung up on what the current fashion trends are, or what people are wearing but when media is telling us that what we need to wear is clothes that accept and perpetuate masculinized violence, then I think we need to look at that very seriously. It furthers the idea in society that the military is an institution that should be idealized, rather than trivialized.

So obviously, this talk about military fashion was part of a bigger discussion Enloe was having about demilitarization, because camo as a fashion statement shows just how militarized our whole society has become. When we don’t question a six-year-old wanting to look like someone in a hyper-masculinized institution, we aren’t questioning the ways in which masculinity and militarism and globalization influence our lives. I think we need to implore a feminist curiousity into everyday life, and not ignore the things that may seem trivial to us, such as fashion statements.

Shaima Al Awadi, a Hate Crime? CNN Makes the Case.

In recent news, a media debate centering around the murder (or unfortunate death as some people put it) of Trayvon Martin in Florida has been circulating. People have been asking, “Is it a hate crime or not?”

Meanwhile, another brutal murder has taken place on the opposite side of the country that is not gaining as much media attention, but is also being questioned over whether or not it was a hate crime. This news article talks about the murder of an Iraqi woman, Shaima Al Awadi, in her home on March 21st. The authors mentions that Al Awadi will be flown home to Iraq for her burial, and then goes in depth about what happened.

The authors talk about what the police are doing, which from the way it is talked about, seems like a whole lot of nothing. They have the police investigators being quoted as saying the note found with her (telling her to go back to Iraq and calling her and her family “terrorists”) “threatening”. They then go on to point out that the police have note ruled this an official “hate crime” but that they have ruled it an “isolated incident”.

“Based on the content of the note, we are not ruling out the possibility that this may be a hate crime,” city Police Chief Jim Redman said Monday.

“Other evidence,” however, leads investigators to remain open to other possibilities, he said. “The possibility that this is a hate crime is just one aspect of what we are examining.”

I think that pointing this out about the police is the author’s way of trying to influence the reader (which I am completely influenced) to believe that this should be perceived as a hate crime and to be angry that it has yet to be. The way that the authors of this article present the investigator’s reports makes it seem as though there is little being done in order to figure out what has really happened to this woman in her own home. Redman does not say what the “other possibilities” are in this quote, and it sticks out because of all the evidence that the authors give about it being a hate crime. Without the evidence of the “other possibilities”, it just sounds like an excuse.

The authors use quotes by Shaima’s daughter:

“A week ago they left a letter saying, ‘This is our country, not yours, you terrorists,'” she said over the weekend. “So my mom ignored that, thinking (it was) kids playing around, pranking. And so the day they hurt her, they left it again and it said the same thing.”

The author chose to include this quote because it shows that this was a premeditated attack on a woman based on the fact that she was Iraqi. Other authors that were trying to convey the argument that this wasn’t a hate crime would probably have chosen to leave this part out, because this seems like pretty key evidence that it was in fact a hate crime. I think that the authors are trying to make the point that the evidence is so very obvious with this case that the police must not be doing their jobs very well.

What the article doesn’t talk about is the possibility of the  police’s own prejudice against this Iraqi family, and the possibility that this prejudice could be why they are hesitant to call this a hate crime. When looking at the comments sections, one person wrote that “it was the family who killed her, I’ve seen this happen many times”. This prejudice could very well be in the minds of the police, who may believe that this is just another case of an “honor killing” gone wrong.

Despite the amount of modern Muslim families that have lived in and moved to America, the stereotypes and prejudices that exist often see Muslim men as abusive towards their wives and daughters. This prejudice is furthered by all of the media surrounding isolated cases of honor killings of women in the United States. No one talks about all of the families who have moved here from their original countries that live completely normal “American” lives. People see the hijab and assume that the woman wearing it is a “servant of her husband”, rather than someone who chooses to wear it as a symbol of her faith (much like a kippah cap a Jewish Man might wear).

Globalization has brought the Muslim community to the United States, but it certainly has not explicitly helped broaden the minds of United States citizens about Muslim families and how they are no different than any other family (most of the time).

This article does not talk about the ways in which Muslim women in particular are also often targeted for hate crimes on the Muslim community because of the way in which it can be skewed to look like an “honor killing” committed by the family. Even given such explicitly obvious evidence as the note (which I admit, could have been fabricated and since I don’t know the whole story I should not say for sure that it is a legitimate piece of evidence) it seems as though this knowledge of honor killings in Muslim families could very well be what the police called “other possibilities”.

At the end of the article, the authors even liken the murder of Shaima Al Awadi to the murder of Trayvon Martin, likening Shaima’s hijab to Trayvon’s hoodie. By doing this, the authors are able to give their opinion that both cases were in fact hate crimes.

What do you think about Shaima Al Awadi’s murder? Do you think it should be seen as a cut and dry hate crime, the way these CNN author’s do? Do you think that globalization and America’s view of Muslim women have anything to do with the way the police are acting in being reluctant to call this a hate crime? And can we compare Hijabs to Hoodies ( Shaima to Trayvon) or are they cases that should be looked at as very different cases?

Partition, Gender, and Mass Violence: Globalization and the Bloody Road to Pakistan’s Independence

Most people have heard of the partitioning of Pakistan from India at some point in their lives. Those who went to high school at least in New York would have heard about it in global social studies in high school. Even if we did learn about it, how many of us remember any details?  What high schools don’t cover is the amount of violence that erupted out of dividing one nation into two.

Pakistan officially became it’s own independent nation on August 15th, 1947 ( This came right after India had gained its independence from the British earlier the same year. The reasoning behind separating into two countries (and later more), was the areas around what became Pakistan had a Muslim majority, whereas the rest of India had a Hindu majority and many were worried about the amount of representation Muslims would get in the new parliament.

Pakistan’s independence is a byproduct of globalization. The British colonizing India is an example of globalization, and so it’s not a leap to say that India’s independence from England was a product of globalization. Their independence came right after WWII when a lot of countries were being given independence and breaking off from countries that they had been a part of for hundreds of years. Globalization is what caused the Muslims to want their own country after living among Hindus for all their lives together under British rule. This was their chance to govern their country the way that they thought would benefit Muslims best, and ensure that they were given a voice.

As you can see from this image, Pakistan wasn’t just given a single large mass of land, but two pieces of land that were separated from each other. This separation later caused the eastern part of Pakistan to become Bangladesh after 1971.

One of the biggest problems with the partition is that it caused many to leave their homes because they were of the wrong religion and to relocate to either India or Pakistan. While most of the people moving were Hindu or Muslim, many were also Sikh, Buddhists, or Christians. This migration is actually nicely depicted by this graphic:

As is the case with any massive amount of people forced out of their homes and forced to move to a completely new place, a large amount of violence exploded. This is the largest amount of mass migration of people in history (10 million people). The estimated amount of people killed during the riots that ensued range from 200,000 to 1 million, depending on the website or source used.

When reading about the partition, or Pakistan’s independence, it’s important to note that there is no “good side” or “bad side”. Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs all used large amounts of violence towards each other after living peacefully together in the same communities for hundreds of years.

As is the case among many conflicts (whether they are wars or riots), women were specifically targeted for violence by both Muslim and Hindu men.  A great fictional novel that highlights the way in which women were brutalized differently than men during partition is Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa. While it is a fictionalized account of the partition (as in the characters aren’t actually real), the violence in the novel is completely real. One of the biggest and possibly most dramatic forms of violence that is seen in the novel is the migration trains.

This is the way these trains looked when everyone boarded the train. These trains actually existed and many of them ended up the way they do in Cracking India. These trains have earned the nickname “the death trains” in which by the time they got to their next stop everyone on board was completely slaughtered. . Here is an actual account by a man who witnessed one of these death trains. In this article is said

“Morning newspapers on September 25 reported 349 Hindus were slain on the train, with many more injured and maimed. “

This is just one way in which the violence erupted out of this move that was enacted out of globalization. Women were particularly brutalized throughout the riots on both sides. Women were raped, had their breasts cut off, kidnapped, and sold into prostitution.As Anne Hardgrove writes,

Communal rape, kidnapping and forced conversion was a major part of this upheaval and it occurred in many contexts, ranging from border crossings to events in a single neighbourhood or apartment house. One estimate suggests that 1.00,000 women had been raped on each side of the India/Pakistan border. India’s loss of land to Pakistan, combined with the sense that violated women represented the violation of religious and national communities, led to rescue missions and rescue operations. The same thing happened in Pakistan. Through the chronologies of kidnapping, rape and repatriation, women became symbolic markers of territory,communal identity and nationality.

I think that her point that women had been made symbolic markers of territory and nationality is one of the most interesting points that she makes in her article, “South Asian Women’s Communal Identities”, which would be great to read up on (find on JSTOR) if this subject interests you (information will be given at the end of this blog). Another place that would be good to look at if this subject interests you is a documentary called “The Day India Burned”, which you can actually view on YouTube right now.

The violence that came out of the partition of India is something that should never be forgotten, and certainly should not be skipped over in history classes. It should serve as an example of how separating a country can go horrifically wrong. Testimonies can be found on this really neat site, The 1947 Partition Archive. This site has videos of people who experienced or witnessed the mass migration and violence and also offers a library of sources that talk about the partition.

Further reading:

Hardgrove, Anne. “South Asian Women’s Communal Identities.” Economic and Political Weekly 30.39 (1995): 2427-430.

Pandey, Gyanendra. Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism, and History in India. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. Print.

Rape Axe: Bite the Penis that Rapes You

Rape axe is a revolutionary new product designed to literally bite the penis that tries to rape you. This female condom was designed by a woman from South Africa, Dr. Sonnet Ehlers. Dr. Ehlers said that what inspired her to create this product was when she met a rape victim who said “If only I had teeth down there”, to which she promised that someday she would do something to help people like her. This proclamation led to the creation of Rape Axe, which, if it ever becomes available for buying, I think that it would seriously help a lot of people, particularly within war zones.

The actual product works when the woman inserts the female condom into her vagina (it’s inserted much the same way that a tampon is inserted). Once it is secure, if a man’s penis penetrates the vaginal opening sharp barbs latch on to the penis and once he pulls out, the whole Rape Axe is stuck to his penis and cannot be removed by anything but a surgeon without causing great harm. A pretty good virtual video of this can be seen here. My first thought was, wouldn’t this hurt the  woman inserting it? But apparently the way it’s designed maintains that it does not cause any harm to the woman wearing it.

Dr. Ehler’s vision is to be able to identify men who attempt rape because the device cannot be removed from the penis safely without surgical help. Within countries that have effective police enforcement, this device would work very well I think, though with nations who are in a period of war and can’t effectively arrest every man who has this device attached to them (especially since many of the men would be members of the government’s military most likely) this device loses it’s effectiveness.

While this product is not quite up for sale just yet, it has opened up a large discussion on women, war, and rape. There are several articles out there both criticizing and applauding Dr. Ehler’s invention. My views on this product? Genius. I think that not only would these be incredibly useful in war zones, but in everyday life as well. This product would inflict fear within every rapist’s mind every time he thought about violating a woman. I would think that the fear of injury to his penis would be enough to decide against rape, and that’s Dr. Ehler’s thought as well.

It’s no secret that within war zones rape is a very common and powerful tool used by men to humiliate and abuse their enemies. When thinking about this product, I decided looking at a particular country riddled with war and conflict would be the best way of thinking about the usefulness of this product. Within the Democratic Republic of Congo, rape is a very common occurrence and is used by the different militias and government troops (as well as by husbands and other non-war affiliated men). Many different articles have different statistics, which makes sense if you know anything about how many women who experience rape actually report it. I think that if this product was introduced to women in this area, once several men had their junk “bitten”, word would spread and many less men would be tempted to rape and use rape as a tool of war. Dr. Ehler doesn’t think that her device more than likely would make the rapist very angry and may end up injuring or killing the victim. She says,

“No, he is ‘tagged’ and cannot remove Rape-aXe. If he kills or further harms his victim he will be in double trouble.  The possibility that your rapist will kill under normal circumstances is positive; with Rape-aXe he is tagged. Your serial killer, kills up to ten women before the police catch him. This was the answer I got from rapists in prison.”

Which, in a lot of ways makes sense in most circumstances. I’m not sure this is the case as much with war and rape, as I think that men who rape in times of war are just looking to humiliate their enemies and their enemies’ wives, daughters, and sisters and are not necessarily looking to kill them. Being in “double trouble” in areas of conflict doesn’t seem to apply, as men are likely not to be arrested even if they do present themselves in a hospital with this condom latched onto his penis. Within our country, for example, I think this product would be incredibly useful, but for staying on topic’s sake I won’t go into depth as to why. While this product wouldn’t likely get many arrests in the DRC, I do think that it would lower the amount of rapes that happen, and not to mention at least the rapist would end up with a large amount of pain in his nether region. It seems at least a little rewarding to think that if a man is going to try and inflict such pain and humiliation on a woman, he ends up with a large amount of pain and humiliation himself.

Rape Axe has also been criticized as being a “medieval contraption” and a “torture device“. To which she replies,

“my response, quite frankly is that a medieval deed deserves a medieval consequence. It’s the twenty first century, man has supposedly evolved into a more civilised being… yet rape statistics are on the rise! Child and infant rape has increased 400% over the last decade!”

This criticism has apparently been strong enough to keep the sale of Rape Axe out of convenience stores and away from any major commercial sales. When trying to look up where I could purchase Rape Axe on the internet, I didn’t come up with anything promising. I think the thought of women being able to fight back and resist rape has been scary enough for men to prevent this awesome product from coming out.

Why do you think it hasn’t been commercially produced for the public so far? And do you think that this product would benefit women in areas of conflict and war?

UN Women, Building a Road Towards Peace

The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (also known as UN Women) is a United Nations group that is focused on helping women and building peace in places full of conflict. This special entity was created in July 2010 and merged several existing groups together, such as UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women), DAW (Division for the Advancement of Women), INSTRAW (International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women), and OSAGI (Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women) ( Within UN women, there are different focus groups, which include: violence against women, peace and security, leadership and participation, economic empowerment, national budgeting and planning, and millennium development goals. For the purpose of this blog, I’m mainly going to be focusing on peace and security, as this pertains to global peace and conflict the most.

The peace and security focus on the site stems from several of the UN security council’s resolutions.

  • The first set of these resolutions are: resolution 1325 and 1889 which “calls for strengthening women’s agency as peacemakers and peacebuilders, including their participation in conflict prevention and peace processes, early recovery, governance and in peace operations.” So basically this first resolution is a declaration and a call for women to make a stand towards the peace process globally and make sure that they demand to be part of it. This resolution can be seen as particularly important in the context of women and globalization because it recognizes that women are important to the global peace process and that to make true progress, women must be part of it. As the site recalls, “Resolution 1889 (2009) complements 1325 by calling for the establishment of global indicators to measure progress on its implementation.” So while the first resolution does not mention globalization per se, this second resolution makes it clear that to truly see if women are involved in the process, there will be global indicators and that women’s involvement can be measured by these indicators.
  • The next set of resolutions is resolution 1820 and 1888, which “calls for an end to widespread conflict-related sexual violence and for accountability in order to end impunity. Resolution 1888 (2009) focuses on strengthening leadership, expertise and other institutional capacities within the United Nations and in member states to help put an end to conflict-related sexual violence.” This next set focuses mainly on the widespread violence aimed towards women throughout the world and the call to end it. The UN sees this as a large enough injustice to call for an end to it, and recognizes that sexual violence within areas of conflict are prevalent enough to call it out as a force that needs to be stopped.
  • The last resolution is resolution 1960, which “mandates the Secretary-General to list those parties credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of sexual violence in situations on the Council’s agenda.” This last resolution makes people and countries who perpetrate and allow sexual violence to prevail in their communities accountable under the UN Secretary-General.

So what does UN Women do with all these resolutions? After all, having resolutions and saying that we need an end to violence against women globally is excellent but what really needs to be focused on is what action do we take against this violence and where do women come into the peace-making process? The UN Women entity focuses on four areas, Peace-building, Security  and Justice, Sexual and Gender Based Violence, and Post-Conflict and Humanitarian Planning.

  • Within the area of Peace-building, UN Women have been actively involved in supporting the role women have played in peace negotiations in Uganda, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as “supporting initiatives aimed at strengthening the presence and capacity of female officers in peace operations, such as in Afghanistan”. So as these examples point out, they have been actively involved in getting women to be a major player in the peace process globally.
  • UN Women have also made significant waves within their Security and Justice focus, such as “providing gender expertise and technical assistance to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in Liberia and Sierra Leone and the Commission of Inquiry for Guinea”, as well as “supporting local Afghan initiatives to strengthen the participation of women and the inclusion of gender perspectives in transitional justice mechanisms”. So we can see that UN Women helped to provide their advanced knowledge of gender and gender issues in order to receive justice for large groups of women in different areas of the world.
  • They have also done a lot with their Sexual and Gender based violence, such as “co-hosting a Colloquium on Sexual Violence & Peace Negotiations, which brought together eminent mediators, thematic experts, peace activists and leaders of women’s organizations from conflict-affected countries to help overcome the absence of provisions on sexual violence in most mediation processes”. I think this is a very great thing for UN Women to have done, as it helped to establish an area where women who need help can receive it from people who want to help. Sometimes a little guidance goes a long way with activists.
  • Within Post-Conflict and Humanitarian Planning, UN Women “has supported the integration of gender into post-conflict needs assessments and conducted research on whether policies and programmes on gender translate effectively into budget allocations.” This is incredibly important, as many programs that go into effect in a post-conflict area may seem to be generally useful to the area, but may harm women in unintentional ways, and so to integrate policies to make sure women are not harmed in the post-conflict time period is a great step forward.

UN Women has done a lot to ensure that women are an active participant in the peace-making process as well as speaking out against the global atrocity of sexual violence that occurs against women. They have been actively involved in many different countries and have made important changes benefitting women. While all this is said and done and has definitely been a good step in the right direction, it is only a  small step in a long road that needs so much more work to be done.

-Amanda Kothen