sights & sounds

May 29, 2010

‘the humanity of ordinary people’

Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib torturer.

From a post on Feministe about women in military. Emphases mine:

I don’t know why, but I’m a sucker for slideshows. Add a feminist theme, and I’m all over it. So I really enjoyed stumbling upon this collection of images of women in the military, starting way back with the American Revolution.

According to the story that goes along with this image, this is Sharon Hanley Disher and she’s part of “the first [family] in American history to send every member to the Naval Academy” – which is pretty awesome, I say. Her story is pretty cool, I suggest you read it if you have some time.

We’ve covered the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) before, but what are your favorite stories of women in the military?

Needless to say, I was unpleasantly surprised at seeing military service lauded on an ostensibly progressive, leftist blog; and in my initial comment, I said as much.:

what are your favorite stories of women in the military?

It’s difficult for me to answer this question – I don’t accept state authority as legitimate in the first place. Furthermore, America’s post-WWII military history has been particularly brutal and racist; and there is nothing ‘feminist’ about women’s participation in the mass slaughter of innocent people.

Given this stance, I’m not inspired by those who participate in state violence, but by anti-militarist women who boldly oppose it. (A few prominent examples of such women: Ursula Franklin, Angela Davis, Cindy Sheehan.)

I expressed myself respectfully; but another commenter was still offended by my viewpoint and responded with this.:

Saying war is or is not feminist is meaningless. It’s like trying to say grape juice is or isn’t feminist.
Military service, however, is a feminist issue, insofar as it has always been a concern for women to have an equal right to serve.
And that means the right and opportunity to participate whether the cause and actions are immoral or not; you can’t give people rights contingent on them being good people.
The idea that everyone in the military is contributing to slaughter is incredibly ignorant, biased, and offensive in itself.

I tried leaving a comment to respond to these criticisms. But for some reason, my comment hasn’t gone through; and I suspect it never will. So, I’m posting my reaction here, in its entirety:

‘Saying war is or is not feminist is meaningless. It’s like trying to say grape juice is or isn’t feminist.

I’m not usually one to participate in the ‘Is X feminist?’ debates over things like lipstick and blowjobs, as I find them tedious and irrelevant.

..but it’s pretty safe to say that participating in a brutally violent, coercive institution that disproportionately harms poor brown people (women included) isn’t feminist.

Soldiers aren’t ‘heroes’, and their work has nothing to do with keeping us safe. These wars are racist, imperialist ventures ultimately driven by corporate interests. Why is it so taboo to admit this?

Military service, however, is a feminist issue, insofar as it has always been a concern for women to have an equal right to serve.

As a black anarchafeminist, I’m about as concerned with women’s ‘equal right’ to join in the slaughter of brown people as I am with someone’s ‘equal right’ to join a human trafficking ring.

Rather, I’m not concerned about it at all; and I’m disappointed by assimilationists & reformists who seek inclusion in certain institutions without questioning the very legitimacy of those institutions in the first place.

I don’t think a government decree grants violence some arbitrary cloak of legitimacy it wouldn’t otherwise have – war is nothing more than state-sponsored mass murder; and the horrors of war tend to impact women (especially ‘third world’ women) in specific ways – that is the space on the Venn diagram where ‘war’ and ‘feminism’ touch that concerns me most, not some American woman’s ‘equal right’ to drop bombs on innocent people.

To be more clear, I’m not wholly opposed to all militia movements – I very strongly support grassroots, revolutionary movements aimed towards community autonomy (e.g. the Zapatistas) and the feminist elements within them. But a bunch of war-mongering corporatists stomping all over innocent people? No thanks.

And that means the right and opportunity to participate whether the cause and actions are immoral or not

No one has ‘the right and opportunity’ to participate in immoral acts. If you happen upon a bunch of white male skinheads beating up some brown queers, are you going to get pissed off because they tell you, “Sorry, this ass-kicking is for dudes only”?

Would campaigning for women’s ‘equal right’ to bash queers with the racists be a feminist movement? Obviously not.

The idea that everyone in the military is contributing to slaughter is incredibly ignorant, biased, and offensive in itself.

Even if they aren’t actively killing anyone, they’re still contributing to the slaughter by their endorsement of and support for the war.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not perfect – in a way, I also support war by paying my taxes, which fund these atrocities. I also sympathize with people in the military insofar as they aren’t there willingly (e.g. poor people who joined the military due to lack of other options, people forced into duty, etc.); but war is a fundamentally evil activity, and no one should voluntarily participate in it.

My reaction here serves as a further critique I made of ‘reformism’ in an older post about anti-DADT activism – namely, that pushing for inclusion in institutions without questioning the legitimacy of those institutions is a lukewarm, ‘middle-ground’ position that ultimately kowtows to the very forces leftists should oppose.

Ironically, there’s been a recent buzz in the feminist blogosphere about ‘Tea Party feminism’ and the idea of Sarah Palin as a feminist icon; and both ideas have been met with all the derision they deserve.

‘What?’, you might say. ‘A breeding ground for feminists? That bunch of neoconservative godbags who flirt with libertarian rhetoric when it suits them (e.g. on the welfare state, on guns) and chuck it when it doesn’t (e.g. on immigration, on foreign policy)?’

..and of course, you then go on to scoff at the idea that the inclusion of women is enough to label some venture as ‘feminist’.

‘Who?’, you might say. ‘A feminist? That culturally right-wing anti-choicer?’

..and of course, you then go on to scoff at the idea that one woman’s inclusion in a traditionally male-dominated arena (in this case, politics) automatically makes her a source of a feminist inspiration.

But for some reason, people seem unwilling to extend a similar critique to the military – the most brutally violent manifestation of state authority ever to exist; that causes far more harm than Palin & the Teabaggers1 ever have.

Why?

‘It is a tribute to the humanity of ordinary people that horrible acts must be camouflaged in a thicket of deceptive words like “security,” “peace,” “freedom,” “democracy,” the “national interest” in order to justify them.’

– Howard Zinn

1. Hey, I suddenly have a great name for that right-wing Christian folk band I’ve been meaning to form!

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6 Comments »

  1. Yes. Completely agree with your critique. I can also agree in the abstract with arguments that suggest that DADT is organised along illogical, homophobic reasoning. Much of the arguments in favour of it absolutely are.

    Nevertheless, the American military as you point out is not something which can be ethically defended. It is by far the greater of two evils. Imperialist wars for capital, at the cost of marginalised communities? Hell no I do not want to be included in that, and so I really don’t care about DADT and I don’t care about women in the military – which is quite saying something as a gay trans woman.

    Comment by queenemily — May 31, 2010 @ 5:32 am | Reply

  2. Just popped over from Feministe.

    Actually, I wasn’t offended by what you said, and I agree with quite a lot of what you’re saying. Especially the hero-izing of the military, it’s supposed nobility, and the serious lack of in-depth critique of it by most feminists.
    Instead all I ever hear are vague mumblings about being anti-violence and imperialist (but we’re not criticizing individuals! just the people in power military-industrial complex etc…)

    I don’t necessarily disagree with criticizing individuals; if you are a part of something you have condoned it some extant. People may join the military out of a lack of any other career option or such, but they still made the choice. They chose pay, college benefits, etc over abstaining from a system that oppresses and slaughters innocent people. They do not get some free pass from being judged because they had financial hardship or wanted to go to college.

    “Would campaigning for women’s ‘equal right’ to bash queers with the racists be a feminist movement? Obviously not.”

    Many feminists wouldn’t support it; but if it was legal to attack and beat queers, I would object to women being excluded from the activity.

    At the end of the day, I don’t believe in moral absolutism. Morality is subjective. is I think women should be able to choose if they want to go college by oppressing people in developing countries, if men are also given that choice.

    Comment by lasciel — May 31, 2010 @ 8:31 pm | Reply

  3. Thank you for the thoughtful reply, Lasciel. It seems our opinions are much more similar than I originally thought.

    Many feminists wouldn’t support it; but if it was legal to attack and beat queers, I would object to women being excluded from the activity.

    This is the viewpoint I don’t understand, though. I can understand someone taking this position if they feel it’s possible to reform certain bad institutions ‘from the inside’ – e.g. people who think that having a more diverse police force might curb brutality; or that having a more inclusive military could affect policy.

    The idea of reform ‘from within’ is valid in some cases – I do think it’s possible to reform certain oppressive institutions (e.g. a workplace, or a school-board) ‘from the inside’ by making them more inclusive; I just don’t think it’s possible with the military, specifically.

    Comment by atumbledowntherabbithole — May 31, 2010 @ 8:46 pm | Reply

  4. […] here, at the blog of one of Feministe’s […]

    Pingback by ladies and gentlemen… « Order of the Gash — June 2, 2010 @ 3:42 am | Reply

  5. I’m late to this, but I wanted to add my voice in support of your response to the article at Feministe and your post here. I’m shocked at the military apologists there.

    Comment by gudbuytjane — June 3, 2010 @ 1:31 pm | Reply

  6. Ditto gudbuytjane. I’m late on this as well. And to be honest, the whole discussion creped me out so much, it made me stay away from feministe until now, possibly for good.

    As I said in the original comment section, killing people is not a matter of taste.

    As progressives of any streak, I believe that if we can’t agree that killing people is wrong, we can’t agree on anything.
    (And yes, it’s probably easy to say that from my high European horse with no death penalty and a much smaller military machine, but sorry, I don’t believe the sanctity of life – sentient life, not lumps of cells – is just cultural. Some things have to be universal.)

    And of course it’s tough being excluded from, say, college by financial hardship and lack of social status. But fuck it. Lobby to make college more accessible. Lobby for better scholarships, or for a higher minimum wage, whatever. Don’t go killing peple just for a slice of priviliege.

    Someone on feministe said repealing DADT is important because it others people, an the Other gets singled out, beaten and killed. And I have to agree with Jay once again here: if someone gave you a gun and told you to shoot another human being face to face, or else you don’t get to go to college, I think someone who made the choice o shoot a person for a college degree would rightfully be locked up as a sociopath.

    Justifying mass murder just so you, as an individual, can receive the education you want only works ifthe other person is so Other, so less-than-human, that even their right to life is invalid. And it doesn’t matter to me if you draw the line at gender, sexuality, race, or, as feministe readers seem to do, by citizenship and geography.

    And finally, queenemily, thank you thank you thank you! It’s so good to hear this from your perspective. And I have to agree with you as well: as an Asian woman, I stronly believe that making an issue about race or gender does not necessarily solve it.

    Comment by UnFit — June 6, 2010 @ 7:20 pm | Reply


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