War exposes the operation of sex and race in the construction of a nation as war enables us to perceive the process of securing and creating territories through the use and implementation of particular values and standards of perceiving reality. For example, the division between the battlefront and home front along with the emphasis on the action in the trenches creates and highlights gendered boundaries, which are equivalent to the division between the protector and the protected.
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Furthermore, the social territories formed during and after the war highlights the use of ethnocentric viewpoints, which leads toracismand the exploitation of bodies. The mode in which these events are possible can be read by stating that the current events within the world are affected by the different modes in which a hegemonic groups’ power becomes visible in a society. Within this perspective, one may state that the current oppression that women experience is caused by the patriarchal views heeded by those who directly affect world politics.
Such may be the case; however it is still possible to state that even though certain nations hold control of current world politics, equal ground has been given to the different agents within society. Women, in this perspective, may be seen as possessing freedom in so far as they are no longer placed within the stereotypes of the feminine. However, the case is not that simple.
Consider for example a woman in a Third World Country who is granted the recognition of her independence. Although this woman is “ free”, she is still placed within the stereotype of a Third World woman who needs to be further emancipated from her “ barbaric” culture. In order to resolve such a conflict let us consider Michel Foucault’s conception of power.
According to Foucault, power is not an institution. It refers to the strategic situations within a particular society. It cannot be located in a particular or specific entity such as the state’s sovereign, it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time manifesting its existence in the different forms of repressions present within society. Repression, however, should not be seen as an entirely negative aspect. Repression is not a form of paralysis; it should not be seen as a freezing of possibilities for all forms of repression enables. Consider for example a Muslim woman who is forced by social norms to wear a burqa.
According to Abu-Lughod the act of wearing a burqa should not be seen as repressive in character since Muslim women choose to wear it for it is a basis of their social status. A Muslim woman who does not wear a burqa for instance does not come from a reputablefamilyor she is a woman who participates in the trade of the flesh. Abu-Lughod states that the benevolent father image portrayed by America towards the Palestinian women misconstrues the Palestinian women’s cultural background. Such an ethnocentric perspective merely shows America’s disrespect of other cultures.
In the above example, one can see how a repressive state may have allowances, which the individual may use to inch towards her freedom, which in these terms refers to the control of the power relations that is dominant in that particular period. Palestinian women’s opposition of the predominant consciousness regarding women’s oppression can best be portrayed using the notion of oppositional consciousness. Oppositional consciousness refers to the subversive use of tools of repression.
This is evident in the practice of Palestinian women in the United States who choose to wear their burqa despite their freedom to dispose of it within foreign grounds. It might be stated that such an action is only possible since there are no threats placed upon the individual’s life when she refuses to adhere to the practice in a different place. However, it can be argued that as long as their actions are explicitly stated to stand for a particular cause notion of oppositional consciousness still follows.
Oppositional consciousness, however, becomes problematic when one considers that an individual is predisposed to think in a particular way based upon his or her ontological and epistemic background. In other words, is it really possible for a woman to obtain freedom when she has been conditioned or predisposed to think in a particular way? Specifically, in a way wherein she considers the view of the patriarch to be the basis for truth compared to the view of her fellow women. This tendency is apparent in the current contentions thatfeminismexperiences with women outside the academe.
As an answer to the events, which occurred after the September 11 bombing, Bachetta, together with other transnational feminists stated their disapproval towards the violent effects of Bush’s “ messianic mission” to redeem the world from all forms of “ terror” evident in the so called “ backward” and “ barbaric ways” of those who reside in the Middle East. According to S. R., a Palestinian woman, though she agrees with the general appeal of feminists to stop the war, she disapproves of the way that feminists present Palestinian women in general.
According to S. R., liberation should not be forced on an individual. It is an instinct, which presents itself on its own way. The general contention regarding transnational feminists appeal is their ethnocentric tendency to perceive other women who refuses to heed their call as “ oppressed” individuals.
However, it may be argued that transnational feminists notion of feminism may be salvaged if one considers that their emphasis lies on the need for women to be freed from their political double bind apparent in their marginalization as women and in the use of their bodies as tools for the assertion of power. Instances like these can be seen in Falcon’s analysis of the militarized rape cases, which occurred in the US-Mexico border.
Sylvanna Falcon, in her paper “‘ National Security’ and the Violation of Women’s Bodies” reiterates these claims as she discussed the cases of rape committed at the US-Mexico border. Falcon argued that the rape and harassment of women in the said border presents an example of “ the hypermasculine nature of war and militarism” wherein sexual assault is used as a military strategy which aims to “ dominate women and psychologically debilitate people viewed as the ‘ enemy’” (120).
According to Falcon, what occurs in the border is a form of “ national security rape and systematic rape”. “ National security rape” refers to the sexual abuse of women committed for the sake of “ bolstering (a soldier’s) nervous nerves”. “ Systematic rape”, on the other hand, refers to the use of rape “ as an instrument of open warfare” (121). It should be noted that these women are placed in a political double bind. Besides being displaced individuals and forced migrants, they are considered as threats to the state as the state conveniently forgets that these individuals are products of the internal repressions caused by the war.
One might presume that their existence within the middle ground grants them a special immunity since they are freed from the hegemonizing tendencies of the state. In fact, Falcon herself recognizes their positionality as providing them with a space that enables them to counter the system’s legitimacy. This idea becomes her springboard for the possibility of holding the United States accountable for thehuman rightsviolations committed in the US-Mexicanborder. However, it is important to consider the tendency of “ universal rights” to be particularistic in character, in other words, applicable to others only-particularly to the enemy of those who hold the position of power.
In the 1990’s a new norm has developed in international affairs. This refers to the right of self designated “ enlighted states” to resort to force in order to protect humanity”. The guiding principle behind this exists in the malleability of norms and its tendency to be placed in alignment with the interests of the powerful. An example of this is apparent in Nuremberg trials wherein an act is considered “ criminal” if and only it is not one, which the victor committed.
The operative definition of a crime or any form of injustice within the universal jurisdiction would be an act, which only the vanquished foe committed. A more recent example can be seen in the “ war against terror” of the United States. According to the US Code and Army Manual, terrorismrefers to “ the use, or threat, of action which is violent, damaging, or disrupting, and is intended to influence the government or intimidate the public and is for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause” (qtd from George, 18).
From this definition, it follows that the sexual assaults, which occur at the US-Mexico border are in themselves acts of terrorism since they are enacted in order to reinforce the United States’ hold on the territory through causing damages and disruptions in women’s lives. This presents us with the self- negating tendencies of the United States’ “ messianic mission” of grafting democracy along with its ideals of freedom and liberty to the rest of the world.
Although it might be stated that United States may be held accountable for it offenses against the national community, the possibility of the event is dependent upon the change of the power relations that dominate the national society. Such a change, on the other hand is dependent upon women’s recognition of their positions as transnational members of the global community capable of mobilizing against the capitalist movements in the world.
Falcon, Sylvanna. “‘ National Security’ and the Violation of Women: Militarized Border Rape at the U. S. Mexico Border.”
George, Alexander. Western State Terrorism. Polity: Blackwell, 1991.