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Nimo's War, Emma's War
Making Feminist Sense of the Iraq War
By Cynthia Enloe
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS Copyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
Eight Women, One War
Nimo, Maha, Safah, Shatha, Emma, Danielle, Kim, and Charlene. Four Iraqi women, four American women. I have never met any of these women. But I feel as though I have been living with them for the past six years. They have changed my mind. My mind slips into a particular mood when I think of each of these women. My thoughts orient themselves differently when I give them over to any one of them, while walking to the subway, or standing in line at the post office. Nimo takes me to a small beauty salon where women chat easily, the lights flicker and the water sputters out of the faucet; Kim makes me feel what it is like to be awoken in the middle of the night by a phone call from an anxious military wife. The sputtering water, the nighttime phone call—these are among women's lived realities during the long Iraq War.
Nimo, Maha, Safah, Shatha, Emma, Danielle, Kim, and Charlene. I am deeply indebted to each one of them. They have taught me anew that there are always fresh questions to ask about what it takes to wage wars—about all the efforts to manipulate disparate ideas about femininity, about the attempts to mobilize particular groups of women, about the pressures on certain women to remain loyal and silent. There are more efforts to control women and to squeeze standards for femininity and manliness into narrow molds than most war wagers will admit. There are far more efforts than most analysts care to acknowledge.
Together, these eight women also have taught me that in the midst of warfare the politics of marriage, the politics of femininities, the genderings of racial and ethnic identities, and the workings of misogyny each continue. Warfare does not stop the gendered clock. Sometimes, it sets the hands of the clock back.
These eight women have taught me, too, to be a lot more curious about what skills and resources it takes for a woman to survive a war: persuading an uncle to take you and your children into his small apartment after militiamen have murdered your husband and destroyed your home; having workmates who will cover for you when you have to travel across the country to your wounded son's bedside; mustering the gumption to confront the strangers who have occupied your house; creating new goals for yourself after losing an arm; returning to school after seeing your aunt shot point-blank.
Nimo, Maha, Safah, Shatha, Emma, Danielle, Kim, and Charlene. I don't think any of these eight women ever have met, though perhaps in prewar days Maha walked by Nimo's Baghdad beauty salon or Kim saw Danielle on ESPN as she smoothly outmaneuvered other players on the basketball court.
The Iraq War started when the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003 and then was fought on many fronts for months and years afterward. We can draw new understandings of warfare and wartimes by paying close attention to these eight women without turning any one of them into merely the iconic "working woman," "wife," "widow," "mother," or "woman soldier." Nor do we need to succumb to the temptation to treat each of these eight women as so distinctive in her experiences and personality that she stands alone, outside history. To be curious about a particular woman's experiences and ideas, to respect her individuality, is not to say that she is unable to shed light on larger canvases of warfare and wartime.
This double-claim—that each of these eight women is neither unique nor universal—is easier to assert, of course, than it is to demonstrate. Readers, I think, will see me tussling here with the dynamic relationship between generality and particularity as I try to understand each woman's experience for its own sake, while simultaneously seeking to tease out from her life the wider implications of those experiences.
My own inclination is toward comparison and generalization, to delve into one to shed light on the other, to use the particular to reveal the general. That's the teacher in me. At the same time, though, more perhaps than in any of my previous writings, I have worried about doing justice to each woman individually. Emma is more than a Latina, more than an American mother of a teenage son. Safah is more than an Iraqi teenage girl, more than a massacre survivor. I realize now that I scarcely know how much more.
As the scores of notes in the following chapters will attest, there have been dozens of books, reports, and articles about Iraqi women's and American women's experiences of the Iraq War. I have learned from them all. What I am suggesting in this modest book is that we have something important to discover by thinking of Iraqi and American women together—not because they have known each other (though a few have), not because they have made common alliance (though some have), but, rather, because thinking about women on several "sides" in the same war might make starkly visible how wars and their prolonged aftermaths depend both on particular ideas about and practices of femininity and masculinity, and on women in warring states not discovering their connections with one another.
By taking each of these eight women seriously and exploring their varied wartime experiences together, I have been led toward two new fundamental understandings about war. First, these eight women, considered together, have underscored for me how every war takes place—is waged, is coped with, is assessed—at a particular moment in ongoing gendered histories, national gendered histories, and international gendered history. Shatha, for instance, competed for a seat in the wartime Iraqi parliament at a time when women's rights activists internationally were successfully pressing governments to establish legislative quotas for women. Danielle enlisted in the U.S. Army at a time in U.S. history when government officials no longer could enjoy the masculinized luxury of filling its ranks with male conscripts. That is, the early 2000s activists' push for establishing parliamentary quotas for women helped shape the Iraq War. So did U.S. male war strategists' reluctant postconscription acceptance of women recruits.
In military academies, civilian classrooms, and on blogs and editorial pages all over the world, commentators compare wars—the Vietnam War with the Chechen War, the Yugoslav War with the Congo War. So what is new here is not that wartime observers chart similarities and differences between wars. Rather, what paying close attention to these eight women newly reveals is that any given war takes place not simply at a particular moment in the history of weapons technology (was the stirrup invented yet? Which side had access to remote-controlled drones?). Nor has any given war taken place just at a particular moment in the evolution of the nation-state (did the warring state have effective tax collectors? Could the state's war strategists call on a widely felt national identity strong enough to trump communal loyalties?). Not even awareness of the evolution of political economies is sufficient (would Western state elites have fought over Iraq if petroleum-dependent industrialization had not been then in full bloom?).
Those conventional historicized investigations alone, I've found, are not enough to make adequate sense of a given war or to compare wars reliably. Any war takes place at a particular moment in the history of gender—that is, in the history of women's organizing, in the history of women's relationships to the state, in the history of contested masculinities, in the history of patriarchy's rationalization and reach. The Iraq War is better understood if we ask how its occurring at a distinctive point in the national and international histories of women and of patriarchy has shaped its causes, its winding course, and its aftermath.
Taking on board this deeper understanding of the historicity of warfare would alter the required reading lists at West Point and Sandhurst, but also at Oxford, Berkeley, and Tokyo University. Professors teaching courses on military history and national security doctrines would have to start assigning books on the history of marriage. They would have to require their students to delve into historicized investigations of wartime prostitution. They themselves—as historians and analysts of war and national security—would have to become familiar with the rich primary sources on women's movements in 1890s Russia, 1910s Britain, 1920s Korea, 1930s Japan, 1960s Iran, 1970s United States, 1980s Yugoslavia, 1980s Iraq, 1990s Rwanda, 2000s Congo, and 2000s Pakistan.
A second new idea started to take shape as I spent more and more time in my head with Nimo, Maha, Safah, Shatha, Emma, Danielle, Kim, and Charlene. I gradually began to see war's distinct phases, gendered phases. The politics of any war is unlikely to be the same at its start, its middle, and its end. Think of 1940 Britain compared with 1942 and 1945 Britain. Furthermore, the differences between any war's own time periods are likely to be marked by distinctly different gender dynamics and preoccupations. Feminist historians of World Wars I and II have discovered this. Feminist historians of the Crimean, Boer, and Iran-Iraq wars have confirmed this. The politics of marriage, of property, of sexuality, of women's paid work, of parenting—each changed in the midst of each war.
Each of those gendered political changes altered the dynamics of war—who were the key players, what were their resources and their rationalizations. We ignore the wartime transformations of marriage politics at our own analytical risk.
Gendered wartime phases marked the Iraq War as well. For instance, Iraqi women's beauty salons did not become the target of bomb-throwing militiamen at the outset of the Iraq War. They were set afire in its second gendered phase, when some men organized into militarized groups had convinced themselves that a certain practice of feminized beauty was subverting the country's wartime civic order. Similarly, Charlene's maternal work to heal a shattered young American male veteran didn't attract much congressional attention until later in the Iraq War, when her government's inadequate care of returning soldiers became the focus of press reports.
This is not to argue that all wars proceed lockstep through identical gendered phases. The gendered phases of the Iraq War may be quite different than those of, say, the 1990s Yugoslav wars or World War I. In fact, the gendered wartime and postwar phases may turn out to be quite different in their timing and their patterns in the several societies engaged in the same war. Thus while feminized beauty was politicized in 2005 Iraq and the United States, the wartime politics of beauty in both countries were not identical. Yet these eight women have taught me to be alert to gendered phases within any war, thus to stay focused month by month, year by year to often subtle changes: which masculinities were privileged early in the war versus two years later; which women became the objects of political elites' anxiety as the death rates rose, which as they fell; what issues were prioritized by politically engaged women initially, though later strategically downgraded. Paying attention to these eight particular women over time throughout this one war has taught me to cultivate a long attention span, to eschew analytical laziness, to avoid referring simplistically to "the war."
I began to notice each of these eight women one by one during the early phase of the Iraq War. At that point, in 2003 and 2004, I was not intent upon collecting eight women's wartime stories. I was just seeking to gain a more subtle understanding of this war by listening to the voices of particular women. This is an enterprise feminists have taught us is always analytically rewarding.
I was freshly reminded of this reward when, in the later phases of the Iraq War, I began reading a new book published by the feminists of the antimilitarism group Women in Black, Belgrade. To help readers comprehend not only the war at its outset and at its peak, but also the war in its ongoing aftermath, the editors had decided to present women's own firsthand accounts of the 1990s war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia. They called their book Womens Side of War. The Belgrade Women in Black editors were committed to letting women speak for themselves about what they each did in this war, what the war did to them, and how, a decade later, they continued to think about both. Readers can hear one hundred and ten women's voices between this book's covers. Much of what they say is surprising, a lot of it is discomforting. Some women never before had spoken about these experiences. Other women had been writing since the war began but continued to reassess their earlier thoughts. Perhaps one day Iraqi and American (and British, Georgian, Korean, Fijian, Spanish, Polish, and Australian) feminist activist editors will collect in one place diverse women's voices telling of their experiences in the Iraq War.
To hope for such an ambitious volume of women's firsthand recollections is not to say that there is no place for analysis. Instead, what feminists from many countries have taught us is that reflective thinking requires a perpetual return to women's own voices. That is what some thoughtful journalists offered us in the midst of the Iraq War.
The journalists whose profiles of individual Iraqi and American women I have relied upon here did not select women who were making wartime headlines. Lynndie England, Jessica Lynch, and Condoleezza Rice are not here. Nor did these innovative journalists treat the women they featured as mere symbols or abstractions or widgets. Each woman was portrayed with her own voice, her own neighbors, relatives, and allies, with her own resources, calculations, and worries. At this time in American media history, when money-strapped newspapers are closing their overseas bureaus and some cities' daily papers are disappearing altogether, I found myself more indebted than ever to the women and men working as professional journalists—and to those editors who provided them with the discretion, resources, and time to do this sort of painstaking reporting.
I am not sanguine about the press. Its flaws are multiple and run deep: coziness with governmental sources, nervousness about advertisers' sensibilities, vulnerability to publishers' ideological interventions, and preoccupation with corporate profits. I value commentators. I read and listen to a lot of them, benefiting from their insights. Yet their commentaries necessarily rely on the expanded, not shrunken, existence of careful, detailed, ethical, energetic, and sometimes risky reporting done by on-the-ground journalists. Sabrina Tavernise's decision to treat a small Baghdad beauty parlor as a site for gathering wartime news, Damien Cave's decision to pay attention to a Texas high school in order to reveal how a government acquires its soldiers—these journalistic decisions (and their editors' support for these decisions) make it possible for citizens to begin to make sense of the gendered politics of wars.
As will become obvious in the chapters that follow, however, we acquire the means for crafting a full and nuanced analysis of any war when we place the highest quality journalism in an enriched context that researchers can provide. Thus the work of researchers within the World Health Organization, Oxfam, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Refugees International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEF, Small Arms Survey, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, many of them in partnership with Iraqi researchers, has clarified the patterns, the preconditions, and consequences to which the journalists' accounts first gave substance.
Distinctive to the Iraq War (and the contemporaneous conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Congo, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Somalia) is the prominence of researchers trained in gendered analysis who are working inside these organizations. Employing these gender analytical skills made their reports on the Iraq War more realistic and thus more useful. Feminist-informed gender analysis is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Consequently, we know a lot more about the interactions in this war, for instance, between men as refugees, women as refugees, men in relief agencies, and women in relief agencies than we did about those crucial relationships during World War II or the Pakistan-Bangladesh War.
Wartime research also has its own gendered history. That gendered history of research—what is deemed worth asking, what is never asked, who is considered worth interviewing, who is considered too marginal to interview—shapes how we see any war; it determines what lessons we take away from any war. Why did it take until the 1990s for the Japanese Imperial government's 1930s–40s program of sex slavery to come to light? Why did the U.S. occupation authorities' racialized dating policies in postwar Germany only surface fifty years later? The answer in part is that in each instance powerful state actors had a stake in suppressing knowledge about these policies. But these silences also reflect the absence of systematic gender analysis in the tool kits of the hundreds of researchers who investigated, allegedly, every conceivable dimension of World War II. The full dimensions and multiple processes of the Iraq War are far more exposed because this war broke out when gender analysis was having an impact on at least some researchers' curiosities. We all are the beneficiaries of that gendered exposure.
Excerpted from Nimo's War, Emma's War by Cynthia Enloe. Copyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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