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Media, Rape and the Boys of Iraq

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Media, Rape and the Boys of Iraq

“You let them boys be boys,” my husband cautioned his daughter (my step-daughter) after she recounted time spent with her fiancé, a serviceman (Army) recently returned from his second tour in Iraq. He and his pals were marking the first anniversary of the death of one of their friends at a local bar. This friend had been blown up before their eyes in Iraq; now home and safe, the men felt an obligation to honor their comrade. My husband’s paternal concern, of course, was for the safety of his daughter in the presence o f men acclimated to aggression and revisiting a terrifying event; apparently there had been threats, pushing and shoving at the bar. “You let them boys be boys,” he said. In other words, for your own safety, don’t get in the way and move away from the fight.

Recently The New York Times reported on a new program designed to stave off the escalating divorce rate within the ranks of service men returning from war. The problem: wives want to talk about what happened in Iraq and the men do not. Will not. Still, these husbands manifest what happened in changed behavior. One wife reported that the kind, funny man she married returned bitter, moody and humorless.  They fight over his impulse to raise his voice and shout orders as if she were under his command. He simply is not who he was, and she’s confused.  He is now a man who frightens women, and he doesn’t understand why she shouldn’t accept the new him.  For her own safety, don’t get in the way and move away from the fight

Our culture endorses violence against women and that endorsement is reflected in both our foreign policy and MSM coverage of it. An investigation by The Nation reveals that it is now more likely that a U.S. woman serving in Iraq or Afghanistan will be sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers than killed by enemy fire; indeed, as many as 41% of women returning from the middle east report sexual assault within the ranks. Defense contractors like Haliburton and KBR, who operate with impunity, are accused of gang rape, assault and intimidation by female employees. The policy of the White House and the MSM regarding the rash of violence against U.S. military women by their own seems to be don’t ask, don’t tell.  And we don’t care. The coverage is not there. Indeed, the article in the Times was buried deep inside the paper. The White House is conspicuously silent as it slashes millions in funding for domestic violence programs and allows Haliburton, et al, to enrich themselves at the expense of others overseas.

The same week my step-daughter’s fiancé returned home, Chris Matthews—that purveyor of screaming sexism—was fawned over by The New York Times, cuts to domestic violence programs made news, and the Justice Department was forced to appear before Congress to face questions about sexual abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.  At home media personalities gain fame and fortune mocking crimes against women, wives and girlfriends face the implicit (and sometimes very real) violence imported home by their veteran loved ones and our government panders to the rapist, old boys club culture of military contractors.

 What to say to women facing the misogynist fallout of the violence of war? “Step away from the fight, protect yourself” may work as a temporary tactic, but cannot suffice in the face of institutional misogyny and systemic indifference. Yet, as recently observed, misogyny sells.  And as long as this is the case, the boys of Iraq and Washington will continue to be boys--and the women around them will continue to pay the price.

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Kellie Bean has been a Professor of English at Marshall University, an Associate Dean of Liberal Arts, and most recently, Provost of a small New England College. Author of "Post-Backlash Feminism: Women and the Media Since Reagan/Bush" (McFarland (more...)

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