War on Women in the Media, Politics, and Military

Throughout this trimester in my high school feminism course we have explored the ways in which women are neglected and omitted from our society. We have realized and analyzed the ways in which this treatment is connected to everything, from race to class and even sexuality.

Today, this imbalanced use of power in the hands of men who create unfair and sexist policies towards women is now known by many as the war on women. This war on women ranges from the attempt to eliminate abortion and contraceptives to re-defining rape to the lack of respect for women in the military.

The cover of the 40th Anniversary Issue of Ms magazine

That’s why I’m grateful for feminist media like Ms. Magazine, which bring these issues to light. Reading articles from Ms. Magazine, I was particularly struck by one article titled “So you want to change the world?” By Michele Tracy Berger, the article went in depth on the development that women’s studies has had in higher education. In recent years, women’s studies has become increasingly popular and is now celebrating forty years as part of college curricula.

The article demonstrates that there is a clear link between the students that take these courses and the engagement they have in making change within communities. According to the article, women’s studies is appealing more and more to not only young women but also queer men, who find a secure environment in which they are able to share their thoughts and experiences about sexuality. Even straight men, who since birth are pressured to be smarter, stronger, and in a higher position than women, find a place in women’s studies classes to examine masculinity.

These courses also provide students tools to read the media and have a critical lens on society. These courses “empha[size] critical thinking translating learning into practice and, interdisciplinary training defines women’s studies”; in addition, “students in the field are uniquely self-reflective, invested in their communities and in making a positive impact on the world.”

These students are learning skills and transferring them into the real world to change issues they see present in their lives. These tools are not only incredibly useful but are the ones that will transform society radically that will allow young people to “conduct research that matters in the lives of women and men around the world.”

I can relate to all these points because by taking this high school feminism course this year, I have learned skills that have been incredibly helpful to me, and I have begun to “be the change you wish to see in the world,” as Mahatma Gandhi has said.

The second article “From Slum to Statehouse” specifically spoke to me about India. It featured a woman called Bharati Singh, who comes from one of the poorest and largest slums in the Indian state of Orissa. Singh became Bhubaneswar’s deputy major. After having spent so much of our class time talking about India and the Indian feminist movement, I believe that this article struck me because it gave me more hope about women around the world. This change is one that has been quickly increasing and has already brought India great results in that Singh has successfully managed to represent women and poor people living in the slums.

The article also hits on a very sensitive topic, the known fact that in India like in many other countries “women would just vote however their husbands tell them to.” This is something that needs to be changed. Even though this article was specifically about India, women’s lack of representation in government is an international issue. According to the film Miss Representation, only 64 countries have had women presidents or prime ministers. This may seem like a lot, but compared to the 193 nations recognized by the United Nations, even if not all countries are democracies or republics, 64 is still an extremely small number.

Another example is right on our doorstep. The United States is not one of those countries that has never had a woman leader at the top of the helm. Only in this year’s 2012 election will we have had the most women serving in Congress, with at least 20 women Senators. As said in the Miss Representation documentary, “you cannot aspire to become something you can’t see.” The only way that girls and young women can dream to become someone is to look up to someone similar to them, someone they can relate to.

Women in America make up 51% of the population. In the United States senate there are only 20 women Senators, the most the United States Senate has ever had,  and  there are 100 senators overall which means that women only make up 20% of the senate. This really makes me think about the meaning of democracy in our country. Because it means that more then half of our population is not properly represented in politics and does not have an equal say as men, even in topics and decisions that effect their lives and not men’s.

Sandra Fluke women’s health advocate

The third article that I read  in Ms. Magazine was titled “Fighting the War on Women.” As I have mentioned before, the war on women is a phrase used to describe the policies that limit women’s rights, especially those created by the Republican party. These rights include coverage for birth control and protection against misleading and inaccurate definitions about rape.

These violations to women’s rights have been excused with the justification that doing so protects religious liberty. Being a woman and a Catholic myself, I am appalled by this insinuation. Living in a patriarchal society such as ours is a predicament that is not going to be easy to disrupt.

In the article, reproductive-rights advocate Sandra Fluke talks about a friend of hers, who was denied coverage for contraceptives even if they had been prescribed to prevent a cyst. She had to pay for contraceptives from her own pocket and when she couldn’t anymore, not only did it lead to a cyst “the size of a tennis ball growing on her ovary . . . but also had to have the entire ovary removed.”

This all happened  because “the assumption is [women] are lying about those symptoms to try gain access to coverage. Such distrust and suspiciousness is not only uncalled for but an issue that leads to events as that of Fluke’s friend. And as Fluke has repeatedly stated, “Ours is not a war against the church. It is a struggle for the access to the health care we need.”

These events should not be happening in a developed country and world power like the United States.

Lastly, the fourth article I read that touched me and probably impacted me the most was “Court-Martialing The Military,” which focused on rape and sexual assault among the women that join the military and the ways in which “fellow soldiers” who rape them rarely face consequences for their actions.

This article stunned me because “nearly one out of three women are raped during their service.” If the military is supposed to protect and represent us, and if soldiers are supposed to reinforce the law, then why is this happening?

The issue of rape is not a new one to the American military. Even though the United States Department of Defense has made attempts to change the protocol and efficiency of the persecution of the offenders, it has not yet been made as efficient as it should be.

Cynthia O. Smith made a point I particularly agreed with, “one sexual assault is one too many.”  Since 1948, when women were first allowed to join the military, “500,000 military women have been sexually assaulted, many stepping forward only after leaving the service.”

I think about all the women who never found the courage to even step forward and all the ones that had to spend days, weeks, months or even years facing their rapist while in service. It is completely unjust. Another issue many of these women face is that, one too many times they are not allowed to transfer, having therefore to remain in the same setting in which they were assaulted and in the presence of the person who violated them.

Poster of The Invisible war, a documentary about rape within the U.S. military.

Attorney Susan Burke courageously helped women file three major lawsuits against the military. But even her lawsuits only brought minor changes to the system. Barely “half the crimes reported are deemed ‘suitable for possible disciplinary action’ and less then six percent of those result in conviction.” This leaves something like approximately one out of three convicted sex offenders treated as if they had never abused a basic human right.

The article also explores a new movie called Invisible War that looks at heartbreaking stories of the effects the abuse has on the women themselves and their families, such as a husband who had to prevent his wife from killing herself and called 911 and a father who had  to reassure his daughter that she is still a virgin after being raped. These are stories that should not exist, and we should ask ourselves why they do.

Why do these men rape their fellow women soldiers? I believe that the hyper-sexualization and violence the media exposes us to has some real effects, making rape acceptable, and even cool. Even outside of the military, 12 percent of rape survivors are under the age of twelve and there has been shown a direct link between the violence the media exposes us to and the behavior men and boys have towards women. If they are shown that to behave violently is ok, how can we expect them to respect their own fellow soldiers or the women and children they come across in war zones?

“Dov Charney, CEO and head of American Apparel was found using one of his employees as a “sex slave.” Irene Morales was sexually harassed since she was 17 and held “prisoner” in his apartment while she was forced to pleasure him sexually”
-The Huffington Post

The media an extremely important part of our society. Feminist media, such as the magazine Ms. and the documentaries Gloria: in Her Own Words and Miss Representation help women move forward because they bring forth issues such as economic inequality,  international women’s issues, and issues such as sexism and racism.

These are issues that mainstream media strays away from and that are considered often taboo. I believe this is why Miss Representation challenges mainstream media; it is a film that provides the viewer with the facts and features actual women who speak out.

These are problems and issues that the American media and public have, in my opinion, become too comfortable ignoring. I believe it could lead people to take action and bring forth actual change. I believe this because that was the feeling I was left with when I watched the film, and because I saw the impact it had on my classmates.

I think that the film Miss Representation is one that could make a change and could play a huge role in advancing the conversation about women and girls within our culture, media, and politics.

13 thoughts on “War on Women in the Media, Politics, and Military

  1. Your blog post was very interesting. You explored many different themes regarding women’s issues, and brought them all together at the end.
    I must admit, the link you placed on “legitimate rape” kept me distracted for a while, I was watching all the videos in response to Todd Akin. It was amazingly fascinating, and just proved how ignorant some people are.

    Further issues in your blog post really made me think. So many women’s issues are still going on. The article you chose about women soldiers who are sexually abused and assaulted really stunned me. As you wrote: “If the military is supposed to protect and represent us, and if soldiers are supposed to reinforce the law, then why is this happening?” This question demand’s an answer! Why are women so neglected in the military? It’s not a matter of them “being strong”, it’s a basic matter of the law. These rapists and sexual assailant’s need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and their “circumstances” of being in the military should in no way impact the legal process.

    I agree that media has a part in all of these issues, and it is continuing to ill inform people. Miss Representation and Ms Magazine are two ways in which these problems can be brought to light – but there needs to more.

    This article has really gotten me thinking, and has had me say “wow” more than once.

    You’ve done a brilliant job, well done.

  2. I too read “Court-Martialing The Military,” and was completely shocked by it. Before reading this article I never really thought that rape was a common occurrence during a women’s millitary service. I was shocked to find out that one in three women have been raped during their service. It’s saddening and horrible to think that people that are hired to protect our country are in some senses doing the exact opposite. The fact that the rapists rarely face consequences makes it seem like what they did is acceptable, which it is absolutely not.

  3. I liked the contrast in the images depicting this “war” you mention and that Ms. Magazine resists ads like the American Apparel one that shows dominant sexual imagery and misogyny. I feel like the first battle of this war is to bring it to the forefront it shouldn’t be an “invisible war” people should know about it. I feel like this is what these posts are helping to do

  4. Bravo! I liked how yours was focused on the articles from Ms. Magazine. It brought to light a lot of interesting topics. I thought it was interesting to hear you talk about queer men being involved with the feminism movement. I didn’t know much about it and what you wrote was truly interesting.

    The part that spoke to me the most was your bit on contraceptives. This is just horrible. How can women be denied the right to be healthy and in control of their body. It astounds me that its 2012 and we are still discussing this. I mean come on world, catch up!

    Lastly, when you spoke about the “Invisible War” movie I was immediately intrigued. I hadn’t realized how severe the problems are with rape in the military. I can not believe this! We have to change the societal norms that surround us so that things such as these are considered just as horrible as they are and aren’t justified in any way by are terrifying media.

  5. This post is very informative in the way that you discussed different numbers related to women and the media. You wrote about sexual assault and rape in the military, an issue that prior to reading this post, I was unaware of this problem. It is remarkable that such a horrific issue was left in the dark for so long now and it is about time that the voices of the victims are finally heard through “The Invisible War” film.

  6. This was an awesome post that I can relate to quite a bit. I, too, was really interested in a lot of the international articles in the different issues of Ms. Magazine and relating them to situations here in the United States. It is amazing how we can call ourselves such a progressive country when we we are allowing media outlets to completely control our society’s view on what people “should” and “should not” be/look like. There need to be more outlets like Ms. Magazine to help establish a better understanding of bodily rights and humane morals for the youth of America to see, so it can relinquish their minds from the terrible hypersexualized images and double standards that are so deeply entrenched in their minds.

  7. You covered a vast span of issues in this post that I think are all very important and I like this post because I can feel the passion behind your words. I feel as though some of these topics are not given the coverage that they deserve, which is why I really admire Ms. Magazine because it sheds light on things that I couldn’t fathom, such as the article about how many women who serve in the military are raped. Another is the very direct and obvious message advertising can have, even when both people in the American Apparel ad have their clothes on, you can still read into the submissive, sexual aspect of it.

  8. Wow, I like the fact that you portrayed a lot more than just violence towards women and the encouragement of negative body image in the media: you explained the “War on Women,” a term that has recently gotten a lot of attention. You spoke about reproductive rights, women’s role in the media, feminist education and how those that are being given these courses are more inclined to try and reform their surroundings. You had a lot of insight on things that a lot of the other blog posts didn’t even attempt to explain their views on. This variety is a great thing to have and quite unique.
    I enjoyed reading every word of your blog post and I feel even more informed now that I read this, which I feel was your point in the first place. Great job Miral! Keep up the good work!

  9. When I was on Nick News, we were asked a question: Are we there yet? The question of course referred to women’s rights and the progress of the feminist movement. There were two girls that said “yes”, that we were there. I respected their opinion, but I did not agree with it. I genuinely appreciated this post, for it shows that because situations like the ones you discussed still occur, we are not even close to there yet.

  10. Feminist media is truly something to be thankful for because it can teach someone so much! It teaches about these real movements that are happening right now. They are not silent. They have just been overpowered by mainstream media controlled mostly by men. It is not even media that they have control of, they also have control of the government. Today, there are more men are in Congress than women. It is a shame that the U.S is not one of the 64 countries that has ever had a woman leader. It is clear that women deserve more to have just as much power as men have today. They should also be respected more because of what happens to some women in the military. It was shocking to read what the CEO of American Apparel did and it is just awful. This was a very informative piece! Great job!

  11. You go through the “war on women” and their role in politics, their victimization in the military and in the media. It was a lot to take in and it was hard to take in because in a nation that was built to protect freedom is the one denying it to the majority. It is just very shocking and depressing that women still have to fight for their natural rights. There is some progress but you have shown me that it is clearly not enough and that needs to be fixed.

  12. So many great points and articles! Until our feminism class, I had no interest in doing women’s studies, but now I am looking at all the colleges I’m applying to, to make sure that they have a great women’s studies program. I am glad I’m not alone, and that more and more people are becoming interested in feminism and feminist issues. The article about Sandra Fluke is absolutely ridiculous! It is ridiculous that women do not already have free birth control, but the fact that she could not get birth control for a legitimate medical condition is absolutely insane. There is no world in which not giving someone treatment for a problem is OK. It makes me think of Gloria Steinem’s piece “If Men Could Menstruate”, and how she states that if men could menstruate, there would be free birth control for everyone and abortion clinics on every corner. You had so much information about problems I had no idea about, thanks for teaching me!

  13. Thank you all for your feedback!

    Eliza, I absolutely agree with your point that ” Why are women so neglected in the military? It’s not a matter of them “being strong”, it’s a basic matter of the law.” but unfortuantely the reason for which all these law suits have been much more complicated and much less effective then it should be is because the U.S. military does not work like the U.S. government. The military is based on ranks but unfortunately more often then it should the person these girls have to report the abuse to are the abusers themselves.

    Noel, I completely agree with your point that “the first battle of this war is to bring it to the forefront it shouldn’t be an “invisible war” people should know about it. I feel like this is what these posts are helping to do” this is why it is so important that we are taking this class and that it is being offered.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s