“ARE WOMEN HUMAN?”
Women are treated as commodities in war, as unfeeling and unconscious beings, their bodies are threatened and violated with no regard to their human rights or personal freedom. While male combatants may be treated either fairly or unfairly in war, they are still viewed as human beings, whereas women in war are seen as objects, their fate is determined by the male’s whim. Women on the losing side in wars consistently face atrocities that are not issues for the men on the losing side.
Scholar and lawyer Catharine A. MacKinnon states this dehumanization of women will continue until women ‘become human’ “in both the legal and lived senses” and it is “a social, legal, and political process” (Are Women Human? 2). She goes on to explain that in order to do this “it requires prohibiting or otherwise delegitimating [sic] all acts by which human beings are so violated, guaranteeing people what they need for a fully human existence, and then officially upholding those standards and delivering on those entitlements” (Are Women Human? 3).
This failure to define women as being equal to men has lead to warfare in which women are treated as booty They are treated as something to take or dispose of at will. This has been a problem for many thousands of years. How can this problem of definition be corrected when the Bible, arguably the most influential text known to humanity, dictates people to adopt the point of view that women are less human than men? “Deuteronomy” instructs soldiers that “women, children, livestock, and whatever the town contains by way of spoil, you may take for yourselves as booty” (Jerusalem Bible 14). If God claims women are lesser than men, how can we expect God fearing soldiers to think differently without an upheaval of religiously founded ideology and morality?
This biological inequality is not only believed and propagated by men, many women adopt these skewed viewpoints as well. When women believe themselves to be less than men, they lower themselves into being less than human, thereby relinquishing their rights. They must demand equality, but in order to do this they must first believe themselves to be equal. It is only in this shared belief that men and women will be able to gain common ground for which to address the problems of inequality.
This differential way of looking at men and women affects the way each sex is treated in warfare. When a man is captured by his enemy, he is either killed or taken as a prisoner. When a woman is caught, she is usually raped. Her body is “taken” or seized by the male soldier as “spoils” of war. The male soldier sees the female combatant as booty or something for the taking. One of the issues propagating this violation is the acceptance of the horrors of rape. MacKinnon points out that “acts common in human experience, such as rape in war and rape in peace, have been beneath serious notice because they are so familiar, while acts that are uncommon, like the Nazis’ industrial murder and Serbs’ industrial rape, have been beyond belief” (Are Women Human 3). This breeds a vicious cycle: rape in war is common so it continues to happen, but it continues to happen because it is common.
This bodily violation committed by men against women occurs from not only the enemy but also from within the military itself. According to a TIME magazine article women soldiers in the US army are so scared of being raped by their male comrades that they abstain from drinking water by 7 pm in order to avoid the necessity of using the washroom at night (“Sexual Assault on Female Soldiers”). This is another clear case of the frequency in which rapes occur during war time and also within military units during times of war and times of peace. According to TIME “The Pentagon’s latest figures show that nearly 3,000 women were sexually assaulted in the fiscal year 2008, up 9% from the year before; among women serving in Iran and Afghanistan, the number rose 25%. When you look at the entire universe of female veterans, close to a third say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving – twice the rate in the civilian population” (“Sexual Assault”).
This issue of bodily violation is one that female soldiers must face daily. Often rapes and other sexual assaults within the military are not reported for fear of retaliation, demotion, ostracization, or disbelief. The Pentagon reports that 80% – 90% of sexual assaults within the military go unreported (TIME “Sexual Assault”). This is a detrimental issue for female soldiers that is not one faced by male soldiers and because it is not an issue detrimental to males, it is one that is overlooked or “swept under the carpet”.
Unicef states that “systematic rape is often used as a weapon of war in ‘ethnic cleansing’” (“Sexual Violence”). Unicef goes on to say that “in addition to rape, girls and women are also subject to forced prostitution and trafficking during times of war, sometimes with the complicity of governments and military authorities. During World War II, women were abducted, imprisoned and forced to satisfy the sexual needs of occupying forces, and many Asian women were also involved in prostitution during the Viet Nam war. The trend continues in today’s conflicts” (“Sexual Violence”). Again this is an issue that does not generally affect men directly, but it constantly looms over women.
The United Nations has condemned rape as a “tactic of war and a threat to international security” (“Rape: Weapon of War”). Former commander of UN peacekeeping forces in eastern Congo, Major-General Patrick Cammaert, makes the bold statement that “it has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict” (“Rape: Weapon of War”). The likely threat of sexual violence is faced by women in war torn areas on a daily basis. Slavenka Drakulic, a Croatian author who specializes in writing about war crimes, adds the chilling commentary that “rape is a kind of slow murder” (“Rape: Weapon of War”).
While it is certainly possible for a man to become a victim of sexual violence during wartime, it is unlikely, whereas sexual violence is a horrible fate that many women suffer on a daily basis. Whether it is male soldiers raping civilian women or male soldiers raping their female comrades, the threat of rape and the use of rape as a weapon is predominant during war. The silence and dismissal surrounding sexual violence needs to end and women must be seen as being equal to men in order to make changes to stop sexual violence.
MacKinnon, Catharine A. Are Women Human? Massachusetts: Harvard, 2006. Print.
New Jerusalem Bible. ed. Rev. Henry Wansborough. New York: Double Day, 1999. Print.
“Rape: Weapon of War”. United Nations Human Rights. Web. 28 November 2012. Web.
“Sexual Assaults on Female Soldiers: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. TIME. Web. 28 November 2012.
“Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War”. Unicef. Web. 28 November 2012.
New York Women’s Equality Coalition. Based on “Rosie the Riveter”.