Blogging “Yes” Day 10: Female Interrogators and Sexual Liberation

14 04 2010

For day ten of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read “Invasion of Space by a Female,” which is actually an excerpt from Coco Fusco’s book, A Field Guide for Female Interrogators. The excerpt is interesting in that it looks at the difference between interrogation techniques used by female soldiers and the famous Abu Ghraib photos with female soldiers shown posing with detainees, as well as the implications of using “sexually liberated” female interrogators as a weapon to tempt, soothe, or humiliate detainees.

Speaking of the sexualized interrogation techniques used by female soldiers, Fusco writes:

I don’t think the sole issue here is the way in which the codes of conduct in ware can be constructed to justify unconscionable acts.  It seems to me that our culture lacks a precise political vocabulary for understanding women as self-conscious perpetrators of sexual violence.  We rely instead on a moralistic language about virtue, privacy, and emotional vulnerability to define female sexuality, or on limited views that frame women’s historical condition as victims. Since the 1970s, feminists have tried to undermine repressive moralistic language by arguing that female sexual assertiveness should be understood as a form of freedom of expression.  While I don’t disagree with that position, the sexual-torture dilemma is making its limitations glaringly apparent.  Flaunting one’s sexuality may indeed be a form of self-realization, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum, nor is the only context for its appearance democratic.  The absence of consent from the recipient turns the display into an act of violence.

Fusco makes what are to me two really interesting points in this excerpt.  One is that “sexually liberated” Western women are being used in this way as a weapon of war, that the sexual liberation that is a result of feminism is actually, in this context, resulting in some pretty unfeminist consequences, where female interrogators are encouraged by their male higher ups and indirectly by the military culture to participate in such displays where sexual performance becomes violent.  The second point is that gender roles are used in our patriarchal society to justify the use of sexual harassment as a weapon of war.  Female soldiers, unlike male soldiers, are encouraged to take on the role of “nurse” or “girlfriend” with the detainees.  Sexuality and “female” traits such as nurturing are used to get information.  The implication then being that it’s “okay” to use such techniques when it’s a female soldier, and further that it’s okay to use women in this way as a weapon.  When foreign military officials allow male soldiers to rape female civilians, we’re appalled, but when American female soldiers are ordered to sexuality harass male detainees in psychologically damaging ways, it’s somehow lesser, because women are not seen as a threat.  Sadly, military officials are able to get away with a lot more in the interrogation booth when they use female interrogators, and women who are immersed in the military culture may not see what is problematic about the use of their gender and sexuality in this way.



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