Category Archives: Quinn Van Valer-Campbell

Quinn Van Valer-Campbell will graduate from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in December 2011 with her M.A. in International Policy Studies and a concentration in Conflict Resolution. Her interests include religion and conflict and the former Yugoslavia.

From Amazons to Glamazons

By Quinn Van Valer-Campbell

The media is an undeniable force that changes and shapes our feelings and persuasions at will. Since the presence of women in war is pervasive, one would think that it is high time for countries in conflict to actually recognize this fact and include women.

There has been some recent progress: Women, War, and Peace premiered on PBS in October, the organization Women Make Movies is present throughout much of the world, and the movie Miss Representation premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Furthermore, awareness is at an all-time high with NGOs and other organizations working toward the inclusion of women at the peace table and in societies emerging from conflict. Articles abound on the dire necessity and importance of the roles of women. Keeping these contemporary examples in mind, how are women’s roles in the media, conflict, and peacebuilding not changing?

Unfortunately, the media as a whole has been misleading and two-faced. Take a look at war movies, television shows, and video games, as examples. Then, look at women and what they are (not) wearing. Amazon women from ancient Greece were some of the most renowned and feared women warriors in history, known for their skill and ability to carry out a “man’s” job with ease. But look up Amazon women today, and skimpy Halloween costumes and Glamazons are invariably the first items to appear. This is in stark contrast to the historical Amazons, who allegedly would remove one of their breasts so as to better use a bow and arrow. The media has taken the quintessential warrior woman and sexualized her to the point of pornography.

Xena the Warrior Princess and Lara Croft are further examples of women in war who have been sexualized by the media. With their skintight clothes and huge breasts, these women are supposed to be fighters but end up only serving the fantasies of men. While these two women are not necessarily real or realistic examples of women in war, they are indicative of popular Western perceptions and attitudes. The only place for women in war may be on the frontlines, but they will all be glamorized to the point of ineffectiveness and humiliation.

To take the example of the Amazon women further, they were able to maintain their role in society as warriors but this did not diminish their femininity. They may have even taken it a bit too far with some marriage laws requiring young women to have killed someone before being eligible to marry. However, they were not sought after as glorified sexual objects, but rather were desired in marriage because they were strong, fearsome, and respected.

In a society like ours and the rest of the Western world, where we cannot even accept women in combat roles without adding sex to the mix, it is not surprising that women are not taken seriously either during war or during peacebuilding.

Bosnia’s Past Torments its Future

By Quinn Van Valer-Campbell

The past haunts and deeply impacts many people, especially those who were directly involved in violence. It can torment and consume their lives. How do they move on?

This summer I worked with an organization of women in Bosnia that formed during the war in the 1990s to combat the reality of losing their families and to have a space in which they could share their own experiences.

I learnt that on the eleventh of every month, in order to commemorate the victims of the July 11th 1995 massacre, women gather silently in Tuzla, Bosnia. In one of the commemoration ceremonies I witnessed, the women held pictures of those who were killed and those who are still missing. They pray and then disperse, and life goes on until they meet again next month.

Many of the women I met defined themselves through the war and the men they lost which in turn means that they placed themselves in a very small box without much hope of ever escaping. Women have allowed the past to surround and define their lives. I strongly believe that the minute the past is a significant and descriptive part of an individual in such an encompassing and indicative manner, it is no longer constructive and eradicates a hope of a viable future.

Bosnia was ravaged by the horrors of the war and the people have certainly been left with the damage. As a country, Bosnia has done nothing to address the problems of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological issues stemming from the aftershock of living through a horrific war. Therefore, women (who have been proven to suffer at higher rates than men) are left to remember what was once there and what no longer is. Their identity is shaped almost solely by the past.

With the foundation of their lives built on the memory of the past, there is little hope to move out from under the label of “war widow” or “victim”. In order to move on, these women must allow themselves to be a part of the present and a part of society as an individual and not simply as the aftermath of the war.

The women of Bosnia must assess how they incorporate the war and how they can move forward. There is no solution that will work for everyone. However, one thing is certain: they are not able to be present in life with the past looming as an unchecked demon.

Jersey Shore and the Headscarf

By Quinn Van Valer-Campbell

MTV’s Jersey Shore has concluded filming season four in Florence, and newspapers have been covered in headlines detailing how much the Italians hate their so-called “guido” and “guidette” American counterparts. They have been ridiculed for their usual antics, which are a cocktail of drinking, cursing, and wearing inappropriate clothing.

In the field of conflict studies, we believe that culture is the vehicle on which conflict rides. Culture does not cause conflict; it only intensifies it and is used as a scapegoat. For the cast of Jersey Shore, their culture and heritage is central to their identity. Being Italian, as they define it, dictates how they behave and relate to people.

But what happens when your ‘own’ culture does not welcome you, and even blatantly hates you? The cast has been banned from museums and refused restaurant seating. Their “Italian” attire of gold crosses, Italian horns, and the Italian flag has done nothing to help them assimilate or get along with the locals. Furthermore, their brazen lack of consideration for decorum raises the question of how, or if, one should conform to the local culture.

When low-cut shirts, mini-skirts, and rude behavior receive outcries from the Italian government similar to those from the French government about headscarves, I cannot help but wonder: what is the difference? They are both forms of expression (though one is of poor taste) that, for one reason or another, do not sit well with certain people.

The headscarf is a religious display or a political statement. But, if I was in an overtly Muslim country, I am not sure if I would cover myself. This is not to say that I would disrespect their traditions, but I am not Muslim nor do I cover my head on a daily basis.

So can the cast of Jersey Shore be allowed to express themselves as they want? Yes, but there is a balance between disregarding the people and the country one is visiting, and respectfully being oneself and maintaining one’s identity. Unfortunately for Americans, and Italian-Americans in particular, Jersey Shore has forsaken the latter for the former.

Exploring Republika Srpska

By Quinn Van Valer-Campbell

Driving through the Bosnian countryside, I was surprised to find a few mosques dotting the landscape of the villages. I was in the ethnically homogenous Republika Srpska (Serbian Republic) and was stunned that Orthodox churches were not the only places of worship I saw. This is the area in which buses en route from Sarajevo to Zagreb were too afraid to stop for gas during the war since they were in Serb territory. To this day it remains the most tense and xenophobic area of the former Yugoslavia.

But do the mosques truly represent and reflect the way in which people on the ground feel in Republika Srpska, or in Bosnia as a whole? Have attitudes in fact shifted to include the marginalized and denigrated Muslim community?

During the war, money flowed like the river Drina into Bosnia to rebuild infrastructure. One of the most popular undertakings was to renovate old churches or mosques, depending on the ethnic makeup of the area. This served as a way to further alienate the warring ethnicities and to build unhealthy competition and anger between the groups. The money now coming into the country is mostly directed to construction of new religious centers and is not put toward much needed hospitals, schools, or other such multiethnic and heterogeneous places for the benefit of the country as a whole.

Mosques are symbolic and allude to something else, something more. While pictures may be worth a thousand words, symbols are worth millions – perhaps even more so in Bosnia. Maybe it is my naiveté that makes me think that accepting the mere presence of a mosque in Serbian territory is a step forward, but when the symbol is something so antithetical to reconciliation and transformation for some, what does it really mean? For the Muslim community it may be the realization of hopes of one day having their religion accepted and welcomed into the community. Unfortunately, attitudes point towards a shoddy façade of forced appearances of inclusivity and friendship in a country that may be almost as far from positive peace as it was during the war.