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.