Gender, national identity, and public discourse
Holland, Shannon L.
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This project investigates the gendered nature of war through a critical analysis of the public discourses surrounding the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in the post-9/11 era. I argue that the Iraq question has brought (and continues to bring) issues of gender to the forefront of public discussions regarding the moral principles underlying military combat operations, the protection (and disciplining) of women’s rights, and the ideological boundaries between male and female, masculinity and femininity, and the West and the Middle East. Specifically, this project analyzes three gender-related controversies surrounding Operation Iraqi Freedom. First, I examine public arguments regarding justifications for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, arguing that the representations of Iraqi women’s oppression constructed Iraq as a barbaric and culturally backward nation state and justified the U.S. invasion as necessary for the preservation of civilization in general and for the protection of women in particular. Second, I provide a critical reading of the public and popular culture discourses concerning the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in March 2003. I posit that the depictions of Lynch as the victimized Woman/Child reiterated the masculine prowess of the U.S. military and facilitated new attacks against military integration and feminism. Finally, I investigate the public discourses surrounding Pfc. Lynndie England’s sexual abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 as well as the discourses surrounding her court martial in October 2005. This case study analyzes the gendered depictions of England as well as the explanatory narratives that attempted to make sense of her conduct and to rehabilitate the pristine image of the U.S. military. In the conclusion of this project, I argue that although these three cases merit their own critical analysis, they also function in tandem with one another as reiterations of a larger narrative regarding national identity and militarism. These cases illustrate the symbiotic relationship between discourses of gender, militarism, and national identity as well as the normative gender expectations that are seemingly inherent to the nature of war itself.