Gender under torture
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This dissertation is an examination of media discourses pertaining to torture as an interrogation method in the war on terrorism. The major focus is the circular relationship between gender and torture. The project scrutinizes the ways that gender norms have influenced perceptions of torture and torture has influenced what are believed to be acceptable gender behaviors. Through an analysis of both news media and popular entertainment television programs, this dissertation explores the implications for linking gender and torture when these concepts are taken up and disseminated through mass media. With the enemy in the war on terrorism being described in media and social discourses as demonically brutal, a cultural longing is revealed for a warrior hero who can effectively protect us from them. This new hero is distinctly masculine, remorseful when forced to perform actions that cross the line into torture, but, at the same time, unrepentant. As one who fights for the side of good (Judeo-Christianity) against evil (Islam), this new hero is an archetypal messiah. The creation of this new hero in the shape of a messiah effectively guarantees that that shape will not be female. The culturally perceived defectiveness of women physically, morally, and mentally means that they could never rise to the level of messianic saviors. A messianic hero would necessarily recall the image of Christ, thus requiring this hero to be male. A masculine, messianic hero is portrayed as being in a position to use torture effectively to save the world, but discourses circulating in mass media suggest that this is something women, no matter how professional and well trained, are incapable of. This project analyzes two case studies - prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay - and five American television programs depicting government agents engaged in counterterrorism. Analysis of these texts suggests that cultural space may have been created allowing for the perception of righteous male warriors who commit torture as demonstration of their heroism. Torture is, thus, placed on a hierarchy allowing for its potential legitimization and normalization as practice in the war on terrorism.