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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Humiliation rituals and masculinity

On Alas, a Blog there is an ongoing discussion on whether or not it should be surprising that women were involved in the torture in the Iraqi prisons, as most people tend to view power and humiliation rituals as inherently masculine. Versions of this debate were going on all over the blogosphere all weekend, which did surprise me. Of course, the anti-feminists have been reduced to spluttering idiots because this has confused the dearly held beliefs about men and women's inherent tendencies. I've noticed alot more, "Well, womens is just stupidz" kind of comments going on than usual.
There is no doubt that women and men are both capable of cruelty and the gang-up mentality. In fact, in both sexes the gang-up mentality often takes a sexualized tone, so it becomes more the gang rape mentality. The only real difference is that since men are seen as the dominant sex and women as the passive sex, aggressive behavior in women is sublimated and frowned upon. Just the word "catty" or the eroticized concept of the "cat fight" speaks volumes about our culture's take on female aggression.
The problem is that male aggression is celebrated, and in fact is seen as central to male identity. Stories like this one show how it is still considered acceptable to teach boys "how to be men" by allowing those who have already proven themselves to gang up on and humiliate the outcasts. These attacks usually have a sexual aspect to them; we've all witnessed how many, if not most, of the humiliating insults in these situations center around calling other men female ("pussy", "little girls") or homosexual ("fag"), which is still seen as men playing the role of "female". The way that these Iraqi prisoners are treated, or in fact any situation where men are sexually assaulted in these power imbalance situations is an outgrowth of this. (And it also has the effect of normalizing sexual assault on women, as others have said.)
So why did women participate in these sexualized tortures on prisoners? Because torturing people is more about being in power over them and has very little to do with the actual sexes of the people involved. That women have rarely participated in sexual assaults throughout history shows that women have rarely been in power over anyone else, and nothing more.
I don't find it surprising whatsoever that right wing pundits are running around declaring these tortures to be nothing more than what goes on in fraternity and sports team hazings. (Except that the Iraqi prisoners aren't getting to join the "team" afterwards, huh?) Apparently, Team "Bring It On" isn't letting go of their belief that this war is nothing more than a big football game, and no ugly pictures of sexual assualt or dead prisoners is going to change that theory.