Monday, February 04, 2008

Pg. 99: Kelly Oliver's "Women as Weapons of War"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Kelly Oliver's Women as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex, and the Media.

About the book, from the publisher:

Ever since Eve tempted Adam with her apple, women have been regarded as a corrupting and destructive force. The very idea that women can be used as interrogation tools, as evidenced in the infamous Abu Ghraib torture photos, plays on age-old fears of women as sexually threatening weapons, and therefore the literal explosion of women onto the war scene should come as no surprise.

From the female soldiers involved in Abu Ghraib to Palestinian women suicide bombers, women and their bodies have become powerful weapons in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. In Women as Weapons of War, Kelly Oliver reveals how the media and the administration frequently use metaphors of weaponry to describe women and female sexuality and forge a deliberate link between notions of vulnerability and images of violence. Focusing specifically on the U.S. campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, Oliver analyzes contemporary discourse surrounding women, sex, and gender and the use of women to justify America's decision to go to war. For example, the administration's call to liberate "women of cover," suggesting a woman's right to bare arms is a sign of freedom and progress.

Oliver also considers what forms of cultural meaning, or lack of meaning, could cause both the guiltlessness demonstrated by female soldiers at Abu Ghraib and the profound commitment to death made by suicide bombers. She examines the pleasure taken in violence and the passion for death exhibited by these women and what kind of contexts created them. In conclusion, Oliver diagnoses our cultural fascination with sex, violence, and death and its relationship with live news coverage and embedded reporting, which naturalizes horrific events and stymies critical reflection. This process, she argues, further compromises the borders between fantasy and reality, fueling a kind of paranoid patriotism that results in extreme forms of violence.

Among the praise for Women as Weapons of War:

"Kelly Oliver's book offers a brilliant and unforgettable feminist critique of the recent ways in which 'women' have been used, once again, as the terrain and flesh over which to fight yet another war. At stake in this war is also the future of feminism. Challenging the bunker rhetoric coming out of Washington that combines a noxious mixture of anti-Arab racism with the latest version of the white men's burden to save women from pre-modern cultures, Oliver offers an eloquent plea for the continuing relevance of feminist ways of interpreting the world. In these times of shame and sorrow, this book is indispensable reading."
—Eduardo Mendieta, associate professor of philosophy, Stony Brook University

"When a highly respected feminist philosopher such as Kelly Oliver turns her attention to the most urgent issues facing us today-the war on terror and the invasion of Iran — the reader anticipates the pleasure of a dramatic shift in perspective, an unexpected frame of reference, and a renewal of political energy and ethical thought. And not surprisingly, Oliver has once again delivered on her (unspoken) promise."
—Kalpana Rahita Seshadri, associate professor of English, Boston College

"In her latest book, Kelly Oliver traces the use of women as weapons of war and vehicles of torture to the fact that women lack the cultural means to become articulate agents of their own meaning. Each chapter of the book is laced with rich insights on topics such as the sexual dynamics of the film Mr. And Mrs. Smith, the contemporary mother as CEO of her family, the popularity of reality shows, neoliberal freedom as freedom to shop, and the meaning of menstrual blood. The wide-ranging insights combine with a clear prose style and a compelling use of contemporary French theory to make for an immensely pleasurable and intellectually satisfying book."
—Cynthia Willett , professor and chair, Department of Philosophy, Emory University

Read an excerpt from Women as Weapons of War and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Kelly Oliver is Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of over fifty articles and fifteen books, including The Colonization of Psychic Space: A Psychoanalytic Theory of Oppression; Noir Anxiety: Race, Sex, and Maternity in Film Noir; Witnessing: Beyond Recognition; Subjectivity Without Subjects: From Abject Fathers to Desiring Mothers; Family Values: Subjects Between Nature and Culture; Womanizing Nietzsche: Philosophy's Relation to "the Feminine"; and Reading Kristeva: Unraveling the Double-Bind. She is also the editor of The Portable Kristeva.

The Page 99 Test: Women as Weapons of War.

--Marshal Zeringue