Women as tools: on the selective fetishization of female resistance fighters

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The fetishization of women during times of war, especially women in combat, can be argued as being a reification of patriarchal power; the patriarchal view of female violence as being a demonstration of chaos reimagined as tolerable and even acceptable so long as this violence serves patriarchy, militant or otherwise. Despite the female identity being granted space for violent expression, the sexualization of these spaces and the bodies which take up these spaces, has become normalized.

Oftentimes we find that the fetishization of political violence exerted by women is not applied in the same method and tone, and that some groups are excluded from the same character of fetishization that we find applied to others. That being said, so long as the target of female violence is anathematized by patriarchal institutions, without exception, then the exertion of force will be viewed less as chaotic and more as palatable and gratifying. For example, the very idea of targeting the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has become as a purpose to celebrate, as much as the tactics in which ISIS members are earmarked for death have become a cause célèbre, and so what are conceivably the most predominant female forces leading the battle against IS are from the Women's Protection Unit (YPJ) fighting to protect Kobanê.

In an interview with Al-Akhbar English Evar Hussayni, a 21-year-old artist from Rojava, currently living in London, and whose work focuses on the global welfare of women, describes what she calls the mainstream media's “fascination” with Kurdish women fighters as being rooted in capitalist structures. “In capitalist society, this is how money flows. The media will not portray women in the same light as men when it comes to war because it doesn’t sell as greatly. There always has to be some sort of sexualization or controversy attached,” says Hussein. She also notes that Kurdish women have long been at the forefront of the not only the struggle against IS but of their own liberation:

What’s beautiful is that these Kurdish fighters, both women and men, are fighting for the rights of everyone who is potentially a victim of IS, no matter their religion or ethnicity. Personally, I think the West can't handle this. They can't accept this beauty. The YPJ is not only a militia, but also a movement for the equality of women and men, aiming to change the traditional societal stigmas that are attached to a woman's role within Kurdish culture and also worldwide. The Western media has failed to portray this, and instead we see headlines depicting an amazement that women are killing IS members, as if it is something new and particularly extraordinary that women guerilla fighters exist. This depiction is shameful. It denies the many years of fighting that have already taken place within the Kurdish struggle but diminishes the importance of the many other struggles around the world that women are part of.

The Swedish retail-clothing company H&M recently apologized for what many have dubbed ‘Kurdish inspired jumpsuits’ after a deluge of responses on social media from those who found the item nothing more than a blatant co-opting of native attire. Their apology was dismissive, though gentle in its delivery, and attempted to chalk it all up to coincidence. The cultural appropriation was noticed not only by Kurdish men and women who observed the similarities but also those who were not familiar with tradition military uniform but were shown a side-by-side photograph featuring an H&M model and Kurdish female fighter. Hussayni responds by saying that “fashion institutions are becoming more and more comfortable with using traditional, symbolic, and consequential aspects of many cultures.” She goes on to say that “the camouflage and combat gear worn by members of the Kurdish women militia is no exception to this. Women of color, whether Asian, Black, Latin-American etc., continuously struggle against institutionalized racism and sexism, and it needs dismantling.”

Elias Groll, writing for Foreign Policy, asks, “Why is H&M apologizing for its Kurdish look-alike jumpsuit?”, calling it a “fabricated controversy”:

So perhaps the female Kurdish fighters were indeed H&M's inspiration for their jumpsuit. If so, let's hope they get more attention as a result. They are a fascinating group of women and are currently on the front lines against the Islamic State.

Groll is not the only one to argue that H&M selling a $20 jumpsuit stolen from Kurdish tradition is positive, and that it is for the sake of Kurdish women in an effort to popularize them, and he will not be the last. This is what women of color in combat are — stripped of agency to a degree that any media attention offered is extended with a sort of unspoken knowledge that they are still subservient, and in need of “attention.” The role of Kurdish resistance extends farther, historically event in recent years, than that of ISIS but Groll, and many others, offer readers what they ask for – enough to make their support of Kurdish women feel-good cheerleading. Watering down an extensive history into a sort of film trailer: Kurdish Women vs. ISIS – The Movie (coming to a theatre near you in 2015).

This is theft, the extent of which has been rationalized due to the categorization of these sections of cultural identities as marketable for monetary gain, and this is not new to the fashion industry, as we have seen with other items like the the black-and-white checkered keffiyeh, which is traditionally worn by Arabs and largely associated with the people of occupied Palestine as a symbol of resistance. It is a theft of what is acceptable, that being the specific items of clothing associated with a marginalized people, and an outright disposal of said people. In the case of Palestinian women fighters, whose history is longer than the declaration of the state of Israel, while their keffiyehs have been accepted as style markers, their resistance, and their existence has not. Female Palestinian resistance fighters, compared to the Kurdish, are sexualized for the sake of impugnment – critics have long associated female Palestinian resistance with subservience and sexual inhibition while, as we see recently, offering Kurdish women fighters a place of subservience to patriarchy without the disdain. Women are allowed to travel outside what society deems their natural status, that of beautified nurturers, and take part in the horrors of war so long as their targets are castigated by those in power, and in the case of Palestinian resistance this is a hard sell for Americans, for example, who remain unashamedly pro-Israel. Regardless, both associations are destructive as they identify women as tools in conquest or tools of conquest, and while presently Kurdish violence in the vacuum of resistance against ISIS is righteous we notice that Palestinian violence exerted in response to brutal settler-colonialism is reviled.

Women have come a long way from being denied equality in the workplace, political parties, trade unions, academic institutions etc., and there is still a way to go, but the complex and layered subject of women as a part of war and women as targets of war has long been and remains presented as a history of objects, commodified in a space that is greatly anti-women and almost entirely exploitative.

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Sydney based Lebanese-American journalist and commentator. She tweets @roqchams and writes 'Letters From the Underground.'

Comments

Fetishizim -
: the pathological displacement of erotic interests & satisfaction to a fetish.
Fetish -
: a strong & unusual need or desire for something.
: a need or desire for an object, or body part, or activity for sexual excitement.
: an object that is believed to have magical powers.

Fetish:- from the time of it's identification by Sigmund Freud in 1927.

Anathematize -
: the verb anathematize means to completely condemn, something you would do to a mortal enemy or a truly horrid person.

"They can't accept this beauty."
I can't for the life of me see anything "beautiful" in physical fighting & killing, be the fighter man or woman. That it is forced upon a person, or persons & becomes necessary is a given in this world.
This lacking in my character is most likely a shortfall on my part, somehow. That I am a more than worthy opponent, that I can fight well, & fight to win is beside the point.
"You don't want to go there with me" is a place I go to when my buttons are pushed, this does not necessarily mean that I will be enraged, in fact calm a 'more' thing.

The fashion industry is a desperate & over dramatic wannabe whore, forever trying to encroach upon mankind's psyche, in the hopes of scoring fame & fortune or maybe just notoriety.

What is it about everyone wanting to get in on the act - so as to cash in of course, reeking of GIMME GIMME GIMME- have you noticed how the wannabe's home in on a 'potential', they flock like sheep or maybe swarm like flies is more apt.
The analysts
The media
The fashion industry

Women have come a long way. They have pushed & shoved, cajoled & compromised. To get into THE MANS WORLD & be man. Regularly the Bureau of Statistics rolls out "teen pregnancy is up" & we know that the little sluts - to the shame & embarrassment of our society - are out to wrought the welfare system for all it's worth & live high on the hog.
We are talking about little girls - impressionable girls & their expected bastards - the blight on our society.

Today & for several years now - all over the world - if has become a fad - a life style choice - for girls as young as 15 years of age - as it is being said - to choose to have a hysterectomy - yes folks - young females are having their uterus removed - so as to never have a child.

1) no more menstrual excuses not to perform in the work place - the sexual arena.
2) no more children for the government to support once the hotshot Romeo wannabe partner - married or other wise - has pissed off for greener fields.
3) no more health issues to overburden the healthcare system.
4) and the benefits to the community & society at large just go on & on.

TRUE EMANCIPATION

Imagine that your 16 year old daughter went off with her girlfriends & had "it' done while pretending a sleep over.
We can be truly proud of our selves - we have finally turned our children into Plastic Ken & Barbi.

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