My mind is a soup, so bear with me.
Lately, two articles have become linked in my head: one, the recent LA Times Magazine article about the sleazy Girls Gone Wild mogul, Joe Francis, who has issues with coercing/forcing young women into sex and exhibitionism and two, the continuing narrative about the American soldiers who gang raped a girl, killed her, set her body on fire and killed three other members of her family to cover their rape/murder (which I describe in stark terms because they are stark actions. Let’s not be squeamish when we’re talking about these things.)
(And if you Google ‘Steven D. Green’ you can read the news stories on this case.)
On the surface, these stories bear no relation to one another: one is a slightly distasteful domestic story of an entrepreneur who seizes his capitalist moment and cashes in on our culture’s desire for celebrity and sex. The other is at the center of a larger global narrative of nation-making, democracy, terror, and military might. But if we scrape the surface, we’ll see these stories are not so different, after all. Both highlight masculine aggression, the ideological equation of libidinal release with cultural/capital supremacy, and both see such supremacy happening at the expense of women and their bodies. In these narratives, women are not merely objects, they are channels through which our men establish their identities. Female bodies are what predatory men need to fix their hypermasculine identities.
What does it take to create a Joe Francis or Private Steven D. Green? The acceptance of aggression as within suitable boundaries of human behavior. The LA Times piece opens with Francis assaulting the reporter over the hood of a car, her hands crushed behind her, her body pinned underneath Francis while surrounded by an acquiescent crowd of his bodyguards, male onlookers and armed law enforcement who realize too late that what they’re looking at isn’t a joke. Later, in addition to Francis’ own verbal and physical abuse of the reporter, Hoffman relates incidents of Francis verbally, physically and legally forcing women to his will. (That’s what his videos are all about: the moment a young girl must have her will bent to that of Francis, his camera man and to the implicit threat of the inevitable circle of drunk, aggressive men demanding to see her breasts.) And in Iraq, you have a group of men in a high combat area, all of them heavily armed, who’ve been fighting and see no end to the fighting; you have Private Green who’s on record saying “I want to kill and hurt a lot of Iraqis.”
You also need a cultural mindset that justifies whatever feeds a sense of supremacy, of over-weening masculine Privilege. Francis actually says it:
“I hate to get too deep and philosophical here, but only the guys with the
greatest sexual appetites are the ones who are the most driven and most
This ‘drive to succeed’ will inevitably permit him to create a world that’s saturated with his view of sex and commercial exchange. The soldier’s success is a little more complicated; while there is individual motivation to avenge fellow soldiers’ deaths (the reports concentrate on testimony of the unit taking on heavy casualties and members of the unit being under combat stress, leading to Green’s confessed desire to kill Iraqis), there is a national motivation to ‘stay the course’, to be resolved in the face of any brutality, either inflicted or endured. At stake is national pride. Our vision of the world is so monumental, we cannot flinch; we cannot relent. In our national discourse, our soldiers are like gladiators, the ones carrying democracy at the point of a gun. ‘My country, right or wrong.’ Isn’t that the phrase?
But we also see what happens in such an atmosphere of masculine privilege: the brutality at Guantanamo Bay and the cruelty at Abu Ghraib (whose events were also highly sexualized.) And what is war but a nation giving itself permission to be its most brutal, its most desensitized? We saw what happened in Cambodia during covert operations during the Vietnam war, what happened in the central part of Africa during the tribal purges, what happened in Bosnia and Serbia – nationalist fervor manifesting itself in the systematic rape of women.
And so, to finish creating a Joe Francis and a Private Green, you need the body of a woman. It’s helpful if the woman is rendered helpless, by alcohol, by her age, by the fact our country has invaded hers. It’s also useful if she’s seen as Other (gendered Other, racially Other, nationally Other, politically Other). For Francis, what’s important is that the young woman is merely a tool for his own gratification. (Women who approach him to appear in his videos ‘sadden’ him.) She has no agency, no right to her own body; she’s just a pair of breasts. She’s worth nothing more than a t-shirt or baseball cap, though her image makes him a mogul. For Private Green and his fellow soldiers, the 14-yr old Abeer Qasim Hamza was just an Iraqi. Worthless. An object. This girl was a receptacle for their rage, fear and hatred that, through their act of violating her, allows them to become a picture of American manhood.
Before the NYTimes changed the headline to ‘GI Tells Why He Testified in Rape-Murder Inquiry’ it read ‘Iraq Incident was Fueled by Whiskey, GI Says.’ What a cop out. Whiskey may have given the soldiers dutch courage, but that narrative is not about boys getting a little bit out of control, like their frat went on a pantie raid. Let's readjust our lens a little bit. I see the guys who surround Joe Francis – the cameramen, the club owners, the bodyguards, the cops, the bystanders, the producers, the guys who buy the fracking tapes – then I see the soldiers who went on that raid on that Iraqi house and I cannot help but see them in the same way: predators.