Weekend Edition July 8 / 9, 2006
Deep Sexing the News
By LUCINDA MARSHALL
The picture in the paper of the young soldier being led away in handcuffs bore an eerie resemblance to the pictures of Lynndie England at her trial. Both young, scared and perhaps not truly sure of what they had done wrong. Like England, who suffered from learning disabilities and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome before entering the military, Private Steven Green, charged with the rape and murder of a young Iraqi girl and the murder of 3 members of her family, suffers from "anti-social personality disorder" which the military cited as the reason for his discharge earlier this year.
We will no doubt once again be assured that this was an isolated incident, a few low-ranking soldiers run amok. But it will be no more true now than it was at Abu Ghraib. The rape and murder of civilians has been a systemic tool of war since the dawn of time. It is simply not believable that we have been in Iraq this long without other incidents of rape and cold-blooded murder of civilians taking place. And in fact that has been documented by human rights organizations, NGOs and independent media.
But despite the enormous press coverage and airplay that this story is getting, the context in which the atrocity took place will only nominally be examined, if at all. That aspect of the story is not what is newsworthy. Or to be a tad more crass and honest, it is not what sells. And the dissemination of news is most definitely a business, one that is now owned and controlled primarily by large corporations who are far more concerned with the bottom line than with truth and integrity.
Many of the companies that make the news accessible are also heavily invested in the pornography industry, a form of media that makes much, much more money than does hawking the news. Knowing this, it should not be at all surprising that when a news story that contains the same elements as a good porn plot occurs, the media doesn't hesitate to frame the story from that angle. Sex sells. Violent sex sells even better.
Like Abu Ghraib, the brutal rape and murder of 15 year old Abeer Qasim Hamza was just such a story. Young soldiers, the supposed keepers of integrity and courage, defenders of our rights and values, in a premeditated act of sex and violence against a young, helpless girl who had earlier refused their taunts and advances at a checkpoint. The scene could just as easily been a script of a reality porn flick. In this sense, this story bears a resemblance to the coverage of cases such as the murder of Lacey Peterson as well as the Duke University rape allegations. Virile young men having their way in a manner that crosses the line of what is offensive in sufficiently obscene ways to be titillating and very marketable stories.
None of this is lost on news producers who are completely aware that their product is distributed in many cases by the same companies that profit so handsomely from pornography, companies such as Time Warner, Comcast and DirecTV, all of whom have invested heavily in the pornography industry.
The pervasiveness of this connection impacts how the media frames the story, even to the extent of editing the facts to fit the story. In an Op Ed piece about the Duke rape allegations, David Brooks waxed poetic about the reputation of the Duke Lacrosse team-their good grades and community service; that the alleged victim was an honor student and a military veteran was conveniently omitted from his piece. To have included that information would have damaged the media portrayal of the alleged victim as being deserving of whatever may have happened that night by virtue of her 'behavior'. Not quite as blatant as Rush Limbaugh's portrayal of her as a "ho", but the intent is the same.
Similarly, the Associated Press ran an article on July 2 by Bassen Mroue that offered this astounding take on the context in which the rape and murder of Abeer Qasim Hamza took place, "Iraq is a conservative, strongly religious society where many women are sheltered from contacts with males who are not family members."
Mrouc conveniently leaves out any reference to the fact that prior to the U. S. invasion, women in Iraq enjoyed far more freedoms than in most Arab countries and that religious restrictions on women's lives have increased dramatically since Saddam Hussein's ouster.
The omissive wording in the 'news' report is no accident. What it effectively does is redefine why this story is an atrocity in a way that objectifies the victim as a pawn of war to be defended or destroyed; in the eyes of the perpetrators of this act, her attack was a de facto victory in the war on "terror".
Another recent incident in Iraq illustrates the extent to which the acceptability of misogynist violence in Iraq belies the Bush Administration rhetoric of bettering the lives of Iraqi women. In a video that has circulated widely, U.S. Marine Corporal Joshua Belile performs a song he wrote, "The Rape of Hadji Girl" which tells about a Marine using a young Iraqi girl as a shield, the last stanza says that the men who were shooting at him should have known, "They were f*cking with a Marine."
As Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff points out on her Women's Space Blog:
"Abeer Qasim Hamza made the fatal error of refusing the "advances" of Marines. She had to have known, said they, that she was hot. She had to have known, said they, what she was doing, sashaying through that checkpoint every day. And she turned them down. Ignored them. Rejected them. Acted like she was scared. Who the hell did she think she was? What. They were there all the way from the United States to defend her and her family, and she thought she could get away with that kind of bullshit?
After they raped her and killed her family, they blamed it on "insurgents." And in their minds, that wasn't really a lie. In fact, to men under male heterosupremacy, beautiful women who refuse their advances are always "insurgents"."
Sounds like a porn plot doesn't it? Let's lead with that angle.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org.