How many gender problems can you count?

Posted March 7, 2010

Yesterday’s NY Times article
about the US Marines’ “female engagement teams” was a good reminder that, despite the war’s recession to the background of mainstream US political debate, the gendered contradictions remain fresh.

The article describes how American female soldiers are being trained in cultural sensitivity (i.e. wearing headscarves) so that they can better obtain intelligence from women villagers. Apparently this is the first Marine effort to train women exclusively for participation in these teams.

This is how the article describes it:

A [female engagement] team is to arrive in a village, get permission from the male elder to speak with the women, settle into a compound, hand out school supplies and medicine, drink tea, make conversation and, ideally, get information about the village, local grievances and the Taliban.

In this article and elsewhere, military spokespeople discuss the importance of female Marines’ work, implying that their participation in the war in a reflection of gender equality in the US.

It’s not the first formal US program of this sort. In Iraq there is a Team Lioness Program, in which women soldiers accompany men on house raid in order to search Iraqi women. This is another place where the US congratulates itself for showing cultural sensitively towards the population that it’s occupying.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, it’s worth it to remember that the day’s founders — including German socialist Clara Zetkin — were far sighted enough to see the connection between imperialist war and gender oppression at home.