The Backwardness of American Culture and Imperialism

 Alia Roth

This was quite a heavy week of reading… on top of a heavy media and entertainment week; thus, I was angry quite a bit this week.

 I’ll start with the Brumberg and Jackson reading because it was straightforward and drew a really interesting relationship between an unacknowledged oppression in the U.S. and the one in which we almost glamorize in the middle east.  The statement “The burka and the bikini represent opposite ends of the political spectrum” perfectly summarizes their thesis.  One is a more overt symbol of oppression (due to the way the global West has portrayed it) and the other is a newer kind of oppression that still forces women to present their body in a way that is unknowingly forced.

This conversation is really interesting – specifically for our generation – for a number a reasons.  The first being that our generation sees “liberation”, “physical freedom” and “sexual expression” in line with less clothing.  We have been socialized to believe that the less clothes we wear, the more free we are – which of course, is not the case.  This therefore creates the perception that the more clothes one is wearing, the more oppressed they are.  I also believe that this is in line with our generations push away from religion (and religious figures who must cover certain parts of their bodies).  We have become obsessed with freedom of material and physical expression – specifically regarding clothes.  When in reality,  “American girls and women have been stripped bare by a sexually expressive culture whose beauty dictates have exerted a major toll on their physical and emotional health.”

I also just really love this quote: “Now that the Taliban’s horrific treatment of women is common knowledge, dieting and working out to wear a string bikini might seem to be a patriotic act.”

This ties right into Stabile and Kumar’s article about the U.S.’s media and PR obsession with women in Afghanistan. Of course we depict women and children to be the most marginalized and oppressed – which is sometimes the case but the way in which we do so is unproductive, entitled and invasive – it could not have been more perfectly depicted than it was in this article.  Most of these things I knew (kind of) but had not really conceptualized… when they so clearly spelled out how obviously the U.S. uses women as a means to sell the war to the U.S. public, my stomach dropped.  This was probably the most sick and twisted thing to digest so far this semester.  Before September 11th, 2001, I was too young to notice or pay attention to political issues of gender in the media (unless your Professor Jafar’s children and are probably smarter than all of us…)  But examining the progression of Afghan women and children in the media, NGO’s, and Think Tanks.. it makes sense that this issue became “sexy” for politicians and NGO’s due to the increased media coverage… “Until Afghan women proved rhetorically useful, their tragic circumstances merited little coverage in the mainstream media.”  The rhetoric that they were proved useful for was quite literally justifying the U.S. invading the middle east, and framing Afghanistan’s culture and ‘oppression’ against women as “backward”  It is so distressing that in a 60 minute segment on the women in Afghanistan.. “There was no mention of outbreaks of diseases like polio and measles, of chronic hunger or dreadful poverty.” regardless of how relevant or accurate

But who really is backward here?  It is one thing for a country to still have laws and policies that oppress women and children and there needs to be more of a fight for equality – but for another country to CAPITALIZE on this for its own selfish gains,  essentially as a PR stunt – is just disgusting.  In my opinion, you can’t really get more backwards than that.

I also loved their point about the lack of media coverage on refugees throughout this entire wave of covering Afghan women and children… As I just finished a class on refugees and how they are portrayed in the media, most refugees are women and children and that is one of the greatest internal political battles that the middle east faces today (specifically now with Syria).  But this has been proven as un-useful and in fact harmful for American media to cover these stories… 

“We should assert that the rhetoric of women’s liberation was a lie as monumental as the claims about WMD. But in a society as deeply sexist as the US, and a media system more engrossed with weapons than with women’s issues, we can expect that this lie will go unchallenged.”

These articles reminds us at how critical we have to be when consuming even our “most trusted” news sources and constantly question what the news is failing to report.. As well as who is in charge of framing the news.

As I sit here writing this while simultaneously watching the Oscars (muted in the background) and I count how many women and people of color are represented in these films I remember how absolutely terrifying it is how much power the patriarchy really does have.  That 94% of the voters for the Academy are white and 77% are men…

I would love to know these statistical break down of who controls our news…

Oh, also – for those of you interested in the gender gap in the Oscar nominated films:


3 thoughts on “The Backwardness of American Culture and Imperialism

  1. Zoe Halpert

    I find the bikini/burka dichotomy really interesting, partially because it’s something I haven’t really thought about before. I personally hate wearing bikinis; they make me feel constantly self conscious and generally dissatisfied with my body. When you wear a bikini, you can’t hide any flaws. I feel far from sexually liberated. If anything, I am more aware of the male gaze than ever. Yet I wear them anyway, because I feel the invisible force of society’s expectation. I’m not saying I want to wear a burka. However, we need to acknowledge the oppression that exists in our own culture before we attack others.

  2. Gina Pol

    I also took note of the line, “the burka and the bikini represent opposite ends of the political spectrum” and I completely agree that this is the perfect statement to summarize the article. Women in Afghanistan are believed to be confined in their culture based on how they must completely cover their bodies, while women in America are believed to be liberated based on the freedom we have to wear less clothing. That is why Brumberg and Johnson point out that American women are still confined by the cultures that we live in, but in another form of confinement. American women have freedom of expression through our ability to show skin or dress in specific ways, but hidden beneath this freedom are the standards of beauty that forces women to act or look a certain way.

  3. Sophie Furman

    Fashion is always something that interests me so your paragraph about freedom equaling less clothing for our generation really caught my eye. When did what you wear become who you are? It seems as though the idea of judging someone based on the fabric covering (or not covering) their body is continuously progressing. I’m not someone that feels comfortable wearing tight clothing or very revealing clothing, and as a result some of my friends say I dress like a “teacher.” Though I don’t really understand the definition of dressing like a teacher, I assume they mean that I’m covered up and dressed too appropriately? (who knew there was such a thing?)

    This paragraph also reminded me of this video I came across a little while ago thats 100 years of fashion in 100 seconds, how what we consider acceptable has changed, and how the amount of fabric we use for clothes seems to lesson as time goes on.

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