Women as Pawns in the Media

Cassie Walter

            After reading Gill’s article last week on the way that women are completely underrepresented in today’s news stories, it was interesting to read Stabile and Kumar’s “Unveiling Imperialism: Media, Gender, and the War on Afghanistan” in order to see actual examples of how the plight of women was kept out of the media until it could serve a useful purpose to the white, male government officials in charge. The part that stuck out to me the most in accordance with last weeks readings was the figures of how many prominent US newspapers featured articles on the Bush twins versus how many they featured on the severe problems women in Afghanistan were facing. From January 1, 2000 to September 11, 2001, only fifteen articles were written about the women in Afghanistan. This was a time when, under the strict regime of the Taliban, women were not allowed to have jobs, were not allowed to attend school, were required to be covered up in their burkas at all times, and could not even leave their homes unless they were accompanied by a male relative. Horrible things were happening to these women (horrible things that the US actually indirectly afflicted on them which I’ll talk more about later) yet hardly anything was said about it in the national news. On the other hand, during that same time period, there were 179 articles written about the Bush twins. When doing last week’s readings, the conclusion I came to was that news companies were trying to dumb things down for the American people and to provide them with more fluff, human-interest pieces because that is what they thought the American people enjoyed. Now it is clear that this isn’t the only reason they do that, they manipulate the stories they feature in the news in order to benefit the people ‘in charge,’ namely white government officials. Because of course as soon as the government wanted to justify declaring war on Afghanistan, the news was flooded with stories about how oppressed Afghan women were and that we needed to ‘save them’ from this. This had been going on since 1996, or even earlier, however, so it is quite obvious what the people in charge of the media were trying to do. It is rather appalling how untrustworthy the media has become.

            Something that was touched on in both the “Unveiling Imperialism” and “The Burka and the Bikini” articles was the way in which the US media focused on the oppressiveness of Afghan women being forced to wear burkas but never touched on the American issues that have to do with this. As Stabile and Kumar pointed out in their article, it wasn’t until after the US funded the mujahideen military leaders in Afghanistan that the Taliban were able to come to power and inflict a horrific war on women that led to them being severely restricted. When Americans celebrated the fact that their involvement in the war on Afghanistan led to women having more freedoms (such as being allowed to remove the burka) it was hardly ever brought up that in fact the US indirectly gave way to women being treated this way in the first place. Americans can celebrate all they want about how the war ‘saved women’ but they might find it interesting to know that the reason why we went to war had nothing to do with wanting to save women, but was really done in order to make money from oil. And that women in Afghanistan aren’t actually saved, they are still living in a country that has been torn apart by a war.

            The final reading tied together nicely with the “Burka and the Bikini” article. It made it clear that people in the US have a much easier time recognizing the ways in which women are oppressed and harmed in other cultures but not our own. We see women forced to wear the burkas and are outraged by this, yet we cannot see the harm that our own country has inflicted on young girls by presenting an ideal body type that is almost impossible to attain by a normal person. We recognize the horrors of dowry-murders in India yet we struggle to find the numbers of how many women are killed a year from domestic violence in the US. It is much easier to look at people in other cultures and to condemn their behaviors but it is much harder to do it to ourselves. Clearly there are a lot of problems in the US but we are currently unwilling to face them head on as a nation. 

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7 thoughts on “Women as Pawns in the Media

  1. Sarah Wills

    I agree with that Cassie that the article, “Unveiling Imperialism” was very eye opening as to how America represents women in Afghanistan. Just as the article stated, women in Afghanistan were virtually invisible through the eyes of American media. However, after 9/11 took place, the mistreatment of Afghani women took the media by storm. This change in media coverage exposes propaganda that the Government is trying to spread. They are targeting Afghani men and using women as a portal to further their attack. In the article, “Burka and the Bikini”, I also thought it was very interesting how point of view can effect how we view a certain situation. For Americans, we view the burka as a form of oppression. How ever, the author pointed out that the way the female body is exposed in American is also a mandate from the men in society.

  2. Bianca Scofield

    When reading “Unveiling Imperialism”, I too noticed how insignificant the hardships women faced in Iraq were until their stories of desperation were needed to convince the American people to invade Iraq to “save them from their government”. I would say that your title, “Women as Pawns in Media”, says it all. This completely infuriated me because America put in place some of the very leaders that were restricting Iraqi women, and when their all girl schools were being attacked, we did nothing. How can we as a country use the excuse “we come to rebuild this broken country that terrorizes its women” when we did nothing until it became an interest financially. I think its safe to say we did not invade Iraq to save its women.

  3. I also thinks Cassie makes a great point about how the media regards all women as a passive vehicle for promoting another agenda (especially when these women can be exoticized and viewed as “others”). The presentation of women in burkas alongside articles that mention little to nothing of women’s rights is an obvious example of media exploitation. The combination of cultural bias, ignorance, gender bias, and political agenda create a toxic cycle of mainstream media coverage which serves only to distract from the root cause of injustice.

  4. Brittany Juliano

    I actually did not know the history of the war in Afghanistan until reading Stabile and Kumar’s article. I agree, it is amazing how the United States could pretend to defend women’s rights and end oppression from the Taliban when they themselves helped to create this same environment. In addition, I was shocked by the fact that Osama Bin Laden was actually trained and recruited by that same group that the U.S. supported. All of these things make it seem as if a war attempting to defend rights in Afghanistan would be completely absurd; and yet, it happened.This speaks to the fact that women’s rights take a back seat when it comes to American interests, not only regarding international politics, but at home as well. Those same political interests are reflected in the journalism we looked at last week, where women become secondary.

  5. Karen Cardona
    As mentioned, ” women was kept out of the media until it could serve a useful purpose to the white, male government officials in charge” here we can see the highly historically used idea of always ignoring those oppressed but simply bringing them around when it comes to benefiting those in power. The USA media loves to highlight the ways in which other countries oppress women but fail to show the ways in which the USA itself hyper-sexualizes women by constantly presenting them as sexual objects in TV adds and media. Here the USA media promotes women only in ways of mockery and disrespect always placing the white male as the one who conducts and behaves in the right way.

  6. Jihmmy Sanchez

    Before reading “Unveiling Imperialism” I had little to no knowledge about the conflict in Afghanistan prior to the September attacks. It was very eye opening for me to read about how much the involvement the United States has around the globe, but also how much they participated in getting the Taliban into power in Afghanistan. The readings from the previous week about the representation of women in the news also ties into this weeks readings as well, what is classified as “news” is heavily skewed. NEws has become more about political game and infotainment than it is about covering important current events.

    In my Social Justice and the Environment class we watched a documentary called “Documental 9.70” which talked about the U.S’s involvement in Colombia and how in order for the U.S to increase jobs in the agricultural field in the U.S it has taken it away from farmers in Colombia who heavily depend on work. The theme both these stories share in common is that the U.S is quick to try to solve conflicts in other countries, but at the same time tries to realize that the same problems are endemic in certain parts of the U.S itself.

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