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war reporting and rape

20 Feb

I’ve wanted, since the story broke, to say something about the assault of Lara Logan from CBS, in Egypt. But I haven’t had time to formulate all the complex things I’ve felt the need to say: how what happened to her isn’t about Islam or what she looks like. And how being concerned about violence against reporters isn’t about valuing privileged people over non-privileged people in war zones, but about using violence against journalists as one specific metric of repression: Killing one journalist can kill hundreds of stories; killing one journalist can drive other journalists away; and killing journalists, medics and religious figures present in a conflict to offer support services or witnessing represents a disregard for certain conventions of war.

Facts relevant to the matter of Lara Logan include that war reporting is dangerous; that rape has been used as a tool of war against men and women always and everywhere; and, also, that there’s always going to be some man, some where, that thinks the appropriate way to celebrate some event is by committing rape.

But here’s what I’m sick of, other than the obvious: People who decry violence against women not out of any concern for women, but because they don’t like the idea of someone touching what they consider to be theirs; imagined property rights are not the reason rape is bad. I’m also sick of people using words like pragmatism to tell us that women shouldn’t fight, report, or even leave their houses alone.

I have lived a life of being told I need an escort: to go to that party, to wear that dress, to see that doctor. It’s terrible and infantilizing. It is lip service to my safety and “value” that actively devalues me. It is a defense of women that offers them rights as occasionally valuable property as opposed to as constant humans.

Maybe it’s because I’m an only child. Maybe it’s because my partner and I spend more time apart than many people who share a household do because of our work, but I value my time alone. I would not know who I am without the walks I took to the Lincoln Memorial alone in the dark as a university student. I would not know who I am without both the silent and the celebratory New York of 2am. When I went to Australia alone it was gutting; it was also everything I needed — this discovery that I was constant, that I was real, even on Bondi Beach at night, listening to the chatter over drinks people who knew how to have friends in a land I loved probably more than it loved me.

So I resent this world that says a woman must always be escorted. I resent this world that says common sense dictates that a woman must never be warrior or witness. I resent this world that insists its our fault if we are both a certain type of beautiful and ambitious and unworthy if we are not. I resent this world that tells me I am stupid if I am not constantly afraid of rape. And I resent this world that constantly seems to suggest that the only reason anyone wants to shield me from violence is that they don’t want someone they’ve deemed other touching their stuff, as if I am not even in the equation.

Lara Logan is a war reporter. As a war reporter, she experienced violence, which is important because violence against reporters is a critical metric of oppression and the standards of engagement under which a conflict is being conducted.

This piece in the New York Times speaks to the reality and the necessity of there being women covering war zones. It is good, useful and insightful. But it also made me need to sit down and write this and say yet again that we are not children and chattel. And that I have to keep saying that is indicative of the particular absurdity of all these “protect the women” arguments.

If it remains necessary to say women are not chattel and children, it remains true that on some level, in some way, in every place, women are not only at war, but are in fact the very field of war themselves. Ourselves. Which means you can’t protect us through these modes of discourse about our rightful place in war, because these modes of discourse represent, relentlessly, forms of that war itself.

Lara Logan is a reporter. She is also a woman. Neither of those things make her, nor any other woman, public property for anyone to decide what she should and should not do. Not those who would assault her and not those who would, often for their own reasons largely irrelevant to her actual well-being, seek protect her.

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10 Responses to “war reporting and rape”

  1. firefly124 February 20, 2011 at 5:59 am #

    Thank you for this. The discourse around her assault has been making me hugely uncomfortable, but I couldn’t have articulated why nearly so well as you’ve done here.

  2. Sorcy February 20, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    I resent this world that tells me I am stupid if I am not constantly afraid of rape.

  3. Carolynn February 20, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    Love the way you write, R.

    Let me tell you, I felt a little depressed (but unsurprised) this morning to read the inevitable victim blaming and racist rhetoric from media and armchair critics, who think rape is an Egyptian epidemic yet ironically fail to see the sexism in their own comments.

    • Carolynn February 20, 2011 at 11:53 am #

      Oh, and this is _yggrdasil, fyi 🙂

  4. Nicoli Dominn February 20, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    People who don’t think female journalists should be on the frontlines of a war need to go read Anne Garrel’s memoir, “Naked in Baghdad.” She is one tough person for what she did, and she did it alone, and she made it out safely.

    I’m horrified that when people look at rape crimes and other violence against female public figures, the last thing they seem to want to do is possess ONE OUNCE of empathy and think about the person involved.

  5. Milo February 20, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    For the life of me I cannot understand why CBS did not send her with hired guards. I agree that women should not have to fear for their safety in our society, but a combat zone is a danger to both men and women regardless of gender. Just look at what happened to Anderson Cooper, he was attacked and he is a man. So I see this less as a gender issue and more as a take guards into a conflict issue whoever you are. I smell a bit of western exceptionalism in the water if I am to believe that violent revolutions should calm down to create safety for journalists.

    -In summary:

    Q: As a woman should you take someone with you to the doctor, post office, or park..
    A: No.

    Q:As a female soldier should you take backup into a combat zone,
    A: yes. Same if you were male.

    Q: As a female reporter should you take guards into a combat area,
    A: yes. Look at what happened to Anderson Cooper.

    War/Conflict is hell. It is not right, just the way it is until world peace is acheived.

    • Fobok February 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

      Totally agreed there. It’s bad that reporters are being attacked, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t hire guards to go into the middle of a revolution, or other safety measures. Al Jazeera, for instance, was refusing the name or show the pictures of most of their reporters in Egypt to preserve their safety.

      Also agreed with the original point though, that some people seem to have a ‘protect the womenfolk’ outlook that seems to stem from the middle ages. People do need to realize that women can be quite capable on their own.

  6. Gwydion February 21, 2011 at 3:07 am #

    Thank you. I’ve been wrestling with finding the right words since it happened. I couldn’t find them, but it seems you have.

  7. Malle Babbe February 21, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    “And I resent this world that constantly seems to suggest that the only reason anyone wants to shield me from violence is that they don’t want someone they’ve deemed other touching their stuff, as if I am not even in the equation.”

    Oh this so much. That, and the whole “women must be escorted” concept presumes that… someone is willing to accompany you, or at the very least you are surrounded by people that don’t get resentful when you do something as “stupid” as express the need for help from others. I am supposed to be the Scary Smart Latter-Day Dorothy Parker to those who know me in meat space, and I can see their brains do the BSOD when I am not.

    Thing is, I don’t know if I am offending by needing help, or am breaching some unspoken rule by not humoring people who think the idea of me being harmed is funny.

  8. A. Non February 21, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    “I have lived a life of being told I need an escort: to go to that party, to wear that dress, to see that doctor. It’s terrible and infantilizing. It is lip service to my safety and “value” that actively devalues me. It is a defense of women that offers them rights as occasionally valuable property as opposed to as constant humans.”

    This describes my ongoing grievance with the world in which I was raised – I was never taught that I could or should protect myself, but that I should rely on someone else to protect me. Even if that someone was threatening to me, at least no one else was, yanno. Like I was a china doll that had to be shelved rather than risk breakage, instead of a sentient human who had the right to be taught how to defend herself.

    Not really addressing the reporter in war zones thing, but this is what stood out for me.

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