Monday, February 20, 2012

Phillips, Puar, and Hyper-"Masculinity"

Let me begin this post by saying how difficult it is to judge the actions of the soldiers involved. Not to make a judgment on anyone’s character and including myself in the mix, I truly do believe that each of us is susceptible (though we may have different levels of susceptibility) to commit the same actions that each of the soldiers implicated did. We are all exposed to the same hyper-“masculine” ideals rampant in U.S. society, so it would only make sense that we are all capable of committing such actions.

Puar and Phillips both comment on this hyper-“masculine” ideal prevalent in the U.S. These hyper-“masculine” ideals very roughly and briefly include a need to be “strong”, violent, in power, etc. I believe this is a climate that engulfs all of the U.S. despite Bush claiming that “their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people” (Puar 14). It is precisely this nature that created the atmosphere for the torture, especially the type of torture.

Puar talks about this hyper-“masculinity” in regards to homophobia. It is a well-known fact that there is a lot of homophobia in the military. I believe this is partly to do with the stereotypes we have about gay men as being effeminate (which not all gay men are) contradicting with the “fact” that “real” men are “masculine.” As Puar details, this also touches upon the fact that femininity is viewed down upon in American society. Women in the military, such as England, are thereby more inclined to act masculine (sometimes even surpassing men’s actions) in an attempt to fit in with their male counterparts. Just to illustrate the reality of this situation for women, I know that when I was in an all-male, hyper-“masculine” organization, I began to feel this sort of pressure. Between talking derogatorily about women and boasting their own perceived image of masculinity, it was an exhausting situation to be in. I ended up leaving the organization because I did not want to try to fit into their standards; however, if I had not left, the way I carried myself would have had to change drastically in order for me to be able to survive in the organization. I image this pressure for women to be all the higher in the military. In that way, England’s actions are logical (not synonymous with excusable) in that type of hyper-“masculine” setting.

Moving past that tangent about women and femininity in the U.S., sex between men is still viewed as particularly taboo/disgusting. (Sex between women, on the other hand, is disgustingly viewed as “sexy” and it is particularly “masculine” to watch two women have sex.) For men to take on a “feminine role” of having sex with other men is degrading. That, in concurrence with how queerness is perceived in the Muslim world, is why American soldiers focused so heavily on sexual acts between men as forms of torture. If there were not a climate of homophobia and anti-femininity in the U.S., the thought of “gay sex” (do not like this phrase, but it is what the article kept using) would not have crossed the soldiers’ minds as a possible mechanism of torture. I think it would still not have crossed their minds regardless of whether or not homophobia were a problem for Muslims. The reason I believe this is because the “sexual acts simulated are all specifically and only gay acts” (Puar 33). Even though American soldiers raped women detainees, they did not force women upon other women or men upon other women. They only forced men upon other men. This means that the American soldiers themselves thought there was something particularly degrading or exceptional about forcing men upon other men.

Phillips also describes a hyper-“masculine” environment, but in a different light. He talks more about violence and the need to feel physical domination (as opposed to the mental domination/humiliation that Puar refers to). One quote that particularly stood at to me was when Keller spoke about his first experience with torture (Phillips 59). He said that it was “uneventful”, anticlimactic in a sense. This type of boredom then fostered the environment that allowed for increasingly torturous and violent tortures to occur. (I will stop here so as to not make this post too long.)

Phillips and Puar both note the importance and influence of this ideal of hyper-“masculinity” in the military and American society in general.


  1. I think your idea of hyper masculinity is so true. As a society we become so influenced by the news and media that we become susceptible to the construction that are created. In our case this is hyper masculinity. When we think about the people in our military we are taught that the most capable people of protecting us are strong men and they alone are the only ones who can do that job. When we come to the realization that women and homosexuals are just as strong and capable of the job as men are we outcast them because society tells is that it not normal. I believe that Puar job was to promote the type of awareness of that persuades people to look differently at these issues and eventually be able to denounce those social constructions that make up these issues. I think that’s what Olivia was getting at in her post. She talks about moving past that taboo of hyper masculinity. Once we do that we can move past those immoral constructions. I think that Phillips also talks about hyper masculinity but in the form of physical domination and torture. When we think about the history of masculinity, the first thing that comes to mind for me is a country built by men. This idea of domination over others. Even though that domination was both mental and physical, I think the same could be said for torture. Torture can be a structure of having power over other. I think that idea of power is a common theme in our class, recognizing what structures are in power and how do they create these ideals.

  2. Olivia explains that because “[American soldiers] did not force women upon other women or men upon other women. They only forced men upon other men,” this proves that they “themselves thought there was something particularly degrading or exceptional about forcing men upon other men.” Although I agree with this statement, I feel as if it leaves out one of Puar’s most compelling arguments. Puar asserts that the attention on homosexual rape “preempts a serious dialogue about rape…more significantly, the rape of…women both inside and outside of detention centers” (26). Using the same logic as Olivia’s argument that emphasizing homosexual rape illustrates that it is viewed as particularly “exceptional,” does the almost negligible coverage of rape of women illustrate that it has become unexceptional, or commonplace? Puar questions this lack of attention on the rape of women, asking the following questions: “Why are there comparatively few photos of women, and why have they not been released? Is it because the administration found the photos of women even more appalling? Or has the wartime rape of women become so unspectacular, so endemic to military occupation, as to render its impact moot?” (26).
    I guess my reasoning for this post is that with all of the attention on the impact that both American and Middle Eastern cultures have on the perception of acts of homosexuality, it is easy to forget that ALL forms of rape are intolerable. Just because homosexual rape ha become so politicized doesn’t mean that the rape of women should be accepted as common and accepted practice.

  3. I think Olivia makes excellent points regarding how heteronormativity renders forced homophobic acts methods of torture. However, I think Puar makes a strong argument that the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib represent more than just homophobia. As Puar elucidates, these photos are also racist, mysoginist, and, importantly, imperialist. Instead of merely eliciting an emotive response, these photographs should make us consider the ways in which sexual domination is intrinsic to colonial domination and empire building. These photos are not isolated incidents or exceptions. Because heteronermativity is inextricably linked to U.S. patriotism, it should come as no surprise that sexual domination emerges in the colonizing process. Puar also brings to light questions pertaining to the presence of women in torture situations and how we understand this. When reading this, I immediately thought of Virginia Woolf's essay Three Guineas, in which she discusses war as a male phenomenon. In her essay, she argues against educating women in the same way as men, as men's education has socialized them to be competitive and violent. The involvement of women in the torture at Abu Ghraib supports this idea and suggests that war stems from the competitive attitudes fostered in our education system. As a result, women that have undergone similar socialization processes to men are equally susceptible to succumbing to violence. Thus, violence through sexual domination is not a gendered phenomenon. Rather, it arises from competitive attitudes and a need for domination cultivated by our society. I think Puar makes a convincing argument that sexuality is a fundamental aspect of American patriotism and, consequently, sexual domination is an inherent component of U.S. domination and expansion. Additionally, Puar briefly mentions that these acts are perhaps linked to war mentality and occupation universally. I think this is an interesting point to mention and I can't help but think, considering historical evidence, that sexual acts of torture are not particular to American domination but, rather, colonial domination and occupation at large.

  4. I like that you touched upon the Bush comment in your post in reference to hyper-"masculine" ideals pertaining to the act of torture. What I found the most interesting about the readings assigned for today were the references to domination in the form of killing throughout chapter 3 of Phillips. On page 52 Adam is quoted in a tape recorded for his mother saying, "Got a shitload of ammunition and nothing to do with it. We got 10,000 rounds of machiine gun ammunition and.. not a lot of things to shoot. There's no killing left to do, mom. They didn't leave me any killing, those bastards". While his mother goes on the explain that he was quoting a movie, these words gave me a better glimpse inside of Adams head during his time in Iraq. Many soldiers were deployed believing they were going to put their skills to the test, that they would be able to seek revenge for the acts of 9/11, that they would be heroes for the American nation, and when they reached Iraq, this was not the case. While torutre is not an act that I condone, I can see how soldiers that entered this environment with such a vendetta, and a mindset of killing, could find themselves in situations where they were taking part in forms of torture. I better understand how an evironment that Adam constantly described as boring and lonely could be very dangerous for individuals trained to kill.

  5. Before I get into the actual readings, I really appreciated Olivia’s awareness of the way we and others talk about sexuality and behaviors. Although it is irrelevant to our class at this moment, I do think it’s important for people to think critically about the language people use when talking about sexual behaviors, identities and actions. What made me think of this was Olivia S. bringing up “gay sex” and the ways in which people understand homosexuality and “gayness”. First, I don’t think there is such a thing as gay sex, everyone is capable of having the same kinds of sex queer people have. Also, sexual behaviors are not directly relates to sexual attractions or identities. Next, rape and sodomy are different from sex.

    I also agree with Olivia S. because I do think we are all capable of committing the same crimes. Soldiers are trained to fight, they need to kill without a second though, in order to do that you need to forget your enemy is a person with a family, with a life, with flaws. You need to dehumanize your enemy so you are capable of murdering them. When trained to hate there is a thin like that separates what is considered too much. Which makes me think about how Olivia B. mentioned in her post how we are all passive agents of war. We benefit in several ways, one is from the resources we get through war that help sustain our frivolous lives. In addition to that we have the luxury of outsourcing war; of putting the burden of violence and war onto our soldiers. We exist and live our lives normal because we have people fighting for us all the time; we also distance ourselves from that by silencing or turning a blind eye to the realities of war. Our soldiers are made through trauma, they internalize war and the culture of the military amplifies violence to a point where it’s not only normalized, it’s required and encouraged. Our sheltered/”protected” lives are at the expense of soldiers losing their identities.

    I agree that the military is hypermasculine. When I first saw that’s what were reading about I thought of Virginia Woolf too like Laura. There’s this idea of being tough, being heartless, ruthless, protecting the nation/family and peer pressure that exists in the culture of the military. Even in the first few pages of Phillips, we see how the step father talked about the son and said he grew into a man. The son did not come back the same person and that change was attributed to him becoming a man.

    I read an article by someone named Hull (I’ll find his 1st name later) that talked about Germany’s genocide on the Herero people. Germany expected to conquer with little resistance which was not the case since the Herero people revolted. They were also very concerned about their public image, which prevented them from compromising. They didn’t want to be seen as weaker, they wanted to maintain their power and control and when they were met with resistance, the person in charge (who’s name escapes me) made the decision to kill the Herero people, leading to a nasty genocide. That genocide was about reclaiming power which is what war and torture are focused on. I’m not sure where I was going with this but the whole hypermasculinity in the military and struggle for power reminded me of this article for some reason because the person who ordered the genocide seemed to petty for doing so. It was about power over the Herero and maintaining the illusion of power to the public so other nations can know.

  6. I was also happy what Rachel brought up the rape of women. I was surprised there weren’t more people bringing it up. Puar did make a significant point about how women are raped during war and it’s not overly politicized. Rape against women should not be accepted as if it’s something normal. This really bothers me because it happens in mass numbers to women all over the world but doesn’t get the same attention and although what happened to the men was wrong in a different way, it doesn’t make sense for us to be disturbed more with rape towards a different gender. I know this is going to sound like a tangent but whatever. It made me think about sodomy in the bible and how it was looked at as really bad. Some people interpreted those sections not as something homophobic but with the idea that men shouldn’t treat men like women; men shouldn’t dominate and make other men inferior in the way they do women. Maybe this could relate to why it’s more of a big deal, maybe we’re not necessarily disgusted by the acts of sodomy itself, it’s the idea that you can do that to another man? I don’t really know.