International Handbooks on Gender series
Edited by Simona Sharoni, Julia Welland, Linda Steiner and Jennifer Pedersen
Chapter 13: The sexual economy of war: implications for the integration of women into the US armed forces
This chapter examines the military-sexual complex that provides a critical libidinal infrastructure for war. The focus on the political economy of war, with its emphasis on the benefits of wartalk for politicians’ careers and the profits of warfare for industrial enterprises, often means that the role of sexuality in military recruitment and warfare often is overlooked. Exposing the structure and operation of the sexual economics of war reveals the value of gendered places for men and women in war and the operation of sexual regimes governing intimate relations in the military. As the number of women in the US military has increased 15-fold since 1970, the military-sexual complex has adapted to exploit this new gender resource and the women who are a growing part of the US military-sexual complex face ongoing challenges. The 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq resulted in the first large-scale deployment of US women in war. One important outcome has been the militarization of women’s gender and sexuality. We identify three ways in which women’s sexuality was deployed in the Iraq war: in the propaganda campaign to gain US support for the war; the abuse and torture of prisoners of war; and the provision of sexual services for military personnel.
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