Archive for May, 2004


Thursday, May 20th, 2004

Have American men and women lost all sense of shame before each other?

By Ann Marlowe

On Mother’s Day, May 9, the Sunday New York Times ran a long piece — beginning on the front page and continuing on pages 9 and 10 — on the background of the Abu Ghraib abuses. It was peppered with the names of military women: Major General Barbara Fast, the highest-ranking intelligence officer in Iraq; the now-disgraced Brigadier General Janis Karpinski; Master Sergeant Lisa Girman, found guilty of mistreating Iraqi prisoners in May; and, of course, Pfc. Lynndie England. In a sign of how we’ve come to take the gender integration of the armed services for granted, the article did not draw attention to the high rank of the first two women. Nor did it take note of what would once have been thought a rarity: Women soldiers directing or participating in the sadistic treatment of male prisoners.

The page before the continuation held a full-page ad proposing a designer lipstick as a mother’s day gift.

This juxtaposition has a surprising amount to say about male and female roles in the United States today. It underlines the fact that womanhood and manhood are almost completely up for grabs, defined by dress and ornament only. And precisely because womanhood now means little besides sexual display and symbolism, huge expenditures on cosmetics and grooming are more important than ever. Anyone who thinks these are “natural” feminine preoccupations ought to reread Jane Austen, or the Brontes, or, for that matter, take a trip to any number of developing countries where the details of manicure and makeup are curiously irrelevant to most women. (more…)