War Propaganda and the (Ab)uses of Women: Media Constructions of the Jessica Lynch Story

Citation:

Kumar, Deepa. 2004. “War Propaganda and the (Ab)uses of Women: Media Constructions of the Jessica Lynch Story.” Feminist Media Studies 4 (3): 297-313.

Author: Deepa Kumar

Abstract:

The "rescue" of Private Jessica Lynch was one of the most extensively covered events of the 2003 US-led war on Iraq. In the 14 days after her rescue, Lynch drew 919 references in major newspapers. In contrast, General Tommy Franks, who ran the war, got 639 references, and Dick Cheney got 549 (Christopher Hanson 2003). The coverage of the Lynch story continued well into the year and far outstripped that devoted to any other captured or rescued prisoners of war (POWs), making Lynch a household name. This article studies how the Jessica Lynch story was constructed. I examine the conditions under which women in the military become visible and how their stories are told, both by the media and the military. The military, a quintessential patriarchal institution, relies on the construction of a soldier in specifically masculinist terms. While women have always been a part of the military, their presence has been systematically marginalized. Their role has typically been as "camp followers," i.e., service and maintenance workers, rather than those involved in active combat. Lynch stands out as one among a handful of women who have come to symbolize the presence of women in the US army. Yet, this is not a step fonward for women. Instead, the Lynch rescue narrative, I argue, served to forward the aims of war propaganda. The story of the "dramatic" rescue of a young, vulnerable woman, at a time when the war was not going well for the US, acted as the means by which a controversial war could be talked about in emotional rather than rational terms. Furthermore, constructed as hero. Lynch became a symbol of the West's "enlightened" attitude towards women, justifying the argument that the US was "liberating" the people of Iraq. In short, the Lynch story, far from putting forward an image of women's strength and autonomy, reveals yet another mechanism by which they are strategically used to win support for war.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Masculinism, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries Regions: Americas, North America Countries: United States of America

Year: 2004

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