Victims and Vamps, Madonnas and Whores: The Construction of Female Drug Couriers and the Practices of the US Security State


Schemenauer, Ellie. 2012. "Victims and Vamps, Madonnas and Whores: The Construction of Female Drug Couriers and the Practices of the US Security State." International Feminist Journal of Politics 14 (1): 83-102.

Author: Ellie Schemenauer


This article explores how the US "war on drugs" depends on certain notions of femininity and womanhood. In particular, I examine how female couriers from the Americas are constructed at US border sites of international airports in the 1990s. I find that female drug couriers are described in terms of victims and vamps - a take off of the madonna/whore dichotomy. The victim and vamp discourses, I argue, are the performative enactments of a security state that operates according to a racialized logic of masculinist protection. I hold in tension the circulation of the victim/vamp discourses with the story of Paula, a Colombian woman who was caught trafficking heroin in hidden compartments of her suitcase. I use Paula's story to call attention to the political work in dismissing women as agents in the international drug trade.

Keywords: war on drugs, feminist perspectives, race, masculinity

Topics: Feminisms, Gender, Women, Femininity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Masculinism, Security, Trafficking, Drug Trafficking Regions: Americas, North America Countries: United States of America

Year: 2012

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