By Elisa Haf
There’s a certain kind of sexy that militarism has always enjoyed, or supposed sexy anyway: women love a man in uniform, right? He’s got a big gun, so.
From a feminist point of view, this is obviously not great thinking, what with how it implicitly casts ‘women’ as some kind of monolith, probably straight and even if not, just waiting for the right man to cock his bayonet at us. It also plays right into the old militarist and patriarchal trope of the ideal man as protector, and women as his powerless but starry eyed, awe-struck and open mouthed worshippers.
This projection leaves as much to to be desired from an antimilitarist perspective as from a feminist perspective, and not just because anything that’s anti-feminist inevitably leaves a lot to be desired from an antimilitarist perspective (although, anything that’s anti-feminist does inevitably leave a lot to be desired from an antimilitarist perspective
). Military recruiters actually trade on this ‘women love a man in uniform line’, after all. They actually use it in their material, except they say ‘girls’ instead of women (see this video). Presumably then, there are guys out there who sign up, at least in part, because they think it will guarantee them women’s adoration. So those men are both getting militarised and simultaneously getting more entitled towards women. Great.
But there’s also a new kind of militarist sexy for antimilitarists to worry about. Sexy basically means appealing in minority or ‘first’ world 21st century culture, after all, so any kind of militarist sexy should be worrying to antimilitarists.
This particular kind of sexy, though, passes itself off as feminist, in that at first glance it seems to be projecting the exact opposite of the ‘man with big gun protects powerless little woman’ trope as what should be appealing. Instead, we get Rihanna -- iconic for having thrown off the powerless little woman image with her third album, ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ -- straddling the barrel of an enormous pink tank, shouting about how hard she is, in a vest made of bullets. And a mickey mouse helmet. Yes, the video for Rihanna’s ‘Hard’ epitomises militarism’s new sexy. Although it’s not that new anymore: the song came out in 2009. There have been plenty like it since however, maybe Taylor Swift’s ‘Bad Blood’ most recently. These songs are meant to present Rihanna and Swift as strong, independent, and able to fight their own corner. They don’t need protecting. You won’t find them starry eyed and open mouthed for some guy with a big gun.
Except actually, to go all de Beauvoir on this, ‘it is much more splendid to conquer Penthesilea than it is to marry a yielding Cinderella’.
1 I’ll be honest, I don’t know who or what Penthesilea is, but the general point is that these videos and the strong, independent, self-sufficient image of the women they project, is not really giving the finger to the ideal man as protector trope. They’re telling men to up their game if they want to get these women starry eyed and open mouthed.
Literally, ‘it’s gonna take more than that’, Rihanna sings. And to use a less cryptic de Beauvoir quote: ‘the man who likes danger and sport is not displeased to see woman turn into an amazon if he retains the hope of subjugating her’.2
With its tribes of murderesses, this point is even more pertinent to the Swift video. Other examples would include the lyric video for ‘Only’, by Nicki Minaj featuring Li’l Wayne and Drake, who literally wax lyrical about how they haven’t managed to sleep with her yet while she marches between rows of soldiers standing to attention.
Militarism’s new sexy, then, is bad news both because it makes militarism sexy and therefore appealing, and because it exacerbates an anti-feminist model of the ideal man, all with the insidious twist of passing itself off as feminist while doing so.
1 de Beavoir, SImone 1997, The Second Sex, (London: Vintage), p216.