This last statement is a controversial one. Indians and Pakistanis (and Americans and everyone else all over the world) pretend that the incorporation of women into the military is a significant inroad into breaking gender barriers and into the achievement of equality in general. Even as the Indians were rejoicing at their own gender breakthrough, the American news website The Daily Beast published the profile of a female drone pilot. Boastfully titled “She kills people from 7,800 miles away”, it tells the story of a drone pilot in Las Vegas whose daily tasks include unleashing remote-controlled catastrophe on nameless, faceless others thousands of miles away.
Like many such profiles of fighting women, the piece emphasised this lethal woman’s femininity, its second sentence reading, “She pulled her chestnut hair into a bun.” Pakistani profiles of pilots have similarly made note of “olive-coloured hijabs”. The idea beneath all of them is simple: the feminine can be transformed into the powerful by the addition of bombs, fighter jets or remote-controlled drones. The addition of these instruments of destruction, then, is removed from the killing that they cause and seen as a prescription for empowerment.
Underneath the celebration of women as killers in this or that military is, therefore, this premise: that becoming equal in waging war somehow signifies recognition of female equality in general. Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth, whether the place being spoken of is the US, India or Pakistan. Even while the greatness of newly anointed female soldiers, drone pilots or fighter pilots is being feted by media outlets high on nationalistic fervour, the status of women in the countries for which women are now fighting continues to plummet.
Rafia Zakaria’s excellent piece on militarised feminism.