Naomi Wolf: The State Can Strip You

Naomi Wolf has, lately, been rather facepalmy regarding the whole porn/sex/sex work issue, so it’s nice to see her actually talking about something that doesn’t make me want to look at my copy of The Beauty Myth and cry. Although it kind of makes me want to cry for my country.

Our surveillance state shown considerable determination to intrude on citizens sexually. There’s the sexual abuse of prisoners at Bagram – der Spiegel reports that “former inmates report incidents of … various forms of sexual humiliation. In some cases, an interrogator would place his penis along the face of the detainee while he was being questioned. Other inmates were raped with sticks or threatened with anal sex”. There was the stripping of [Breanna] Manning* is solitary confinement. And there’s the policy set up after the story of the “underwear bomber” to grope US travelers genitally or else force them to go through a machine – made by a company, Rapiscan, owned by terror profiteer and former DHA czar Michael Chertoff – with images so vivid that it has been called the “pornoscanner”.

I know I’ve been talking about civil liberties issues a lot lately, but these are important, and they are gendered. In our culture, (marginalized) men are seen as the “real” violent ones, the threatening monsters that society must protect us against. The security state– from the prison-industrial complex to surveillance– is primarily directed against men (although of course I do not mean to erase the very real ways that it is directed against women), and specifically against marginalized men: poor men, men of color, men of a different religious background.

Wolf’s article mentions three new horrifying American laws: the NDAA, which allows any person to be detained indefinitely without trial on the mere suspicion that they have aided al-Qaeda or the Taliban; HR-347, which could potentially criminalize protest near places defended by the Secret Service; and the Supreme Court ruling that states that anyone may be strip-searched when arrested for any crime (including traffic violations!), at any time.

So basically sexual assault is legal now?

Yesterday I talked about stop-and-frisk; just imagine combining the Terry stop rules and this new Supreme Court ruling. A man of color happens to have some marijuana in his pockets; a cop thinks he might be committing the horrific crime of walking around while not having pale-ass ghost skin, frisks him, finds the marijuana, arrests him, and proceeds to sexually assault him.

The man who originally brought the suit described being humiliated and made to feel like less of a man. These are classic male-survivor-of-sexual-assault statements. That is not okay.

Consider also the showers at Guantanamo Bay, in which devout Muslim men are forced to shower while being observed by female guards through clear glass. It is classic sexual bullying, meant not for safety so much as to remind the detainees that they have no rights except those which the state so graciously chooses to give them. As a sex-positive slut myself, I’d still be deeply uncomfortable with strangers watching me shower; imagine the feelings of a person whose very religion bans the exposure of intimate parts in public.

Wolf makes an interesting point about the use of sexual bullying by fascist states:

The political use of forced nudity by anti-democratic regimes is long established. Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down their sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing their powerlessness. Enslaved women were sold naked on the blocks in the American south, and adolescent male slaves served young white ladies at table in the south, while they themselves were naked: their invisible humiliation was a trope for their emasculation. Jewish prisoners herded into concentration camps were stripped of clothing and photographed naked, as iconic images of that Holocaust reiterated.

Do I think the US is turning into a fascist state? No, not yet; America has done much worse in the past and eventually worked out okay. (See: Alien and Sedition Acts, Japanese internment camps, etc.) I do, however, think the War on Drugs and the War on Terror and the assorted Wars on Abstract Nouns have greatly reduced the rights that the average American can expect to have and increased the power of the state tremendously. The state having the power to sexually bully people is a worrying development.

*The best available evidence suggests that Manning is actually a trans woman; please be respectful and use the appropriate name and pronouns for her.

About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.


  1. “Naomi Wolf has, lately, been rather facepalmy regarding the whole porn/sex/sex work issue,”

    Lately? I’ve loosely followed her writing since the 90s, and she’s *never* gotten that issue right. Which is ironic given her strong “power feminism” “women are not inherent victims” stance she’s taken vis-a-vis feminists like Jaclyn Friedman. But when it comes to sex work and porn, she throws the whole notion of strong female agency out the window. More than a passing resemblance on Germaine Greer’s similar inconsistency on such issues over the years.

    She’s on stronger ground with her more left-wing writings. In that regard, a left feminist who thankfully doesn’t spend all of her time hating on the “male left”.

  2. @pocketjacks:
    The reasoning goes like this:
    1) The 4th Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures.
    2) Strip-searching the presumptively innocent when putting them into the general prison population is a necessary security measure, therefore it is a reasonable search.
    3) Thus, there is no 4th Amendment violation.

    Have fun printing that out and burning it. 🙂

    There are many ways to attack #2 to show how unreasonable it is, so I would not be surprised if the precedent that this case sets is not very strong. Hopefully this or a future SCOTUS will reverse the ruling at some point. Also, I would hope some/all state Supreme Courts decide that such a search still violates the privacy clause of their state constitutions. I won’t hold out hope that the Obama or possible Romney administration will change the rules about how/when strip-searches are done on federal prisoners, though.

  3. AnonymousDog says:

    Is America turning into a fascist state?
    I dunno about fascist, but America changed into an Administrative State a couple of generations ago. Once upon a time, the US was a republic, controlled by the voters and their elected representatives, now our government is controlled by “civil service” functionaries who will remain in office no matter who wins the next election. Up until recently, administrative type government was mostly brought to bear on domestic agendas, but now it’s being used for nationa; security purposes, and all of the sudden, people who didn’t care before now do………

  4. The whole “fear of nudity” aspect can only be exploited because most currently existing cultures above the stone age level indoctrinate that fear from birth. Even though most people (including those who exploit it) probably don’t think of it that way, probably the main reason why it persists is so that it *can* be exploited as a means of social control. Though generally, in ways more subtle than the ones mentioned here. As someone who missed out in this indoctrination, I would likely find that a strip search (provided they were only thoroughly examining my clothing, or something), being forced to shower while someone watches, being subjected to a see-through-clothing scanner, or anything else where nudity was the only significant issue, to be *at most* an annoyance rather than a humiliating ordeal.

    Anything involving an actual physical violation is another matter, obviously.

  5. Daelyte,

    Not actually irony. The Iranian government uses “transgender” to cover a variety of people, not all of whom are transgender, who violate that states pervasive rules about heterosexuality. It’s hard to claim Iran “gets it right” in that regard when homosexuality is illegal in that country and is often punishable with death.

    While Iran does pay for the surgery, it also “encourages” folks to get the surgery (i.e. coercion). The issue is that the nation is essentially forcing cisgender or genderqueer individuals to have transgender surgery. In addition, it does the same to genuinely trans individuals who don’t want every aspect of the surgery. The nation does not respect the notion that a trans individual can have genitalia that differ from their gender presentation.

    There’s nothing ironic, vis a vis fascism, about a state that imposes major surgery upon its citizens.

  6. pocketjacks says:

    Make no mistake that the humiliation aspect of strip searching is the point, the demonstration of power from ruler to subject. Someone give me the original writ of the Roberts court explaining how this doesn’t violate the Fourth amendment so I can wrap it around a bottle of gasoline and light it.


    “It is better that the guilty go free than the innocent be jailed”. That’s the foundation of all humane, liberal justice systems, and a necessary precondition for a democratic system of law to not trample on the rights of minorities and degenerate into mob rule. An electorate that doesn’t accept this rede is, in my view, one that doesn’t deserve democracy.

  7. I think we have those rapescan thingies up here in Canada too. Someone suggested they could fill in for those new MRIs we apparently can’t afford.

    Daily Dose of Irony:

    “As of 2008, Iran carries out more sex change operations than any other nation in the world except for Thailand. The government provides up to half the cost for those needing financial assistance, and a sex change is recognised on the birth certificate.”

  8. “Do I think the US is turning into a fascist state? No, not yet; America has done much worse in the past and eventually worked out okay.”
    It didn’t just “work out okay”. We stepped back from the edge. The alien and sedition acts disappeared, and we did away with the internment camps. Same thing we need to do here. Things like this article good, but they also need to be transformed into political action. And you know what that entails VOTING. (And if you are really motivated starting a blog or superPAC or something, but voting is a bare minimum.)

  9. QuantumInc says:


    This is indeed bad. (Unless Naomi Wolf’s take on the supreme court decision is completely off base) The supreme court decisions is both tragic and idiotic. The NDAA and HR347 is pure terrorism paranoia, to give them the benefit of a doubt.

    Seriously, did no one bother to ask the question: “What if the guy being confronted by the police is actually innocent even though the police don’t know that?” Let alone: “What if some of the police officers or federal agents are assholes and abuse their newfound powers?” They’re basically assuming that if the police suspect you then surely there must be a 99% they’re right in their initial suspicions. There is no concern who the rights of anyone who might end up on the wrong side of the law. The guys who originally created this country considered it important, but now a days we just assume that only criminals and terrorists have anything to fear from law enforcement. Because clearly law-enforcement is made up of mind reading saints!

  10. Typical drivel from an Abstract Nounist sympathizer! You want the Abstract Nouns to win!! Why do you hate America, ozy?

    More seriously, I agree with most of your post here. I think Wolf has done some outstanding work exposing the encroachments of the American police state. I suspect I’m a little more pessimistic than you about the direction the country is going in, though.

    The one piece of your post I disagree with is your part about Bradley Manning. I think this Rainey Reitman response to the Emily Manuel post you cite is persuasive. If Manning makes it publicly known (through trusted intermediaries) that he now identifies as a woman, I’ll fully respect her wishes. Until then, I will continue to refer to him as Bradley.

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