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.