Archived: Representations of Afghan women in the US media today

**Note: I recently sorted through some old blog posts that I either never posted, or that were posted on an old blog. So I will be adding a few here just to have them all in one place. Enjoy!***

May 3, 2012: Yesterday I defended my Master’s thesis that dealt with a US feminist organization’s campaign for Afghan women and girls. Later that day, two people that were at my defense shared with me an NPR story on a young Afghan woman that came out yesterday, and wanted to know what I thought. So, this is what I think!

The tone of the article kind of rubs me the wrong way. Maybe because I’m so interested in how US media/government/feminists portray Afghan women (and for that matter, people in other developing countries) as needing to be “saved” and are somehow helpless, but the part where it starts to describe the woman’s experience at the military bas is where it gets irritating. The article explains that she “embraced” new things, such as TV, hot running water, and books, and one soldier said that “she was very bright.”

What I’m wondering is what assumptions are being made about the young woman, since the soldier (Larsen) quoted seems so surprised that the young woman was “bright,” and adapted so easily to all these new things. Is the implication here that the soldiers at the base (or the author of the article?) expected her to be dumb, and too frightened and sheltered to try anything unfamiliar to them? Why would Americans assume that about an Afghan woman?

I think it’s important here to think about how Afghan women have been portrayed in the US media since 9/11. This was a big part of my thesis so I’ve been thinking about this a lot for the last 2 years (and apparently I still can’t get away from it!). Post-9/11 the US media really highlighted Afghan women and girls as victims, helping provide support for the US war in Afghanistan. After my defense yesterday  someone asked me what the mainstream story of Afghan women and girls in the US media is today, and I had to stop and think about it. I haven’t really been paying attention to current US media attention on Afghan women to see if there is a particular theme going on, but I think that I will from now on (now that I have time!).

My suspicion is that it’s probably framed along the lines of “what will happen when the US leaves Afghanistan,” which this article also mentions at the beginning. It’s similar to the TIME magazine cover from August 2010, when there was discussion of the effects of US troops leaving Afghanistan. With the TIME cover, and with yesterday’s NPR article, it’s still going along with the idea that the US is “saving” Afghan women–part of the war justification to begin with.

In any case, I’d be interested to gather US new articles in recent years to see if a common theme emerges.

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