Friday, 12 December 2014

What mainstream gendered war story does the film Zero Dark Thirty tell about the ‘War on Terror’?

To gain support for its militaristic, unilateral response in the ‘War on Terror’
(WOT), the United States (U.S.) government manufactured narratives of concern
for protecting the rights of Afghan women (Hunt 2010: 116).  The discursive
repackaging of 19th Century imperialist stories, an appropriation of both
feminism, and women’s rights, will be discussed here.  This essay will examine the
way the film, Zero Dark Thirty (ZD30), reinforces gendered war stories, justifying
US foreign policy and the normalising of militaristic responses to terrorism.  Using
a multidisciplinary analysis that draws on feminist international relations theory,
feminist cultural studies and post-colonial feminism, a deconstruction of the film
will be undertaken.

An examination of the representation of Maya, the film’s leading protagonist, will
reveal the post-feminist concern of ZD30.  To unpack the problematic dominant
framing of the film, an intersectional analysis will be undertaken, which examines
the connections between the film’s representations of gender, race, nationality
and religion.  Discussion will centre on the way binary oppositions in, and across,
these identity categories construct a liberated, white, American woman as
superior to a Middle-Eastern Other.  This Otherness is primarily manifested
through the representations of the veil, as a key symbol of the oppression of
Middle-Eastern women.  While an in-depth review of the literature on torture is
beyond the scope of this essay, it will be argued that the film provides women’s
consent for militarism, by framing torture as necessary in achieving equality for
women, further camouflaging other agendas, policies and politics that underpin
war (Hunt 2010: 116).

'…images of burqa-clad Afghan women represented as victims of
“barbaric, unshaven, cave-dwelling fundamentalists” dominated the
media and provided the basis for the Bush administration’s rhetoric
that this war would liberate Afghan women' (Hunt and Rygiel 2006: 9).

Gendered war stories about the WOT centre on the notion of Afghan, and other
Middle-Eastern, women being oppressed by Middle-Eastern men (Hunt and
Rygiel 2006: 2-3). Feminists have revealed the way these stories rely on binary
oppositions between masculine and feminine, West and Other, Christianity and
Islam, Western and Muslim, etcetera (Hunt and Rygiel 2006: 2-15).  Hunt (2010:
118) explains that these stories position white, Western women as liberated in
comparison to Afghan women. The ‘gendered logic of protection’ and ‘concern for
the rights and dignity of women’ were employed in these stories, in which
victimization was frequently signified by the veil (Hunt and Rygiel 2006; 16;
Young 2003).

Many feminist theorists have recognised the way gendered war stories since
September 11 have reproduced and repackaged racist, colonial stories about
saving “oppressed” women from, both their ‘backward’ culture and their
‘animalistic’ men (Hunt 2002: 117).  These stories featured complex interactions
of race, gender, sexuality and religion, and were used to justify imperial practices
of colonisation (Zine 2006: 27).  As part of a mission to civilise, women from
colonising countries were positioned to help rescue the victimized women of
colonised countries (Hunt 2006: 54).

Feminists have been critical in revealing the way gendered war stories
camouflage both the reality of, for example, attacks on women’s reproductive
rights in the U.S. and the increasing threats to security for Afghan women through
U.S. attacks (Hunt 2002: 121; Ayotte and Husain 2005: 112).  While there is
insufficient space to deal with the multitude of gendered war stories here, it is
worth emphasising that often these hide other undisclosed reasons for war, such
as imperialist expansion (Hunt 2010: 119). 

The film ZD30 tells the story of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) decade
long search for Osama Bin Laden.  The film is framed as a true story, opening with
the screen caption, “The following motion picture is based on first hand accounts
of actual events” (Bigelow 2012).  The text, “September 11, 2001” (Bigelow 2012),
then appears on the screen, accompanied by what seems like ‘real life’ dialogue
from various events surrounding the 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S..  Hasian
(2013) argues that the film presents itself as an authentic, historical
reconstruction.  Binary constructions around gender becomes an immediate
feature in framing the story, as the film opens with voices of women screaming
and sounding hysterical.  “I’m going to die aren’t I” (Bigelow 2012), one woman
says.  In the same scene, men are heard performing technical tasks associated
with conventional masculinity.  Like other mainstream Hollywood narratives, the
complex interaction of various elements of the film exemplified in the first few
minutes establishes and anticipates the film’s overall meaning (Hasian 2013). 

The film is largely a confusing collection of names of people and locations, the
dialogue is fast-paced and the use of abbreviations (for people, place names, and
intelligence operations) makes the plot difficult to follow.  The lack of narrative
cohesion is counter to what is made more obvious in the film, that the ‘real-life’
discovery of Bin Laden was the consequence of one hardworking, liberated, white,
American woman named Maya. For about the first hour, the film focuses almost
exclusively on the visual depiction of terrorist attacks both in the U.S. and
overseas.  These attacks are intertwined with scenes of U.S. agents torturing and
questioning men of Middle-Eastern appearance.  Many argue that the film
presents torture as critical to locating Bin Laden (Bush 2014; Rashid et. al. 2014;
Richter-Montpetit 2014).

The film emphasises the transition of the lead protagonist, from a woman
associated with more traditional femininity, to one that embodies characteristics
of a liberated, modern, white Western woman.  Gendered war stories rely on the
appropriation of feminism, with one critic suggesting that ZD30, “puts a female on
the face of imperialism” (Eisenstein 2013, n.p.) and others arguing that torture is
used to provide a woman’s blessing for going to war (Hasian 2014; Rashidi et. al.
2014).  The film ends with another iconic event in American memory, the storm
on the Abbottabad compound where Bin Laden is located and killed (Rashidi et.
al. 2014: 132).

In deconstructing the film, ZD30, Laura Shepherd’s (2013) three analytical
strategies:  spoken language, body language, and non-linguistic signifiers will be
used. Spoken language includes the linguistic elements of the narrative, for
example, the script and captions (Shepherd 2013).  It includes linguistic tropes, a
narrative device used as a cognitive short-cut, to reduce the need for extra
explanation.  These symbols carry mainstream accepted meaning (Shepherd
2013: 8).  Body language incorporates gesture and expression, and other
elements such as where, and in relation to whom, characters are physically
positioned (Shepherd 2013: 9).  Non-linguistic signifiers include tropes, i.e. icons,
where an abstract image stands in for another concept.  In the film, the veil is a
symbol of the oppression of Middle-Eastern women.  These elements combine to
allow for detailed deconstruction of narrative representations, and will be the
focus of the analysis that follows (Shepherd 2013: 8-9).

The notion that cultural representations are important in understanding
international relations, both shaping and being shaped by them, provides
justification for the analysis of the film (Rowley 2010: 309). Culture gives
meaning to experiences and shapes the way individuals make sense of the world. 
In the modern West, cinematic myths have a lot of power (Ferber 2012: 64).   A
number of theorists (Welch 2010; Bush 2014) have noted that American attitudes
toward torture became more permissible after the September 11 attacks. 45% of
those surveyed in one poll said they would not object torture, if it supplied
information about terrorism (Welch 2010: 132).  Others have connected the U.S.
public’s support for torture to the recent proliferation of spy movies and
television shows, which increasingly depict torture as heroic (Bush 2014:93;
Cornell 2013).  It is worth emphasising that collectively, visual and textual
depictions of torture have normalised it and presented it as effective and
appropriate (Bush 2014: 93), despite the fact that; many would argue it is never
morally permissible, it is illegal in U.S. and international law, and has been long
deemed ineffective by the agencies that practiced it in the WOT (Hasian Jr. 2013;
Blakeley 2011).

Representations of the lead female protagonist, Maya, are crucial to
understanding the way the film tells a mainstream gendered war story.  At the
start of the film, Maya is represented as a woman who embodies the
characteristics associated with traditional femininity.  The first time she is shown
in the CIA office, she is presented doing ‘women’s work’ and being ‘obsessed with
cleanliness’, both tropes for traditional femininity.  When she arrives at her desk,
she brushes a finger over the dusty table and proceeds to clean it.  Then, she sits
in front of a computer looking dumbfounded.  These representations demonstrate
both her lack of experience in the CIA and her supposed lack of rationality. 
Reinforcing her traditionally feminine position, the first torture scenes show
Maya as relatively passive.  Her body language is used to convey a sense of shock,
discomfort and repulsion. She looks away from the camera and from the torture
presented onscreen, often positioned in the background of shots.  Her fiery red
hair and her ultra pale skin are further representative of her conventional white,
western femininity.

Maya’s femininity is reinforced by the way she is treated by her CIA colleagues.  At
the start of the film she is infantilised, dominated and humiliated.  In the first
torture scenes, her male colleague, Dan, explains to her that there is, “no shame if
you want to watch [torture] from the monitor” (Bigelow 2012).  He adds that she
“might want to put this on” (Bigelow 2012), in reference to a black hood to
conceal her identity from the suspect they are torturing.  Dan’s dialogue affirms
his role as both ‘protector’ and ‘actor’ (torturer), to her ‘protected’ and being
‘acted on’ (dominated), largely playing out conventional gender roles.  Dan
assigns her a task, to get a bucket and fill it up with water, for the waterboarding
he is about to commit.  “Hurry up” and “come on give it to me” (Bigelow 2012), he
instructs with impatience.  She watches the sexual humiliation of a prisoner and is
made to stay in the room alone, with him naked. 

The film’s focus of women’s clothing, the veil becoming a major symbol of
Otherness.  Maya’s Western-style clothing and her individualistic adaptation of
Muslimesque head-coverings, are a consistent reminder of both her freedom, and
the freedom of western women.   Maya’s initial steps toward agency to become a
more ‘liberated’ woman are accompanied by both her appropriation of a range of
head coverings, and her complicity with torture.  The first scene that the viewer
sees her directly interrogating a detainee, she adopts her first head covering. 
Maya’s agency emerges from her realization that the detainee she will be
questioning has been tortured the day before.  Her subsequent interrogation of
the tortured suspect leads to the name of Bin Laden’s courier.  It is here that the
viewer sees Maya begin to accept torture as a necessary method.  The scene also
involves Maya becoming a more active participant, and as a consequence, she is
taken more seriously by her colleagues.
A range of other scenes encourage the viewer to remember mainstream gendered
war stories, including the veil, as a symbol of oppression.  Maya is dressed in blue
throughout the film, the colour of the veil worn by ‘the most oppressed women in
the world’, those from Afghanistan.  In one scene, Maya is shown arriving at her
Pakistani residence in a black abaya.  The camera juxtaposes the abaya with
tropes of freedom and choice: converse shoes, and the canned drinks and the
lollies that she is consuming.  When she participates in actual torture, instructing
her assistant to strike the detainee a number of times, she is again wearing a blue

'Whether in the context of covering or uncovering, collapsing
differences among Muslim women through the use of the burqa as a
generalised symbol of female oppression performs a colonizing
function.  Under such assignment, women’s status as objects remains
fixed since they are denied power to speak of differences, their
placement in the existing first/third-world imperialist order secured. 
In contemporary U.S., as in European colonial, discourses, “(t)he
domesticated, subjugated, unenlightened Other as opposed to the
liberated, independent and enlightened Western self was used as a
moral prop to legitimize colonial power relations' (Ayotte and Husain
2005: 118).

Feminist analysis of gendered war stories provides context to understand the
absence of voices of Middle-Eastern women in the film.  Ayotte and Husain (2005)
explain that binary oppositions between the West and the Other are both typical
of those used by colonising nations, and more recently used in gendered war
stories.  Throughout the film, representations of gender, religion, race and
nationality reinforce one another.  Islamabad streets (Pakistan’s capital) are
shown as mostly absent of women.  The first women that are briefly shown are;
one in a black, and the other in a white, abaya.  Later, a woman in an abaya, and
two women in burqas are shown on the telephone, reinforcing gendered stories
that suggest that Muslims with telephones are a security threat.  Majed contrasts
the film’s representations with the real Pakistan where,

'you are as likely to see women with no head coverings on the street as
you are to hijabis, and where chadris and abayas are a rare
spectacle…the sky-blue chadris seen multiple times in the movie would
normally only be observed in Afghanistan' (Majed 2013: n.p.).

It is significant that the film, almost absent of any representations of non-
Western women, also features no speaking roles for non-Western women. 
Middle-eastern women are shown always veiled.  Freeman (2006: 181) points out
that narratives about the veil have been used since colonial times, in an attempt to
prove Western superiority over Muslim societies.  Even when Muslim women
claim they are wearing the veil voluntarily, they are viewed as passive, removing
agency for these women (Freedman 2006: 181).

Brittain (2006:92) argues that Iraqi women were virtually absent from Iraq
invasion narratives because, “Arab femininity only serves the imperialist project
as a silent figure of oppression in need of rescue”.  Hunt and Rygiel (2006: 1)
confirm that it is typical in gendered war stories to exclude women altogether, or
when they are included, they shown as passive and being acted upon.  Hunt
(2006: 55) adds that these stories often construct Western feminism as the
saviour of Middle-Eastern women, speaking for and objectifying other women. 
The failure to acknowledge the differences and power equalities between women
of different backgrounds is typical of the film.  Marchand (2009: 932) points out
that “…wearing a veil does not necessarily mean that women are subordinated; it
may also signify an act of resistance of a statement of identity”. 

Shepherd (2006: 26) explains that the veil is central to the construction of the
enemy as an irrational barbarian.  This often includes subtle mockery and overt
vilification (Freedman 2006) and both are recognisable in the film, through
Maya’s appropriation of the veil.  Through its representations of the veil and its
absence of voices of Muslim and/or Middle-Eastern women, the film inaccurately
asserts that all Middle-Eastern women are oppressed.

In the film, ‘exotic’ music (accompanied by the sounds of Muslim prayer) and
shots of mosques are excessively used tropes, connecting Pakistan to Islamic
fundamentalism and Otherness.  On her first night in Islamabad, Maya is shown
being woken up by Arabic sounding music.  On arrival at the U.S. Embassy, Maya
is asked by her boss what she thinks of Pakistan.  “It’s kind of fucked up”, she
replies (Bigalow 2012).  In another scene, Maya shakes her head, when the sound
of Muslim prayer again accompanies the ‘exotic’ music.  Throughout the film,
signifiers of Otherness are used in a way that many critics have described as
Orientalist (Hasian Jr. 2013). 

'The word “Orientalism” was first used by Edward Said (1978) to
describe a Western perspective towards Muslim populations that
assumes that all people associated with Islam are fundamentally unable
to progress and adhere to Western standards of morality and
civilization.  The prejudiced assumptions include: that Muslims are less
intelligent and incapable of learning; that Muslim men are more violent,
controlling and hypersexualized than Western men; that Muslim
women are more submissive and therefore more helpless than Western
women; and that all Muslims are religiously fundamentalist' (Gentry &
Sjoberg 2014: 123).

The film reinforces these Orientalist assumptions about Muslims and relies on
stereotypes in constructing narrative meaning.  In one scene, Dan’s is told that he
should inform a detainee that he has a PhD.  The only time the larger issue of the
root causes of terrorism are discussed in the film, the two lead females assume
terrorists are only motivated by greed or extremist ideology.  These explanations
of the deeper causes of terrorism, ignore respected literature on its root causes
(Sageman 2014).  They adhere to Western ideas about motivations for human
behaviour and Orientalist assumptions about Middle-Eastern people being
irrational fundamentalists. 

The film’s Orientalism is further confirmed in a sequence where Dan is shown
feeding monkeys in a cage.  In an American compound overseas, where detainees
are taken to be tortured, deliberate connection is made between animals and
detainees.  While it could be argued that the film may be asserting the animalism
of terrorists, it has been argued throughout that the film frames race, religion,
nation and gender in ways that blur boundaries between terrorism, religious
extremism, and popular colonial narratives about ‘brown men’ oppressing ‘brown
women’.  Various elements of the film work together to confirm the Otherness of
Middle-Eastern men, reinforcing binary oppositions between them and civilized,
white Western men from mainstream gendered war stories.

McRobbie’s (2004) discussion of post-feminism can provide a more sophisticated
understanding of the film’s binary framing of the difference between the Western,
white female and its Other.  Post-feminism is a term used regularly in cultural
studies to describe the position of many mainstream texts that appropriate
feminist discourses (Ferber 2012: 68).  In post-feminist representations, men and
women are seen to have achieved equal opportunities and further steps toward
inequality are viewed unnecessary (Ferber 2012:67; McRobbie 2004: 257). 
Hasian Jr. explains,

'it should not be surprising that American women take pride in their
role as drone pilots…the military seems to provide just those types of
postfeminist, individualized opportunities that might have been denied
to earlier generations of women' (Hasian Jr. 2013: 327). 

The film, Hasian Jr. (2013) argues, asserts that men and women of the CIA are
equals.  Here, post-feminism should also be read as a particular exemplar of
modern, capitalist individualism, where people play out their real lives as largely
economic actors.  Marchand (2009: 924) explains how this individualist
subjectivity has permeated lived experiences, both in the international
development agenda and within nations, through privatisation.  For example,
elements of gender justice, now made integral as part of the international
development agenda, have pushed a neoliberal economic agenda, encouraging
individuals who adhere to economic rationalism to be rewarded (Marchand

While an examination of the construction of modern subjectivity, and its
intersections with modern capitalism, is beyond the scope of this essay, it is worth
emphasising that women’s status in the modern West is depicted as a product of
their own individual choices, and the tropes of feminism are often used to
reinforce capitalist individualism (Koivunen 2009: n.p.).  Through the lead
character’s post-feminism; the discourses outside of the film that reinforce the
value of capitalist individualism; and the post-feminist subjectivities (of the
viewer of the film), a viewer of ZD30 is encouraged to understand neoliberalist
individualism as a stand in for democracy.  Feminist theorists point that that ideas
of freedom point to a neoliberal economic agenda that promotes individualism
over democratic rights (Koivunen 2009: n.p.; Marchand 2009).

A key scene that plays out the post-feminist assertion that sexuality is an
individualist choice is one that involves a discussion between Maya and her
female CIA colleague, Jessica, at dinner at the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad.  Jessica
asks Maya if she is having sex with Dan (her colleague at the CIA).  Maya says that
she is “not the girl who fucks”.  It is worth recalling McRobbie (2004: 259) here,
because like Maya, the individualist woman “seems to be doing it [expressing her
sexuality] out of choice, and for her own enjoyment”.  This, the only direct
reference to Maya’s sexuality and the discussion between the two women is
immediately followed by a terrorist attack which destroys the hotel.  Both women
come out unharmed.  Reading the film as a post-feminist text, the viewer is
encouraged to think that Western women do not need to be punished for
choosing to have a sexuality, something which, typically, Middle-Eastern women
are seen to be denied.

In many gendered war stories, the freedoms championed as ‘civilized’ values
often centre around freedoms of individualist choice, rather than freedom; of
though, of the press, or of public assembly, all vital to true democracy (Ferguson
2005: 28; Shepherd (2006: 31).   The film does not examine institutionalised
discrimination in any significant way, suggesting that discrimination can be
overcome through individualistic solutions.  For instance, although there is some
sexism directed toward Maya, this is shed when she becomes a more individual,
post-feminist woman.  The film recalls Koivunen’s (2009: n. p.) reading of the
post-feminist woman where, “her process of self-interrogation takes place
without any discussion of conditions or resources, economic, social or cultural”.

The way in which individuals under capitalism become disciplined by modes of
self-regulation is a consistent feature of the film. As it progresses, Maya becomes
more comfortable with torture and is simultaneously presented as a more
individualist, competent, powerful and respected woman.  A key scene involves
her analysing torture tapes.    Maya is shown alone, working late and rubbing her
eyes because she is tired, close-ups of her face indicate that she is intensely
focused on her work.  Earlier scenes using the computer as a symbol of Maya’s
irrationally are recalled, and reversed, to represent Maya’s transition to an expert
in technology/rationality.  While she is not participating in torture directly, she is
watching it on the screen, analysing it, without showing emotion.

In between her analysis of the torture tapes, the viewer is presented with a scene
that signifies her transition.  She is shown emerging from total darkness. We do
not see her shoes, but we can hear her high heels on the concrete, a trope that
suggests she is becoming a powerful, ‘modern’, woman.  As she emerges from the
dark, Maya has become the self-regulating, individualized woman whose agency is
largely about individual choice, both to torture and to dress according to her own
initiative.  The viewer is encouraged to recognise what women can achieve
anything through hard work.  Cornell (2013, n.p) argues that when Maya learns to
accept the necessity of torture, she becomes more powerful and successful. 
Maya’s endorsement of torture recalls McRobbie’s (2004: 258) notion that
successful female individuals are dependent on an anti-feminism, a displacement
of feminism as a political movement, i.e. a rejection of anti-racist, anti-imperialist
and anti-war politics.  In this scene, Maya chooses female individualism over

Feminist analysis of gendered war stories provides greater understanding of the
film’s representations.  The film reworks Brittain’s (2006: 80) analysis of
gendered war stories, where narratives of vulnerable, white women being
rescued from barbaric brown men by white men.  Modernising colonialist
narratives, by incorporating post-feminism, the film suggests that white women
are possible saviours of brown women.  Through Maya, Western women
demonstrate possibilities for agency non-Western women, if they become
individualized, post-feminist subjects.  Ayotte and Husain (2005: 123) add that
gendered war stories about the war on terror featuring women advocating
violence are “more persuasive because, when a woman advocates violence,
supposedly there must be no other recourse.

To further understand the extent to which gender, religion, race and nationality
intersect to position White Western women, as superior to the Other, a closer
look at the film’s representations of Christian privilege will be undertaken.  It has
already been outlined how the veil has been used as a signifier of religious
oppression.  There are a range of other ways that the film reaffirms the value of
Christianity over Islam. Christonormativity is the privileging of Christianity over
other religions, by defining it as superior and normal, often in hidden and
complex ways.

'Christian privilege is embedded in our laws, policies, schools and
workplaces.  In schools, for example, the curriculum, dress codes,
cafeteria food, and even the calendar reinforce Christian values and
practices as universal norms, where their underlying Christian
foundation is often invisible to all except those who are marginalized
and excluded from such practices' (Ferber 2012: 71).

A key sequence which demonstrates the intersections of gender, race, religion in
privileging Christianity centers around Christmas.  Maya’s female colleague,
Jessica, is shown at Camp Chapman, Afghanistan.  She has baked a cake for the
birthday of a suspect that she intends to bribe/question for information.  On the
telephone, Maya says that she, “doesn’t think that Muslims celebrate with cake”
(Bigalow 2012).  Jessica then says, “We’ve got lots of wine” (Bigalow 2012).  The
dialogue is a trope of the subtle mockery of the practices of others (who may
choose not to drink alcohol), by normalising practices that modern Christians may
regard as normal.  These scenes end in the death of Jessica, from the terrorist
suspect (suicide bomber) for whom she baked a cake.  After Jessica’s death, Maya
states, of the search for Bin Laden, “a lot of my friends have died trying to do this. 
I believe I was spared so that I could finish the job” (Bigalow 2012).   For the rest
of the film, Maya seems to adopt a messiah complex.  The rationality of her
theories is obscure. When she is asked about how sure she is that Bin Laden is
hiding in the Abbatobad compound, she says she is 100% , while the others in her
team are 60 or 80% confident (Husain Jr. 2013).  The film’s suggestion that Maya
is influenced by a higher power acts to further define Christianity as superior to
an constructed Islamic Other.

Ferber (2012: 63) uses an intersectional framework to examine how racism, post-
feminism and christonomativity combine to reinforce and defend the culture of
privilege.  Post-colonial feminists have been critical in insisting that the repetition
of representations of gender, race, religion, nationality, sexuality and other
identity categories combine to manifest privilege or discrimination (Hunt and
Rygiel 2006: 1).  Further investigation of these links is essential in understanding
the connections between gender, neoliberal subjectivities, global capitalism and

Throughout the film, racism (both overt and covert), post-feminism and
Christonormativity bind together to privilege the West and Western white
women. In the film,

'the belief that legal obstacles to equality have been removed and
everyone has equal opportunities to succeed, is used to justify not only
race, but gender and religious inequality, which is rearticulated as the
product of the poor choices of individuals, rather than a systemic issue. 
When we hear the very same arguments offered to explain each one of
these systems of inequality, it gives them more legitimacy.  The more
familiar the arguments are, the more they feel intuitively right to
people.  The frames are more likely to resonate, and to feel like
“common sense” '(Ferber 2012:74).

In conclusion, it has been argued that the film ZD30 uses gender, race and religion
to assert an opposition between a Western, white, liberated woman and a Middle-
Eastern other.  These representations, typical of mainstream war stories, act to
reinforce militaristic and unilateral responses to war.  In the absence of a critique
of militarism (and by asserting its normality through the post-feminist woman),
the film actively reinforces mainstream positions about war.  In an environment
where signifiers of Otherness such as the veil are used without scrutiny, (and the
public adopt these attitudes through key signifiers and the popular texts that
represent them) many feminists argue that representations need to promote the
value of difference, not Otherness (Marchand 2009: 932).  The complexity of
difference can be revealed through the lived experiences of real women as these
often challenge the binary oppositions which construct our subjectivities,
institutions and cultural representations.  It is important that feminists
deconstruct representations, institutions, discourses (such as international
relations) and individual subjectivities.  Without this scrutiny of the way these
elements mutually constitute one another, problems with the West’s adherence to
capitalism and imperialism remain camouflaged.  The unpacking of mainstream
gendered war stories may help to both deepen our understanding of its root
causes and question the usefulness of militaristic responses.


Ayotte, K. J. and Husain, M. E. (2005) ‘Securing Afghan women: 
Neocolonialism, epistemic violence and the rhetoric of the veil’, NWSA
Journal, 17 (3): 112-133.

Bigelow, K. (2012).  Zero Dark Thirty.  Annapurna Pictures.

Blakeley, R. (2011) ‘Dirty hands, clean conscience?  The CIA inspector general’s
investigation of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the war on terror
and the torture debate’, Journal of Human Rights, 10: 544-561.

Brittain, M. (2006) ‘Benevolent invaders, heroic victims and depraved villains: 
White femininity in media coverage of the invasion of Iraq’, in K. Hunt and
K. Rygiel (eds) (En)gendering the war on terror : war stories and
camouflaged politics.  Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 73-96.

Bush, S. S. (2014) ‘Torture and the politics of the sacred’, Soundings:  An
Interdisciplinary Journal, 97 (1): 75-99.

Cornell (2013)  The torturer as feminist:  From Abu Ghraib to Zero Dark Thirty, 
available at:
from-abu-ghraib-to-zero-dark-thirty/ (accessed 20 October 2014).

Eisenstein, Z. (2013) Dark, zero-feminism, available at:
ml (retrieved 20 October 2014)

Ferguson, M. L. (2005) ‘”W” stand for women:  Feminism and security rhetoric
in the post-9/11 Bush Administration’, Politics and Gender, 1 (1): 9-38.
Ferber, A. L. (2012) ‘The culture of privilege:  Color-blindness, Postfeminism,
and Christonormativity’, Journal of Social Issues, 68 (1): 63-77.

Freedman, J. (2006) ’The headscarf debate: Muslim women in Europe and the
“war on terror”, in K. Hunt and K. Rygiel (eds) (En)gendering the war on
terror : war stories and camouflaged politics.  Hampshire: Ashgate
Publishing Limited, 169-190.

Gentry, C. and Sjoberg, L. (2014) ‘Terrorism and political violence’, in L.
Shepherd (ed.) Gender matters in global politics: A feminist introduction to
international relations. (2nd ed.)  London: Routledge, 120-130.

Hasian Jr., M. (2013) ‘Zero Dark Thirty and the critical challenges posed by
populist postfeminism during the global war on terrorism’, Journal of
Communication Inquiry, 37 (4): 322-343.

Hasian Jr., M. (2014) ‘Military orientalism at the cineplex:  A postcolonial
reading of Zero Dark Thirty’, Critical Studies in Media Communications,
May: 1-15.

Hunt, K. (2002) ‘The strategic co-optation of women’s rights’, International
Feminist Journal of Politics, 4 (1): 116-121.

Hunt, K. (2006) ‘”Embedded feminism” and the war on terror’, in K. Hunt and
K. Rygiel (eds) (En)gendering the war on terror : war stories and
camouflaged politics.  Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 51-72.

Hunt, K. (2010) ‘The “war on terrorism”, in L. Shepherd (ed.) Gender matters in
global politics: A feminist introduction to international relations. (1st ed.) 
London: Routledge, 116-126.

Hunt, K. and Rygiel, K. (2006) ‘(En)gendered war stories and camouflaged
politics’, in K. Hunt and K. Rygiel (eds) (En)gendering the war on terror :
war stories and camouflaged politics.  Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing
Limited, 1-26.

Koivunen, A. (2009) ‘Confessions of a free woman:  Telling feminist stories in
postfeminist media culture’, Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, 1: n.p..

McRobbie, A. (2004) ‘Post-feminism and popular culture’, Feminist Media
Studies, 4 (3): 255-264.

Majed, E. (2013). Zero Dark Thirty:  A tale of bias and burqas, available at:
bias-and-burqas/ (accessed 20 October 2014).

Marchand, M. (2009) ‘The future of gender and development after 9/11: 
insights from postcolonial feminism and transnationalism’, Third World
Quarterly, 30 (5): 921-935.

Rashidi, Y., Saei, G., Faraji, M. R., and Hosseininha, L. (2014) ‘The mediating
role of cinema in representation of hard power case study:  The movie
“Zero Dark Thirty”’, Research on Humanities and Social Sciences, 4 (12): 128-

Richter-Montpetit, M. (2014) ‘Beyond the erotics of orientalism:  Lawfare,
torture and the racial-sexual grammars of legitimate suffering’, Security
Dialogue, 45(1): 43-62.

Rowley, C. (2010) ‘Popular culture and the politics of the visual, in L. Shepherd
(ed.) Gender matters in global politics: A feminist introduction to
international relations. (1st ed.) London: Routledge, 309-325.

Sageman, M. (2014) ‘The stagnation in terrorism research’, Terrorism and
Political Violence, 26 (4), 565-580.

Shepherd, L. (2006) ‘Constructions of gender in the bush administration
discourse on the attacks of Afghanistan post-9/11’, International Feminist
Journal of Politics, 8 (1): 19-41.

Shepherd, L. (2013) ‘Telling stories:  An essay on gender, violence and popular
culture’, in L. Shepherd Gender, Violence and Popular Culture:  Telling
Stories.  London: Routledge, 1-12. 

Welch, M. (2010) ‘Illusions in truth seeking:  The perils of interrogation and
torture in the war on terror’, Social Justice, 37 (2-3): 123-148.

Zine, J. (2006) ‘Between orientalism and fundamentalism: Muslim women and
feminist engagement’ in K. Hunt and K. Rygiel (eds) (En)gendering the war
on terror : war stories and camouflaged politics.  Hampshire: Ashgate
Publishing Limited, 27-50.

Young, I. M. (2003) ‘The logic of masculinist protection:  Reflections on the
current security state’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 29 (1): 1-25.