Feminist Movie Review: The Invisible War

Today, I post my first ever feminist movie review! I’m starting out with an easy one. This movie takes a fairly blatantly liberal feminist standpoint. The Invisible War is a documentary about rape and sexual assault of female (and male) soldiers in the American military. The trailer for the film can be found here:

The Invisible War: Sundance Trailer

Firstly, I’d like to commend filmmaker Kirby Dick on tackling such a complex and insidious problem. Director Kirby Dick approaches the story from various angles, cover a vast amount of problems encountered by the victims. For example, women and one man give their stories in order to illustrate the issues for viewers. The aftershock of the assault is depicted in a legal, emotional, familial, medical way… but the list goes on, really. Each woman’s story is different.

Within a masculine institution such as the military, every systemic disadvantage is forced on those who come forward to confront the patriarchy. For example, women who have come forward have been charged with adultery, when they weren’t married… their perpetrator was. Covering problems like this, that are often invisible to other people, is part of the allure of the film.

Secondly, I felt as though the format of the film was very appropriate and effective. By interviewing individuals, and playing it into the legal and social issues surrounding sexual abuse in the military, I felt like Dick allowed viewers a personalized view into the effect of a sexual assault in the military, while not losing sight of the bigger picture.

Now, for a bit of a critique. My critique focuses on Dick’s theoretical approach to the subject matter of his film. What I just couldn’t agree with was the glorification of war. Patriotism to the point of wanting to kill other people, or risk one’s own life, has never sat well with me. That is a massive oversimplification of what the U.S. military does, but it is definitely a problematic institution, and not only because of the sexual assault rates.

Realist theory would imply that no one state can disarm itself, or it would risk upsetting the current balance of power. Being the dominant theory in the Western world, this does make sense to me. I do not expect, or want, an instant disarmament of any country. But the tactics being used to draw people into the military include inducing a feeling of extreme patriotism. Fighting for your country is seen as a duty. In the film, most of the women felt disillusioned following their sexual assault and subsequent despicable treatment by the military institutions. Often their spouses or partners also leave the military, or suffer a sort of psychological conflict between their previously held beliefs, and the reassessing after the sexual assault.

Furthermore, the participation of women in a traditionally (and still) masculine institution was not addressed at all. The women who succeed in the military are those who embody masculine traits, masculine ideals. War is masculine. It would have been very interesting to look more into how the patriarchal culture and the emphasis on brotherhood played into sexual assault and it’s prevalence in the U.S. army.

I greatly enjoyed the movie. I found it to be informative and well-structured. It got across the message effectively, and the message given was a very important one. Of course, it must be said, that the film was mostly in line with my own ideals… perhaps contributing to my enjoyment of it! Despite the glorification of war, and unaddressed conflicts between the feminine and masculine, I would give it three and a half stars out of five stars. Go see it, and tell me what you think!

As an aside, here’s some books by authors who were interviewed as a part of the movie. Worth checking out:

Porcelain on Steel by Donna McAleer

The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq by Helen Benedict


It’s a Girl!

It’s a Girl – An ad by the Canadian Women’s Foundation

My post today examines an ad I saw on the television not too long ago. This ad was put out by the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

For those who chose not to watch the video, I’ll sum it up for you: women are shown at a baby shower for a girl (denoted by pink balloons saying “It’s a Girl”. The mother-to-be opens gifts, guests sip tea. All is well until she opens a box which contains a black whistle. The gift-giver says “It’s a rape whistle.” The video provides the startling statistic that 1 in 2 girls will be sexually or physically assaulted growing up in Canada.

I have a few comments on this video.

The first thing that I noticed was the incredibly high amount of “dislikes” that this video has received on Youtube. One commenter even complains that the video is “a bit of a downer”. I find this response a little surprising. Of course it’s a downer, it’s about the rape and assault of women! One commenter debates the veracity of the statistic using Wikipedia as their reference. Although I knew women’s rights were not primary on most people’s agendas, I did not expect the amount of backlash a simple t.v. commercial would receive.

Secondly, this video excludes many groups. It makes no mention of trans individuals who identify as female, or of how the risk of sexual or physical assault increases depending on the race of the woman in question. I recognize that this wasn’t the point of the video. You can’t revolutionize society, especially not through a commercial. But trans individuals are consistently excluded in feminist circles. If the general public is to be more aware of their struggles, them and their own struggles should be depicted in the media.

My final observation is that although commercials are a succinct and far-reaching way to raise awareness, it is perhaps not the most effective method for getting across important issues in the realm of women’s issues. Women’s issues are complex, and this simplifies the statistics, and shows a very narrow view of gender roles and identities. Again my theoretical preference rears it’s ugly head – the reality is so much more complex than can be easily consumed by the public.