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