Creative Destruction

August 2, 2006

Doctor’s Orders

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq — Daran @ 12:27 pm

Barry recently drew my attention to this article, by Nir Rosen, which I described as “a very rare instance of a second order gendering applied to males”. The terminology was defined by Dr. Adam Jones in his paper Effacing the Male (emphasis in original):

A first-order gendering is focused at the level of the individual person, case, or event. In the Kosovo context, this might be a reference to the rape of a particular Kosovar woman, or a given case of mass rape; for Kosovar males, it might be a reference to the gender-selective execution of a man, or a given mass execution.

A second-order gendering of the same subject seeks to isolate a pattern of victimization. In so doing, it directs the audience to broader conceptual and experiential similarities that bind individual persons, cases, and events — though the pattern is still restricted in its territorial reach, geographical scope, and historical time. In the context of the Kosovo conflict, this could mean isolating a pattern of rape of women in the conflict, or a pattern of gender-selective executions of men.

A third-order gendering extends the analysis beyond the boundaries of the immediate conflict, region, and contemporary time-frame. It usually seeks to make broad generalizations about regional, global, and/or historical trends. Again to use our Kosovo examples, this might involve placing the rape of Kosovar women against the broader backdrop of rape as a tool of war in the Balkans in the 1990s. It might go further still, and examine the sexual assault of women as a feature of warfare across civilizations and throughout history. A similar perspective on gender-selective executions of men would seek to place these killings against a regional and global-historical backdrop.

This concept of first, second, and third ordering is an extraordinarily powerful metaanalytical tool whose application is by no means limited to the field of gender studies. A non-gendered example would be a news report which describes individual incidents where actions by American forces in Iraq have caused friction with the local population leading to anti-American feelings (first order), isolates a pattern of such incidents throughout occupied Iraq (second order), and generalises further, seeking to explain regional or global anti-Americanism (or anti-superpower-of-the-dayism) as a consequence of American (etc.) actions generally (third order).

Dr. Jones clarifies the boundary between first and second order in footnote 15:

the other […] acts of gendercide mentioned briefly in the article [by James Rubin] are the following: “As many as several hundred thousand ethnic Albanian men may have been detained or harmed by Yugoslav government security forces in the past three weeks. … In the southern Kosovo city of Djakovica … more than 100 ethnic Albanians were reportedly slain by Interior Ministry troops and paramilitaries. … Another [n.b.] 112 men were allegedly shot and burned in the southern Kosovo town of Malakrusa … as many as 200 ‘military-age’ men may have been slain in the northern city of Podujevo …” At no point in the article, however, is any pattern of gender-selective mass executions discerned.

(Bracketed elipisis and italics are mine. unbracketed elipsis are his.)

Although Dr. Jones does not say so explicitly, it’s clear from the last sentence that he does not regard this to be an example of second order gendering. Although a “pattern of gender-selective mass executions” is discernable, at least to those readers looking for it, it is not discerned by the author. He does not “seek[] to isolate” it or “direct[] the audience to broader conceptual and experiential similarities”.

With that clarification in mind, it’s clear that Rosen’s article is a sophisticated second-order analysis of what can be described as “insensitivity” at best, and “brutality” at worst on the part of US forces toward the Iraqi people. There is a single third-order reference to My Lai.

It’s equally clear, that the gendering in the article is overwhelmingly first-order: the pattern is there, but it is not “discerned” or “isolated”, nor for the most part is our attention “directed to broader conceptual experiential similarities”. There is a glimmer of second ordering when Rosen said “I grew to fear the unpredictable American military, which could kill me for looking like an Iraqi male of fighting age” (my italics), but the gender theme receives no further higher order attention.

It is not my intention to fault Rosen’s excellent article. No essay can cover every aspect of a situation, and a good one will choose its theme and stick to it. Rosen does just that. His theme is no less important than mine, it hardly suffers from a surfeit of quality coverage, and he covers it without effacing the male in the process.

That’s exceptional. It ought to be the norm.

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