Tactical Tactility: Warfare, Gender, and Cultural Intelligence

Isra Ali


The participation of women in the landscape of warfare is increasingly visible; nowhere is this more evident than in the US military’s global endeavors.  The US military’s reliance on cultural intelligence in its conceptualization of engagement strategies has resulted in the articulation of specific gendered roles in warfare. Women are thought to be particularly well suited to non-violent tactile engagements with civilians in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan because of gender segregation in public and private spaces.  Women in the military have consequently been able to argue for recognition of their combat service by framing this work in the war zone as work only women can do.  Women reporters have been able to develop profiles as media producers, commentators, and experts on foreign policy, women, and the military by producing intimate stories about the lives of civilians only they can access.  The work soldiers and reporters do is located in the warzone, but in the realms of the domestic and social, in the periods between bursts of violent engagement.  These women are deployed as mediators between civilian populations in Afghanistan and Iraq and occupying forces for different but related purposes.  Soldiers do the auxiliary work of combat in these encounters, reporters produce knowledge that undergirds the military project.  Their work in combat zones emphasizes the interpersonal and relational as forms of tactile engagement.  In these roles, they are also often mediating between the “temporary” infrastructure of the war zone and occupation, and the “permanent” infrastructure of nation state, local government, and community.  The work women do as soldiers and reporters operates effectively with the narrative of militarism as a means for liberating women, reinforcing the perception of the military as an institution that is increasingly progressive in its attitudes towards membership, and in its military strategies.  When US military strategy focuses on cultural practice in Arab and Muslim societies, commanders operationalize women soldiers in the tactics of militarism, the liberation of Muslim women becomes central in news and governmental discourses alike, and the notion of “feminism” is drawn into the project of US militarism in Afghanistan and Iraq in complex ways that elucidate how gender, equality, and difference, can be deployed in service of warfare.


War; Gender; Militarism; War on Terror

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.28968/cftt.v2i1.87


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