The Wars Women Fight
Catherine is a 21 year old Cambodian who loves writing. She writes professionally (Phnom Penh Post, Politikoffee), and writes some more in her free time (check out her great Khmer/English blog, A Dose of Cath). Follow her insightful commentaries on Cambodian society and other issues that matter to her – inequality, sexuality or science.
When US President Barack Obama went to visit Vietnam on 22 May 2016, social media buzzed with images of his trip, especially the one of him eating at a local restaurant, sitting on a plastic chair alongside celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. People were impressed and awed by his humility. The Straits Time, in response, published an article about must-eat food Vietnamese street food.
“One post, in particular, stated that the Vietnamese were using the “beautiful women” strategy as they did before.”
What caught my attention, however, was not the pho or banh mi, it was a few photos of beautiful Vietnamese women greeting the President that were circulating amidst Cambodian social media users in the kingdom. One post, in particular, stated that the Vietnamese were using the “beautiful women” strategy as they did before.
A Facebook image, claiming that the “Vietnamese don’t abandon their beautiful-women trap.” (Source, Facebook)
A quick backstory: I have heard numerous Cambodians claim that the reason why Vietnam won the Vietnam War against America was because they tricked the Americans, using “beautiful women”. The most iconic scene in the movie “Full Metal Jacket” features American soldiers and prostitutes. Obviously the mainstream media, including Hollywood, further perpetuates this theory.
The claim and the post itself are absurd; laughable even. But it speaks to a more troubling problem than two neighboring nations not getting along, and that is the objectification of women. The first thing that popped into people’s minds when they saw the image was that the women were “tricks” or parts of a “strategy”, rather than seeing them as they are: human beings. Why is it so far-fetched that those women were merely excitedly greeting one of the most powerful men in the world?
“People, many Cambodians at least, do not consider the roles that women played in wars.”
People, many Cambodians at least, do not consider the roles that women played in wars. As author Sandra C. Taylor points out in Vietnamese Women at War, women, especially armed women, played a big part in the Vietnam War. And yet, not once have I ever heard anyone in Cambodia mention anything about women in war rather than that they were distracting the male soldiers with their “sexual prowess”.
A Vietnamese female soldier (Source: Teakdoor)
That is certainly not how women should be portrayed.In the US alone, the total number of women in the military is over 210,000, 19.1 per cent of whom are in the Air Force. Women are risking their lives right this minute in a war somehow in the world, and all people seem to think about is how they are sex objects to pleasure armed men. It seems as though female soldiers have to fight a double war: a military war and the war to be treated as people.
This piece reflects the views of its author only, and not necessarily that of the Politikoffee Media team and editors.