Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Feminizing Israel

The power of the political message is one that is carefully crafted by experts and advisers in order to ensure that a leader's statements have the maximum impact, most especially during times of war. While many, though obviously not all, of us are able to dissect the overt messages, we sometimes miss the more subtle cues.

During a press conference on July 13th in Germany held with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at his side (whom he had the audacity to grope at the G8 summit - a display of his male dominance?), George Bush made the following assertion which was then widely disseminated by the world press: 'Israel has the right to defend herself'.

On the face of it, that statement was viewed as Bush simply standing up for an ally in a time of crisis. But, look at the imagery and the subtlety involved. Bush, standing beside a woman, feminizes an entire country by using a gender-specific pronoun. Despite the fact that the women's movement has 'come a long way, baby', females are still stereotypically regarded as weaker persons in need of protection from a stronger - usually male or impersonal aggressor - ie. Hezbollah is spoken of as 'it' and its face is universally male.

According to many modern style guides for writing, the practice of assigning female pronouns to countries went out of fashion some time ago. But, it hardly seems like Bush's characterization of Israel as a female who must fight back was a simple grammatical mistake. He has repeated the same statement many times since that press conference in his public appearances.

Consider the power of early 20th century Germany being referred to as 'the fatherland'. That was a clear reflection of what was then an extremely paternalistic society and set up its leaders in the 'father knows best' role. The Bush administration has the same attitude, even going so far as to allow Bush to circumvent some 800 laws passed by congress by issuing his own signing statements. He has given himself the stereotypical father role as the head of the family of America whose supposed wisdom is not to be questioned. He has similarly treated the media as unruly children who are to be seen and not heard, threatening to silence them at every turn.

Therefore, it certainly isn't a stretch that he would also extend his sense of fatherly protection to his weaker (female) ally, Israel. His femininization of Israel was no mistake. It was a calculated method of attempting to garner support via sympathy for Israel's current conflict.

Propaganda can have power, but only if it's allowed to by those who are its recipients.

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