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55 Responses

  1. Medea
    Medea August 5, 2010 at 5:03 am |

    Ah! Yes. I hadn’t made the connection between Aisha and Sharbat Gula.

    The photographer says that the intention was to show “her beauty” (would she still be beautiful if the scarf covered her thick hair?) but the fact that Aisha is used as a symbol of catastrophe shows that TIME thinks the sight of her will arouse horror, not admiration, in its readers.

  2. Chally
    Chally August 5, 2010 at 5:25 am |

    Oh, Wheelchair Dancer. What a truly excellent post.

  3. Elke
    Elke August 5, 2010 at 5:48 am |

    I do truly agree with Chally. An excellent and very important post. Regarding understanding disability: The approach of french anthropologist David Le Breton helped me with finding a concept. He says (in very short and it is months ago that I read it) that disability is mainly a cultural concept. Disability is true for the people whose way of perceiving the world or moving through it makes them being excluded from participation in important parts of society. In this particular case I would understand it as such: As Medea says Aishas picture is used to arouse horror or fear. The cultural concept behind this says: A woman needs to be seen as beautiful. If her beauty is taken she cannot participate in society.

  4. Salix
    Salix August 5, 2010 at 5:53 am |

    disability is a screen upon which the narrative claims of women’s rights are projected. (As a disability rights activist, I would have to sigh and say, “again.”)

    The narrative claims of women’s rights, yes–and also, this photograph is *exactly* fitting in with a longstanding narrative of Western media’s use of Muslim men’s violence against women as a way to “demonstrate” how superior and civilized the West is in comparison. (Hence the Western fetishization of the niqab and burqa, for example).

    If the cover had depicted an Afghan woman disabled in a U.S. drone attack, would it be any different? I don’t think so–it would still be using disability and women’s bodies to make cheap political points, and I am uncomfortable with this–but my point is, that cover would not happen.

  5. Samantha b.
    Samantha b. August 5, 2010 at 6:59 am |

    Well, it seems to me the idea that what Ms. Beiber’s implicitly argued, that beauty is interchangeable with a woman’s worth is fundamentally anti-feminist. And in the bigger picture of the article, it strikes me that both disability and women’s rights are being exploited for propaganda’s sake here; it really doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense to argue that this war should be perpetuated on behalf of women’s rights when the war has not progressed such rights. And, of course, the Northern Alliance has an absolutely horrific record on women’s rights. To argue otherwise is to be entirely dishonest, but that much doesn’t seem to bother “Time.” It would be lovely to think that there’s a real solution here, but, you know, for Time to suggest that there is one is absolute fantasy. It makes me wonder to what extent that’s always a part of the media mythos, that there are no hard choices; that a victorious outcome is possible in any situation. Which, I tend to think, is a mythos that directly affects disability rights- there becomes this incredible fear of all the vulnerability that this mythos brushes under the rug, and disability so often becomes the site for those sublimated anxieties. /Rambly rant. Thanks for this excellent post.

  6. Aaminah
    Aaminah August 5, 2010 at 7:23 am |

    Disability = horrifying is, imho, the intent of Time Magazine (fyi, they are a “conservative” magazine with a pretty conservative readership for the most part) and the reason they chose this photo, no matter the intent of the photographer (which yeah… doesn’t ring real true either). And it’s disgusting that Time would use this as a justification for war. Because war is actually the real root cause of Aisha’s situation to begin with. Aisha is beautiful. She was beautiful before the attack, she is beautiful now after the attack. She should not be manipulated as a world-wide poster child for anything though.

    Also, regarding the “beautiful hair” thing… this is something that i find reprehensible about photographers in Muslim countries. They make a big deal of the hair precisely because they know that it is not meant to be shown for public consumption and they think that they have done something to “deserve” having it shown to them. i cannot tell you how frequently people ask me what my hair looks like, why i won’t show them just a little bit of it, what color/length etc it is, why i “hide my beauty” – because they feel they have a right to know. And then there are the comments that maybe it’s just that am ugly and that’s what i’m hiding, i must not have “good” hair, i probably just don’t know how to style it properly, or i am lazy and think it’s easier to just cover it. So i am not surprised at the level of attention given to how Aisha has beautiful hair. It is an outsider’s way of basically mocking her culture/spiritual practice and attempting to shame her to be more revealing (both literally and otherwise).

    i remember the tv special when they went searching for Sharbat Gula the second time. The program was full of ridicule for the women who were unwilling to show their faces on camera, for men who said that they don’t allow pictures of their families to be taken, etc. And i think that is the same outsider demand to be treated special, that we have a right to see what we came to see – despite whatever discomfort it may cause these women.

  7. bfp
    bfp August 5, 2010 at 7:33 am |

    yeah–and the thing I kept wonder is how much of this is about the politics of unveiling–the US unveiled the dirty burka hidden secret of afghanistan. we finally got to see what was under the veil.

  8. chava
    chava August 5, 2010 at 7:46 am |

    “I don’t think so–it would still be using disability and women’s bodies to make cheap political points, and I am uncomfortable with this–but my point is, that cover would not happen. ”

    This.

    Also, I am disturbed that nowhere have I seen mentioned any health/chronic pain side effects of her attack, only its effects on her “beauty.” Any psychological pain she has suffered gets one brief sentence, which I found in the NYT article. I hope this “8 month reconstructive surgery” she is getting will include therapy to help address some of that damage, but who knows.

    I also get the strong sense that Time basically bought the picture with the reconstructive surgery, which they tried to position as more of a kind gesture on their part, rather than an exploitative one (see Aisha’s sentence in the NYT article: “I don’t know if it will help other women or not,” she said, her hand going instinctively to cover the hole in the middle of her face, as it does whenever strangers look directly at her. “I just want to get my nose back.”)

  9. schauspiele
    schauspiele August 5, 2010 at 9:50 am |

    This post is so subtle and illuminating. Was also fascinated/appalled to hear Aaminah’s discussion of the fetishization of Muslim women’s hair, and appreciated bfp’s point about the ‘dirty little secret’. I just wanted to say thank you, all.

  10. Suzan
    Suzan August 5, 2010 at 10:02 am |

    It isn’t a disability…
    She was horribly mutilated just as the thugs of Charles Taylor in Liberia used to chop off children’s arms or hands.

    Photographs have power, the power to make us aware of atrocities. They compel us to answer the question, why? They demand we act to stop the atrocities. Be they photographs of the Death Camps of Germany, the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

    The girl with the napalm burns running naked down the road is one of two images that still haunt me from the Vietnam war.

    This is the face of war. This is what the Taliban does.
    The subtext. Reagan armed them.

  11. Dominique
    Dominique August 5, 2010 at 10:07 am |

    Aaminah: Also, regarding the “beautiful hair” thing… this is something that i find reprehensible about photographers in Muslim countries. They make a big deal of the hair precisely because they know that it is not meant to be shown for public consumption and they think that they have done something to “deserve” having it shown to them. i cannot tell you how frequently people ask me what my hair looks like, why i won’t show them just a little bit of it, what color/length etc it is, why i “hide my beauty” – because they feel they have a right to know. And then there are the comments that maybe it’s just that am ugly and that’s what i’m hiding, i must not have “good” hair, i probably just don’t know how to style it properly, or i am lazy and think it’s easier to just cover it. So i am not surprised at the level of attention given to how Aisha has beautiful hair. It is an outsider’s way of basically mocking her culture/spiritual practice and attempting to shame her to be more revealing (both literally and otherwise).i remember the tv special when they went searching for Sharbat Gula the second time. The program was full of ridicule for the women who were unwilling to show their faces on camera, for men who said that they don’t allow pictures of their families to be taken, etc. And i think that is the same outsider demand to be treated special, that we have a right to see what we came to see – despite whatever discomfort it may cause these women.  (Quote this comment?)

    I can’t help but feel that *this* is at the root of the opposition to niqab and burqa which is popping up all over the western world – this notion that women have an obligation not only to be beautiful, but to show themselves for public consumption. If a woman refuses the male gaze by covering herself, this is seen as some kind of affront, like some denial of service that men feel entitled to. And that attitude has absolutely nothing to do with liberation, especially against a woman’s will. Not to derail the thread, but to me your observations and report are very significant, as an illustration of why Western interpretations of non-Western women are so often problematic. I believe in this regard, the issue of covering in terms of its relationship to the obligation of beauty are quite pertinent to the thread. Especially since “showcasing” what we label the beauty of disabled women is supposed to be some kind of affirmation (the Miss Landmine reference is unbelievable, btw). It isn’t. It’s condescending inanity that simply reaffirms the view of women as the dancing poodles of the world for male consumption.

  12. ACG
    ACG August 5, 2010 at 10:30 am |

    @Suzan

    Photographs have power, the power to make us aware of atrocities. They compel us to answer the question, why? They demand we act to stop the atrocities.
    […]
    This is the face of war. This is what the Taliban does.
    The subtext. Reagan armed them.

    More importantly, it’s the face of a person. While this atrocity took place in the context of a culture that allows such things–her father handing her over as repayment for debt, her husband treating her like a slave and then punishing her horrifically for trying to escape–they also took place in the context of people. Aisha is a person, not a statement or a symbol, and we don’t get to protest the objectification of women and then use her as an object to make a point.

    In the New York Times article about the Time cover, Aisha says, “I don’t know if it will help other women or not. I just want to get my nose back.” Her concerns right now are–rightfully–very personal, and it isn’t right for us to appropriate her image while her back is turned.

  13. Sarah J.
    Sarah J. August 5, 2010 at 10:34 am |

    I’m going to have to disagree. As a freelance journalist and a person with a degree in Int’l Studies, I appreciate Time’s move. The use of that picture coincides with a thriving foreign policy debate: should the US negotiate with the Taliban, and risk women’s right for the chance of stability in the region?

    So Time’s picture shocks. And in doing that, it brings the debate down to earth. It reminds us that women’s rights and Afghan stability are intertwined. Therefore, I do not take issue with Time’s use of the picture. It’s a visual echo of Sharbat Gul, it’s true. But that juxtaposition is part of its power. It reminds everyone who sees it that life for women in Afghanistan has not fundamentally changed since the coalition’s invasion.

    I also think it’s unfair for people to make assumptions that the cover wouldn’t have happened if she’d been injured by US actions, or that the cover is an attempt to make the West appear civilized in comparison. You don’t know that. So don’t jump to conclusions. It’s impossible to have a real discussion about the issue when people base their contributions on hypotheticals. Frankly, if we’re going to go in that direction, I could just as easily say that the use of the picture is a criticism of the coalition’s failure to consider women’s rights in its problematic attempt at nation-building.

    I do, however, believe that Bieber’s comments on her beauty are extremely problematic, and I’m frustrated that yet another piece about a woman focuses so much on her adherence, or nonadherence, to standards of beauty.

  14. Suzan
    Suzan August 5, 2010 at 11:01 am |

    When does the concern for the “appropriation” of her image become a means of erasing the horrific nature of the atrocity.

    It is through the lens of personalization the scaling down of something to big for the mind to grasp that one goes beyond the banality of evil.

    Even Stalin said one death is a tragedy a million deaths are a statistic.

    The narrowing of the focus magnifies the impact on our consciences.

    I am bothered by the reference to her being mutilate as being a disability and how that distances us and her from the fact that this was neither the result of an accident of birth or of life but rather the result of a conscious act of inhuman cruelty.

    To consider it “in the context of a culture” is to banalize a monstrous act that is a monstrous act in any culture for it is an aberration to the universal norms of even minimally acceptable human behavior.

  15. haddayr
    haddayr August 5, 2010 at 11:10 am |

    Thank you so much for this post.

    I had a very very visceral reaction to this photo; it enraged me, and I was deeply bothered when friends would share it. I could not articulate this well to any of my able-bodied friends, but you have captured it in your usual thoughtful and deeply contextual way. Intersectionality can be so difficult and LARGE to write about.

    I appreciate this enormously.

  16. Aaminah
    Aaminah August 5, 2010 at 11:18 am |

    1. Yes, it is a disability. Disabilities don’t only happen one way. Anything that disables a person is still a disability and it is horribly thoughtless to exclude a disability discussion of this issue just because it was done by fellow humans.

    2. Really? “It’s what the Taliban does”? Well, actually, it’s not all that the Taliban does and they are not 100% evil all the time. But also, are you trying to say that if not for the Taliban such things wouldn’t happen? Because that’s simply not true.

    3. Assumptions about the cover… just. wow. The cover image combined with the cover title creates a very clear statement. No assumption necessary. Time makes it quite clear that they are for continued U.S. aggression/engagement and that U.S. engagement is somehow going to save Afghanistan from having more Aishas. But this occurred while the U.S. is there. And it was occuring to other girls before the Taliban came into being. And similar/other things occur to girls who are under the Northern Alliance. Most certainly when you posit that the U.S. needs to be involved to somehow stop these things from happening, you are implying strongly that the U.S. is more humane/just/progressive and that Afghanistan is not capable of being humane/just/progressive on their own.

  17. Haddayr
    Haddayr August 5, 2010 at 11:22 am |

    Suzan: It isn’t a disability…

    What makes you say this?

    Disability is a cultural construct, it’s true. But I am asking you, specifically, what makes you say that missing your nose and ears is not a disability? Is it how she became disabled? I know men who are paralyzed, missing limbs, or blinded by gun violence. Are they “horribly mutilated” rather than “disabled?”

    As a disabled person, I am getting pretty tired of able-bodied people telling me what is or is not a disability. I have no way of knowing if you are able-bodied except by the casual way in which you think you can determine disability — this seems to be something that able-bodied people do with casual authority and people with disabilities, like me, do not.

  18. Suzan
    Suzan August 5, 2010 at 11:36 am |

    Are they “horribly mutilated” rather than “disabled?”

    Yes… War mutilates perhaps the end result is disability but calling it “a disability” divorces it from the action that caused it.

    Do I think the Taliban alone does this? Obviously not as I gave other examples as well including Americans, Germans, Liberians, Cambodians. I could without much effort list many more atrocities that pictures forced us to confront. Including lynchings performed in the US.

  19. Jigae
    Jigae August 5, 2010 at 11:58 am |

    Aaminah:
    3. Assumptions about the cover… just. wow. The cover image combined with the cover title creates a very clear statement. No assumption necessary. Time makes it quite clear that they are for continued U.S. aggression/engagement and that U.S. engagement is somehow going to save Afghanistan from having more Aishas. But this occurred while the U.S. is there. And it was occuring to other girls before the Taliban came into being. And similar/other things occur to girls who are under the Northern Alliance. Most certainly when you posit that the U.S. needs to be involved to somehow stop these things from happening, you are implying strongly that the U.S. is more humane/just/progressive and that Afghanistan is not capable of being humane/just/progressive on their own.  

    I completely agree. Time seems to be becoming more of social commenter and less of a news magazine. I wonder to what degree they’re slipping to a conservative/pro-US stance in order to attract readership.

  20. Jigae
    Jigae August 5, 2010 at 12:03 pm |

    Suzan: Are they “horribly mutilated” rather than “disabled?”Yes…War mutilates perhaps the end result is disability but calling it “a disability” divorces it from the action that caused it.Do I think the Taliban alone does this?Obviously not as I gave other examples as well including Americans, Germans, Liberians, Cambodians.I could without much effort list many more atrocities that pictures forced us to confront.Including lynchings performed in the US.  

    I see the point you’re making, but the end result is the same regardless of the cause. If someone loses their vision due to torture, a random accident, or their genetic code, it doesn’t change the fact that they can’t see. Would you say that a blind political refugee was “mutilated” but someone who was born without sight was “disabled?”

    I agree that it’s important not to forget what caused her condition, but I don’t believe calling it a disability minimizes the evils of the conflict that did this to her.

  21. Salix
    Salix August 5, 2010 at 12:14 pm |

    @ Sarah J.,

    I’m not jumping to anything. The Western media’s longstanding tradition of using/abusing Muslim women in an attempt to cast Islam and Muslims as uncivilized is very well-documented. You might want to check out Gottschalk and Greenberg’s Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy, which reveals how this narrative operates in editorial cartoons.

  22. Salix
    Salix August 5, 2010 at 12:19 pm |

    @ Dominique,

    I can’t help but feel that *this* is at the root of the opposition to niqab and burqa which is popping up all over the western world – this notion that women have an obligation not only to be beautiful, but to show themselves for public consumption.

    I don’t like that the struggle is played out on women’s bodies, and that should be alarming even to feminists who oppose hijab, but I disagree that it’s the core of the opposition.

    I think it goes back to what bfp mentioned–this notion of unveiling, of “uncovering” what we (West) are not supposed to know/see. It’s a way of asserting power and white supremacy–of colonizing Islam by dominating the bodies of women who practice it.

  23. Elizabeth Anne
    Elizabeth Anne August 5, 2010 at 12:19 pm |

    I have to note that in at least one ancient language (Homeric Greek) the word for unveiling also meant to strip a city of its defenses, to sack it.

  24. Samantha b.
    Samantha b. August 5, 2010 at 12:27 pm |

    @Jigae, my understanding is that Henry Luce had always envisioned Time as a magazine of new commentary. Also I think the longstanding presence of Joe Klein at Time magazine would suggest that conservatism is nothing new there.

  25. Jigae
    Jigae August 5, 2010 at 12:38 pm |

    Samantha b.: @Jigae, my understanding is that Henry Luce had always envisioned Time as a magazine of new commentary. Also I think the longstanding presence of Joe Klein at Time magazine would suggest that conservatism is nothing new there.  

    I read an article a couple years ago that Time was attempting to increase readership by making the magazine as a whole more “blog-like” with stronger authorial voices, as a way to give added value in this age of instant access to information. I guess I’m just sad about the direction in which that seems to have gone?

  26. Sitara
    Sitara August 5, 2010 at 12:45 pm |

    “I’m going to have to disagree. As a freelance journalist and a person with a degree in Int’l Studies, I appreciate Time’s move. The use of that picture coincides with a thriving foreign policy debate: should the US negotiate with the Taliban, and risk women’s right for the chance of stability in the region?”

    What???? Since when does the bastion of white male supremacist empire care AT ALL about the lives and bodies of brown Muslim women? Stability? The US CREATED that situation. The Time cover plays into the US Orientalist trope of saving brown women from brown men. There are plenty of organizers in Afghanistan that say NO to both the Taliban and US empire. (See: http://www.rawa.org/events/sevenyear_e.htm )

    The US and Soviet interventions in Afghanistan contributed to the overall instability of the region. The civil war continued until the Pakistani-backed Taliban brought “stability” that routed most of the feuding warlords. Former U.S. National Security Advisor Brezinski openly admitted that following the coup by the pro-Soviet People’s Democratic Party in Afghanistan, that the US engaged in activity aimed that drawing the then Soviet Union into its own “Vietnam debacle.”

    With the help of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the US succeeded and was consequently unable to control the conditions it created, not just Al-Qaeda (not an arm of the Afghan government, to be clear) but also a Pakistani national security system that wanted to turn Afghanistan into a quasi-protectorate. The US, as usual, had no problem with the Taliban until they would not agree to the terms of a gas pipeline that was projected to cross Afghanistan.

  27. Nanette
    Nanette August 5, 2010 at 12:57 pm |

    wheelchair dancer, what a really excellent post. Your perspective, along with that of some of the comments, like Aaminah’s, is making my brain work overtime! I have a bunch of thoughts on this and no time to put them into any coherent order, so I’ll just go through a few things that have occurred to me.

    The “Afghan Girl” is a common theme running through many U.S. American’s thoughts about Afghanistan. The original National Geographic cover told one story which may have been problematic in itself, but the resurrection of the cover image at the time of the Afghanistan invasion told a completely different, even more troubling one. She became the image of Afghan women, particularly once they found her again 20 years later and she had, gasp!, aged. The implication being that life under the Taliban robbed her of her youth and beauty.

    So, I do think that this cover image was deliberately posed as the continuation of the story and also as war propaganda. Sort of a “see what they’ve done to our Afghan Girl now. They’ve cut off her nose!”

    And, of course, life *was*, and is, often horrific for many women under the Taliban, or the various tribal and cultural mores in that region, and they *did* cut off Aisha’s nose, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t also being used as a front for a wider story.

    Part of which story, I think, is a continued protestation of the myth of U.S. American innocence and goodwill – nevermind that the invasion and occupation itself has been killing and maiming women and children and men for years, now. It also helps perpetuate the myth that the war has, at its core, a concern with women’s rights.

    I don’t pay much attention to magazine covers so I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that in the U.S. media images such as this sort of work the same as with dead bodies (particularly as a result of war.) One doesn’t show images like that of U.S. Americans or other Westerners, but everyone else is fair game. I just can’t imagine that a White Western woman with this disability (or one like it) would be featured on the cover of a national or international magazine, especially without her permission.

    I would not, on my own, have put this cover and story in the context of disability but now that you have it makes perfect sense and adds that piece of context that has been missing from some of the discussions.

  28. Sitara
    Sitara August 5, 2010 at 12:59 pm |

    wheelchair dancer, thank you for this post. like other commenters, i also had a pretty strong visceral reaction and i’m glad to see some nuanced commentary on it.

  29. karak
    karak August 5, 2010 at 1:11 pm |

    I see your point on the crux of the issue here. The problem is that someone acted with cruelty and violence to her, and their method of violence was to cut off her body parts. If they had acted with the same cruelty and violence in a way that did not physically mark her, but left the same health problems, pain, and trauma, would that be acceptable? If they broke her nose, and then set it so no-one would see the break, is that okay then?

    And there’s definitely an element of, “The childlike brown people need our help! And since we are so mature, and we NEVER have women with physical marks of violence walking around, we can show them the way!”

    I don’t know many women who have lost an ear or nose, but I know a lot of them with missing teeth. But we can’t look at an American white woman with physical marks of violence on the cover of Time. That would shake the whole foundation of our benevolent superiority.

  30. Sid
    Sid August 5, 2010 at 1:20 pm |

    So very true, the refinding of Sharbat and the requisite image might have well been a stand-in for this image, what with the strong implication being the Taliban will sully women’s faces and we need to be there to protect them.

  31. Dominique
    Dominique August 5, 2010 at 1:54 pm |

    Is anyone else thinking of how disgusting it feels to juxtapose Aisha to the “Afghan girl” when the latter was fleeing a Soviet invasion fought by… the Taliban? The same Taliban, supported by the U.S. government, which mutilated Aisha?

  32. matlun
    matlun August 5, 2010 at 2:12 pm |

    Dominique:
    I can’t help but feel that *this* is at the root of the opposition to niqab and burqa which is popping up all over the western world – this notion that women have an obligation not only to be beautiful, but to show themselves for public consumption.

    No. It is “just” the fear of the other and the feeling that this is a symbol of a reprehensible, misogynistic culture. Sometimes a reasoned position, but often fueled by racism and Islamophobia.

    About the TIME’s article, then in general I think that using this type of picture to bring the abstract issues into very concrete, personal stories is very important and often makes for good journalism. I do not see this as a disability rights issue, since it does not primarily focus on Aisha’s disability, but on her history and what was done to her. It illustrates the argument in the article in a powerful way.

    There are other arguments that could be done here about the intersection between feminism and disability in how serious a disability we consider her condition. If we see her disfigurement as much more serious because she is a young and beautiful woman, what does this say about how we define the value of young women by their looks?

  33. bfp
    bfp August 5, 2010 at 2:47 pm |

    i think that it’s really important to itch out some of the complications of disability from WCD’s post, tho. I mean, I agree with everybody that this picture is an indicator of largely colonial justifications of “white men saving brown women from brown men”–but if we push it a little bit further, and recognize that with colonial interventions *always* comes at least some type of intertwining of cultures (that is, “adopting the native habits,”) and with that adoption of habits comes extreme anxiety from within the colonial nation (white women should no longer breast feed! it’s too much like the natives!) that is looking to distance itself from those it needs to destroy in order to more effectively colonize–I think we have some really telling and interesting things to think about when it comes to disability and women of color/non-white women.

    So, in order to distance ourselves as a colonial nation from those we are attempting to colonize, we have to be *feminists*–because they are not, right? but–we also have to be people that don’t inflict disability on other people, we also have to recognize disability as something that can’t be helped rather than a violence done to humans by nation/states or corporations or those in control of certain areas–we have to be the people who fix and save disabled peoples, rather than the people who leave them to suffer needlessly, etc etc etc.

    it serves as a very effective way to hide various truths–like: anybody who has watched oprah for any length of time knows that women of all races and classes have suffered injuries even worse than what this woman did at the hands of their husbands/partners–Oprah did a whole show just on women who were US citizens that had been set on fire by their partners and survived. This type of horrific violence *does* happen in the US–but in order to feel good about our intervention, and less anxiety about the “natives” taking over, we have to pretend that it *doesn’t*. That this is the result of war or extreme circumstances, rather than plain old simple patriarchy, of which we are.

    like: disabled peoples are chronically institutionalized in the US rather than incorporated into communities, funding is chronically cut rather than increased, you have to have Jesus and Maria on your side to fight through the paperwork to get disability or something as simple as a wheel chair.

    Like: this year the Disabilities Act in the US was subject to several attempts to weaken the Act.

    Like: disabled veterns are among the highest portion of homeless people

    like: in the US, disability for non-white women often plays out as those women being “trouble makers” rather than disabled–and that in the US, this woman would be *blamed* for “staying” with her abuser rather than veiwed with any type of sympathy or has having a disability.

    The reason we *can* view her with sympathy is because of her visible disability–and the reason we in the US view this particular disability with sympathy is because of the narrative in the US about disabled peoples needing to be “saved” and ‘helped” by able bodied people–this is a case where disability narratives helps to make colonial narratives *make sense*–because they’re so similar.

    that the taliban is set up and funded by the US is important as we bear moral responsibility for what is done in our name–but it is *also* important because the taliban also reflects *who we are in the US*. We fund what we find important, and so we fund heteropatriarchy, racism, abelism, etc–*just like we do in the US*.

    I am not arguing that we are *exactly the same* as several feminists have–or that “if we aren’t careful, we will become them” as other feminists have–but instead that theres a colonial understanding of “the natives” being “different” or “wrong” or “less than” the colonizers so that we can justify what we are doing to them. Most progressives see this, and understand it–but there is not much discussion, and I think that WCD is trying to flesh it out here–about how “the natives” *reflect* our system back at us.

    That’s why so many people say things like, the oppressed knows the oppressor better than the oppressor does. they “mimic” us better than we ourselves do.

    so i would really refuse the distancing that is going on in this thread–I don’t think that this is cultural–and I also don’t think that it’s “our fault” at least not in that sense. I think it’s what happens when colonization happens–and i think it’s really really essential to investigate how disability can be used and manipulated to justify colonization–and how our systematic violence against the “other” plays out in our homeland just as actively *albeit differently* as it does “over there.”

  34. ACG
    ACG August 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm |

    @Nanette

    So, I do think that this cover image was deliberately posed as the continuation of the story and also as war propaganda. Sort of a “see what they’ve done to our Afghan Girl now. They’ve cut off her nose!”

    Wow, yes, exactly that.

  35. Felicity
    Felicity August 5, 2010 at 5:46 pm |

    Thank you so much for this post, Wheelchair Dancer.

    And also, bfp, what an amazing comment at #33! Thanks to both of you for sharing all your insight here.

  36. Time covers and the twisted logical extreme of the obligation to be beautiful « The Delphiad Blog

    […] logical extreme of the obligation to be beautiful By Dominique Millette Just today, I read Wheelchair Dancer’s post on Feministe about what was running through Time photographer Jodi Bieber’s mind as she took […]

  37. Sarah J.
    Sarah J. August 5, 2010 at 7:02 pm |

    I don’t think I will ever understand why a reasonable request to avoid jumping to conclusions is met with such ire in feminist circles. And I say that as a liberal feminist.

    @ Sitara. You don’t know what Time’s editors were thinking. You are assuming they are thinking in a certain way because they are male and white (and since I don’t have Time’s masthead in front of me I don’t know if that’s accurate either). And when you launch into a rant about “the white male supremacist bastion,” you discredit yourself. It is entirely possible to have a discussion without restoring to hyperbole and I feel that we owe to the women of Afghanistan to do that. Now, does the US government/military really care about women? I think that, as a whole, they probably care about women less than they care about negotiating some sort of victory. That doesn’t apply to every politician or every soldier.

    And @Salix, if you’re going to make such a generalized claim you should probably supply more than one book.

    @Nanette: “The implication being that life under the Taliban robbed her of her youth and beauty” Um, how is this anything but a completely rational implication?

    The US government has obviously majorly fucked up in Afghanistan, and I’m not trying to argue anything to the contrary. But for fuck’s sake, can we at least make a token attempt to be logical about this?

  38. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan August 5, 2010 at 7:28 pm |

    I agree that it’s important not to forget what caused her condition, but I don’t believe calling it a disability minimizes the evils of the conflict that did this to her. Jigae

    I think if we are arguing that “disability” is not negative, then it seems odd to call the result of a malicious attack (which clearly is a negative thing) a “disability.” By calling the end result of human cruelty a name that is not supposed to have any kind of attached judgment, it kinda does sound like minimizing what happened to her.

    It sounds a little odd to me, in general, to refer to the wounds of an attack by the same term as you would refer to ADD, chronic pain, deafness, etc. which weren’t usually purposefully inflicted on a person. I’m thinking of another iconic photo, the black man with the horribly scarred back from when he was whipped — it was human cruelty, it had a lasting physical effect, but would you call the scarring “disability” at all?

    And on a different topic, about the focus on beauty thing… is anything besides her appearance “disabled”? I mean, I think that her looks are what were being targeted in the attack (that was the mechanism for trying to damage her emotionally) so does it make sense to not talk about the effect on her beauty (albeit it maybe not in such patronizing terms)? Were there effects on her besides the appearance thing and the emotional/psychological pain resulting from that change in her appearance? It seems like, if she and society totally didn’t give a shit about looks there would be no “disability” at all, right?

  39. Annaham
    Annaham August 5, 2010 at 7:32 pm |

    This is an excellent, excellent post, Wheelchair Dancer. Thank you for this.

  40. Aaminah
    Aaminah August 5, 2010 at 7:35 pm |

    really folks? we don’t think her ability to BREATHE might be effected and that might just be a disability?

  41. chava
    chava August 5, 2010 at 8:44 pm |

    errrr….

    @ bagelsan—

    Her resistance to ear and respiratory infections, her hearing, her ability to breathe (as Aaaminah pointed out), her tolerance to smell or sense of smell in general….have you ever known someone without the protective outer “shell” of the ear? It is a serious health issue, as is the lack of the cartilege of the nose… (I knew a friend’s uncle who had lost both in a fire when I was younger).

    What IS telling is that these problems are not pointed out in the articles.

  42. Nanette
    Nanette August 5, 2010 at 9:16 pm |

    Sarah J.: @Nanette: “The implication being that life under the Taliban robbed her of her youth and beauty” Um, how is this anything but a completely rational implication?

    Sarah, sure it is, as I mentioned in the next paragraph. My thought (which was complete in my head, but not all expressed) was more about women, especially fairly well-off Western women, and aging (or the refusal to age) and how, for many women in the U.S and around the world, 50 is not the new 30 – it’s still an aching, rough hands, greying hair, wrinkle faced 50.

    So, yeah, she probably did/does have a tough life under the Taliban, or the warlords or wherever she is, and hopefully she is not being abused (not all women in Afghanistan are). But how she looks currently, with her “stolen youth and beauty” is how many a middle-aged woman looks after having lived life, especially, I imagine, after living through decades of war and privation. Or subject to the buffeting of the winds and the elements without the protection of sunscreen and moisturizers.

    Anyway, she seems to have led a hard life and it shows – though, from reading the story again, it is not the Taliban (with their strict order and rules) that she blames for it. I can imagine that in the midst of almost constant chaos any sort of order is welcome, or at least almost, (sort of like what happened in Mogadishu, Somalia when an Islamic government took over and brought order out of chaos – though not all welcomed them and their strictness, but they did welcome a semi-functioning city again. The group who took over were pushed out though, by the West and um… Kenyan troops, I think it was. Anyway, things are back to normal there now, totally fubar.)

    So, anyway, the use of the before/after image, without context, says much to us and more to others, depending on preconceptions, agendas and all that stuff.

  43. Jigae
    Jigae August 5, 2010 at 10:47 pm |

    Aaminah: really folks? we don’t think her ability to BREATHE might be effected and that might just be a disability?  

    This. You took the words from my mouth.

    The nasal turbinates warm and moisten air and filter out allergins and pathogens. If having a major hit to your respiratory and immune systems doesn’t count some sort of disability, I don’t know what does.

    As Wheelchair Dancer says, the word mutilated is a very charged one. Her injuries could be construed as “mutilation due to atrocity” for political or activist purposes, but her lived experience might be a very different one.

  44. Jigae
    Jigae August 5, 2010 at 10:47 pm |

    The last part of the comment was direct towards Bagelsan. Sorry for any confusion.

  45. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan August 6, 2010 at 2:20 am |

    Ok, I understand the responses. I wasn’t thinking of sort of subtle stuff like increased allergen exposure (which was silly of me.) So I’m curious, is there any distinction between disability and any injury or illness that could have similar health effects? Is the line between the two the permanence of it — like, her injuries won’t clear up like a cold or scab over like a cut — or is there something else that people think distinguishes “injury/illness” from “disability”?* (Or do people not distinguish between those things?)

    *if this is 101 stuff, my bad. I’m a little more familiar with invisible disabilities than visible ones.

  46. chava
    chava August 6, 2010 at 8:11 am |

    “Even if there were no medical implications to Aisha’s physicality, how do we think about visible disability? ADA regulations protect people not just with impairments but also those who are regarded as such. Would Aisha be protected here, too?”

    I think she probably should be (assuming she was American and the ADA applied to her). If it were my face, regardless of the medical complication, I would damn well feel like it was a disability. And I don’t know how I feel about “mutiliated”–I think it carries that nasty implication of “ruined” WD mentioned above, but I also would want to convey that something was forcibly, violently taken from her.

    @ nanette. She’s 18, not 50 or “middle aged.” And why do we have to defend the Taliban? I mean, I agree that the actions of the warlords are not all linked to them, but they were pretty directly responsible for the current attitudes towards women in Afganistan (those attitudes being present, but stirred into fervor and country-wide).
    1960s in Kabul, for comparison in FP <a href="“>here.

    Final note: People seem to be focusing on her nose? He cut off her ears too, so there are more medical issues than just breathing.

  47. flip flopping joy » Blog Archive » disability on the face of gendered bodies

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  48. Becky
    Becky August 6, 2010 at 2:17 pm |

    There have been many good points made here about the very public display of a young woman’s suffering for the purpose of furthering a political goal. I also appreciate that Wheelchair Dancer’s intent was to analyze the representation of disability in the photograph – which is indeed problematic – and not to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

    However. In my list of priorities, discussing Aisha’s exploitation in a photograph falls below preventing and alleviating the horrific violence that put her there in the first place. And while many equally terrible things happen to women in the U.S., they are rarely a government-mandated, societally-endorsed punishment for a woman escaping abuse.

    With that in mind, is there anyone in the feministe community who feels qualified to write an article upon the Afghanistan feminist movement, and how we can best support their cause?

  49. Jim
    Jim August 6, 2010 at 4:25 pm |

    Others have mentioned the colonialism inherent in this idea of American saving Afghan women, and the hypocrisy in using them as a war propaganda device, but there’s one more aspect of this: the blatant chivalry underlying calls for American men (and it will overwhelmingly be men) to go and “free” Afghan women. These women don’t need foreigners, they need guns of their own – every one of them, an AK and 500 rounds.

  50. Shari’a and Women’s Rights in Afghanistan « The Revealer

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  51. Miss S
    Miss S August 6, 2010 at 4:33 pm |

    Karak: While it wouldn’t be acceptable to harm her in any way, an act that is designed to take a woman’s beauty (based on conventional norms) is different because a lot of weight is placed on looks. Beauty is social capital- which is problematic. I agree that articles/pictures like this further the notion of brown people as ‘other’ for some people. Violence against women isn’t restricted to just one part of the world. On the other hand, seeing a face and reading a story about one person has more impact than any statistic could. People relate to people more than numbers.

    BFP- thanks for your comment. You provided me with a very good perspective in which to think about this.

    I think it depends on what people mean when they say disability. I have read that some people don’t see disability as a bad thing, or only bad insofar as societal supports. But the impacts of violence against women are bad. If my boyfriend gives me a black eye and a broken nose, I wouldn’t want someone calling it a disability if it meant “not really a negative thing.” I think that’s what Banglesan meant, and that’s where my confusion over the word comes up. I remember asking Chally on another thread about using the word disability to refer to physical and mental disabilities. I do understand the health problems Aisha now suffers from is a disability –but to me those health complications seem negative.
    Wheelchair dancer- thanks for this post.

  52. Sitara
    Sitara August 7, 2010 at 1:33 am |

    sorry for contributing to the off-topicness, WCD :-) still processing all the implications…

    echoing bfp, i think there’s so much intertwining of these tropes… the disability/able-bodied savior trope, the native woman/white male savior trope.. and also the way it all gets played out on women’s bodies, the literal unveiling of women/ the land. fanon had some interesting/weird gender politics, but i think the following (from studies in a dying colonialism) is an interesting thing to unpack in this discussion:

    The colonial administration [defined] a precise political doctrine: “If we want to destroy the structure of Algerian society, its capacity for resistance, we must first of all conquer the women; we must go and find them behind the veil where they hide themselves and in the houses where the men keep them out of sight…”
    Converting the woman, winning her over to the foreign values, wrenching her free from her status, was at the same time achieving a real power over the man and attaining a practical, effective means of destructuring Algerian culture…
    “Every rejected veil disclosed to the eyes of the colonialists horizons until then forbidden, and revealed to them, piece by piece, the flesh of Algeria laid bare…Every new Algerian woman unveiled announced to the occupier an Algerian society whose systems of defense were in the process of dislocation, open and breached. Every veil that fell…was a negative expression of the fact that Algeria was beginning to deny herself and was accepting the rape of the colonizer.

    In Laura Bush’s radio November 11th radio address to the nation, she framed a civilizing mission worthy of 20th century colonial endeavors: “The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women” because: ” Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists… Life under the Taliban is so hard and repressive, even small displays of joy are outlawed… mothers face beatings for laughing out loud. Women cannot work outside the home, or even leave their homes by themselves…Civilized people throughout the world are speaking out in horror not only because our hearts break for the women and children in Afghanistan, but also because in Afghanistan we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us.”

    There are a lot of systems being fought out literally on the bodies of women of color with disabilities… I haven’t thought through this framework in such a nuanced way before, it’s really interesting to go back to passages like the Fanon one above and Bush’s speech back in the day and literally read *bodies* into this framework… still thinking it all through.

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