When The Callous Soldier Is FemaleS

Many have been unable to resist comparing Eden Abergil, who posted on Facebook photos of herself as a soldier posing casually with blindfolded Palestinians, to Lynndie England. One difference among many: the role her gender has played in the debate.

Abergil, who completed her compulsory service a year ago — making her about 21 — is from working-class Ashdod. Her photo album was called "IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] – the best time of my life," and under one photo of her with blindfolded Palestinian men (said to be Gazans caught crossing illegally), her friend wrote, "You're the sexiest like that." She responded, "I wonder if he's got Facebook!...I have to tag him in the picture!"

Now, among many other things that are wrong here, this is obviously a grotesque application of the common habit of girls posting photos of themselves on Facebook seeking, and usually getting, affirmation that they are sexy. An Israeli military spokesman's take:

"These are disgraceful photos. Aside from matters of information security, we are talking about a serious violation of our morals and our ethical code and should this soldier be serving in active duty today, I would imagine that no doubt she would be court-martialed immediately," he told Associated Press Television News.

Abergil has defended herself, saying she still doesn't understand what's wrong with the photos. Meanwhile, an Israeli human rights group, Breaking The Silence, has countered that the photos are part of a "widespread phenomenon" of Israeli soldiers posting similar photos of themselves on Facebook, and have already compiled a few.

One thing that has not happened: so far as I can tell, apart from brilliant commenters on American websites who have debated Abergil's relative attractiveness and made comments about the size of her thighs, Abergil has not become the symbol of a fallen woman, a brazen slut, or a cold and heartless example of what happens when women take up guns. Yes, her images have probably drawn more attention because of her gender. Seeing a woman in army fatigues behave in an allegedly unfeminine and possibly cruel way shocks more people than if it were a man.

But contrast this to Lynndie England. There are major, not-to-be-glossed over differences between the photos, most pertinently that no torture is depicted in Abergil's photos. Nor is there is any specifically sexualized abuse visible. But given that their behaviors have been paired, it's interesting to recall that England became the outsized, gendered image of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Academics have had plenty of fertile material on this front, with one paper of many noting that "England became the story as the Abu Ghraib scandal was given perspective via a mythic narrative of a young woman morally adrift from her military and feminine moorings." She was a "ruined woman." She was a "fallen woman." She was an illicitly pregnant Western woman asserting sadomasochistic domination over humiliated Muslim men.

It's not that Israel (where, should it need to be noted again, I was born and where most of my family still lives) is some sort of perfect beacon of gender parity. But universal female conscription has its advantages, even despite militaristic machismo, and one of them is a relative indifference to images of female aggression or power. There's nothing to cheer here, but there's something to be said about a stupid, callous kid being called out as a stupid, callous kid, possibly the product of a society locked in a dehumanizing war — and as not a stupid whore, slut, or bitch.

I Don't See Anything Wrong With Facebook Images Of Palestinian Detainees [Haaretz]
'Facebook Photos Of Soldiers Posing With Bound Palestinians Are The Norm' [Haaretz]
Related: The Enigmatic Lynndie England: Gendered Explanations for the Crisis at Abu Ghraib [Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies]
The Fallen Woman Archetype: Media Representations Of Lynndie England, Gender, And The (Ab)uses Of U.S. Female Soldiers. [Women's Studies in Communication]
The Woman in Peril and the Ruined Woman: Representations of Female Gender Identity in the Iraq War [Journal Of Women, Politucs And Policy]