- The Landscape of Silence: Sexual Violence against Men in War by Amalendu Misra
The Landscape of Silence theorizes an important and overlooked issue in the study of war and armed conflict: the perpetration of sexual violence against men and boys as part of the conduct of fighting. With this book, Amalendu Misra seeks to correct a historical wrong in the story of sexual violence in war, namely, the oversight of the extent to which men and boys have been and are victims. The key aim of this book is not only to demonstrate that this type of violence during armed conflict is more widespread than has conventionally been acknowledged but also to theorize how and why (certain) men’s bodies come to be valued as targets for this type of violence. Through seven substantive chapters, Misra considers the various meanings and consequences of the violence perpetrated against men and boys while also investigating the politics of silence surrounding its perpetration. Drawing largely on feminist, poststructural, and psychoanalytic theories of gender, bodies, and violence, this book situates this form of violence within a web of meanings regarding the body (chapter 1), violence as biopower (chapter 2), nationhood and nationality (chapter 3), the psychoanalytics of torture (chapter 4), law (chapter 5), memory (chapter 6), and, finally, the [End Page 496] politics of silences (chapter 7). In the end, he concludes that “sexual violence against boys and men in armed conflicts and war is a product of complex political, social and biological processes—ranging from skewed atavistic nationalism to predatory opportunistic responses by the transgressors” (222), but that “our understanding surrounding this phenomenon is governed by a disordered state of knowledge and response . . . primarily based on a constructivist theory of gender” (224).
Misra’s criticism of existing scholarship blames feminists for their egregious bias of seeing only women and girls as victims of this form of violence in war. Echoing others working in the area of sexual violence against men and boys, Misra sees feminists’ use of gender as an analytical tool to be defective, since the “conceptual barriers” within feminist theorizing on gender-based violence have resulted in the mistaken belief that unequal gender relations are always expressed through “the same biological targets” and that “violence against women and children is the paradigmatic expression of these unidirectional inequalities.”1 These criticisms are somewhat disingenuous and certainly misdirected. While it is true that there is less published on the topic of sexual violence against men and boys than on violence against women, many historical and analytical accounts of sexual violence in war have acknowledged sexual violence perpetrated against both sexes (and are cited by Misra throughout this book). Furthermore, as his own analysis demonstrates, attempts to understand the perpetration of sexual violence against women has provided the analytical tools for also thinking through the perpetration of this violence against men and boys.
Thus, for all his demonization of feminist theory/ists as “pursuing a gender-bias agenda” (16), Misra’s analysis largely hinges on feminist frameworks for understanding how forcing sexual acts on an individual amounts to a humiliation-feminization that is experienced simultaneously by the individual victim as well as his wider collective body politic. Drawing from Spike Peterson’s ground-breaking work in this area, Misra cites Laura Shepherd, who argues that “when an individual is forced into a passive position, that individual is feminised, and the feminisation of passivity reinforced” (34). In short, Misra’s analysis would be unable to account for the differential value associated with gender categories of “masculine” and “feminine” were it not for the pathbreaking work of the feminists he so maligns.
Despite this problematic mischaracterization of feminist work on the topic, by employing feminist concepts of gendered value, the most exciting aspect of this book is the conceptual framework offered by Misra for thinking through why men and boys might be considered valuable [End Page 497] targets for this form of violence in some war contexts. He argues that the social and cultural significance of...