WIMN’s Voices: A Group Blog on Women, Media, AND…

Frida Berrigan

Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center. A graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, Frida spent six months as an editorial intern at the Nation magazine before joining the World Policy Institute in early 1999.

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Frida Berrigan's Blog Introduction

Women, Media, AND... Arms & Conflict

When it comes to media coverage of arms and conflict, very little journalistic effort is made to connect U.S. military policy, economics and politics with the concerns of citizen, much less women.

Yet weapons export policy, military spending, U.S. involvement in far-away conflicts big (Iraq and Afghanistan) and small (Colombia and the Philippines), the relationships between military aid and humanitarian aid, the true aims of U.S. foreign policy-- are all profoundly relevant to women.

In news debates, the majority of on-air war pundits are retired generals mouthing the Pentagon line, according to Julie Hollar in the May/June 2005 issue of Extra!:

“Women with strongly expressed views are largely passed over for the pundit panels as well. While a number of hard-right men are regularly featured on these shows—George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Robert Novak, Fred Barnes, Bill Kristol—most of the women tapped are political correspondents who primarily provide analysis from a less openly opinionated viewpoint.”

Hollar points to the few women who generate news as part of the reason women are not commenting on news:

“Women made up only 37 percent of the staff at newspapers across the country (and only 34 percent of supervisors); women of color represented a paltry 6 percent. Since 1999, the first year studied, women have seen virtually no increase in their numbers, and their ranks have gotten only slightly more diverse, as women of color increased by 0.7 percent.”

The resulting discourse hovers in the realm of “what blew up where”?, while news analysis does not go much deeper than decoding the latest thought-poem from Donald Rumsfeld and the attention span does not last much longer than the photo-shopped diagrams and maps.

On television, there are very few mainstream women commentators on foreign policy issues in general, and military issues in particular. Newspapers often do a better job, with a solid cohort of women reporters on military issues—Business Correspondent Leslie Wayne of the New York Times and Renae Merle and Dana Priest at the Washington Post are just a few examples. But within the media at large there are very few attempts are made to explain or contextualize issues of arms and conflict.

Entries into this blog will try and tell a more complicated story, weaving together women’s experiences of arms and conflict in warzones around the world with an analysis of the impact those policies have on women in the United States. As I monitor media treatment of issues of arms and conflict, I will pay attention to how women are acting in response to those experiences and impacts, and how that action is covered (or not) by the media.

In particular, I will place an emphasis on women’s stories. Nicole Goodwin’s story is one that ties together the experience of U.S. women soldiers, Iraqi women, and the economic impact of war. A veteran of the war in Iraq, Goodwin returned home with a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder, but her disability benefits were stalled. She soon found herself walking the streets of New York with a backpack full of her belongings and her 1-year-old daughter held close.

"When I first got back I just wanted to jump into a job and forget about Iraq, but the culture shock from the military to the civilian world hit me," she says. "I was depressed for months. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. The worst thing wasn't the war, it was coming back, because nobody understood why I was the way I was,” Goodwin told The New York Times ("War Veteran's Homecoming Is Spent in Homeless Shelters," April 24, 2004.)

For many in the United States, these problems—both of Iraqi women and U.S. servicewomen deployed there—seem remote, in large part because we have heard barely a peep from these women in corporate media coverage of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But we do not have to go too far from home to see the impact of war on women. War is costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, and those billions are being paid by those who can least afford it—the poorest and most vulnerable. In the U.S. budget for next year, there are big increases for war and weapons manufacturers and cuts everywhere else, mostly from programs aimed at alleviating hunger, homelessness, unemployment and poverty. [See “Social Costs:War Spending Impact on U.S. Budget and Social Programs,” a study by the Institute for Policy Studies and Foreign Policy In Focus for specific figures.]

The Bush Administration requested $419.3 billion for the Department of Defense in Fiscal Year 2006, which begins on October 1, 2005. This is a $19 billion increase from 2005 and does not include funding for the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy, which is considered part of total Defense Department spending. Nor does this figure include the costs of ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The costs of those military operations are paid in emergency supplementals that receive very little scrutiny in congress. So far, these have added up to more than $200 billion, with another $80 billion so far this year. Along with the almost $420 billion that will be spent on the military, total military spending is expected to reach well over $500 billion in 2006.

That means that every day the United States spends about $1.3 billion on the military, or $15,000 a second. Just to compare, less than half that (or $6,000) is spent per year per child on public education.

While money is slathered on for war, we see shortages everywhere else. Thousands of social programs are being cut and those cuts disproportionately impact women, because they are disproportionately poor.

In 2004 poverty rates grew for the fourth straight year and women were once again much more likely to be poor than men. According to analysis by the National Women’s Law Center, in 2004 poverty among adult women reached almost 13%, which is 37% higher than men’s 9.3 % poverty rate.

Ninety percent of adult welfare recipients are women, and payments are not adequate to help women escape poverty and take care of their families, as Wendy Pollack documents in “An Introduction to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program,” , a National Center on Poverty Law report, in a section entitled: The TANF Population

By way of contrast, weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin each years receives more than $20 billion in contracts, more than what is spent on the largest federal welfare program-- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—which provides income support to millions women and children living below the poverty line. [See same article, section entitled “TANF Funding” ]

My blog is a great opportunity to engage in dialogue about the ways in which media are covering some of the most pressing and disregarded issues that face us as women, as taxpayers, as citizens (and not just in the narrow born-here or legal resident definition of citizenship) of the United States, and as human beings concerned about the future of the planet. I hope you’ll chime in by emailing me at Frida.Berrigan@gmail.com and suggesting stories about arms/conflict issues.

Frida Berrigan's Biography

Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center. A graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, Frida spent six months as an editorial intern at the Nation magazine before joining the World Policy Institute in early 1999.

Her primary research areas with the project include nuclear weapons policy, war profiteering and corporate crimes, weapons sales to areas of conflict and military training programs. She is the author of a number of Institute reports, most recently Weapons at War 2005: Promoting Freedom or Fueling Conflict.

Frida Berrigan’s primary responsibilities with the project currently involve coordinating our outreach to the media, government policy makers, and non-governmental organizations. Toward that end, she serves as the editor of the project’s highly regarded e-mail newsletter, ATRC Update, which goes out roughly twice a month to hundreds of key activists, journalists, and policymakers, many of whom pass it on to their own extensive lists.

She is also responsible for organizing and updating the project’s media lists and cultivating new media contacts. In addition, she serves as a principal spokesperson for the project in the media and in various public forums, supplementing the work of Project Director William D. Hartung on these fronts.

Since joining the project, she has published articles in the Nation, Newsday, the Hartford Courant, the Duluth News-Tribune, the Baltimore Sun and Peaceworks. She is a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus, a contributing editor at In These Times, and serves on the board of the War Resisters League.

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