Widgets Magazine

Disney probes women and war

The Daily incorrectly reported that Abigail Disney’s documentary focuses on women in Cambodia. In fact, Disney’s documentary focuses on women in Colombia.

Abigail Disney, an award-winning documentarian and Stanford alumna, spoke on Wednesday evening in the Cemex Auditorium on her documentary work illuminating the role of women in conflict and peace.

Her mini-series titled “Women, War and Peace,” which premiered on PBC this week, explores women’s roles in conflict situations, specifically in Colombia, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Liberia.

Abigail Disney discussed her mini-series, “Women, War and Peace.” The series portrays the roles of women in Cambodia, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Liberia, all regions of conflict. (SEAN MORRIS/The Stanford Daily)

When making her previous documentary on women’s work to end civil war in Liberia, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Disney soon realized the lack of footage on women’s roles in conflict.

“We had hours and hours of people shooting at each other  .  .  .  yet no footage of the women fighting for peace,” Disney said. “The disparity struck us.”

Disney attributed this void to society’s eradication of women from the landscape of war.

“Women are wives, women are prostitutes and women are victims,” she said. “However, there is a mental roadblock in acknowledging women’s active role in war and resolution of war.”

Disney argued that this barrier arises from the media, which shapes our values of what matters and who matters in war. She said that Hollywood uses enormous amounts of ingenuity and money to create vivid, lifelike images of what combat looks like, with one exception: “It’s scripted,” she said. “It’s fiction.”

The propagation of Hollywood’s narrative on war is evident in the amount of Rambo paraphernalia Disney witnesses across the world.

“Rambo is the Mickey Mouse of war  —  you see him everywhere across the world,” Disney said. “But if the glow of Rambo and all his sweaty muscularity fell away, what would we be left with?”

Disney commented on the capability of a gun to attract or captivate society to the extent that war correspondents today seldom have women in their footage. Indeed, in her work, the majority of women’s protests footage came from private, individual sources.

Thus, her mini-series seeks to make women more visible. Disney said she works toward this goal by putting the camera in the hands of a woman. By showing a women’s perspective, the framework, assumptions and visibility of combat changed, she said.

Though the series features strong, peace-making women, it was not an attempt to elevate women as the sole discretionary power of making peace. Instead, it was a look on the gender difference in living and telling war, according to Disney.

This focus on exploring gender why the Clayman Institute for Gender Research supported the talk, according to Lori Mackenzie, associate director of the institute. This talk was intended to build awareness of the second front of war: the women’s story.

“We want to move beyond the stall where nothing moves beyond where it is for women,” Mackenzi said. “We want to gain some momentum for women.”

When women themselves recognize their visibility, they behave differently, Disney said. They become engaged, she added.

Disney concluded her talk with some thoughts for society as a whole.

“We need to understand that peace is a verb  —  something you do, something you make,” she said. “I will declare victory when the word ‘peacebuilding’ won’t be underlined in red on Microsoft Word; it is a real word and a real thing.”

The talk was part of Stanford’s Ethics and War Series and was also sponsored by the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and the Social Entrepreneurship Program.

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