Depictionof Women Empowerment in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”
Directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra and starring Tina Fey,Martin Freeman (as Iain MacKelpie), Margot Robbie (as TanyaVanderpoel), and Christopher Abbott (as Fahim Ahmadzai), “WhiskeyTango Foxtrot” is a war comedy film. The film is an adaptation of“The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”by Kim Barker and follows the life of Kim Baker (cast by Tina Frey),a middle-aged journalist who has grown tired of hackneyedassignments. To avoid her banal life, she agrees to take a project asa war correspondent in Afghanistan. The film depicts the prevailingchauvinism and misogyny in the region by highlighting theuniversality of its treatment and acceptance. Although dealing withsubtle issues of war, the film provides an illuminative and funnystory of female empowerment in a chauvinistic society. thus, it issignificant to analyze the different scenarios of the film tounderstand how it portrays female empowerment.
Although the tone of the film is indistinct and its intents difficultto determine it includes an intriguing setup about the empowerment ofKim Baker. The film provides a profound and a well-intentionedfeminist message by illustrating Kim’s decisions and life. Kimdisplays drive and agency as makes an unanticipated professiondecision and puts herself in a situation not conventionally seen aswelcoming to women. By agreeing to take the assignment as a warcorrespondent, she establishes a constructive example of womenempowering women in her competitive yet helpful relationship withTanya Vanderpoel, a young female correspondent. Dyvik asserts thatscholars and feminists have argued that gender is fundamental tocomprehending the aspects of war thus, any war requires thecreations of masculinity and femininity (411). Dyvik further assertsthat the grouping of the civilian in wars is feminine since thecustomarily significant term ‘women and children’ helps toindicate those who do not partake in the war (414). This means thatchildren and women are given the noncombatant status linked tomaterial susceptibility and material innocence. Although Kim does notfight in the war per se, she extensively engages in the war byreporting on the war alongside combat-toughened marines. Althoughwomen’s involvement in the war has increased in the recent past, itis still minimal hence, women who choose to get involved help otherwomen to desire such an engagement (Barry 21 Elshtain 15). Thismeans that a woman’s engagement in a work will empower or motivateanother woman to undertake such an engagement. The film’ssignificant details deal with Kim’s personal development since forKim, the war in Afghanistan is mainly a background to her careerdevelopment, self-discovery, and pursuit for excitement. In fact, sheeasily manages to extricate herself from the realities of the war andadvances her career by capturing the most exciting stories of thewar. Kim’s engagement in the war shows her empowerment as sheeasily reports on the war despite the harsh actuality of hersituation or the numerous butcheries of harmless bystanders shewitnesses.
The film brings the empowerment of women to the forefront byillustrating the journey of Kim Baker from a naive reporter, swappingdomestic reportage about dull stories for “stupid pretty people toread” to an empowered woman. Barry asserts that empowering women topartake abundantly in economic, social, and political life across allsectors is fundamental to build stronger societies, advance qualityof life, and accomplish globally agreed objectives for sustainabilityand development (21). Kim’s initial ignorance is apparent when asergeant yells at her, “Even the Dutch Army does not wear orange incombat.” In return, she responds, “The girl in the North Facestore said it was, like military grade,” (Ficarra and Requa,Whiskey Tango Foxtrot). As the conflict in Afghanistandeepens, Kim’s character and career confidence grow in experience.Her encounter with other women, for example with Tanya Vanderpoel whofamiliarizes her to Western journalists and the rock ‘n’ rolllifestyle illustrates the genuine sentimentality to her progress.Hickel opines that women empowerment includes inhibiting genderinequality, strengthening the status of women, and boosting women’sparticipation in the labor force (1361). Kim’s involvement inreporting the details of the war helps to promote the participationof women. Although she encounters inexperience challenges at firstand dating problems, she adapts to the dress code and climate of theregion easily. The first time she gets to Kabul, she is an ordinaryjournalist of news copy, undertaking the assignment to shake up herdull life. She has trouble learning and gets everything wrong, butsoon she finds her way and become a strong woman and reporter. TheTaliban rule has stiffened the strictures of the Islamic culture, butKim overlooks such matters and reports extensively. This shows thatgiven the right environment or when allowed to partake in importantaspects of life, women can succeed easily.
Perhaps, women empowerment is more than giving women a chance orallowing them to participate in social, economic, and politicalaspects without pitting them against men. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”manages to represent empowerment through the lens of an unmarriedwoman. Kim is a perfect illustration of the work females areenlightened to do when they are not partnered or married. She desertsa noncommittal boyfriend to volunteer to work in a war-tornAfghanistan. By doing so, she reveals that men are not the soleanswer to life’s challenges. This shows that man does not alwayscontribute to a woman’s self-development. In her relationships inKabul, she exhibits frankness and agency, although she takes somenaïve slipups. Although she engages in an unavoidable romance withthe lascivious Iain MacKelpie, her real lover although sensitive,impossible, seductive, and complicated is the war. The conflictenlivens and fulfills her and her career. However, the film presentsthe empowerment of women as something that can be only attainedthrough feminism, which is overly wrong. By depicting Kim asfunctioning well without the demands of a husband or a family, thefilm fails to portray empowerment positively. For example, Kim’sassigner jokes about her 40-year-single-female status and the reasonbehind her assignment to Afghanistan by telling her she is one of thefew “unmarried, childless people in this bureau.” Despite theseinsinuations, the film brings women empowerment into the forefront,but in a humorous manner. For example, although Tanya Vanderpoel usesa pretentious French intonation to elevate her background as‘domestic reportage’ she is so much like Kim. This shows that sheis willing to compete with Kim and empower herself in the process.
While the film is an illuminating story of women empowerment, itfails to address feminist issues comprehensively. Its construal offeminism is Western-centric and narrow, setting the freethinkingWestern female against obstructive Islamic standards and therebystrengthening hackneyed American perception of Islam and Afghanistan.Dyvik says that people continue to perceive feminism in Afghan aspitting western enlightenment against the Islamic and conventionalvalues (419). The same thing is evident in the film especially withthe way the film treats Afghan women’s self-discovery anddevelopment. Rather than examining the core issues of Afghan women inany impressive detail, the film approaches the issues in less detail.For example, in one instance, Kim is drawn aside by a group offemales in burqas who expose their faces to her behind locked doors,but unfortunately, the film does not focus on the scene in detail.The women want to change their lives by refusing to conform to theconventional standards, but they are afraid to do so freely. Thismeans that although the film attempts to portray women empowerment asthe defining theme, it fails to strike a balance between Western andAfghan feminism. Foster says that although the definition of women interms of their gender has diminished a little, a great disconnectionexists between Western perspective and Asian or African perspective(31). Thus, it is sad that the film only focuses on women empowermentfrom the western perspective. In cases where the film tries toillustrate feminism or women empowerment among Afghan women, it failsto provide comprehensive detail or provide lukewarm results. Hickelsays that giving women a chance to engage in significant mattersirrespective of who promotes the participation or the women given thechance promotes development and cohesion (1362).
Before undertaking the assignment, Kim is a lowly writer, bored ofher job but when given the chance to undertake a worthwhileassignment, she develops dynamically and becomes a strong character.For example, on her first day in Afghanistan the inexperienced Kimfalls victim to a rip-off, but towards the end of the assignment sheis an adrenaline-pursuing, toughened correspondent. This shows thatif the Afghan women are given such sort of chance, they will greatlychange their lives and help in the economic development of theircountry. In one scene Afghan men say about Kim, “She would make ahandsome boy,” which shows that the society thinks of the job Kimis doing as reserved for men. Furthermore, the film fails to portraywomen empowerment positively, when Kim exclaims when she dons a burqafor the first time, “It is so pretty I don’t even want to vote!”(Ficarra and Requa, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot). At one time, whenKim crosses the street without the burqa, a woman screams at her,“Cover your head, you shameless whore!” This shows that the filmpresents women empowerment from the Western perspective or in therealms of economic aspects, but fails to consider culture aspects aspart of feminism. Hickel suggests that culture has been the mostprohibitive element of feminism thus, to define women empowermentcomprehensively, culture should change (1361). Furthermore, Bakerfaces sexism as an empowered woman, for example, General Hollanek,her military escort, tells her, “While you’re outside the wirewith my men, you will in no way distract them… You’re not here tosleep with or perform jobs of any type on my Marines,” This showsthat although women are willing to empower themselves in the film,the society still sees them through the lens of bigotry. However,this does not mean that the film does not focus on empowerment ofwomen within the realms of Afghan society. The film’s shortcomingin portraying empowerment of Afghan women is by failing toextensively focus on scenes where Afghan women are trying to changetheir lives, for example, the burqas clad women revealing theirfaces.
Although in some instances, the film shallow evaluation of womenempowerment, it extensively and humorously highlights thedifficulties women encounter in being defined by their gender.Furthermore, the film celebrates the wonderful females who charted apath for others. For example, Kim leaves her noncommittal boyfriend,explore her identity, and reinvent herself, which helps to empowerother women. Through her, the film shows that a woman does notnecessarily need a man to forge her career or path. The film depictsthe predominant chauvinism and sexism in the region by highlightingthe widespread tolerance and acceptance. Despite the existing sexismdirected towards women, some of them manage to empower themselves andin the process becomes hardened.
Barry, Ben."Women in Combat." Survival 55.2 (2013):19-30. Print.
Dyvik, Synne Laastad. "Women as ‘Practitioners’ and‘Targets’ Gender and Counterinsurgency inAfghanistan." International Feminist Journal ofPolitics 16.3 (2014): 410-429. Print.
Elshtain, Jean Bethke. “Feminism and War.” ProgressiveMilitary & Government Collection. 55.9 (1991): 14-16. Web.30 July 2016.
Foster, Chloe. "Publishing the Patriarchy: Reviewers in theWhite, Western Tradition Still Exclude and Trivialize WomenWriters." Off Our Backs 37.1 (2007): 30-34.Web. 30 July 2016.
Hickel, Jason. "The ‘Girl Effect’: Liberalism, Empowermentand The Contradictions of Development." Third WorldQuarterly 35.8 (2014): 1355-1373. Print.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Dir. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.Perf. Tina Fey, Martin Freeman, Margot Robbie, and Christopher Abbot.Paramount Pictures. 2016. Film.