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The Bosnia List by Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro
In The Bosnia List by Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro, readers experience a first-hand account of a war that seems so brutal and unjust it's incomprehensible. In fact, much of the book is spent with Kenen twenty years later as he, and the readers, try to understand events that took place not very long ago in a country that seems at once completely different than the United States and eerily similar. A young Kenen enjoyed karate, sledding, and Nutella just like many Americans. Even more troubling are the parallels between Bosnian culture and our own, more specifically, how sexist and male dominated both cultures are. Kenen doesn't mention any female friends, he talks about playing with the “neighborhood boys” as a child, this points to a gender division much alike the one I've noticed in the US where friend groups are also often split along gender lines. As an adult, Kenan visits and writes about many women, but all the “decent” adult Balkan women he visits or writes about fall into stereotypical gender roles. They all cook, keep the home tidy, take care of the children and have a strong husband looking after them. On average, US women still do more housework than men do, nearly an hour more each day, and care for children more as well(‘”Time Spent in Primary Activities”’2016). Moreover, Kenan repeatedly mentions learning to treat women differently and being taught this is respectful. Similarly, in the United States, there are many sexist behaviors viewed as polite but only compulsory for males when interacting with females, for example; holding the door, giving someone who's cold your coat and the “boys shouldn't hit girls” rule. The taboo our culture has against hurting women is responsible for women having been banned from the US military until after World War II, women only making up 14.5% of our army in 2011 (CNN staff, "By the Numbers: Women in the U.S. Military."), girls not being allowed to play football in some schools and countless other effects. Bosnia had a similar taboo, seeing as before meeting Daca, Kenan hadn't seen a female military member despite being in the middle of a war zone. Paradoxically, this taboo didn’t protect women during the war, in fact, sexism made the war more brutal towards women. Kenen explains that rape camps were set up “to humiliate Bosnian men and weaken their family ties. The patrilineal rules of our society meant children inherited their fathers’ ancestry. So this was also part of the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing campaign.” (Trebincevic and Shapiro 152). In the war women were used as a tool to hurt men and replace the Bosniaks, the Serbs treated women as possessions of male Bosniaks to be captured and used. They were treated that way by Serbs because that was how culture had been treating them all along.
I would also argue sexism was a major cause of the war. When a society overpowers men, it also overpowers that culture's idea of masculinity, which is usually defined by aggression. In the United States, one of our biggest sports is football, a full body contact sport known for causing brain damage. The American Psychological Association found 85% percent or more of video games contain violence (Scutti,"Do Video Games Lead to Violence?") and an unrelated group of researchers found 90% of the most popular movies over twenty-five years featured at least one violent main character (Reuters, "Violence in Movies Prevalent”). Football is a traditionally male sport, video games are often sexist (Dill and Thill, "Video Game Characters”) and have an anti-feminist culture (Schoemann,"Hate from Sexist Gamer Bros”), and half of the movies nominated for best picture this year didn't manage to have two female characters speak about something other than a male, beyond that, there are many less female Hollywood directors producers and writers than male (O'Hare, “Oscars 2017”). In short, the most violent aspects of our culture tend to be sexist because sexism tends to overpower and glorify violence. Sexism likely affected Bosnia’s culture the same way and encouraged many young Serbian men to support the war and become part of its violent cause. As Kenen watches his brother spar on an Austrian karate team he observes thinking “it was less aggressive and prissier than our teams at Partizan. But maybe that was why the men in this country weren't killing each other”(Trebincevic and Shapiro 216). Additionally, sexism tends to define being polite and kind as something you do only for females, leading to a culture that values kindness less. Both Bosnia and the US should switch “boys shouldn't hit girls” for “people shouldn't hit people”, or even better, “people should respect people” and make our cultures and countries a lot less violent. Maybe we’ll stop the next war, gun crime or terrorist group before it even starts.
CNN Staff. "By the Numbers: Women in the U.S. Military." CNN. Cable News Network, 24 Jan. 2013. Web.
Dill, Karen E., and Kathryn P. Thill. "Video Game Characters and the Socialization of Gender Roles: Young People’s Perceptions Mirror Sexist Media Depictions." Researchgate. Springer Science + Business Media, 17 Oct. 2007. Web.
O'Hare, James. "Oscars 2017: Half of the Best Picture Nominees Fail This Test for Gender Equality." Global Citizen. CHIME FOR CHANGE, 24 Feb. 2017. Web.
Reuters. "Violence in Movies Prevalent Whether Its PG-13, R Film: Study." CBS News. CBS Interactive, 09 Dec. 2013. Web.
Schoemann, Sarah. "Hate from Sexist Gamer Bros Can't Stop the Work of Feminist Gamers." B**** Media. N.p., 5 Sept. 2014. Web.
Scutti, Susan. "Do Video Games Lead to Violence?" CNN. Cable News Network, 26 July 2016. Web.
"Table 1. Time Spent in Primary Activities and Percent of the Civilian Population Engaging in Each Activity, Averages per Day by Sex, 2016 Annual Averages." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d. Web.
Trebincevic, Kenan, and Susan Shapiro. The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return. N.p.: Penguin, 2014. Print.