Reinforcing patriarchy

I could tell from the title that this story would bug me--"Viagra helps CIA win friends in Afghanistan." At least the article didn't waste any time getting on my nerves.

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.
I mean, it's not like Afghanistan's tribal leaders have a history of repressing women or treating them like property or anything. It's not like tossing some Viagra at a tribal elder would reinforce their notion of power as being linked inextricably to male sexual potency or anything like that, right?
Afghan tribal leaders often had four wives — the maximum number allowed by the Koran — and aging village patriarchs were easily sold on the utility of a pill that could "put them back in an authoritative position," the official said.
Oh.

I know that even under the best of circumstances, women in Afghanistan aren't going to get the same kinds of rights that women in the US or western Europe currently have any time soon. Humans don't just overturn societal biases overnight. Women in the US only received the right to vote less than 90 years ago, and anyone who would argue that sexism isn't still a problem here is a moron. Afghanistan has considerably farther to go. But we're not helping things by reinforcing the stereotypes.

Some people will no doubt tell me to look at the bigger picture--that if giving an old man a boner makes it easier for US troops to move around in an area, the net effect is so good as to outweigh the negatives. I agree that there are immediate benefits for the soldiers in the affected areas, but I wonder if this is a case of winning a battle while losing the war. How do we expect for attitudes toward women in this part of the world to change if we reinforce them? I know that's not high on the military's list of priorities in Afghanistan, but maybe it ought to be--after all, it's more effective in the long run to bring enemies around to your way of thinking than it is to try to kill them all.

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