Nuclear Bombshell is a short film written by Future First fellow Sarah Vamvounis about the sexualized discourse surrounding nuclear weapons. In a spirit of solidarity and collaboration, women working in nuclear weapons or other related fields gave voice to it- literally!
Its production would have not been possible without creative directors Raeghn Draper and Calvin Ryerse or the 28 people who submitted audio recordings to be included in this project!
I’m a nuclear bombshell and I tease an incomprehensible body count. I exude a kind of maturity, a mystery, a fascination. The number of people I can blow, level, push onto their backs is unreal–you’ll think of the numbers not as human lives, but as my conquests. You’ll think only of the big, fatal, climactic BOOM. I constantly tease that climax–I’m worked from diplomatic hand to diplomatic hand, the end result of all this fondling is inevitably, irreparably, the moment where I get off, go off. (Powerful men claim that I won’t go off unless need be, unless they give their approval and permission, but when do those men ever expect or prioritize women getting off? When do men in positions of diplomatic power ever think that they can’t control women’s sexuality?) And I, phallically shaped, am the nucleus of their power fantasy.
I’m a nuclear bombshell and you wouldn’t believe the amount of energy and attention I get. Plenty of Americans go hungry, drown in their student debt and medical bills, but I’m funded with billions. Money is no object when it comes to me. It’s mind-blowing how men in the White House prioritize me, flirt with me, see my existence as a testament to their own (toxic) masculinity. I’m a woman (really an object, but linguistically attributed with sex and sexuality) waiting to go off. I’m around and arousing, threateningly lurking in the shadows until the moment Trump pushes my button, and somewhere else in the world I am coming to enact reckless, cataclysmic destruction. The terror I provoke is absolved by an assumed control (I have no mind of my own except for all those broken arrows).
I am an agent of male violence with no real personal agency. Men in national security can’t get enough of me, they all want their hands on me, they compete to claim the largest arsenal. I’m like a trophy wife to career politicians, or maybe I’m more of an illicit mistress. Sexual and thrilling, but you’d never take me home or want me genuinely near. While you daydream of getting your hands on me, you’d never feel comfortable with me at your kitchen table, in your backyard, or anywhere around your kids. Still, I get so much American money, and men love to moan about my attributes in explicit detail. The reality of American national security fails the Bechdel test–I’m consistently the only woman in the room, and I can’t even speak.
There is only one kind of approved language surrounding nuclear bombshells like me. In back government rooms, in bunkers, at conventions, I’m described in terms of “vertical erector launchers,” “soft lay-downs, “thrust-to-weight ratios” and “deep penetration.” This language defines me, makes me sexy. It is an exertion of masculinist domination that ridicules the person who brings up my human impact. The dominant discourse mocks any argument about people, the environment, and justice as “soft,” “unrealistic,” “unfit for the harsh reality of national security,” and “feminine.” The acceptance of the sexualized discourse relegates the human impact of nuclear bombshells to the periphery, unthinkable and unseen.
And honestly? I’m tired. I’m tired of sitting in silos with men paid to watch me, I’m tired of all the money thrown at me, I’m bored of the men who find me exciting to no end. Maybe it was initially thrilling, but now it feels empty, being programmed to achieve an end that (backwardly, illogically) my existence is meant to prevent. But still, I have been used before. The climactic BOOM is a horror I’ve seen first-hand, and I don’t want it. I’m a nuclear bombshell sick of being sexualized and abstracted to advance a flawed, masculinist narrative of “progress” and “security.”
If you’d like me to quit weaponizing my sex appeal, then you’ve got to stop making me so sexy. Promote diversity in national security, so that the people making the decisions aren’t all the same white men moaning over me. Because honestly, I’m considered a sexual object, but I’m really only an object. The object of my argument is not to humanize me. But when you look at me, when you talk about me, when you craft policy, you should be thinking about people. I’m a personified bomb, an object with no personality, no sexuality, and no feeling. The sad state of nuclear weapons discourse is that bombs are easier to humanize than the people they are deployed against. My existence and the threat of my use is a human issue. Don’t let the language fool you–I’m a nuclear bombshell and I’m decidedly unsexy.
Thank you to everyone who was involved in the production and creation of Nuclear Bombshell! Read more from Sarah Vamvounis, and her thank you letter in the first edition of our zine Silo: Rebel with a Cause.