Why Write About Gender if You are Going to Get Blasted for it: diplomacy lessons from Miss Universe?

by on 2013-11-16 in Duck- 3 Comments

This week Dan Drezner hosted a guest post on the politics of Miss Universe and I responded by pointing out the lack of/and the need for a gender analysis in his post. In his response, Drezner asks an important question: “Why on God’s green earth would I want to venture out from my professional comfort zone of American foreign policy and global political economy to blog about the politics of gender – just so I can be told by experts on gender politics that I’m doing it wrong?
I think we should discuss this. I assume there are many others in the field who feel the same way. Writing about anything political can evoke a shit-storm of responses- sometimes even more so when writing about issues we are less comfortable with and less confident about. Not to belabor the point, but I thought Drezner missed the gender politics- not that he got it wrong. But the question he raises deserves some attention. So why should non gender experts bother? Why deal with the possibility of offending, misrepresenting, omitting in a gender post- or when using gender in one’s larger body of work? Is it easier to just ignore gender? First, it is important to separate engaging with gender from writing sexist remarks about women. I think any post that writes about women in a sexist way doesn’t count as engaging with gender and certainly deserves the blasts it inevitably will get in the comments section. But feminists and gender scholars should think seriously about how best to engage those who make a genuine effort to think through gender- even when we think they didn’t do a great job.

On one hand, the point is that gender should not be seen a sub-set ‘expertise’ that one has or doesn’t have. If you are an expert on American foreign policy, you should already be confident in thinking through and writing about the gender aspects of foreign policy. On the other hand, that just isn’t the reality of IR and I don’t want my critiques to make someone feel like they should give up trying to engage. And I can empathize. I feel much less comfortable writing about race, LGBTQA and queer issues (amongst many others) and sometimes when I try I get blasted to the point that I wish I hadn’t bothered. That’s not useful is it? So how do we move forward?

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  • Halvard Leira

    As a Norwegian, I feel terribly misinterpreted by how Svalbard is represented as the DoM figurehead!!! Other than that, I can sort of empathise with DD on this, I have considered myself a political/economic feminist since I was old enough to understand the content of the concept, and I have taken on postcolonial insights as my gaze has widened. However, I do share the fear of never being “ist” enough. But I will accept the challenge – next year we will include one lecture on feminism in our IR course, delivered by yours truly,

  • Katie Dwyer

    These issues have an impact on every part of life and policy. It’s so important to address them and to be willing to open a discussion, even as non-experts. Thanks for the post!

  • AlexStark

    This is a really thoughtful and important post. But to be fair, Drezner has a point: sometimes we DO need to bring in ladies to talk about gender. It’s really important and useful when men talk about gender, sure, but there is something about the experience of gender that men will never be able to relate to, through no fault of their own but because that’s the way oppression works. And there is something so cringeworthy about men like Christopher Hitchens, for example, writing about how oppressive the veil is- “how do YOU know???” I always wanted to shout at him. This is probably the case for every minority and IR theory and writing- we need to see both mainstream (read: white male) figures talking about this issues, AND we need to have people from minority groups themselves talking about these issues (and by the way, we need more minorities of every group with access to major blogging fora, tenure track positions at universities, etc etc). So sure, Drezner could go much farther in mainstreaming a gender perspective into his work, or even having regular guest posts from women, rather than trotting in a lady every so often to talk about lady-things. But it’s not the worst beginning to a deeper conversation about gender either.