Have yourself a gender-neutral Christmas, let your toys be yellow. From now on our princess costumes and toy guns will be out of sight.... Well, you try to rhyme with this material. The Daily Mail asked yesterday "how to shop for gender neutral toys" noting the sea of blue and pink dividing stores like Toys R Us. But when Toys R Us introduced a gender-neutral toy catalog, in Sweden, France, Finland, Norway, Germany, Denmark and France- featuring Spider-Man pushing a pink pram and a young girl wielding a gun- conservatives bucked, calling the images brainwashing and 'male hatred.' Play Unlimited is a consumer action group that has been lobbying for more gender-neutral toys. Spokeswoman Thea Hughes argues that children need to be exposed to a diverse range of toys, noting "If a boy, for example, hasn't had experience carrying dolls around or pushing prams. We see fathers pushing prams around. Why is it OK for fathers to be involved in child rearing, but not OK for boys to play with dolls?" Some companies have capitalized on the debate- particularly with regard to the question 'what's good for girls'. Goldie Blocks, toys that are meant to inspire engineering skills within girls, has become an internet sensation (notwithstanding debate about it's own gender bias).
Well it is officially December- and you know what that means...all the hipsters and single dudes can finally shave off their Movember moustaches (those are the only men who participate, right?). Movember is a fundraiser for testicular cancer that has gained traction (in 2012 the campaign raised 29 million in Australia, where the idea originated) to the point where the moustache has become a symbol for cancer awareness.
But is Movember racist and sexist?
According to Arianne Shahvis at the New Statesmen, Movember is not all it is cracked up to be. She notes that the campaign's call for "real men" to grow "real moustaches" is "divisive, gender normative, racist and ineffective against some very real health issues." Read more on the debate here and here.
There has been a heated debate on whether Michelle Obama should be seen as a feminist. A recent Politico article called 'Leaning out: how Michelle Obama became a feminist nightmare' (pretty clear title) calls feminists to 'get over' the idea that the First Lady will, or has done much for women. Author Michelle Cottle says "enough already with the pining for a Michelle Obama who simply doesn’t exist" and laments her focus on children, dancing, and fitness rather than women's rights. Brittney Cooper at the Salon responded with 'Lay off Michelle Obama: Why white feminists need to lean back.' Here she argues "Black women have never been the model for mainstream American womanhood, and to act as though she takes something away from the (white) feminist movement is intellectually disingenuous and historically dishonest." She goes on to note the value in the First Lady's role as a mother and wife, and agrees with Kirsten West Savali's statement that, "In my feminism, we understand that raising intelligent, confident Black children in a loving family is one of the most revolutionary acts a Black woman can commit in America."
Finally, the University of Vermont is leading the way in efforts to allow students to choose their preferred gender prounoun. University forms allow students to choose from 'she', 'he' and 'ze' as well as the option to be referred to only by their name.
Two steps forward, two steps back. Just as three women completed training in the Marines for the first time- and as the US Military works to integrate women in to the combat arms, a top female US Colonel has lost her job because she asked for "average looking women" to be used in communications.
Col. Lynette Arnhart had been leading the effort to open more infantry roles for women in the army by January 1 2016. Politico first broke this story, noting that Arnhart had recommended avoiding using attractive women in communications because: “In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead.” She
dug herself deeper went on to say “There is a general tendency to select nice looking women when we select a photo to go with an article (where the article does not reference a specific person). It might behoove us to select more average looking women for our comms strategy. For example, the attached article shows a pretty woman, wearing make-up while on deployed duty. Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered hazardous duty),”
After numerous media reports on the gaffe, Col. Arnhart was removed from her post and replaced.
Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, weighed in on this....wait what?...ok she is also a National Guard soldier- declaring that the comments about attractiveness are "the unfortunate reality."
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?
Last week Dan Drezner asked What Does Miss Universe Tell us About World Politics in 2013? The post starts off on a positive note- that one can find politics anywhere- before it descends into one of the most classic examples of gender-avoidance/oblivion I've read in ages. Drezner swiftly calls on "the most qualified person on earth" to
outsource engaging on a lady topic write the remaining post. I felt like I was back at uni and my male professor had brought in a female body (any female body) to teach the week on gender. Sure she has a PhD and was Miss Earth- and she does have a unique perspective on pageants; however, since when do we need an insider to write about the politics of an issue (Drezner didn't rely on a Russian, for example, to substantiate his earlier comments about Putin and Russia).
- Do we still need ladies to comment on lady issues Drezner?
The post descends further into the gender abyss as Jessica Trisko Darden tells us that pageants are sort of like other international political events and that the organization itself is similar to familiar international organizations: "The decision-making process is opaque, often contested, and in many ways reflect the underlying power relations and interests of the dominant countries." Sure, I'm with you. Miss Universe is like the Olympics, or the Rugby World Cup- there is entertainment and politics happening at the same time. Got it. The post then mentions some slight problems with the organization, including institutional racism vis a vis excluding African delegates from a fashion show. And then, the post ends. That's it. Like my professors over a decade ago, Drezner doesn't come back in at the end of the lecture to engage with the content and he certainly doesn't address the
half-naked ladies elephant in the room: that pageants are different from other entertainment/political events in that they involve (largely men) judging the esthetics of one WOMAN who is meant to embody each country. Good lord, if you can't find and name the gender and race politics of Miss Universe where will you ever be able to find them? Skinny, straight, long-haired women parading in romantic, caricature costumes of their nation (you will never see Miss Canada wearing a replica uniform from the Indigenous residential schools- but you might see them in some phony universalized Native-American costume, for example)....and you don't think to write about gender and race? You missed the politics completely Drezner (and I'm holding you accountable, not your guest lecturer). Let's drop the useless comparison to other international organizations and talk about a few ways the pageant is political:
The Pop 5 is a new 'test' series of posts touching on events in pop culture and linking them back (briefly, hopefully, and sometimes loosely) to IR and politics. The posts are meant to be LIGHT, but also to take seriously the influence of popular culture on how we understand the world. It is, after all, one of the dominant lenses through which our students frame IR. I'm a self diagnosed pop culture addict with a list of shameful (and juicy) fixes (one of my most shameful pop culture habits will be revealed later in the post).
The focus today is on five recent pop culture events and what they might/might not tell us about the state of feminism.
Here's the list of some of the most popular/talked about pop culture recent events related to feminism (let's hope it was just a bad sample). More about each after the tab.
1. Melissa Harris Perry and bell hooks
2. Miley Cyrus
3. Miss Universe
4. Kaye West
5. Short hair/Bachelor Australia
Policies and practices set up to avoid discrimination in the past have a tendency to expire. Remember, 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' was originally set up to protect gay service-members within the US forces. Similarly, the often unofficial rule of having one woman on hiring committees has reached its expiry date. Primarily as a result of effective equality and diversity campaigns in the 1980s and early 1990s, many departments instituted either an explicit or informal policy to include 'at least' one woman on each hiring committee- usually after finding that most hiring committees included no women, and most hires were men. The result- in many cases- has been that there has been one woman on hiring committees in academia for nearly 3 decades. The problem is that while the number of female PhD graduates increases, and the number of female applicants increases, the lonely- token- woman on the hiring committee remains standard practice at many institutions. Sure, there is evidence that women can be just as sexist as men when it comes to hiring practices; however, there is also evidence that women offer a different perspective than men (particularly in terms of 'what constitutes-good/real- political science'). Changing the makeup of hiring committees could be an opportunity to change a hiring culture in academia in which men are not only more likely to be hired, but will also be paid more and promoted faster than their female counterparts.
Let's focus on tokenism. The one-woman policy constitutes tokenism for at least three reasons:
- The world is buzzing with news that Germany has introduced a 'third sex'- or, the option to leave a child's gender as indeterminate. This raises a slough of questions and long-overdue discussion.
- Speaking of gender, Californians are debating a new law in California (AB 1266) that would allow trans-gender students to choose their preferred gender pronoun and identity. Critics worry that it would result in a violation of privacy (most of the concerns seem to be about boys using female bathrooms).
- Obama is pushing Congress to pass a bill that would prevent employers from discriminating on the basis of gender identity (hello, is it 1970?? why hasn't such a bill been passed already?!)
- There has been quite a bit of discussion and sharing of the 'Switcheroo' Photo series by Hana Pesut (basically it is photos of couples that switch outfits- I don't really see it as a huge gender statement..maybe I don't get it).
- The World Economic Forum ranked the US 23 out of 126 countries in terms of gender equality- PBS has an interesting discussion of the fall from grace here.
The recent 'Maria' case- involving a young blonde girl taken from a Roma family and found to be the daughter of a Bulgarian Roma couple- has inspired greater scrutiny of Roma communities. More specifically, there have been subsequent cases of children taken from their Roma families because they did not 'look' Roma; however subsequent DNA tests confirmed the children to be the 'legitimate' biological children of their parents. A recent Spectator post calls the cases: a clash of "two great hysterias...racism and child-snatching, the Guardian’s obsession versus the Sun’s." These cases have inspired interesting debate about race and family and shed light on a 'new' kind of racial profiling. As Lindy West at Jezebel recently put it "The cultural complexities here are daunting. "We noticed your kid didn't look like you, so we took it" seems like it sets a bonkers precedent."
Despite targeting blonde children within Roma communities, and the recent Irish police 'blunder' involving the removal of a blonde child from its biological family, the Irish government has claimed that there is no racial profiling taking place in these communities. This process of removing children from their home and placing them in the care of the state, while forcing parents to undergo DNA tests, has been raised as an invasion of both the parents and the child's rights. Human rights groups are calling for an independent investigation of the cases.
Interpreting evidence related to poverty and development is never straightforward. Neo-liberal supporters of free market economics tend to point to economic growth as evidence that global inequality is stabilising, while those "closer to the ground" often point out the limitations of economic measurements and encourage a broader understanding of the everyday signs of exploitation and inequality in countries around the world- classic Development Studies 101. Evidence of this sustained divide between those who talk about poverty and those who seek to understand global economic inequality can seen by contrasting a recent NYT opinion piece by Jeffrey Sachs and an extensive research report on poverty. Sachs (primarily focused on the continent of Africa) declares that poverty is ending...soon; while a broader report published 24 hours later found that "economic growth is not helping Africa's poor." It seems almost unbelievable that such disparate accounts of "the developing world" can be printed within a 48 hour period. Poverty is ending, poverty is deepening, the market will save Africa, the market has destroyed Africa. With such contrasting messages it is no wonder that the general public (particularly students trying to understand 'development') can get confused.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) finds themselves in yet another sex scandal this week. The force has barely recovered from last year's 'skype scandal,' which involved members of a defense force academy videotaping sex without permission and streaming it to other members of the academy. This time it is alleged that officers have videotaped sex with other colleagues and civilian women and distributed the videos via the defence email system. It is a disappointing revelation considering the promises to rid the force of sexism following the scandal last year. If the allegations prove true, it seems that things are getting worse, not better, for women in the ADF. Yet there is a glimmer of hope. The Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General David Morison has come out with a public video statement that shows true courage and has already been hailed as a feminist manifesto.
It is time again for the International Studies Association Annual Conference. With thousands of attendees, a phone book full of panels, and a slough of receptions, dinners, meetings, and opportunities, the whole thing can be a bit overwhelming as a grad student (and for everyone else too!). You've likely received advice on how to present your work in 10 seconds or less- but what about the rest of the conference? Here are a couple of key tips for surviving the four days and getting the most out of the experience.
Before we get to the real essentials (food, shelter, and clothing), let's start with networking:
In addition to all the obvious tips (always wear your name tag, ask your supervisor to invite you along to some key dinners/meetings, hang out in the common areas and just generally act like you are speed dating, but for a job and contacts rather than for a mate) here are some more unconventional tips for making an impression:
- Do get up and head down to the lobby if you have jet lag and can't sleep at 4am. There is always the potential that you'll be invited to join a tequila tasting/debate on the norm diffusion/poker game, or that you'll see your academic idol passed out in the lobby- who wants to miss that for reruns of 'What Not To Wear' in the hotel room?
- Do Google image all of your academic idols. If you end up behind Ole Waever in the Starbucks lineup you don't want to miss the chance to (quickly) introduce yourself and tell him you use his work in your thesis. Also, if Ole comes to your panel, and you don't recognize him, and he asks a difficult question about securitization (hey, it is possible!) you don't want to a) accuse him he doesn't know what he's talking about b) go into detail about what an idiot you think Ole Waever is c) ask him if he's related to Kevin Bacon because there is something familiar about him. On that note, Don't (ever) use the coffee lineup, receptions, or the bar as an opportunity to ask someone like Ole to explain what they mean by social security or to tell them what aspects of their theory you think they got wrong. You may be right, and you may be brilliant, but there is a fine line between making an impression and burning a bridge/looking like a total douche.
- Don't follow the advice "ask a question at every panel, but start by talking about your research first." People who tell you to do this want you to fail. Yes, you should ask questions if and only if you have a strong, relevant question- let's be honest, that won't be at every panel. And, yes you should always introduce yourself first. But no one wants the Q&A time hijacked by someone pitching their own research- save that for the bar or receptions.
Ok, on to the other essentials:
"This is what winning looks like"
I have to confess, I was late to watch "Zero Dark Thirty" (ODT). I read a handful of reviews and blogs about the movie, had arguments with friends about its message, and even wrote it off completely--all weeks before I bothered to watch it. I wasn't interested in watching another American war movie, nor was I keen to see the lengthy torture scenes I had read about in the reviews. I figured I already knew exactly what the content was (are there every any real surprises in American war movies? and, didn't we all know how this story ended anyway?) and that there was really nothing left to say. BUT, I think there is something left to say about the film.
First, let's all be honest: most of us walked away from this movie saying to ourselves "did I miss something?" What about the film deserved all the Oscar hype, debate, and acclaim? By most standards, this was a classic, boring American war movie. In this case, the lack of plot and acting skills are made up with using violent torture scenes rather than expensive battle scenes. There is no emotional journey, no big moral dilemma that the characters are going through (I'll get to torture soon), little plot twist (again, we all know how it ends after all), and no unique or interesting characters (don't get me started on Jessica Chastain--what exactly about her stone-faced performance warrants an Oscar? perhaps she deserves an award for for 'most consistent blank expression'). So what gives? Is this just another "King's Speech"? Meaning, is this just another big movie that people talk about and get behind, but no one actually can put their finger on what was remotely interesting about it (never mind what was destructive about it)?
So I'm calling it. Not only was this movie soul-less, boring and poorly made, everyone seemed to miss the message (and it is easy enough to do). The real question about ODT is not whether or not it is condoning torture.