Despite numerous calls to ‘Let Women Fight’, internal reviews of the policy, and growing evidence of women’s contributions to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the January 2013 announcement that the combat exclusion would be removed was not entirely expected. For years leading up to the announcement, Congress and the Department of Defense had justified the exclusion as essential to national security. Moreover, less than 12 months before the decision to remove the exclusion, then–Pentagon press secretary George Little announced that although 14,000 new combat related jobs would be opened to women, infantry and direct combat roles would remain off limits.
- So what did the 'policy change' mean and why was it initiated?
Rather than speculate on the rationale and motivations behind the policy about-face, it is more important to understand that by the time it was announced that the combat exclusion would be removed, it no longer existed.
In fact, the announcement to 'let women fight' should be seen as a PR stunt rather than a policy change. Here's why...
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 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.
As the military grapples with how to implement the reversal of the decades old ban on women in “combat” specialties, one of the data points that many people are using (especially in and around the Marine Corps) is the performance of the only two female Lieutenants to have attempted to complete the Infantry Officer’s Course at Quantico.
The first dropped out on one of the first days of training during the grueling Combat Endurance Test; so did 26 of her male classmates. The other female Lieutenant made it about one-third of the way through the course before being sidelined by a debilitating stress fracture in her leg. Neither is any indication that women are any less suitable than men for service in the infantry.
What is the basis for that bold statement, you ask?
This is a guest post by Dorit Geva. Geva is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Central European University, and has written a book on conscription politics in France and the United States. Megan H. Mackenzie wrote an earlier post on this topic.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement that some 230,000 combat jobs might open for American servicewomen in the armed forces is a watershed moment for the American military. But the consequences will resonate beyond his announcement’s effects on professional soldiers. Since the 1980s, the legal reasoning barring women from registering with the draft has been that women do not serve in combat positions. Panetta’s surprise announcement will not only transform the career opportunities of women in uniform, but could affect every woman living on American soil.
Today it was announced that the combat ban for women will be fully removed within the US military. This reverses a long-standing policy that restricts women from serving below the brigade level in positions specified as front-line, ground combat. Given that the policy had been recently reviewed, the change may come as a surprise to some, however there are three main reasons why this policy had to be changed right now.
First, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has long been a supporter of gender integration within the forces and has publicly acknowledged the exclusion as contradicting operational practice and untenable. Panetta plans to step down from his post after only 18 months in the job, making the removal of the combat exclusion his legacy.
Second, the Department of Defense is facing a lawsuit from several female soldiers and backed by the ACLU. The suit has raised significant publicity surrounding the issue of women in combat and the DoD would have had a difficult time defending claims that the policy is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Third, growing evidence of women's contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including in ground combat, have become impossible to ignore. It is widely acknowledged that there are no 'front' lines in insurgency warfare. Moreover, women have contributed to offensive missions in recent wars, died in hostile fire, contributed in all-female teams during insurgency missions, and even been awarded for their valor in combat. The contradictions associated with having a combat exclusion in a military that provides combat pay for some women and honors their contributions to combat have just become to extreme.
The International Feminist Journal of Politics announces its 2nd Annual IFjP Conference, May 17-19, 2013, University of Sussex, Brighton, England: (Im)possibly Queer International Feminisms
General Keynote: Lisa Duggan, American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, NYU
Conference Theme Keynotes: Jon Binnie, Geography, Manchester Metropolitan University, Vivienne Jabri, War Studies, Kings College London; V Spike Peterson, International Relations/Gender Studies, University of Arizona; Rahul Rao, Politics and International Studies, SOAS
Other confirmed speakers: Rosalind Galt, Film Studies, University of Sussex; Akshay Khanna, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex; Louiza Odysseos, International Relations, University of Sussex; Laura Sjoberg, Political Science, University of Florida
The aim of this conference is to serve as a forum for developing and discussing papers that IFjP hopes to publish. These can be on the conference theme or on any other feminist IR-related questions.
Apply by January 31!
Call for papers
The world has payed attention to the gang-rape of a young woman (her name has not been made widely public) in Delhi and her struggle to survive over the last few weeks. The reports of the brutal incident on December 16th broke through the national news of India and set waves of reports through the rest of the world. The sheer violence, randomness, and horror of it seemed to fixate the globe.
Now, as we learn that this woman's struggle to survive after multiple surgeries, cardiac arrest, and evidence of brain damage has ended, there seems to be an attempt to shift this story back into familiar categories of domestic sexual violence and out of the political sphere. Reports on the death of this woman consistently re-report the hospital's claim that she 'died peacefully.' This may seem like a side note to the entire story, yet these words hold significant political value and raises some important questions, including:
Does the focus on her 'peaceful' death detract from the violent nature of her attack and her exhausting struggle for life over the last 2 weeks?
The James Bond movies aren't the first place most would look to learn about masculinity; it's an action movie, the special effects are always amazing, and most of us just leave the gender analysis at home...BUT just humor me for one scene. In my view the best part of an otherwise mediocre movie (sorry super-Bond fans!) is when Bond is confronted by the ultimate villain, Silver (played spectacularly by Javier Bardem). Silver is a unique antihero, he meditates, he often speaks in a high pitch voice, he giggles, in many ways he is- well- effeminate. In his intro scene he snuggles up to a handcuffed Bond, fondling his chest and stroking his leg, challenging him to recall if his training has taught him to deal with this type of advance. He teases Bond that "there's a first time for everything."
For an action movie, this type of homo-erotic interaction seems rare. The viewers are held in suspense wondering what to think of the villain and how the hero character will handle this apparent challenge to his masculinity. Of course, Bond rises to the occasion (unfortunately there is no hero-villain love scene, maybe we're just not there yet). Bond retorts back, "what makes you think this is my first time." In that moment, Silver is taken aback and the audience seems to relax. By keeping his cool and lobbing the advance back to the villain, Bond's masculinity seems to be not only reaffirmed, but in some ways enhanced. How did a male on male flirtation lead to masculine enhancement for the characters?
The Human Security Report Project (HSR) recently released their 2012 Report. The first chapter on wartime sexual violence makes sweeping conclusions and provocative claims about the nature and rates of sexual violence. The overarching message, and certainly the one picked up by the media is that wartime sexual violence is on the decline. Before taking a closer look at the 5 Myths about sexual violence that HSR seeks to dispel, it is important to put this report in a bit of context.
In case you aren't familiar with HSR, they have made a name out of making counter-factual hypotheses and offering provocative- if not always accurate- headlines. They revived the 'war is declining' headline in 2005- over a decade after most political scientists widely acknowledged that inter-state war was indeed declining (and being replaced with other forms of conflict and political violence). What's precious about HSR is that their depiction of successful peacekeeping, a global decline in violence, and impending peace in international relations ignores the increase in intra-state violence, political violence, and terrorist activities, as well as research pointing to conflict and violence as the primary influence behind global poverty and evidence that the annual percentage of civilian fatalities perpetrated by non-state actors is on clear, upward trend. Most concerning is that HSR have used the tenuous 'war decline' hypothesis as the foundation for numerous other tenuous claims, including that the number of child soldiers has decreased and, now, that sexual violence is decreasing.
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