Tag Archives: feminism

Caging Confessions: My Womanhood in David Lake’s White Man’s IR

(A really long caveat): I have nothing but respect for David Lake. In the last few years, I have interacted with him professionally on a number of occasions. I have found him to be generous, open-minded, and self-reflective. I have found him to intend inclusion at every time possible. Many people in David’s position of privilege in the field either fail to reflect on the issues that David does or fail to take the risk of sharing their reflection. Many people in David’s position of privilege in the field fail to do the hard work to make the field better that David does every day. I have rarely met a more thoughtful leader, and appreciate the work that he does in the field. I think that the field is better off for David’s leadership, and significantly so. I say this because I think David’s piece is a brave thing to have done, and something he did not have to do – and it is important to note that the critique that comes here is only possible because David took that risk, and that my critique should be (and is) louder towards those who failed to take the risk. That said, I couldn’t read David’s confessional and not react. My reaction is partial – it is my experience and my confessional, rather than a full-scale engagement with the argument. Particularly, I didn’t comment extensively on the discussion of race in the confession, because I don’t think I would/could do that justice. Like David, I benefit from many of the discipline’s axes of power, and its important then to recognize that this critique can always be only partial. RelationsInternational would be happy, however, to publish both further discussion and any engagement David might want to have with this conversation.

David Lake’s White Man’s IR: An Intellectual Confession suggests that the exclusion of women and minorities from the field of IR results in intellectual convergence, “leaving other questions unasked because they do not appear relevant, other theories unexamined because they do not resonate with our intuitions, and other predictions untested.” Dr. Lake then suggests that he would be a better scholar, and IR would be a better field, if it had more a more diverse representation of scholars. As he critiques the “practices and privileges” that keep IR largely white and largely male, Dr. Lake admits to having been complicit in those practices and privileges, and benefitting from them. He then also suggests that little he writes about making the field more diverse is new, suggesting that “it is precisely as a beneficiary of the ‘system,’ however, that I hope my remarks might have some impact. I apologize nor for the lack of originality in this essay, only for my tardiness in understanding the issues and why they are important.” Lake goes on to recognize that disciplinary hierarchy and gate-keeping reify a lack of diversity, and should be questioned – “white man’s IR begets white man’s IR.” He suggests that, even when it is non-white or non-male scholars doing IR, they are constrained by disciplinary and job-related incentives.

This premise for the article, I think, is impressive: a recognition of the substantive need for diversity and an apology for not coming to that conclusion earlier. It is when Lake goes on to explain why he sees diversity as substantively important that I stop being on board with the article. His argument (paraphrasing here because this is likely already going to be a long blog post) is that lived experience shapes intuition, and intuition shapes theorizing. Because “the lived experience of white males in the US during the twentieth century, for instance, share similarities that are different from those for women, blacks, Hispanics, and other racial minorities,” their different lived experiences will cause them to contribute different theorizations.

It is true that lack of representational diversity makes for a lack of substantive (and, though not recognized by Lake, epistemological and methodological) diversity. But that realization does not necessitate an essentialist claim that women, blacks, Hispanics, and other racial minorities (either across groups, which could be read into the comments, or, more likely what Lake meant, within groups) necessarily have something in common. There’s a reason there aren’t a lot of standpoint feminists left in academia – because of the realization that there is violence in assuming that there is a standpoint which women have. That violence is three-fold: first, it suggests standards that legitimate (and therefore delegitimize) claims to womanhood exist and can be deployed; second, it suggests that biological sex is a clear and primordial thing; third, it suggests that gender maps onto sex one-to-one.

So, in one sense, I’m exactly the woman that Dr. Lake is talking about – someone whose intellectual interest is in gender, which is a topic that was traditionally ignored by the white men who constituted the field, and is getting more attention as the field gets more (but still embarrassingly not enough) diversity of scholars. On the other hand, my interest in gender in global politics comes less from being a woman than from being a person who was labelled a woman but felt intensely uncomfortable with that label itself and the expectations of femininity that come with it.

Why does that matter? Is it just that one confessional deserves another?

Continue reading

IFjP Call for Editors

This is me shamelessly using IR to post the IFjP Call for Editors. Think about running IFjP. We’ve had a blast of a six years.

News Report: Angry Women Angry Again, Part 2 of 2

A few days ago, I posted with a strong reaction to Inside Higher Education’s framing of female political scientists as angry. I think that my reaction was quick and strong both because the piece and conversation warranted it, and because it wasn’t anywhere near the first time I’d had to deal with the “angry woman”/”angry feminist” trope when there is a reaction to gender injustice.

If fact, in December, I posted one of two really important conversations that I had at the “What’s the Point of IR” conference at the University of Sussex – one with Patrick Thaddeus Jackson on epistemology, ontology, and (sometimes) God. The other important conversation I didn’t write here about, because I wasn’t yet sure what to say. That didn’t stop me from tweeting about it real time, though. I’ll show you my “angry” reaction first, and explain the conversation after.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 2.15.18 PM

So, I’ll tell you a (brief, four-month-old) bit of context. I won’t identify the people in the story, though they are more than free to identify themselves if they’d like. A speaker who was discussing the Eurocentric nature of IR was asked a question by a (female, feminist) member of the audience. The question was why the story of IR’s Eurocentrism did not include a story of its sexism and heterosexism as well. I didn’t listen to the whole answer (see previous very interesting [to me] twitter conversation with Patrick Thaddeus Jackson). The part of the answer that I did here, though, caught my attention, not just then but fully for the next two days and off and on for the coming months.

The part of the answer that caught my attention was that the substance of the answer had previously been given to “an angry feminist” who wasn’t satisfied by it, and the speaker didn’t understand why. The speaker did not seem to be using those words as a parody, or to be poking fun at himself. Instead, the sentence seemed to be meant literally, and a straightforward explanation of the position he saw himself (and the “angry feminist”) in vis-a-vis the field. A few more questions were asked on the point (this exchange happened in the early afternoon if I remember correctly), and didn’t bring about any real resolution. Mine weren’t the only angry tweets, though I missed it if anyone else got as colorful as I did in their descriptions of and reactions to the situation.

In those tweets and in my presentation the next morning, I was the “angry feminist.” I justified anger from years of mistreatment, trivialization, intellectual shortchanging, and personal belittling – not (only) towards me, but towards women and femininity in disciplinary IR and in global politics more generally. I justified that anger because anger at injustice is justified, and trivializing and gendering anger is itself injustice. 

I’ve been accused of reifying the stereotype that gender scholars are humorless by expressing being appalled at the casual nature of gender and sex subordination in the discipline and in the world. I could defend myself by suggesting that I have both a sense of humor and a generally laid back outlook on life – and those who know me will understand that to be the case – but that’s not the freaking point. The point is that you don’t have to find gender subordination funny to be cool (in fact, I think its not cool to find it funny), and you don’t have to remain calm in the face of injustice to merit that injustice being solved (in fact, its perfectly fine for injustice to piss people off. It is, in fact, unjust).

My use of profanity in those tweets (and the next morning in my talk), and my performance of anger, then, was meant to express simultaneously how not ok sex and gender and race subordination are, and how not ok it is to stereotype anger about those subordinations to perpetuate them. Perhaps the speaker in Sussex and/or Scott Jaschik did not mean to link up with a long tradition of subordinating women and trivializing anger/expecting calm, but both did. I could have reacted calmly and explained the problem (in both instances, I did do some explaining), and some would suggest that’s the appropriate reaction – I’ve been instructed more times than I can count in my life not to play into this or that stereotype. This is what I wanted to say that day, and what I’ve wanted to say most days:

Continue reading

“I know there’s stuff I don’t talk about” and other annoying responses to feminist analysis

Ok, maybe not other annoying responses, for this post. Just this one.

Recently, I was asked to write a response to Mike Desch’s argument that high-tech methodology hurts the policy relevance of Security Studies for Perspectives on Politics. The policy relevance that Desch is interested in is relevance to the Washington establishment in the US.

There’s nothing ground-breaking about my response – it repeats things feminists have been saying for decades. It suggests that seeing the US government as the location of relevance may be not only wrong but morally insidious, then makes the argument that the notion of objective knowledge and scientific process that Desch shares with the quantitative work he criticizes might be the root of a differently understood ‘relevance problem’ for Security Studies – hierarchy and exclusion.

Even though this response is, in my view, strikingly unoriginal – it seems to be getting the same reaction it got 20 years ago. Desch was able to write a response to the response – well, a response to other people’s responses anyway. All of the other pieces (including the other two in the sentence below) are addressed substantively. My piece is mentioned in one sentence. Brace yourself.

“Finally, Tutton, Voeten, and Laura Sjoberg all make an important point about policy-relevance involving much more than government policy-makers.”

Yep. That’s it. I say: gender analysis shows your conception of Security Studies is normatively harmful and intellectually counterproductive. He says: oh, nice of you to tell me that we need to pay attention to policy-making outside of government. I meant that, I just didn’t say it. But my catch-all point applies to that.

In other words, I know there’s stuff I didn’t talk about, and that’s enough to dispense with the gender critique.

My colleagues from outside of the United States often wonder why I engage with the American mainstream of IR, and, when I first read Desch’s response to the response, I’ll admit, I got on the skeptical bandwagon.

But then I thought – that response is exactly why it has to keep getting said. There, and then here, and then anyplace else that it can be. Gender analysis is not just something you mean but don’t say, and then can get away with saying “I know there’s stuff I didn’t talk about.” It affects how you think about a project, ontologically, epistemology, and methodologically. It affects it whether or not you think so – your work is as impacted by implicit masculinized gender assumptions as mine is by explicit feminist assumptions. And I’m talking about it even if you won’t.

The Incredible Silliness of Being Against Feminisms

When I was in high school, I drove a car that was absolutely covered in bumper stickers – gems like “I still miss my ex, but my aim is improving.” Many of them, I would not be caught with now – but one, I still remember. It said “feminism is the radical notion that women are people too.” Since the bumper sticker is still for sale twenty years later, it is fair to say that the interpretation that was on the back of my car has had some staying power.

That’s why I am curious about the rise of being “against” feminism. While I’ve known for a long time that some people were uncomfortable using the word, and that many people (even among feminists) disagree on the appropriate political content and mission of feminism, the “Women Against Feminism” movement has me confused – are there women who disagree with the notion that women are people too? I’m not the first to have commented on the issue – Jessica Valenti wrote a great piece for The Guardian with perspective, and the conclusion that feminists should let antifeminists stop them. Reading all of the discussion of “women against feminism,” though, I remained confused about the very premise – especially in a world where headlines everyday suggest women aren’t being treated as human. Just today, women shouldn’t laugh in public, some guy was arrested for using his cell phone to look up women’s skirts (really), a seven-year-old girl was raped in a Bangalore school, and accounts of astonishing violence against women are way too frequent (see this story about ISIS in Iraq, e.g.). I’m not comparing any of these incidents – just suggesting that there are myriad ways everyday that women aren’t treated as full humans. And I can’t figure out why there would be women opposed to the recognition that women are people too.

So I investigated further, and figured out that the “Women Against Feminism” tumblr and Facebook page list a lot of great reasons to be “against feminism.” Here are some highlights (my commentary in italics):

Continue reading

Stopping Wartime Sexual Violence?

This post is cross-posted at the Polity Blog, in promotion of my recently published Gender, War, and Conflict (Polity Press, 2014).

It was a coincidence that Gender, War, and Conflict was formally published on the eve of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence, held in London. The Global Summit, as its webpage described, was meant to shatter the culture of impunity towards wartime rape, take practical steps toward decreasing it, provide support to survivors, and change attitudes of apathy.

This ambitious summit was attended by public figures like Hilary Rodham Clinton and Angelina Jolie, as well as by scholars of wartime sexual violence like my colleagues Amelia Hoover Green and Marsha Henry, among others. While I sat this one out at home in Florida, I followed its progress on Twitter and read news coverage as the summit looked to “write the last chapter in the history of wartime rape.”

Scholars writing from the Summit expressed a combination of hope – given the amount of high-profile political capital being devoted to the cause – and despair – given the long, complicated, and important history of social science research into wartime sexual violence that was largely ignored at the Summit. The biggest complaint I have seen and read is that the Summit’s policy-world and advocate speakers have a commitment to the social cause of ending wartime rape without a matching commitment to knowing and understanding the history of wartime rape, the conditions of possibility of the crime, the significations of rape in conflict, and the gendered contexts in which wartime rape is committed.

In other words, the advocates at the Summit understood that war rape is a terrible crime in which women are disproportionately victimized. But there is more to it, and scholars have been trying to communicate that in order to improve policy analysis, and, hopefully, policy solutions. While the summit is over and the media has moved on to its next target, I think that this point is still a very important one. Continue reading

Facebook gets genderqueer – but does it translate?

Many if not most of us live some portion of both our professional and social lives on Facebook. Among my friends and colleagues, a significant amount of attention is paid to how to ensure privacy on Facebook, but less attention is paid to self-expression and self-description options. That’s certainly true of me. That’s why my latest discovery has me thinking.

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 10.28.21 PM

Facebook has a bunch of gender options, apparently rolled out in early 2014. Its been a while since I’ve updated my profile, so I didn’t notice until now. My first reaction is to be like a kid in a candy shop – which one do I pick? Can I have them all? I’d previously decided not to display a “gender” on Facebook because the options were limited to male and female. Granted, this list still blurs the sex/gender dichotomy and doesn’t make the pronoun “ze” available, and while I can ‘be’ a number of genders, I can still only be ‘interested in’ male or female (or both). Still, upon my initial encounter with this list, I was too elated with all the options to be particularly concerned about those remaining shortcomings.

I could identify as (and this is in alphabetical order now): agender, androgyne, androgynous, bigender, cis, cisgender, cis female, cis male, cis man, cis woman, cisgender female, cisgender male, cisgender man, cisgender woman, female to male, FTM, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, gender questioning, gender variant, genderqueer, intersex, male to female, MTF, neither, neutrios, non-binary, other, pangender, trans, trans*, trans female, trans* female, trans male, trans* male, trans man, trans* man, trans person, trans* person, trans woman, trans* woman, transfeminine, transgender, transgender female, transgender male, transgender man, transgender person, transgender woman, transmasculine, transsexual, transsexual female, transsexual male, transsexual man, transsexual person, transsexual woman, and/or two-spirit. If any are missing, I can suggest a new one. And I don’t have to pick just one. I can pick up to ten! I don’t go wild – I only pick four, then I almost hit the logout button.

Then it occurred to me – does this translate? Is it available everywhere in the world? Is it available in all of the languages that Facebook is available in? Are translations based on English words, or local ones? These questions lead me to other questions – what privileges are a condition of possibility for my joy and excitement at the discovery of the ‘new’ Facebook genders? Who does facebook’s new genderqueer face benefit?

Continue reading

The “Privilege” of Being a Victim of Sexual Assault

George Will recently suggested that liberal culture is making women claim to be victims of sexual assault when they are not, because liberals “make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges,” which makes “victims proliferate.” Really?

There is no universal experience of sexual assault victimhood. And as my research with Caron Gentry has argued, being a victim does not take away the agency of the person victimized. But I’ve rarely been so angry as reading the argument that being a rape victim is a privilege, so I wanted to share my .02 on some of the “privileges” of being a sexual assault victim.

The ‘privilege’ starts with a massive amount of physical pain. For people who were drugged and/or because of trauma, it continues with struggling to remember what happened and how it happened, a struggle for which the victim often feels guilt and fear. That struggle is not the only guilt – victims often deal with self-blame, shame, and humiliation, social stigma, and rejection from families, friends, and communities. Other ‘privileges’  of victimhood include constant physical fear and insecurity, heightened awareness of rape culture, nightmares and reliving the experience, difficulty communicating feelings, avoidance and social isolation, and a proneness to suicide. Even victims who don’t experience all of these things experience many of them – and they are most certainly not privileges. Anyone who says we don’t need feminism anymore might want to look at the number of hits this misogynist asshole gets.

Whose Girls?

Questions around #bringbackourgirls came up a number of times this weekend at the International Feminist Journal of Politics 2014 conference, and Megan MacKenzie brought up a number of like-minded concerns on the Duck of Minerva yesterday. In conversations that appeared unrelated at the IFjP conference, we also talked about some of the positives and negatives of the legacy of radical feminism. While I do not intend to solve the problems of sexism, feminization, racism, nationalism, and/or militarism that I see as inherent in the hashtag, or the complicated legacy of radical feminism, I think its important as the US military mulls intervening to “bring back” “our girls,” some radical feminist questions about property might be incredibly important.

In 1994, Catharine MacKinnon first outlined her view of the difference between womanhood and humanity in women’s ‘human rights’ advocacy, where “what is done to women is either too specific to women to be seen as human or too generic to human beings to be seen as specific to women.” This builds on an earlier argument that “sexuality is to feminism what work is to marxism: that which is most one’s own, yet most taken away.” I don’t think you have to buy the radical feminist outlook on the world to think that this position says something meaningful about #bringbackourgirls. And while I would never want to minimize the terrible tragedy that remains ongoing in Nigeria, I do think it is important to look at some of the tragedies its critics are generating and reifying.

Continue reading