The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

More On the Gap Between Feminist IR and Gendered Foreign Policy Debates

March 28, 2011

Foreign Affairs has published a longer version of my original remarks about the so-called “Lady Hawks” who supposedly “ball-busted” our presumably lily-livered president into a war ostensibly “not of his choosing.”

We’ll see how he deals with all this, among other things, tonight at 7:30 EST – (my guess: with his own brand of tough-and-tender masculinity) – but in the meantime, here’s the capsule version of my scholarly take translated into Belt-Way-ese:

Commentators are falling over themselves to explain the “gender divide” among Obama’s staff, particularly the apparently astonishing fact that several key pro-intervention voices came from women… These discussions reveal far more about gender misconceptions among foreign policy journalists than about the preferences or influence of Obama’s female foreign policy staff. Avlon, Dowd, Dreyfuss, and others apparently subscribe to the classic gender myth that women are generally more diplomatic and opposed to war than men…

But systematic social science studies have shown that the ‘women and peace’ myth is partially correct at best. Evidence suggests that it is not sex but gender ideology that correlates with more pacifist views… Political scientists Marc Tessler and Ina Warriner found that both men and women who generally value gender equality also generally value non-violent resolutions to international disputes such as the Palestinian conflict. And Mary Caprioli… has found that a higher level of gender inequality within a country yields a greater likelihood of militarized international disputes, even when controlling for democracy.

But gender trends are only probabilities: they have very little to say about what policies an individual woman or man would prefer once in power, or about the extent to which she or he will succeed in pursuing those preferences. And fixation on the sex of the pro-intervention voices in this case overlooks a far more fundamental difference between the hawks and doves on the Libyan issue: in the hawks’ view, the national interest included both human and national security…

Ultimately, it does not matter whether a political actor is male or female; it matters whether social expectations about gender roles shape or frame policy choices. It is unlikely that the sex of these policymakers alone determined their preferences, and it is unclear if it influenced their authority in briefings with the president. It is, however, apparent that gender expectations — based on myths and stereotypes — have influenced the interpretation of these events. And if such spin damages Obama’s credibility in the eyes of U.S. allies or adversaries, the responsibility is on the spin doctors, not the policymakers.

Check out the whole thing here.

[cross-posted at Lawyers Guns and Money]

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.