The Duck of Minerva

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What Foreign Policy Did Right. (And Other Stuff.)

April 29, 2012

In lieu of friday nerd blogging last week (which I saw Vikash had covered) Rob Farley and I blogged heads about gender in Foreign Policygender and race in Game of Thrones, and popular culture in foreign affairs. [Warning: There are some mild and at least one not-so-mild TV and book spoilers in our GoT discussion. However we do let you know when these are coming.]

On the subject of FP’s Swimsuit Issue, Rob asked me a great question: “What did Foreign Policy do right?” I provided a facetious answer in my earlier post, and a rambling one in the video , so here’s the concise, honest version:

1) They linked women’s rights and gender to international security. True, women’s rights and gender aren’t synonymous; true women’s rights shouldn’t matter only because it’s also good for global stability; and true the simplistic correlation drawn between women’s right and security should itself be unpacked (eventually). But this was an agenda-setting exercise – a bit like the Kony2012 video – that in some ways worked and educated precisely because of the backlash it provoked. 
2) They allowed Muslim women to speak for themselves. Mona ElTahany’s article may have drawn critique for being unrepresentative, but imagine if the same article had been written by Nicholas Kristof. It was also important that they provided a platform for more diverse, critical voices in the aftermath. 
3) They included male writers without explicit gender expertise in the line-up. Sure, this resulted in some passe pieces. But it was important because it shows that a) writing about gender and foreign affairs isn’t just for women b) writing about gender and foreign affairs isn’t just for gender “experts.” While I complained that non-gender-experts who write about gender should consult with gender experts to do it right, they also need great credit for taking the plunge, since the other alternative is to simply farm out the gender work to specialists but never undertake it yourself. And that is also a way of marginalizing gender as a category from mainstream foreign policy analysis. So ot’s great to see folks like Joshua Keating trying their hand at this, and the more they do it the more sophisticated their analyses will get, I figure. 

4)  But most importantly of all, the editors made a well-intentioned effort, and they didn’t allow the fact that they’d probably get some things wrong to stop them from trying. This is key. “Taking gender seriously” in a way that is simplistic or packaged poorly is not as bad as pretending it doesn’t matter at all. In that sense, I think FP’s editors deserve the kudos they’ve received, and some credit even from their critics.

I would add that I think beltway journals are increasingly making this effort, which is a good sign. Rob and I discussed how carefully the Foreign Affairs editors picked the image of Cersei to go with the article Game of Thrones as Theory. Despite the fact that the piece featured far more content about Danaerys, images of Dany did not accompany the piece precisely because FA’s editors decided (with no input from me) that an image of such a sexualized character didn’t belong with an article that incorporated feminist concerns. While we can debate (as Rob and I do) whether Dany’s character is really “sexualized” or not relative to Cersei, or which character is a better stand-in for feminist concerns, whether that piece requires an image of a woman at all (I’d have probably used an image of Tyrion commanding an army to underscore the show’s subversive gender imagery, and the piece is more about constructivism than feminism anyway) the important thing is that the editors were thinking things through and had not only an interest in publishing a piece that incorporated gender, but also a sense of decorum about how to frame it. And that’s a good thing. 
Other topics of discussion in our diavlog: whether there is a relationship on Game of Thrones between how sympathetic a female character is and how much skin she shows (Rob thinks possibly; I say Shae, Ros and Arya disprove that); whether war narratives in TV, film and video games constitute or merely reflect “civil-military relations”; and whether GoT fails on racial imagery to the extent that certain horselords of Vaes Dothrak are lately claiming… See also the comments thread on this point 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.