Tag: gender relations

International Women’s Day: Cupcakes and Hateraid

I did not make these to destroy feminism.

Duck readers, I have a confession. I bake cupcakes. Thousands of them. I love doing it, I love icing them, I love decorating them and I really like eating them.

This is not something that I would typically share with a blog on international politics. Normally I write about things that blow up or try to calmly argue that twitter is not going to stop a war lord. But you see I am compelled. I am compelled to write in defence of cupcakes for International Women’s day.

Apparently some people think my love of cupcakes makes me a bad feminist: real feminists hate cupcakes:

Cupcakes are just so twee-ly, coyly, ‘ooh no I really shouldn’t’-ly, pink and fluffily, everything that I think feminism is not. It’s feminism-lite, feminism as consumption and ‘me time’ (grr), rather than feminism as power and politics and equal pay.

You see, this “Bun fetish deals a blow to feminism”:

Because these cupcakes – mark my words, feminists – these trendy little cupcakes are the thin end of the wedge. It will start with cupcakes and it will end in vaginoplasty.

And so – maybe you thought the ideological battle was between men and women. Or even liberal feminists and radical feminists. You’re wrong. The real debate has moved to Cupcake Feminism.

This move is not deliberate – probably not even conscious. But the pop-culture image of feminism today – as perpetuated at Ladyfests, in BUST magazine and its Craftaculars, on so-called ‘ladyblogs’ and at freshers’ fairs – is ostensibly the direct opposite of the Hairy Dyke. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call her the cupcake feminist….
Twee and retro have been seeping into feminism for a couple decades now, gaining potency. It’s all about cute dresses, felten rosettes from Etsy, knitting, kittens, vintage lamps shaped like owls, Lesley Gore. And yes – a lot of cupcakes.

Another problem with this trend towards the high-femme is that we inadvertently court the enemy. We inadvertently justify the vilification of the Hairy Dyke image, as if we were ashamed of it all along. Why are ‘fat’, ‘ugly’, ‘gay’ or ‘never-been-fucked’ still the first insults sent whistling towards the trench? What is their supposed import? To cry ‘We’re not all like that!’ only lends power. Some of us are fat/ugly/gay, some of us aren’t. So? Really, though, so what?
Mainstream society only finds cupcake feminism more palatable because it can lick off the icing and toss the rest.

These chickies want equal rights, darn it!

Look, I take these points seriously. Feminists who fought for the right to have equal pay, birth control and the idea that I could basically become whatever I wanted are uncomfortable with women “cooing” over pink fluffy things.

Tend to your cupcake lady-garden!

But I’ve never seen a woman “coo” over a cupcake. (Seriously? Who does this? Who are these anti-cupcake feminists hanging out with?! Get better friends!) I’ve seen an entire Department of Politics and International Relations devour 30 of them in under an hour. But I’ve never seen a woman making an intelligent point suddenly suffer a cupcake-lobotomy because of some buttercream.

In fact, the very reason I like baking cupcakes is that they are cheap, easy as hell and don’t take very long to make. I can make an entire batch in under an hour. It’s a fantastic way for me to be creative and then write about targeted killing. Or mark essays. Or reference letters for many of my excellent female (and male) students applying to do masters programs in their chosen fields.

Surely, the worst kind of feminism is the one that tells feminists what to do in uncompromising terms. Or the kind that perpetuates a “Hairy Dyke” vs “Cupcake Feminist” false dichotomy. Cupcakes, cupcake bakers and cupcake aficionados are not secretly trying to make feminism more palatable. To see cupcakes this way is to unthinkingly buy into the gendering of an activity – or wholeheartedly buying into a male-created stereotype without thinking about how the humble cupcake might be an act of liberation for those who partake in the cake.

I don’t consider myself to be a “Cupcake Feminist” – I’m just a feminist who likes cupcakes. I believe in questioning gender barriers AND unnecessary carbohydrates. But most importantly, I’m tired of individuals explaining to me what I am, who I am and what I can or can’t do on baseless, dated logic – whether they are feminist cupcake haters or Rick Santorum.

So I am asking you, Duck readers, this International Women’s Day – please consider ways we can rethink the gerontocratic patriarchy – and have a cupcake. These activities are not mutually exclusive. Plus I spent, like, an hour on these things.

EDIT: And for the love of cupcakes, read this excellent post by Sarah Duff at Tangerine and Cinnamon

Come to the Feminist Side! 

Reading Andrea Dworkin to Write Feminist IR?

“I wasn’t raped until I was almost ten which is pretty good it seems when I ask around because many have been touched but are afraid to say …. I couldn’t tell how many hands he had and people from earth only had two … You get asked if anything happened and you say well yes he put his hand here and he rubbed me …and he scared me …you say the almost-ten-year-old version of f*ck you something happened alright the f*ck he put his hands in my legs and rubbed me all over …and they say, just so long as nothing happened” (Andrea Dworkin, Mercy, p.11)

My first feminist mentors were in the legal profession, particularly Catherine MacKinnon, and my first exposures to feminisms were in debate rounds and law schools rather than political science or International Relations departments. My first feminist books were (therefore?) Andrea Dworkin, before Ann Tickner or Spike Peterson or Jindy Pettman. Perhaps that’s why I return to Andrea’s work whenever I start writing a major project, despite the fact that it does not translate to and often is not directly cited in my work.

But I think there also might be more to it.

While I remain, always, committed to feminist politics and combatting the other oppressions that gendered lenses help me to see, there’s a rawness, a plainness, a terror in Andrea’s work that’s not in mine explicitly, but which is a lot of why I am committed to feminism and feminist politics.

I am a feminist because I will never be free when rape culture exists. I don’t even know what free means, or if I will ever be free, but I know I will never be free if rape culture exists. I do not know what it would look like or how it might be achieved. Still, I want to inspire thinking about it through my work, and use my work to agitate for the cause.

I also think, though, that (my exposure to) political science and International Relations does not have the radicalism of words, feelings, or ideas to express that visceral need as well as work in women’s studies, particularly Andrea’s, does. I don’t think that’s trivial, in fact, I think it says something about the narrowness and (sterile) gendered nature of the discourses in political science and IR. I think the importance of recognizing that is why I frequently return to Andrea’s work as fuel for mine.

Catherine MacKinnon once said that Andrea’s work about gender shows that it is impossible to conceptualize gender by just thinking about different things the same way, instead, that Andrea shows it is necessary to think differently. Five years after Andrea died, that still resonates to me. As do some of her words … “the blood of women is implicit; make it explicit,” “it is widely understood, among the raped, who do not exist, except in my mind, because they are not proven do exist, and it is not proven to happen …”

You might see those words and ask, sure, there’s feminism, but what does that have to do with feminist IR? But Andrea’s work helps me think about that stuff as well. For example, it won’t make the book, explicitly, but Andrea’s thinking about flags (from a martial arts training session) is a crucial part of feminist “outside-the-box” thinking about nationalism, symbolism, gender, and honor:

“I never thought I would bow down in front of any f*cking flag, but I do, in perfect silence and symmetry insofar as my awkward self can manage it; my mind’s like a muscle that pulls every time; I feel it jerk and I feel the dislocation and pain and I keep moving, until I am on my knees in front of the f*cking thing. Its interesting to think of the difference between a flag and a dick, because this is not a new position; with a dick how you get there doesn’t count whereas in the dojo all that matters is the elegance, the grace, the movement the strength of the muscles that carry you down; an act of reverence will eventually, says Sensei, teach you self-respect, which isn’t the issue with the dick, as I remember” (Mercy, p.308)

I’ll ultimately write something, not this, about gender symbolism, nation, nationalism, and women’s subjugation. But this, and the other work from the countless books, articles, and excerpts Andrea Dworkin wrote, will always be a crucial part of my thinking about gender and gender subordination, and a part of my thinking for which IR does not have a language, a place, or a home.


Queer Politics/the International Studies Association

A couple of months ago now, I blogged about the establishment of the LGBTQA Caucus of ISA, asking for support with signatures of dues-paying ISA members. Many of you sent your support, and as a result, the petition had many more than the number of signatures necessary for it to be presented at the Governing Council meeting this coming Tuesday, 2/16.

I’ve recently discovered that my original post was discussed elsewhere in the great “blogosphere” out there, particularly by James Joyner on “Outside the Beltway,” arguing that there is no need for an LGBTQA caucus for ISA because LGBTQ activism can already take place within ISA.

Directly, to Joyner’s post, I would argue that ISA is in important ways a heterosexist/cissexist organization (and still a sexist one as well), that advocating for the rights of oppressed minorities is not a phenomena that needs explanation, that Joyner’s example of “a man in a dress” experiencing discrimination like a “man with a mustache” (the very construction of which shows a misunderstanding of LGBTQA advocacy) is patently absurd, and the idea of a “purely scholarly organization” without politics is every bit as ridiculous.

But I will leave detailing those critiques to others more articulate than I am.

I’m more interested, here, in the indirect point. The LGBTQA Caucus of ISA is not a cause I own, and particularly not a cause I own as chair of the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies (FTGS) section of ISA or as (as Joyner presumes) a woman and a feminist. In fact, to the extent that I am committed to the establishment of such a Caucus, it is because I see that existing organizational and political structures in ISA (including FTGS) are fundamentally inadequate to the tasks outlined in the mission of the LGBTQA caucus as currently presented.

But the larger point is that Joyner is wrong to characterize this as something that I am working on/establishing/shoving a “self-licking ice cream cone” down people’s throats. Instead, I am part (and only part) of a diverse movement that now includes several hundred scholars interested in improving ISA’s structural and substantive openness to queer concerns.

Along those lines, I want to talk a little bit about the Caucus/LGBTQA issues @ ISA 2010 in New Orleans next week.

While it is not right to talk about the establishment of the LGBTQA caucus as a reaction to the politics around ISA in New Orleans, it also isn’t right to ignore that there are issues concerning ISA New Orleans of particular concern to ISA’s LGBTQ population, whatever way we ultimately fall on those as policy preferences or choices.

We each choose to deal with these issues in different ways, individually and collectively. Some very publicly boycott ISA 2010. Some choose not to come to ISA 2010, and do not talk about it in the public sphere. Some debate the issues and ultimately decide against boycotting. Some ignore the questions, and still others try to silence those people who would discuss the politics of ISA as heterosexist/cissexist. Some look to redress those issues in ISA governance/Louisiana governance.

I struggled a lot with my personal way of dealing with ISA New Orleans, and came up with this. As FTGS section chair, I can put together the FTGS critical/eminent scholarship panel. So I have (in the Friday “D” Session), as a political reaction to ISA New Orleans and what I saw in ISA as a result, and as a hope for us as a field/discipline. The panel will include a number of speakers giving views about the state of/potential for queer theorizing in International Relations.

Because many of you will not be at ISA New Orleans/the panel, I will close this post with my thinking/reasoning/introduction to the panel, and a public (yes, that means you) invitation to contribute:

I’ve always been struck by these words of Naomi Scheman: “the issue is not who is or is not really whatever, but who can be counted on when they come for any one of us: the solid ground is not identity but loyalty and solidarity.” It is perhaps because of my identification with these words that I fully expected the FTGS community, such that it exists, to be counted on, in queer struggles with, attempts to reconcile with, and protests of the choice to hold this conference in this location. Though, as a member of the Governing Council, I need to express complicity, I find ISA’s policy choices on this issue specifically and as (actively and passively) relate to its queer members generally deeply unjust, and forming this panel despite some opposition, the absence (either coincidental or location-based) of most of the few people who have written about queer theorizing in feminist IR, the underexplored nature of queer issues in IR generally and feminist IR specifically, and the tensions between these scholar communities outside of IR, is personal activism for me, “aimed at” ISA, at feminist communities in ISA and more generally, and, not unimportantly, “at” myself.

I did not supply the panelists with a set of questions for this panel, and do not intend to exclude voices in the room with something to say on these issues that are not “on” the panel. As such, I’ve asked the panelists to talk for 8-10 minutes, sharing our prepared thoughts, but also collected others’ thoughts in different media, and, after the presentation of those prepared thoughts, am open to “audience” participation either in the traditional question-and-answer format or in terms of thoughts about queer theory in (feminist) IR that do not directly relate to the panelists’ thoughts. A multimedia archive of this panel will be put together and shared.

If you will be unable to be in New Orleans, or even just unable to attend the panel, I am extending the request for audience participation virtually. If you’d like to “comment” on the subject matter, feel free to email me your content. Please try to make it appropriate for a panel (I can’t show a bunch of ten-minute videos or anything). The best format to submit your contribution in would be a powerpoint slide, but I’m open to taking other forms of contribution as well. So, please “participate” if you’re interested, come to the panel if you’d like to, and visit our archive afterwards, details of which will be posted later.


Pakistan’s Supreme Court Recognizes Third Gender

Wow. If the use of non-binary-gender-codes on census forms is an indicator of progressive human rights law, Pakistan has now left the US in the dust:

Late on Wednesday, the Supreme Court in Pakistan ordered that the government officially recognize a separate gender for Pakistan’s hijra community, which includes transgendered people, transvestites, and eunuchs. The court told the federal government to begin allowing people to identify as hijras when registering for a national identity card.

Such cards are necessary for everything from voting to more informal situations; patrons must present the card at cybercafes before surfing the Internet, for example. Not having an identity card, or having one with incorrect information, leaves a person vulnerable and easily excluded from society.

In India, voters are required to identify their sex both on their voter ID cards and at the polls. The insistence that they identify as male or female effectively barred many transgendered and transvestite people from the polls until late this year, when the government declared that for the purposes of voting it would recognize a third option.

The ruling in Pakistan, though, potentially reaches much further.

In addition to the order for government recognition, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry also issued a warning that the hijras’ rights of inheritance, which are often informally ignored, would be enforced, and that police harassment would not be permitted, a sign, perhaps, of rulings to come.

When I teach Gender and Security I often have my students do an exercise to debate how one would code the relative gender-egalitarianism of different states. There are many indicators – fertility rates, percentage of women in the labor force or the government, presence or absence of laws criminalizing marital rape. The WomenStats database has more. But most of them capture (or stand proxy for) women’s empowerment rather than absence of gender hierarchies in a society per se. So when I read of this I wondered if gender-coding in census data should be understood as a useful measure of a state’s commitment to gender inclusiveness.

The counterpoint is, of course, is that such a ruling (or human rights law in general) may mean little in a country where women, gender minorities and those who defend them face such persecution by the state and tribal elites.

Question for readers: how significant is this ruling as a step toward gender inclusiveness in Pakistan? Should other countries follow suit and should human rights activists press them to do so?


Losing my religion (or Jimmy Carter follows me)

In an article in The Age, Jimmy Carter recently renounced his membership in the Southern Baptist Church, arguing that “women and girls have been discriminated against for too long using a twisted interpretation of the word of God.” Particularly, Carter objected to statements by the Southern Baptist Convention “claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.” Carter links this sort of belief to justificatory logic for slavery, violence, forced prostitution, and the failure to make and enforce rape laws.

In a 1995 op-ed in the Pensacola News Journal too old and obscure to be located online, I renounced my membership in the Southern Baptist Church, arguing that the misogyny and heterosexism of Southern Baptist doctrine was something no God could want.

Carter’s article fluctuates between brilliant feminism and over-rhetorical politicking, but includes some important food for thought. The “lowlights” include his declaration of his membership in a group called the Elders and an unsophisticated understanding of gender hierarchy which seems to blame it almost entirely on men’s manipulation. While criticizing the Southern Baptist Church, Carter generalizes about the world’s religions – and, while his recognition of the link between patriarchy and religion is important, it would be nice if Carter recognized that all religions were not “created equal,” and have different (and different level) gender hierarchy problems. The highlights of Carter’s announcement/article, however, are surprisingly insightful.

For example, Carter argues that these religious beliefs “help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.” Inherent in this and other statements in Carter’s argument is clear understanding that gender hierarchy is structural, and that structural gender hierarchy negatively impacts women’s lives on a daily basis all around the world. The second important recognition that Carter makes is nearer to the end of the article, where he points out that “it is not just women and girls who suffer [from gender hierarchy]. It damages all of us.” This is a realization that gets way too little play in the policy world – that gender hierarchy hurts the people “on top” as well as the people “on bottom” of that hierarchy. I applaud Carter for being able to see this, and concluding that “it is time we had the courage to challenge these views.”

Still, the egocentric part of me was tempted to reread Carter’s statement next to mine, and recall what I was thinking when I renounced my membership in the Southern Baptist Church. My column talked about many of the issues that Carter’s does, but also talked about the “Disney boycott” (where the Southern Baptist Convention objected to Disney’s decision to recognize and insure employees’ domestic partners) and other heterosexist policies. It also, while renouncing my membership in the Southern Baptist Church, urged the Convention to rethink its position and volunteered to enter into a dialogue to think about these problems more seriously. Reading both my column from years ago and Carter’s now, though, my major complaint is this: really? you think you can just quit patriarchal institutions? I think that Carter’s heart is in the right place, but I also think that we can’t disassociate ourselves with patriarchal society – we have to work with, and within, it. And maybe, for someone who otherwise agrees with the Southern Baptist Church like Carter claims to, that means dealing with it within that patriarchal society.


Film class — week 14

Film #14 “The Whale Rider” (2002). We viewed it Tuesday.

Reading: Ann Tickner, “Man, the State, and War: Gendered Perspectives on National Security,” Chapter 2 of Gender in International Relations; Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security (NY: Columbia University Press, 1992). (CIAO subscribers only)

Ann Tickner’s book is perhaps the best-known feminist treatise in the field of international relations. In the assigned chapter, she describes how classic levels of analysis studied by scholars in the field — man, the state and war (for individual, national and systemic) — reflect and reinforce gendered notions about security politics.

For example, Tickner discusses the importance of the so-called “warrior citizen” in classic realist theorizing:

In Politics Among Nations, Hans Morgenthau describes “political man” as an individual engaged in a struggle for power. In my book I take this construction of “political man” and link it to a militarized version of citizenship which has a long tradition in western political theory and practice. Feminist political theorist Wendy Brown suggests that for the Greeks, manly virtue was linked to victory in battle. The association of manly behavior and war was also important in Machiavelli’s glorification of the warrior prince. Machiavelli’s concept of virtu was equated with might, energetic activity, effectiveness and courage — for Machiavelli, these were all explicitly masculine characteristics. Virtu must struggle against its opposite, fortuna, described by Machiavelli as female. Machiavelli is quite explicit in his belief that women posed a danger to soldiers and therefore to national security more generally.

Today, citizenship continues to be tied to soldiering….The privileged position of citizen warrior carries over into civilian political life where politicians with war records are especially valorized.

At the national level, Tickner argues that states are essentially warrior states, which require warrior citizens.

The ultimate purpose of Tickner’s work is to suggest and advocate for an alternative concept of security — dependent upon the elimination of unjust social relations (including gender inequality) as well as physical violence. Ideas and identities are socially constructed, so prevailing ideas and identities have to be re-constructed if they are to be transformed.

“The Whale Rider” is a film about a 12-year old girl named Paikea, the only living child in the line of a Maori family that directly descends from a heroic figure named Pai, who rode atop a whale from Hawaiki. Paikea’s mother and twin brother died during the childbirth and her grandfather, the current chief, is desperate to find a successor. By tradition, the tribe’s leader should be a first-born son and his own first-born son has abandoned the tribe to become an artist in Germany.

How feminine, eh? Ultimately, the grandfather decides to instruct all the tribe’s boy children so as to identify a potential successor. He teaches them sacred chants, use of a fighting stick, and other important skills. By Tickner’s reasoning, he is teaching them to be warrior citizens. Paikea is not welcome in these classes.

Secretly, however, Paikea observes many of the sessions and trains herself. She readily learns the chants and her uncle teaches her to use the fighting stick. She even defeats one of the most promising boy students in an impromptu fight.

From the title and my description, you can probably guess what happens in this film of female empowerment. The interesting academic question, of course, is whether Paikea succeeds only because she becomes a warrior citizen — or does she offer something genuinely new and transformative?

In other words, does Paikea destroy old myths, or simply reinforce them in a subtle way — like “iron lady” Margaret Thatcher?

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