Tag: women

Whose Academy Is It Anyway?

Recently there has been a lot of talk about one of those issues academics (at least in the U.S.) obsess about: how to get tenure and the job security as well as license to (supposedly) speak truth to power that comes with it.

This round of conversations started when Stephen Walt gave some, rather generic, advice in his Foreign Policy piece “How to Get Tenure“. As a long-time professor at Harvard, Walt certainly has experience – but with a very particular kind of (highly privileged) institution and hence, while not wrong per se, his advice certainly is limited in a number of ways. One such limitation, that Walt’s  imaginary assistant professor on the tenure-track is supposedly gender-less (aka male), was subsequently picked up by Erica Chenoweth, Page Fortina, Sara Mitchell, Burcu Savun, Jessica Weeks and Kathleen Cunningham. Their piece “How to Get Tenure (If You’re a Woman)” has been widely discussed among women in Political Science/ IR (and beyond) in the past weeks. In the piece, Chenoweth et al. offer “seven peer reviewed strategies female faculty can use” – and there is some good  advice for those who want “to climb the academic ladder” (as is) here. What is more, they also note that other intersecting oppressions mean that “these issues also (and often more so) affect faculty of color and other underrepresented groups and are doubly difficult for women of color” (unfortunately they fall short of specifically addressing these issues).

There were many discussions on the facebook feed of the Women’s Caucus in International Studies (WCIS) and that of the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies (FTGS) section of ISA. Laura Sjoberg provides a useful summary of the gist of these conversations – that “Women Shouldn’t Need Different Guidelines for Achieving Tenure” – and you should really read them, as they also include a number of “Other Observations on Gendered Academe” and concrete suggestions as to what each of us might do, individually, to help out.  She ends her piece with the lament voiced by many – that the system, with its deep gender, race, class, heterosexist, and ableist bias (to name just a few axes of oppression), is essentially broken. Much of the advice given is only a way to get by; it rarely allows us to thrive if we cannot figure out a way to become “the ideal worker… someone who is always able to work” (Williams, 2001).

One question remains, however: Is the system really broken?

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Men’s Unexpected Erections are a Liability on the Battlefield (and other ways men’s bodies put female soldiers at risk)


In the follow up to Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s  recent announcement that all combat jobs will be open to women, there have been several articles highlighting men’s fears about working with women on the frontline. In particular, a survey of Special Operations men found that the majority would prefer not to work with women, and that some held serious “fears” and “concerns”- especially in relation to women’s apparently unpredictable bodies. That’s right, the Special Forces-  the tip of the spear, the elite of the US military- are scared about the three P’s: periods, pregnancy and PMS. Most of these discussions pit women’s unpredictable, leaky, and fragile bodies against men’s stable, solid, and predictable ones. But is that true? Well, if folks want to take the debate to this level, its worth considering what science tells us about  men’s creaky, leaky, fluctuating and hormonal bodies and how this might impact their combat readiness.
So, I’ve compiles a list of 3 ways men’s bodies might be a liability in combat. It starts with- you guessed it- unexpected erections (bet you didn’t expect to see that arrangement of words in an IR blog post today).

1. Unexpected Erections: Did you know that men, on average, get 11 erections a day? That can be a serious physical liability in an intense combat situation. If we are going to talk about unexpected pregnancy or women’s PMS, we should talk about men’s boners too. Sounds silly? Well, it is actually a serious consideration. It should be noted that erections aren’t just about sexual arousal, many men experience “reflex erections, which can happen when a man is nervous, scared, angry, or under stress.” Sounds like a definite combat liability- particularly with younger male troops. Also, men can get unexpected erections due to the need to urinate, which can be a reality for soldiers travelling or in action in the field. All these fears about women ‘holding it’ and getting bladder infections in combat  might be nothing compared to the risk of men ‘holding it’ and getting an erection. I’ll spare you all the jokes about negligent discharge (ok I won’t), but in all seriousness, we need to ask if men’s unexpected erections put troops at risk.

2. Testosterone is unpredictable and fathers loose it rapidly: Continue reading

Excluding Women from the Band of Brothers: the False Flag of Small Unit Cohesion

The following is a guest post by Kirstin J.H. Brathwaite, Postdoctoral Fellow at James Madison College, Michigan State University.

The graduation of two women from Army Ranger school last month along with the apparent intention of the Marine Corps to request an exemption to the Department of Defense’s plan to lift the combat exclusion policy has led to an outpouring of opinion pieces regarding the advisability of allowing women to participate in combat operations. Some argue that Capt. Greist and Lt. Haver’s success in one of the most demanding military training courses in the world proves that women are physically able to do the job. Others suggest that a few exceptions should not overthrow the rule. But a large number of those arguing against the inclusion of women in combat units accept that while some women may be physically capable of combat, their sex is a disruption to the most sacred of military institutions – the socially cohesive Band of Brothers.

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Military Officers on Women in the Infantry: Five For, One Against

Lance Corporal Kristi Baker, on patrol with 1st Battalion 8th Marines as a member of a Female Engagement Team.Contenders for the Marine Corps Association’s Major General Harold W. Chase Prize, ($3000, publication, and a plaque) are supposed to “propose and argue for a new and better way of “doing business” in the Marine Corps. Authors must have strength in their convictions and be prepared for criticism from those who would defend the status quo.”

Therefore it came as a surprise to many military professionals when the 2013 winner was Marine Captain Lauren F. Serrano, whose winning essay was an opinion piece that called for maintaining the status quo and excluding women from the infantry.

But in the month since her article was published, it’s worth noting that five decorated military officers (Marines, Army, male and female, infantry and other specialties) have weighed in to dispute her claims, while not a single officer has written to corroborate or support Captain Seranno’s opinions, which appear to have been formed absent  research, evidence, or personal experience.  Continue reading

An Academic Woman’s Rant of the Week: Self-Promotion

This week’s installment of An Academic Woman’s Rant of the Week concerns self-promotion and self-citation differences between men and women.

The idea for this installment came to me while I was having a celebratory drink with K. Chad Clay and Jim Piazza at ISA.  We were celebrating our recent Political Research Quarterly article (also coauthored with Sam Bell).[1]  Chad had just presented a new Bell, Clay, Murdie paper[2] at a panel that I wasn’t able to attend.  When I asked Chad if he had any questions from the floor, Chad said that he did get some questions but that he was able to answer them with reference to our forthcoming International Studies Quarterly article (coauthored also with Colin Barry, Sam Bell, and Mike Flynn).[3]

“Doesn’t that make you feel bad?” I said, “It always embarrasses me to have to reference one of my other pieces.”

“No,” Chad replied, “Given all of the recent stuff about the citation gap, I think that’s a gendered-thing.”

A gendered-thing?  Really?

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How Do You Change a Policy That Doesn’t Exist?: the combat exclusion one year later

126074_600-1Despite 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… Continue reading

Shouldn’t we call it the “having-a-husband” penalty?

As Jennifer Grose at Slate reported this morning, a paper by Wendy Stock and John Siegfried at the most recent AEA meetings, had some very disturbing – but not surprising – findings in regarding women academics and marriage.  The Slate article calls it the “wife penalty.”  I’d prefer it to be called the “having-a-husband penalty.”  In no uncertain terms, having a husband costs:

“For males, getting married within the first five years after graduation was associated with a 25 percent salary growth premium relative to other males. For females,however, getting married was associated with a 23 percent salary growth penalty relative to other females, perhaps reflecting compromises incurred in a two-career job search”  (Stock and Siegfried 2014, 14-15).

The paper is available for download at the AEA site.

One interesting thing I noted:  it also appears that marriage at time of degree could be a short-term boost:

“we found that marriage was significantly associated with salary growth, with those who were married at the time they earned their degree experiencing roughly 15 percent higher salary growth over the first five years of their careers”  (Stock and Siegfried 2014, 14).

I wonder if this is due to issues of age or self-selection, something previously discussed at the Duck

*Thanks to Justin Esarey for bringing this article to my attention.

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! 

Assessing the Arguments Against GI Jane: The Combat Exclusion for Women Part I



As American troops trickle back from Iraq and-eventually- Afghanistan, it seems like the perfect time to examine the lessons learned from the last decade of warfare. One of the policies requiring a review is the combat exclusion for women. Although most positions within the US forces have been opened up to women over the last 50 years, there has been adamant efforts to sustain rules which prohibit women from joining the so-called front lines of conflict in combat roles. Many of the remaining justifications for this exclusion are based on expired research (or no research at all), and outdated or irrelevant assumptions about military operations (including the idea of a clear front line).

First, some quick facts: over 130 women have died in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom; women are excluded from 9% of all army roles, and 30% of active duty roles and 38% of marine positions are closed to women; two servicewomen have been awarded the Silver Star- the military’s third highest honor for valor in combat.

The arguments for sustaining the exclusion can be divided into three categories: physical standards, the moral argument, and the cohesion hypothesis.

The focus on physical standards is a legitimate one. Women and men are just different physically, particularly in terms of body fat and upper body strength- not to mention the fact that women menstruate and get pregnant. There are no feminist arguments that can undo these differences. There are a couple of worthwhile considerations here: 1. standards have increasingly been adjusted in training to recognize the difference in male and female bodies 2. there is growing research indicating that a single standard isn’t necessary for operational effectiveness 3. some research shows that tasks can be adapted (using two people to lift, for example) to allow women to succeed.



The second argument against women in combat is less tangible and certainly impossible to measure- the moral argument. This is the position that women simply ‘don’t belong’ in combat. It may seem like this would be irrelevant to policy-makers; however, in senate hearings and in much of the literature on the combat exclusion this position emerges. A quote from Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff summarizes this position, “I just can’t get over this feeling of old men ordering young women into combat…I have a gut-based hang-up there. And it doesn’t make a lot of sense in every way. I apologize for it.” The moral argument is an important one to take notice of. Research and the interviewee’s response indicate the existence of deeply embedded beliefs about men and women’s valid place during conflict. In many ways it is difficult to disentangle the moral argument from the physical standards and the cohesion hypothesis as these embedded beliefs seem to inform and influence much of the debates surrounding women’s participation in combat.

The final, and perhaps most significant, argument for keeping women out of combat roles is the cohesion argument. Or, what I call the cohesion hypothesis. According to this position, the presence of women affects the emotional bonds, friendships, and trust amongst troops and therefore jeopardizes the overall effectiveness of military units. The cohesion hypothesis is used by other defense forces across the world, and was also used to support Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. There are a couple of difficulties with the cohesion hypothesis: 1. cohesion is difficult to define and measure. In military scholarship it is defined as anything from commitment to a shared mission, trust, bonds, to ‘liking’ one another. As a result, it has become nearly impossible to test the cohesion hypothesis conclusively. 2. partially as a result of disparate definitions and partially as a result of the lack of test population, research on cohesion is all over the map when it comes to combat cohesion women.

RAND did a large study on women’s impact on cohesion in non-combat units, concluding that it was largely leadership, not the presence of women, that impacted cohesion. Despite some research indicating that women don’t spoil cohesion, it is impossible to conclusively determine if women would spoil cohesion in combat units. As the 1992 Presidential Commission looking at women in military found, “[t]here are no authoritative military studies of mixed-gender ground combat cohesion, since available cohesion research has been conducted among male-only ground combat units.”

The arguments against so-called GI Janes seem to defy the reality that women have been and are operating in dangerous, physically demanding roles in the US forces. Arguments about cohesion and standards were used to exclude African Americans and homosexuals from the US forces. These arguments were dropped and largely discredited as soon as policies changed, yet they continue to be used to exclude women from many positions with the US forces. Is the US military ready to open all positions to women? Will the removal of the combat exclusion be on the table for policy makers over the next 5 years?

Best exam question EVER!



I know it is hard to believe, but while most of the academic world is enjoying the last few weeks of university break, down under in Kiwi-land we’re in the thick of the academic year. This year I tried out some new essay questions for my Gender and Post-Conflict Development and Feminist International Relations courses and I have to say- I created the best essay question ever. The suspense is killing you right? Here it is:

You’ve been asked to help create a realistic video game that illustrates women’s experiences of war and insecurity. Referring to readings covered in class, what types of activities, challenges, and events would you include in the game? How do you think the public would respond to your game?

The best part about this question has been the incredible debates and discussions it created in class and the amazing answers students came up with. I had to share a couple.

One student designed the game to follow a family forced to flee their village. The family faces numerous challenges at each level of the game, including finding food and daily necessities through the black market, hiding from rebel attacks, and eventually joining and adapting to life in a refugee camp.

Another student created a female soldier character that survives war by joining in atrocities such as amputations. In the last phase of the game the player has to find a way to get included in the disarmament process- at the disarmament camps the female soldier character has to avoid sexual abuse and physical violence. Another student gives the player the option to choose from the following characters: a woman caught in a civil war in East Africa and a Western woman fighting within a peacekeeping unit. Both women face different sets of obstacles- including the threat of sexual violence from their comrades.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The question was meant to be thought provoking (and quite frankly was a last ditch effort to create an exam that I thought might be more interesting to grade!). There were no limits to the ideas on how to create a game, but when it came to thinking about how audiences would respond to such a ‘realistic’ video games students were less enthusiastic. I guess it is worth asking: Would a truly realistic war video game, one that represented men and women’s experiences of war- complete with sexual violence, food scarcity, amputations, and refugee flows- flop? No answers here, but would love to start a discussion. Or to hear what your video game would look like.

International Women’s Day Film Fest: The lady characters helping and hindering the cause.

The 15th Century take on Shrek

A friend of mine linked to a fabulous post by Lindy West at the Guardian “The Five Most Pathetic Female Film Characters of All Time”. Okay, not the most inspiring International Women’s Day post. But if I’m honest with you, I think she’s spot on with her list (although I haven’t seen Twilight so I can’t really judge that… but it seems to confirm everything I’ve heard about Bella.)

There is nothing worse than a horrible female companion/character/lead in a film. I find it like being on a long car ride with a whiney companion. And that’s the very least damage they do. At worst, they confirm stereotypes and just simply send the wrong message to young girls or women about what they need to do to be saved by some moronic hero.

At the end of her post West invites readers to list the characters that are letting down the female gender. So I thought that I would make a quick list (in no particular order) in between marking essays. Since I think today needs to be about empowerment, I’ve also listed those women at the end that I think are relatively kick-ass and do their thing for the cause.

It’s an interesting thought experiment (or at least a fun distraction) to think about what makes a good female character. I’m not sure I have a definitive list, but I would certainly want a certain degree of self-reliance, an ability to think under pressure (and not, say, faint), an ability to work well and communicate with others and not be overly whiney. I don’t think women have to be violent in order to be awesome, just have some witty talk and a normal freaking brain.

Also – I’m sure I could come up with more on both sides, but here are a few that pop into my mind (from the world of film at least – I’m well aware that several Duck contributors would find the lack of Buffy on this list to be disturbing.) I would be interested in hearing other people’s lists. Or perhaps other ideas of what makes a good female role-model.


Lady Losers (Boo!)

Dale Arden – Flash (AH-AAA!!!) Gordon


The fact that this woman could walk and breathe at the same time, let alone with that gigantic 80s hair astounds me. Pathetic dialogue and ‘cheerleading ‘ while your paramour is trying to football fight his way through Ming’s army of doom IS NOT HELPING.
Having seen only clips of the series, I’m not sure if any of the other Dales were any good, but I have my doubts. If I was Flash I probably just would have stuck with Ming’s daughter.

Okay, this poster is rad.

Barbarella


Okay – I’m certain that this is going to be the most controversial one up here, but seriously, she is a total let-down. It’s like the adventures of naked, sexy Pearl Heart in space. Maybe it’s because I watched it for the first time n the 1990s, but I was expecting a lot more from “The Queen of the Galaxy”. Sure, I get that the was about free love and seeing Jane Fonda naked in the 1960s, but really.

Mareen O’Hara as Lady Margaret in the Black Swan.

O’Hara did work the beach curls.

Maybe it’s because I can’t stand a film of Sabatini novel without, as a minimum, Errol Flynn or Olivia De Havilland in a starring role, but I just thought this film was pretty bad. Captain Blood is all kinds of awesome – and De Havilland manages to put some kick into an otherwise kind of flat character (although movie enhances her character’s role). But this film is just kind of creepy and rapey. And despite O’Hara’s attempts to be feisty, she comes off as lame. Her character is helpless and annoying. Or maybe I just can’t the fact that no one even bothered trying to put on a British accent.

Clever, but not clever enough to avoid silver lamé!  .

Olivia De Havilland as Maid Marian – Robin Hood

The 1936 film takes a character that has plenty of potential to be useless and turns it into someone who was pretty kick-ass for the Great Depression. She bests Robin at conversation and masterminds his escape when his ‘Merry Men’ can’t get it together. She doesn’t swoon, faint or cry. She changes her mind through reason and debate. When she spends a little while in the dungeon, she remains stoic and determined. Sure she’s not fighting her way out with a broadsword, but I’m going to give her my pre-1945 award for being pretty kick-ass.

Eowyn – Lord of the Rings

Sure she’s kind of winey and moany and in love with a guy who is going for the hot elf princess. (Isn’t that always the way?) But she WANTS to kick ass. They literally have to forbid her from going out to fight. And she STILL manages to go out and kill the King of the Nazgul. Basically this woman is all kinds of awesome – and she gets Faramir in the end. Niiiice.

Princess Leia – Star Wars 

I feel that I almost have to put this up out of obligation – although I thought she kind of got wussified by Return of the Jedi. However, she is an amazing character in the first film. She’s a career woman (diplomat), rebellion leader and pretty gung-ho. She withstands torture and only gives up information when the lives of others are threatened. And she can pull off that hair-bun look while shooting-up some baddies.

EDIT: Looking at this list, I think most of my heroines could safely be described as liberal feminists (well, 12th Century liberal feminists for Marian). Could film ever produce a critical/stand-point feminist? Maybe I just haven’t seen enough ‘good’ movies. Anyone have any ideas on this?

Driving Parents Crazy: Why are some violent radicals fathers?

My blogging has been light lately as I have been on the road travelling a lot. This recent period has had me travelling like something of a crazy person with trips all over the Centre/East Coast of North America.

Part of this trip included some time in Ottawa, where it was some interesting times. The week before I arrived there was a series of dramatic arrests here against individuals suspected of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks against the city. These are individuals who, from most media accounts, were largely raised in Canada and subsequently became radicalized.

This is not the first series of arrests that have been carried out by Canadian police and intelligence services in recent years. The case of the Toronto 18 (although only 11 were eventually charged) – seems to be similar in the sense that it was a bunch of individuals that became radicalized and eventually tried to carry out terrorist acts in Toronto. Although their efforts were almost comically bad – and full of screw-ups along the way – the plot to blow up Toronto office buildings was not really anything to laugh about.

This is kind of old news now, but a couple of thoughts on this latest series of arrests – with the caveat of course that I am no terrorism expert.

I suppose the main thing that has caught my attention is that one of the suspects, Khurram Sher, has young children. Initially, I found this somewhat shocking – but upon reflection I realized that this is not unlike recent London bombers (in the 7/7 attacks and the attempts of 21/7 ) – some of whom were married and some with children. And some of the lead suspects in the Toronto 18 case also had children.

I’ve been asking terrorism researching friends why this might be. Apparently the appropriate question is why, in these cases does having children not provide an “insulating” factor against radicalization? If there is some kind of parenting instinct, why is it not enough to overcome or prevent some individuals from wanting to carry out violent acts?

Based on some brief conversations, I’m not sure there is a straightforward answer. One explanation is that violent radicals have often married young and, naturally, have had children as a result. So in this sense it may just be something that has happened along the way, or during the process of violent radicalization.

Perhaps more interestingly it was also suggested to me that there is some research to support the idea that the women in the lives of violent radicals – such as their wives – may play a role in encouraging them to act. Kind of like a bad version of Macbeth, I guess. But in that case the question about the insulating effect of children then applies to the women as well – why don’t children discourage them from encouraging violent radicalism? Why would they prefer that their husbands act than their children to have a father?

But upon some (very light) investigation into this – it seems as though many women who actually execute terrorist acts (as opposed to only encouraging) are mothers as well. This is particularly the case with the Black Widdows of Chechnya where women are often in their mid-20s and may have 2-3 children. A depressing thought.

Another interesting question to come off of this is if there is a difference between fathers in the Middle East in harsh circumstances (such as Palestine) and Western radicals? While I could imagine that being the son/daughter/wife of a “martyr” might convey (however perversely) a certain social status in the Occupied Territories, would this hold true for the Canadian Muslim community (who have been very quick to denounce the supposed plot on a national level)?

I would be very interested in suggestions for research in this area. I’m fairly certain that if I asked my parents I would get some kind of sarcastic comment about myself and my brother being enough to drive anyone crazy. However, I have to think that there is more social-scientific research out there that doesn’t involve parental sarcasm.

This video of one of the London bombers holding his infant daughter is pretty chilling. He is literally making a video for her – spelling out exactly what he was about to do and that she should pray for him in heaven. I don’t like to think of myself as overly sentimental – but you would think that having kids would discourage someone from actively harming themselves?

Women’s Bodies on the National and International Agenda

David Kirkpatrick yesterday wrote in the New York Times about how the health care debate is reviving the abortion debate in US politics. I read this article right after I saw a film that several of my feminist colleagues and friends recommended, called “Not Yet Rain.” Among other things at issue in this film is the Helms Amendment to the U.S. 1973 Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits the use of U.S. aid funds to “motivate or coerce” or “perform” abortion as a method of family planning, but has been interpreted to deny assistance to clinics that mention abortion as an option or perform it in cases of rape. The Helms Amendment has made the news a number of times recently.

Abortion is an issue my (inner) lawyer has thought a lot about, both in terms of gender equality and in terms of the constitutional justification for its legality in the United States. I’ve written about the importance of abortion rights for gender equality, and the shakiness of privacy as a legal grounds to justify it. I’ve worked up an argument about abortion as a 13th Amendment right in the United States, arguing that the instances in which we deny the right to abortion are among the very few times that the United States government can compel someone to do labor (we do still call it that, right?) against their will.

But the simultaneous presence of abortion rights on the national and international agenda is more than an issue for the U.S. constitution, and more than a two-level games question. While some work has been done on the embodiment of the state, and some work has been done on individuals in international relations, the question of the role of the (actual) body in global politics is an important one that needs more attention in IR.

Katherine Moon, in Sex Among Allies,
examined how the bodies of women prostitutes in South Korea were crucial to the U.S./South Korea security negotiations in the 1970s. Fundamentally, the abortion/aid debate is about the foreign policy of/about women’s bodies. These are times when the embodiment of IR/foreign policy is, in some sense, obvious, though the role and meaning of the body in these debates requires exploration. Study of the body in IR, though, could go even further, to study the essence of embodiment and physicality in global politics, considering that the body is a fundamental part of political economy, security and war, and everyday political interactions.

While I don’t have a whole lot deep to say about it right now, it seems to be like there is an important research program to be had in the global politics of the body and the body in global politics, building on (feminist and other) work that has addressed physical/sexual exploitation, civilian immunity, and other phenomena and exploring new questions about how physicality impacts politics not only at the individual level, but across levels of analysis (like the abortion debate), and specifically at the state and international levels.

A New UN Super-Agency for Women

From the Guardian:

This autumn the UN general assembly will vote yes or no to a new “super-agency for women”; $1bn is being discussed as the starter annual budget.

A major role for the new agency’s work will be to close the gap between rhetoric and reality on existing international resolutions on sex discrimination and women’s human rights. The priorities cover a lot of ground – to help women earn increased income, stay in education longer, have access to proper health care, and have an equal say in decisions that affect their lives and the future of the planet.

Despite generations of international agreements on women’s equality, responsibility for improving the lives of the world’s women is spread thinner than Marmite across four poorly co-ordinated UN entities – Unifem, DAW, Osagi, and Instraw. Their senior staff are not part of the UN’s main decision-making fora. All have minuscule budgets, little power or influence in the UN system and virtually no operational capacity on the ground. Unifem, the largest of the four, has 47 staff and a budget of $129m to serve the world’s three and a half billion women.

All organisations within the UN system are officially mandated to address gender and women’s rights. Most treat women’s rights and priorities as optional extras, or entirely ignore their responsibilities to half the world’s population. A few UN agencies and UN missions in some countries do important work on gender equality and women’s rights, but it’s patchy and often depends on an individual champion to push for it.

Giant leap for womankind? Or just another expensive UN bureaucracy? My two cents: it may make a big difference whether this new agency consolidates/replaces existing UN gender machinery, or whether it simply adds another agency onto the existing mishmash. If the latter, it is likely to increase the visibility of gender issues within the UN, but also increase redundancy, buck-passing and institutional inertia.

Another thing to keep an eye on will be the power politics involved, once such an agency is established, in defining the UN’s agenda on women’s empowerment. Culled from comments on the Guardian article:

“The men of Africa are in far more need of help than the women of Europe, America, Canada, Russia, etc. By grouping your “3 and a half billion women” together and claiming they are one big lump of victimhood that has been “let down” you just make a mockery of the whole issue. Perhaps the budget should be targeted at those nations where women really do get a rough deal rather than becoming another plaything of the pampered feminists of the West (a group whose living standards are probably in the top 5% of the world’s population). Western women have far more in common with Western men than they do with third world women.

Sadly, the form in which such an agency is likeliest to be effective and transformative is also the one it is least likely to take. What is probably needed is not a “women’s” agency but a “gender empowerment” agency. The former approach would focus on women and be contingent on identifying some agenda for all women, which could be politically problematic. The latter would promote gender awareness at all levels of UN policy and could conceivably focus on human rights violations against all gender minorities. Of course, this would be a more radical and far-reaching step (and lots of countries in the UN don’t like the term ‘gender’) so it is politically unlikely.

So perhaps this is not a giant leap, but at least a small step in the right direction.

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