Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.
Simone de Beauvoir
To many people, applying feminist analysis to International Relations would seem like a realistic approach to viewing the world. However, there is a difference between realism as an acceptance of ‘reality,’ and the way the term is used as a theory of International Relations. Realism in IR relies on competitive self-interest of a nation as the best strategy to engaging with other countries. National security is paramount; working together with other countries and forming alliances is made to look irrational. So how could realism have anything to do with a feminist analysis, which relies on inclusion of all people through striving for gender equality?
In Terrell Carver’s “Conclusion,” to the textbook Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Politics, he claims that feminism and realism correspond only due to the fact that realism was a “starting point” for feminist theory; Carver points out that feminism builds on and goes beyond realism (p. 350). Yet, realism is evidently a polar opposite to a theory of inclusion; its selfish approach shows no room for gender equality, but rather seems as though gender inequality would be supported, and even depended upon.
The article “Transnational Feminist Activism” by Valentine M. Mogdaham discusses the cooperation of women from three or more counties set on achieving local, national, regional and transnational goals of inclusion. These transnational feminist networks take feminist action; they aim to challenge “gender hierarchy and changing women’s social status, whether or not they adopt the feminist label” (p. 294). Parenthetically, the fact that any passionate group of women actively pursuing equality for all genders would reject the feminist label is very odd; it seems part of the conundrum of respect for women. If we strive for our rights yet are embarrassed of the supposed extremity of the term ‘feminism,’ are we not feeding the negative message that feminism - encompassing the pursuit of equality itself - is irrelevant?
Obviously, feminism is important all over the world. Moghadam points out that global challenges led to new ways of thinking and assembling for transnational feminist networks. Some examples of global changes were the new international division of labor that relied heavily on cheap female labour after Keynesian economics switched to neoliberal economics and the pressure put on “women’s reproductive or domestic roles” after the decline of the welfare state in the core countries and the developmental state in the Third World (p. 296).
These changes in the world led to a “convergence of feminist perspectives”; women from developing and developed countries were united. Evidently, something which aided in communication for these women was the emergence of the internet. The internet enabled these activists to organize and plan events with enhanced speed and directness. Some of the demands needing to be met at this time were eventually exemplified at different international conferences. Women declared that “environmental issues were women’s issues, that women’s rights were human rights, that governments were expected to guarantee women’s reproductive health and rights, and that women’s access to productive employment and social protection needed to be expanded” (p. 298).
Reading this, I looked at the dates of the conferences wherein these demands were being made. The most recent of the ones mentioned is 1995. 1995, I thought, I was just a child then. The Vienna Declaration of the 1993 Conference on Human Rights claimed that violence against women was an abuse of human rights; it also claimed that “systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy… were violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law” (p. 298). I am pretty appalled to think that I was just a child - my mother already a working woman and parent - when this was finally declared. It just seems so obvious. These statements in 1993 were groundbreaking; yet a time without the concept of those claims seems like a complete rejection of what is essentially morality before then.
Moghadam points out that the concept of the international women’s movement is “diffuse and diverse.” Well, of course it is. If we look at gender as it is “dimorphically” constructed, we can make claims that women are essentially half of the population and thus deserve equal respect. Yet, we are ignoring issues of transgender and other definitions of gender identity. Thus, something that is so urgently important is the portrayal of women, of genders, of equality itself. We must ask so many questions, of ourselves, our peers and of our society, in order to try and directly do justice to the diffuse and diverse desires and dreams necessary to live in an “equal” world.
The need to ask questions, to apply our curiosities is echoed in Terrell Carver’s previously (albeit briefly) mentioned “Conclusion.” Carver asks where a “home” for feminist theory in International Relations is. He basically wants us to question what all of this means, how a feminist analysis has benefited us, and how the text book has helped make certain things about contemporary global politics clear. The problems have been laid out and discussed; we have been forced to think critically about the future of these problems. I know in my heart that at the root of everything, is the portrayal of the sexes — in traditional practice, in long-formed, deep rooted cultural beliefs, in the media.
However, I can go on and on about portrayal — because it is IMPORTANT — but… I can’t help but feel like the wicked witch of the West, sitting back and looking around at how easy I have it before I make my statements. I live in North America. I have to remind myself of that. I can be bawling my eyes out in a phone call home about not being able to afford tuition easily next semester, but I get to experience education at an institution as nice as UVic. I have a loving family. I have a shoe addiction. I have an iPod. I have it pretty different than women in different parts of the world.
Yet, despite these things, I am so utterly sick of hearing that things are different! things are so different here! they are so incrediblyamazinglycompletely different and I should just stop talking about feminism because of how “far” we have already come. I get told this all too often, and let me tell you… this makes me angrier than a Twilight fan being told that they cannot actually, in fact, marry Edward Cullen. In other words, I get scary steroid angry. And I’m allowed to be.
I have come to realize that. This has been reinforced in lecture, and it is especially important to me. In the past I have been quite literally obsessed with the projection of my personality as appearing strong — never weak — in the public sphere. I thought that if I showed that I had any emotion signifying ‘weakness’ (so most emotions, really), then I’d be proving the stereotypes right, that they were all right about me, about us — whoever they even are.
Yet I’ve always had a strong connection to feminism, and should have known that my subconscious and yet obvious projection of myself was not right. It’s so hard sometimes to keep myself in line and make sure I stand up against what is wrong. I’ve been told by a male friend that if I double major in Poli Sci and Women Studies, he will still only consider me a Political Science major because “Women Studies is a made up subject and it’s not real.” I made sure to stick up to him that time. But then there are the simple things too — the things where I don’t know if it’s worth my energy. I tweeted “I am the least suave person alive” yesterday, and a male I had formerly respected replied “It’s okay, you have tits.” I haven’t spoken back yet. I haven’t stood up yet. I haven’t told him how utterly disgusting his comment was yet. But I will. It’s about reminders.
I have come a long way, and have worked at reminding myself, at challenging myself to show exactly who I am to other people, regardless of what anyone would think. I can be emotional; I’m allowed. I’m also allowed to be aggressive, to feel numb when I want to, to care too much, to not care enough… just like a man, just like ANYONE. I could work for the government in an area like military strategy if I want to. I can, me. ME, ME, ME. (We live in the era of self-absorption after all, do we not? Social media allows our egos to become planets in the galaxy of Us).
So I could ask, what about women all over the world? the women in Egypt? in Africa?
But then, what about the women who are minorities within our own country?
I saw Finding Dawn this week, an incredible film by Christine Welsh. I sat there bawling my eyes out — because I’m allowed — at the terrifyingly sad accounts of missing Aboriginal women in Canada. There are women within our country, within our province, within our city that need help, that need recognition, that need respect and real equal protection under the law.
OBVIOUSLY, something has to change. So much has to change. And anyone who isn’t willing to work towards incorporating gender into political science is, quite frankly, lazy.
I feel like a broken record sometimes claiming that — but I will not be silenced. I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I know what’s right; my morals, to me, are important. I believe that they are ethical. relevant. in danger. I’ll do what I can to save them. We live in a really messed up place. It can be a beautiful disaster, but it’s mayhem nonetheless. We can’t nurse this place back to health completely, but we can make efforts to at least continue to use a feminist lens to create a more inclusive environment. Each step is an improvement.
This course, this textbook, this conclusion has reminded me of the importance of making improvements. Madame de Beauvoir (obvy I’m a big fan) once said that “[o]ne is not born a woman, but becomes one.” If that’s the truth, then I think that being a woman is being strong.
There’s a reason my mom always says, “I am woman, hear me roar!” I know that she is probably quoting a cliche that I am (ironically) too lazy to go research, but I grew up with her saying that in a joking tone. These things make me think I am becoming woman, and I do want the world to hear me ‘roar.’
I want the world to hear my voice rip new dimensions in the recesses of the universe. I want the world to hear my rage, hear my anger, hear it echo and transcend volume itself, hear it climb like the spine of the universe reaching up, sprouting out, spouting out poetry, like a pinata full of ideas burst and dispersing throughout the skies, words slicking everything leaking out in drips, gripping the air slipping out in ticks with rationality wielding its whip. And I hope that in the end we all can see how rational feminism is, how rational we need to be.
My final tangent that I will go on is about how I am the Women Studies Equity and Outreach Coordinator, and as part of my job, I recently had the pleasure of working with a group of thirteen-year-old girls. I was there to answer their questions about feminism and what Women Studies is. One question they had was “why is it that women get less respect than men in society?”
I let my mouth fall slightly open, and my hands started to move in gestures, as if I was already speaking my usual endless rambling of thoughts. I started blabbering about history, about patriarchy, about social constructions… and then I stopped myself. These girls may not have been wrapping their heads around the concepts at hand, but I did want one thing to remain perfectly clear.
“You can do anything you want,” I told them, “anything in the world.”
I told them that it may seem this way now, but it’s not always going to be this way. If they have self-respect, if they educate themselves, if they believe in who they are, our world will continue to change and correspond with their budding paths. I hope that these girls will do everything and anything they ever wanted to do, regardless of the fact that they are technically all female.
The girls also talked about a transgender student in their grade.
“I don’t think that he would ever get bullied about [his gender identity],” one of the girls told me, “because he is just a really nice person.”
I smiled at the thought of that — to think, that someone could be treated the way that they deserved, regardless of factors that may cause the close-minded to judge them. It sounded almost as ridiculous as someone telling me “this news just in! life is now fair!”
Yet, the fact that this person does not receive harsh treatment at his school says something about the new generation. Maybe it only says something about this one school, this one grade, this one group of individuals. However, if we continue to look through a feminist lens, we are not going to just be protecting women. We will be protecting, helping, looking out for everyone. I know that there is still such a long way to go.
Maybe it’s my crazy-womanly-emotional-anger, but….
Love me a challenge.
To answer Carver’s question in “Conclusion,” about where ‘home’ is for feminist analysis… I believe that feminist theory itself is the beginning of a journey on the pathway home. One day, we’ll find home — our paramount paradise — through, and in, feminism.
Carver, Terrell. Conclusion. Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations. Shepherd, Laura J. ed. NY: Routledge, 2010. 347-350
Moghadam, Valentine M. “Transnational Activism.” Gender Matters in Global Politics: A Feminist Introduction to International Relations. Shepherd, Laura J. ed. NY: Routledge, 2010. 292-306.