Tag Archives: feminism

Why feminism shouldn’t rest just yet

During the campaign, there was a lot of talk about an Obama victory marking the emergence of a “post-racial” moment in our society. I don’t know to what extent that is actually true, but I have definitely always considered myself to live in what one might call a “post-gender” society. That is to say, my existence as a female doesn’t really inform my view of myself or my view of the world. Little girls did the same things little boys did, we were treated the same in school, and being raised by a single mother enforced the idea that there is nothing for which a woman *needs* a man. In short, being female is neither a plus nor a minus in determining my life experience, it’s an irrelevant fact that simply means I wear heels instead of loafers around the office.

Women’s issues have never really been of interest to me. A female college professor of mine who focused on governance studies and political parties in the Middle East lamented the fact that when she conducted field research people often assumed she was there to talk about the conditions of women in the region. In short, just because we’re women doesn’t mean we have a natural affinity for this subject. In part, I think this springs from the “post-gender” society idea. Discussing things relative to women’s equality is like discussing whether grass is green or the sky is blue — in short, settled issues.

Last week, I was browsing in the library and happened upon a recent issue of the journal Security Studies. The issue focused on the (almost entirely nonexistant) contribution/integration of feminist theory with international affairs. Really fascinating stuff and if you work in the field of foreign affairs, I would definitely recommend taking a look. Women make up half of the world and yet are barely present in our formulation of grand theoretical strategies through which to engage with the world. Maybe because, throughout large parts of the world, women themselves are barely visible.

Enter this Sunday’s NYT magazine — “Why Women’s Rights are the Cause of Our Time.” I must confess I actually like reading the magazine on Sunday as opposed to Wednesday when the early edition is posted online but I made an exception this time for the feature story, “The Women’s Crusade.”

The piece is adapted from a forthcoming book, which I am now eagerly awaiting. It’s shocking, heartbreaking, infuriating, and really makes one think. More than just outlining the prevalence of spousal abuse, sex trafficking, rape as a weapon in conflict zones, discouragement of educating girls, etc., it looks at what that means in real terms for global development and the economic and geopolitical opportunities inherent in addressing the global plight of women.

In short, if foreign aid, public diplomacy, and our overall attempts at global engagement are to be successful, improving conditions for women must be a core focus and not a feel-good talking point backed up by nothing in terms of execution. I applaud Secretary of State Clinton’s recent focus on this issue, though it will be interesting to see how that commitment is born out in policy,  and I think all of us who work in foreign affairs really need to take a look at how we conceptualize the role of women no matter what our particular concentration might be.

Working while cute

I am a bit taken aback by the snarkiness that has emerged surrounding this Ali Campoverdi story. Of course it’s just the sort of thing that would make the gossip pages — gorgeous girl, eclectic background, works for Obama, dating a famous guy. Par for the course in today’s media climate.

The (bitterly negative) reactions I’ve heard, however, have been surprising. She was hired because she’s hot. She shouldn’t be taken seriously because she posed for some provocative pictures five years ago. She’s an opportunistic social climber. She’s a “feminist paradox.” Most of these, I must say, were voiced by women.

This is 2009, are you kidding me? I thought the days of a woman having to actively attempt to downplay her femininity lest she not be taken seriously professionaly had faded quietly into the night long before I was born. If not entirely in practice, as I would venture to say most women can attest to encountering an exception here and there, then at least the acceptability of publicly articulating anything along those lines has gone by the wayside. Would I have chosen to pose in Maxim? No, thankfully for the collective eyesight of the male population, I would not. I certainly do not hold it against her though. This was five years ago, it isn’t like they’ve installed last month’s playmate into her own little cubicle in the West Wing. The woman is a Kennedy School grad, one imagines she has the intellectual heft to fit the job requirements of an assistant to an assistant (i.e. copy-making, coffee-grabbing flunkie). As for not having a world of political experience, this is certainly not unheard of. If one has ambition and talent, it’s easy to get noticed and move up fast in this business. That she might have sought out that advancement instead of expecting it to be handed to her is a quality that would be lauded in a man. Here, it just seems to make her an eyelash batting kitten trading on sex appeal (nevermind the fact that there is zero actual evidence to support this beyond the fact that she’s an attractive woman).

Truthfully, the only person who knows why she was picked for the job is the hiring manager. I, along with 99.99999% of the people who are talking about it, have never met the woman and have no clue about her professional demeanor. What bothers me is how the default response seems to be to assume the most cynical explanation and tear her down in the process. I don’t see her as a feminist paradox, I see it as the epitome of what feminism should be in my generation. One can explore different careers, different sides of one’s personality, different experiences, and ultimately be judged on what one brings to the table here and now instead of some convoluted notion about the proper behavior and place for a woman. Me? I’ll just keep rocking those stiletto heels, form-fitting suits, and ambition all the way to the top 😉