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.