Tag Archives: gender and IR

If Gaza Isn’t a Genocide, What Is?: discourse as resistance

(this post also appeared on the Duck of Minerva)

At the moment many of us are watching the news with bated breath. New sites,  facebook and twitter feeds are filling with images of civilian deaths and the leveling of Gaza. There is growing sentiment that the ‘targeted’ operations in Gaza by the IDF have been willfully indiscriminate- with example upon example of civilian safe havens being directly targeted (4 UN schools in 4 days, 46 schools in total, 56 Mosques and 7 hospitals). The UN has called for an investigation of war crimes by Israel, and there is a growing international public movement to protest the killings- in the face of almost universal silence by major world leaders on the issue.
One question that has not been consistently raised is why the term ‘genocide’ is not being used to describe the activities of Israel in Gaza. It seems that only ‘extreme’ activist groups or Hamas and the Palestinian Authority themselves would accuse Israel of genocide, with the rest of the international community preferring to qualify their criticisms using terms like ‘indiscriminate’ ‘disproportionate’ or ‘criminal.’ The politics of Israel and Palestine have become so muted, so tangled with discursive landmines that it is difficult to even pose such a question. Yet one does not need to be a radical to at least try to evaluate Israeli actions against the established UN definition of genocide. Serious questions about the end goal of the current military actions, along with longstanding Israeli policies and their impact on the ability of Palestinians to exist require attention.
It is worth quoting the following section from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide- not only to assess whether the current military offensive constitutes a genocide, but also to reflect on the international community’s ‘punishable’ role as actors ‘complicit’ to a genocide.
“Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide. ” Continue reading If Gaza Isn’t a Genocide, What Is?: discourse as resistance

All Male Soldiers are Rapists and all Female Soldiers are Weak Homewreckers: Fox News on Female Soldiers

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

I mostly try to let Fox News polemics slide past me like water off a ducks back. It was easy to dismiss Liz Trotta’s first rant about the proposed changes to the US military, which will allow more women into front-line positions (and recognize those women who are already in these posts) but the second iteration, in which she clarifies her position (and clearly reads a diatribe from a prompter) demands another interruption to my blogging hiatus. We should start with a briefing of Liz-isms, including: “hardline feminist,” “feminist biology,” and “feminist creed.” Let’s see if these become clear after a quick view of her main arguments:
1. The women and combat issue has “never gotten a fair and open hearing” and has instead been established as a “fait accompli” by “hardline feminists.”
2. These same hardline feminists have helped to fabricate “silly and dishonest fairy tales about women’s heroism in war” to support their case for removing the exclusion.
3. Biology is destiny and that men are facing “feminist biology” and having to work with weaker women.
4. Testosterone rules in war and that in closed combat “basic instincts” take over, which put women at risk.
5. Signs of abuse within the military are all too often used to support the “never enough bureaucracy of women victims within the armed forces.”

Let’s just leave her rant about pregnant women and the desecration of the American family aside for now and work with these 5. First, the women and combat issue has received almost as many open hearings as Fox has failed Republican hosts. Liz herself cites the 1991 Senate hearing on the issue and fails to note that the policy changes she is talking about came as a result of a commission initiated by Congress. Second, Trotta cites the Jessica Lynch fabrication as evidence that women’s participation in combat more generally has been essentially ‘made up.’ The Lynch debacle is something to take note of precisely because the fairy tale it created was one of female victimhood and male heroism. Why turn to this example of military propaganda when there is other evidence of women’s participation in combat- for example, women make up 16% of the fatalities in the Iraq and Afghanistan missions and several have won medals for their contributions to combat missions in Iraq. Trotta is right on the third point in the sense that women do measure up differently than men in physical standards tests. But, as reported in a previous blog, the military chose to have sex-specific testing- not because it wanted women to have lower standards, but as part of a recognition of physical difference and the requirements needed to test job capacity rather than meet the male standard. And PS Liz, biology isn’t destiny because according to experts like Maia Goodell, over 5% of women are kicking men’s butts on physical standards tests. The AVERAGE women has less upper body strength and endurance than men, but the military often attracts and creates above average female candidates. The fourth and fifth points that Trotta makes are the most troubling. This ‘basic instinct’ argument is a thrown back to prehistoric analysis of men as incapable of controlling their drive and their genitalia. The argument is insulting to men and ignores subsequent evidence that women and men can work in close proximity without men feeling obliged to rape. As for the sexual violence statistics- surely this is evidence of a major gender problem within the military rather than proof that women need to be kept out.
How did we get here Liz (I feel like we’re on a first name basis since you call feminists whatever you want)? What is your objective? Who are these crazy hardline feminists you speak of and why are you so cynical and dismissive of a “feminist creed” focused on “the right to choose, rights over one’s body etc” as you put it? Why are you and other Republicans like Santorum making this about family values rather than seeing it as a sign the changing reality of the US military (and others)? Australia, Canada and 12 other countries have NO restrictions on women in combat roles and the family structure has not disappeared, men do not rape every female in their proximity, and feminists have not overrun the countries with their irrational cries for respect, rights, and recognition.

Whitney Houston, Chris Brown, and Grammy Irony

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

This Sunday the 2012 Grammy Awards attracted more attention than normal due to the untimelypassing of Whitney Houston on the eve of the awards show.
During the Sunday night event,numerous artists dedicated their award to Houston or mentioned her amazing talents and the loss her death will mean to the industry.
Interestingly, running counter to this somber dedication theme of the evening was a notable counter story: the ordained comeback of Chris Brown’s career. Chris Brown was made infamous in 2009 when he was charged with beating his then girlfriend Rihanna. Images of a brutalized Rihanna surfaced across the web and Brown’s skyrocketing career was effectively snuffed out with big names in the business like Jay-Z and Kanye refusing to associate with the artist.
But that was 2009 and this is 2012. Since the incident Brown has had a subsequent album that rose to the top of the charts. He’s back in favor with key R&B players, and is largely viewed as one of R&B’s sexiest males (Glamour.com nominated him the hottest male solo artist in 2010).
The 360 turn-around for Brown culminated at the Grammys on Sunday, where he performed alongside the other industry top-players, and won for best R&B album.
There are several troubling aspects of these counter-themes to Grammys.
First, that a man who was publicly associated with domestic abuse would be so generously celebrated at the same awards show that made tribute to Whitney Houston, a woman who herself suffered a public battle with domestic abuse from her former husband Bobby Brown.
Second, the music industry’s general amnesia or hypocritical acceptance of an artist it chose to shun just three years ago- what about all the hype in 2009 about sending a message about violence and respecting women?
Finally, what’s most concerning has been some of the unexpected responses to, and defense of, Chris Brown’s return- including a surge in women not only supporting him, but also sending tweets about their desire to ‘be beaten’ by him (see the following summary of tweets if you want to be completely dismayed).
What does this all mean about the state of domestic abuse generally, and the music industry and its promotion of womanizing, degrading, and violent lyrics and artists? Does no one connect Houston’s drug abuse to her experience of domestic abuse and her tumultuous private life? I don’t look to awards shows to stand as moral beacons, but I do think it is worth considering these counter Grammy narratives as a signal of the state of popular culture and gender relations at the moment.

The Aussie Military Accepts GI Janes into the Ranks

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

While the US and UK continue to debate the ways that women impact cohesion and combat effectiveness, effective immediately, the Australian military will allow women to participate in combat roles. Australia joins a small group of countries that have removed combat restrictions for women, which includes Canada, New Zealand, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Norway, Denmark, France, Serbia, Israel and Switzerland.

Several individuals within the Australian Defence Forces I’ve spoken to over the last year have indicated that this policy change has been a long-time coming. Defence Minister Stephen Smith came out several months ago indicating his support for the policy change– even in the face of national concern and criticism. Despite warning signals from the department of defence, several national media outlets and opposition leaders are calling the policy a gimmick and an attempt to distract attention from recent sex scandals associated with the military, including the now infamous ‘skype scandal’ involving the un-consented broadcasting of a sexual encounter within a military academy. Neil James of the Australian Defence Association said that the policy ‘jumped the gun’ and warned that there could be more female casualties if women were allowed to serve in all combat roles.

One former naval officer told ABC radio that she didn’t expect many women to meet the physical requirements for some of these positions but that “it just has to be done, and I think Australia’s very brave to do this.”

The impact this policy change will have on the Australian military and its ability to recruit and retain women can only be measured in time. But if other military’s experiences of gender integration are any indication, this policy will largely be forgotten in a few months and women who meet the physical requirements will enter these roles with little fanfare. Perhaps this renewed debate will spark attention back in the US, where policy-makers and the US government still cling to weak arguments about the need to keep women out of combat.

Post-revolution Walk of Shame in Libya: women asked to ‘go home’ in the afterglow of the revolution

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

The exciting and tumultuous eve of the revolution in Libya has achieved many of its objectives: the power balance has swung in the rebel’s favor, many national governments around the world now recognize the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the legitimate leadership, and most (though not all) of the country is under their control.

In many ways, this week can be described as ‘the morning after’ the revolution in Libya. Rebels drunk on gun battles are now waking up with adrenaline hang-overs to the realities of post-revolution Libya. There’s mortar rounds everywhere, hundreds of displaced Libyans are crashing indefinitely in Tripoli, and- perhaps worst of all- Cameron and Zarkosyshowed up way too early, keen to help get the revolutionary council on its feet/ensure their financial interests.

In keeping with classic ‘morning after’ politics, men are waking up with only hazy memories of which women were at the party and what they did to contribute to the revolution. The TNC are trying to get their house in order for Cameron and Zarkosy as well as for the international media and for some reason these women just keep hanging around asking about what kind of future there is for them together, wanting some kind of commitment. The TNC’s responses so far reminds me of the scene in the movieBridesmaids when Jon Hamm’s character turns to Kristen Wiig after a one night stand and says “I really want you to leave, but I don’t want to sound like a dick.”

Women supported the revolution in Libya in countless ways- from hiding and feeding rebel fighters totaking up arms themselves– yet now that the post-revolution glow has worn off, the TNC seems to be asking women to take their walk of shame. The party is over, and this morning, the Transitional National Council has just one woman. Will the rest of the women who sacrificed for the movement- taking up new roles, and fighting for political change- be asked to get out of the political bedroom? Can the TNC really expect to rebuild Libya and move forward without acknowledging the significance of women’s role in the movement?

Unfortunately, women’s walk of shame post-conflict or post-revolution is all too familiar. Women havestruggled to maintain a significant voice in the new Egypt; similarly, women who fought as soldiers within rebel forces in countries like Sierra Leone and Angola often found themselves left out of post-conflict political agenda setting. For these women, as is likely for many Libyan women, the last thing desirable post-conflict/revolution is a ‘return to normal.’ For women, this means giving up any power gained and fitting themselves back into traditional patriarchal gender hierarchies. The TNC and the international community must stop the pattern of revolutionary one-night stands and work not only to acknowledge women’s role in the political movement, but also to secure political space for women as Libya faces a new day.

Assessing the Arguments Against GI Jane II: Unpacking the Cohesion Hypothesis

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

In my post last week I talked about the three main arguments against removing the combat exclusion for women: the physical standards argument, the moral argument, and the cohesion hypothesis. My main point was that with increased research on physical standards, the intangibility of the moral argument, and increased evidence that women already are in combat, the cohesion hypothesis remains as the most significant set of arguments against GI Janes.

There are two main premises to the cohesion hypothesis: 1. cohesion is causally linked to group (in this case military unit) performance; 2. women negatively impact cohesion and thereby negatively impact troop effectiveness.

The trouble with these two premises is that they both have been largely discounted by researchers. In her 1998 article on the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in International Security, Elizabeth Kier concludes that “the results from more than five decades of research in group dynamics, organizational behaviour, small-group research, sports psychology, social psychology, military history, and military sociology challenge the proposition that primary group unit cohesion enhances military performance.” Some research even indicates that high levels of cohesion can be detrimental to military performance as it results in conformity, groupthink, and a lack of adaptability. Many of the studies on cohesion and the military find that leadership and task- not social- cohesion have a greater impact on performance than social cohesion.
In terms of the second premise, as mentioned in the last post RAND’s major study on cohesion in 1997 found that women don’t impact group performance or military readiness. Subsequent research has reconfirmed this conclusion.

In addition to shaky (at best) premises, another major problem with the cohesion hypothesis is that it is never clear what exactly is meant by cohesion within the military context. In hopes of finding answers to this puzzle I went on a wild goose chase for cohesion clarity.

Sifting through research on social cohesion in the military I found myself sinking in masses of studies on social cohesion, citizenship and multiculturalism, group dynamics, as well as military studies on cohesion. It turns out that social cohesion is the meaningless catchphrase of the moment (I think it may have even eclipsed ’empowerment’ and ‘deliberative democracy’). Social cohesion has been used to explain the London riots, failed and successful immigration policies, winning sports team dynamics, as well as the need to keep women out of combat roles. Cohesion has also been defined as everything from: shared norms, ‘liking’ one another, commitment to a group, bonding, and trust. So how can one vague concept explain such wide-ranging and disparate policy decisions and social dynamics?

There is little substance to the cohesion hypothesis, almost no empirical evidence supporting it, and even the different forces with the US military seem to define and measure cohesion differently. I certainly don’t have the answer, but it does seem that in most contexts it is employed- especially in discussions of migrant integration, multiculturalism, and the combat exclusion- ‘cohesion’ is a red herring that distracts from attention to deeper issues of discrimination and cultural bias. In the case of the US military, cohesion is a smoke and mirrors debate that will persist until sexist attitudes and gender discrimination are addressed.

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

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

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 beenadamant 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 trainingto 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 chiefof 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 thecohesion 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?