There has been a lot of discussion just recently about why there are so few vocal women in international policy’s academic circles. It was started by Rodger Shanahan of the Lowy Institute in blog post titled “Women and the Commentariat.”
The idea he puts forth, that women are more disposed to one-on-one communication and therefore are actively eschewing public commentary, smacks of gender essentialism and is, I don’t think, accurate. However, I welcome the fact that he wants to open up the debate on this, which was the overall point of his post.
We tend have a range of ways in which we discriminate based on gender, and while those discriminations may seem a thing of the past to those who don’t experience them, they’re very real and active forces of exclusion. We gender our notions of expertise, meaning there are sectors (often deemed private) that are feminized, and those in which the masculine voice is preferred (international politics falls in the latter category). The barriers to women taking up visible and vocal roles in international policy are not necessarily on paper or formal, explicit exclusion. Rather, they are embedded social and cultural constructions around the appropriate arenas for certain genders. This is true of lots of academic and policy circles. Women are less likely to be accepted as credible, and less likely to be encouraged to pursue a career in these arenas (most especially in international security and defense policy). It’s part of a broad cultural separation of genders when it comes to professions and expertise and a gendering of types of knowledge. It may appear that since women could technically be taking part in more established forums for commentary, that the reason they are not is one of active choice, but this ignores our widespread cultural assumptions and constructions about a feminized voice of expertise.
Along these lines: there are more women out here talking about this than you think. They aren’t always doing it in the context of association with think tanks or universities or agencies, but many times they are quite vocal. I regularly comment on international policy, but often in the context of this blog or my own journalism. Many of the people who have replied to Shanahan’s statements, like Natalie Sambhi and Caitlin Fitz Gerald, are incredibly active voices in discussions of international relations. I’ve come to know a number of women with very vocal, well-formed opinions about everything from counterterrorism to development policy. I don’t see in these women, and I don’t see in myself, an obviously gendered desire for more one-on-one versions of policy discussion. I would personally much rather have my opinion published than have an intimate conversation about it. Shanahan, however, defines public comment as public speaking (something his colleagues took issue with in their response). That rigidly defines active voices on policy as voices that are associated with institutions and accepted enough to be given the opportunity to lecture and speak on their opinions. This very definition of commentariat is exclusive of the existing female voices on the topic.
This is in many ways an issue of how women are voicing their commentary, and it’s often through less “formal” means of communication. Shanahan seems to say that this is women’s active choice, and something to do with the way women in general prefer to conduct themselves. Again, this perpetuates a stereotype, and lacks depth perception about the culture of establishment and expertise in academic circles that excludes women from talking about certain “masculinized” topics.
Pointing out that men are privileged in no way denies that bad things happen to men. Being privileged does not mean men are given everything in life for free; being privileged does not mean that men do not work hard, do not suffer. In many cases – from a boy being bullied in school, to a soldier dying in war – the sexist society that maintains male privilege also does great harm to boys and men.
In the end, however, it is men and not women who make the most money; men and not women who dominate the government and the corporate boards; men and not women who dominate virtually all of the most powerful positions of society. And it is women and not men who suffer the most from intimate violence and rape; who are the most likely to be poor; who are, on the whole, given the short end of patriarchy’s stick.” —Barry Deutsch - The Male Privilege Checklist (via reelaroundthefountain | tigersmilk)
Very rarely do I post something this serious minded but it’s extremely important that it be read by as many people as possible. Also that it came from the presumably forward thinking alternative comedy community is especially of note.
Below are excerpts from the original post by Poupak Sepehri, audience member at the closing Asssscat of the recent UCB Del Close Marathon in NY.
I wanted to talk about ASSSSCAT, the show that closed the Del Close Marathon, a huge improv festival. During the show, comedians on stage invited audience members to tell a true story from their lives, and then improvised a set around it.
He started his story by saying that he is a cook/host at Second City in Chicago (justification#1 – he is supposedly part of the community). One evening, a very drunk (justification #2) and older (justification #3) woman was hitting on one of the waiters at Second City. This woman, who was from out of town (justification#4), gave her number to the waiter and asked him to call her (justification#5). The waiter, not interested, shared the story with the rest of the staff and practically forced this cook/host to take the number, even giving him money for the cab (justification#6) to show up at her hotel.
The woman opens the door to her hotel room thinking it was the waiter, but SURPRISE it’s the cook/host. She immediately asks him to leave, but he finds some BS excuse to go get her cell phone so that he can call a friend to come pick him up since he doesn’t have money for the taxi back (another murky part of the story). She goes to get her cell phone, and makes a HUGE mistake: she leaves the hotel room door open.
Halle Kiefer at Splitsider was also in attendance and shares her thoughts, which come from a more comedy insider perspective. Stephanie Streisand has also provided a first hand account and there is video of the monologue.
Thanks all, now back to your regularly scheduled Hollywood nonsense.
Attn: my significant other
Re: conversation at dinner on Wed. night
“Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences.”
I’ve been seeing an awful lot of tone policing on my dash lately. It seems a lot of people don’t really understand why someone would respond aggressively or angrily, or otherwise emotionally, to having something really fucked up/hurtful/oppressive said to them. Or, they think it’s counterproductive to respond in that way.
First off, the reason that people may respond in a “harsh” manner to oppression: Living in a world that reminds you daily of your lesser worth as a human being can make a person very tired and emotional. When someone says something oppressive — that can be a racist slur, an ableist stereotype, a misogynist dismissal, an invalidation of identity/experiences, being asked invasive and entitled questions, and so on – it feels like being slapped in the face, to the person on the receiving end. The automatic response is emotion and pain. It’s quite exhausting and difficult to restrain the resulting anger. And, frankly, it’s cruel and ridiculous to expect a person to be calm and polite in response to an act of oppression. Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences.
Second, tone policing is the ultimate derailing tactic. When you tone police, you automatically shift the focus of the conversation away from what you or someone else did that was wrong, and onto the other person and their reaction. Tone policing is a way of not taking responsibility for fucking up, and it dismisses the other person’s position by framing it as being emotional and therefore irrational. The conflation of emotionality with irrationality is often used to silence women and people who are read as women, when they are trying to speak about anything at all. It’s also used against all marginalized people when they attempt to speak about their very personal experiences with oppression. But being emotional does not make one’s points any less valid. It’s also important to note that, by tone policing, you not only refuse to examine your own oppressive behavior, but you also can blame that on the other person, because they were not “nice enough” to be listened to or taken seriously.
Third, the implications: Tone policing assumes that the oppressive act is not an act of aggression, when it very much is. The person who was oppressed by the action, suddenly is no longer a victim, but is “victimizing” the other person by calling them out. Now, I’m not saying it’s okay to be abusive, or oppressive in response to a person who fucks up. But anger is valid. Anger is valid, anger is important, anger brings social change, anger makes people listen, anger is threatening, and anger is passion. Anger is NOT counterproductive; being “nice” is counterproductive. Nobody was ever given rights by politely asking for them. Politeness is nothing but a set of behavioral expectations that is enforced upon marginalized people.
If you see someone who is angry and upset about something that was said or done to them, don’t tell them they should be nicer. Instead: Recognize their emotions as valid. Recognize that their emotional state is an indication that something extremely harmful was done to them, whether it was by you, or someone else. Work to understand why the action was oppressive. Take all that energy that you’re wasting being so concerned with how people are responding to their own oppression, and channel it into fighting oppression.
This applies to men too. Newsflash guys, if you think that women should have equal rights and access to opportunities as you then you are a feminist.