The Interplay of Gender and Politics Decoded

Written by: Carina Uchida, a 2nd year International Relations student and one of your co-editors for the blog. She gets awkward with introductions so she’ll let the article speak for itself. 

         

In light of Breaking the Glass Ceiling Blog being re-launched recently, it is only appropriate to rediscover the reasons why this blog exists and for whom.

            The relationship between gender and politics is complex yes, because of the multilayer dimension taking hold when politics is perceived through a gendered lens, but also due to the fact that, well, everything is gendered to the same extent that everything can be political. Give it the recent UN peacekeeping scandal of sexual assault in Bosnia to the less obvious, yet equally stark aspects of everyday life, such as perceptions of gender in tourism, movies and the work place.

            Much of remapping the boundaries of conflict, politics and everyday life comes from rethinking the ways in which we perceive ourselves and consequently the world around us, and with such, we are able to conceptualize the future in terms of breaking the mold of gender stereotypes. The focus of this article is less of an unravelling of answers, but a journey of asking the right questions.

            Someone’s sex, is black and white, the biological structure of one’s body. Gender, on the other hand, is the fluidity between femininity and masculinity. They are composed of the numerous subconscious presumptions placed on the conception of what women and men should be. A social construct – stereotypes emerging from the beginning of humankind, historically and socially ingrained. This difference is essential as we often find that all aspects of politics have feminine or masculine connotations. War, for example, is deemed a masculine act and is throughout history, has always waged by men. Perhaps it is because war encompasses the process of “defending one’s country” and men are seen through history as the protectors, whilst women are the protected. This dichotomy consequently pertains to a hierarchy, which is reflected in politics to this day. Women struggle to be legitimized in positions of power because they are not perceived as authoritative, tough or strong-minded enough to deal with warfare and other “masculine” roles such as nuclear codes or dealing with pressing foreign policy crises.

            On an even broader context, state identity revolves around gender. Much of what a nation perceives themselves to be is a product of the cultural constructions developing over time and it always coincides with their perceptions of femininity and masculinity. Women have throughout history been seen as the biological and cultural reproducers of the nation, and therefore of their ethnicities[1]. Consequently, men are then the protectors of the nation, which inevitably includes women as they will provide the continuation of their culture and traditions. Several traditions such as clothing is mostly related to women-wear as representing the community’s culture (eg. Kimonos, Saris, etc.). When communities go to war for ethnical and religious grounds, men are the drafted – as honoring and fighting for their cultures, which includes the several tangible conventions that women usually embody. These conceptions are not spontaneous, instead are inventions constructed over time. This is where gender ideology, politics, education and common expectations are born. If women are expected to be the providers of their nation, then they are also expected to continue certain traditions such as clothing, how to behave in society and even what foods to eat. Such norms and values are often related to division of labour and how it is more palatable for women to undertake traditionally low level work compared to their male counterparts who should protect them by taking higher income jobs.

Take tourism for example, as expressed by Cynthia Enloe[2], it seems like an innocent industry, yet it often perpetuates unforgiving stereotypes of what women should portray for the outside world and vice versa. Hoola dancers in Hawaii to sex workers in Thailand; they are inevitable objectifications of women as perceived by men, which brings in profit for tourism. How does that affect politics you ask? Governments see these “exotic”, “oriental” and other expectations for their people bringing in revenue from tourism, allowing the exploitation of such industries without adequate care for STD prevention, etc. Such objectification of women may bring short term profit in tourism, but constrains them from higher skilled opportunities in careers and education. It is surely a structural issue that has been spanning from the colonial era, where women in colonized nations were perceived as decorations to an ideal of colonization suitable for the civilian palate and one perpetuating the inequality between developed and “peripheral” states (see: native Indian women in Brazil, farmers in Vietnam, etc.).  The legacy continues despite the world being in a post-colonial era, where tourism is the platform of generalizations of communities made by tourists from developed nations. It is especially precarious for women in tourism industries who are structurally limited to conform to stereotypes for a living.

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State identity revolves around expectations of men as much as women. Armies and their efficiency in conflict, often thought to be one of the main measures of state power, is the product of centuries upon centuries of masculinity in construct. The conception that to go to war, there is need for “real” men is due to the expectation that they are stronger and more fearless than women. Military masculinity is not only harmful in sidelining women from taking roles in the army, but perpetuates men to be hyper masculine, including being heterosexual. The idea that homosexuality in all-male environments needs to challenged at all times is called heteronormativity, inflicting pressures on men to act “straight” in other words tough and predatory is one of the several reasons sexual assault in the army is so common yet often silenced. Because homosexuality is seen as the weaker side of the gender binary, men are taught to act “like a man” throughout the military. This is not to say all men in the military are homophobic or addicted to pornography[3], but the stark correlation between hyper masculine pressures and abnormal rates of sexual assault has to be addressed through a gender lens. Indeed, questions arise on how the nature of the military environment may change with the increasingly admittance of women. Will there be structural shifts in the military? Or will women simply have to adhere to masculine standards to endure and survive in the army?

This masculinity echoes throughout any conflict, where sexual violence soars amidst the chaos of warfare. Whether it is the soldiers, opponents of conflict or UN peacekeeping troops, rape is the confirmation of hierarchy between men and women, of heterosexuality and domination. It has for centuries been utilized as a weapon of war, from the Vikings, Rape of Nanking during World War II to the Rwandan genocide. The social construction that “boys will be boys” has long been ingrained in the structural acceptance of such actions in times of turmoil. Do mostly men rape women during war because they just, can?

As for rape as a strategy for genocide, new layers of tragedies and perpetuation of gender norms are added. It is the deep and systemic weapon of intimidating the enemy through not only hurting the women but the men. By humiliating the women of a community or ethnic group, it in turn feminizes the men as they have failed to be the protectors of their peoples. Hence, the overall humiliation has the ability of destroying the targeted group as a whole. Examples include the infamous Rwanda and Bosnian genocides where the international framework failed to acknowledge the fragility of gender dynamics, amongst several other factors, when it came to intervention.

On an international scale, attention and conventions against sexual violence has been prominent on paper, including the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security vouching for increased representation of women in leadership, attention for girls and women in conflict, inclusion of gender perspective in post-conflict processes and combating gender discrimination. The Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court – the founding document of the court – states that gender crimes are crimes against humanity, genocide or a war crime. Therefore, the guilty should be brought to the Hague and brought to justice. Yet, only a few cases have ever been prosecuted due to lack of evidence during wartime, military influence over policy and how sexual violence is not taken as seriously as other war crimes due to gender bias. On paper, all seems well, yet, with UN peacekeepers sexually assaulting victims in conflict zones and gender inequality continuing to prevail, we see the numerous cracks on an appealing foundation of international treaties and laws. There is evident need for bridging the gap between the frameworks provided by institutions and reality, which would arguably be brought to the forefront with greater involvement of women in developing and applying such structures. How can justice over sexual violence ever be brought to the forefront if only men are in charge of the decisions?

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On the wavelength of sexual abuse, it is essential to comprehend the commonality of such acts in conflict and everyday life. They are physical and even emotional, from rape as a weapon of war to passing off crude sexist jokes as “locker room talk”, it nevertheless perpetuates stereotypes of women being fragile and weak. The reason why cases such as Brock Turner gets through with 3 month sentences is due to the systemic victimization of the perpetuator, amongst other reasons, and the lack of validation that true victims get because they are constantly told to be silent or taught to be ashamed of speaking up. Henceforth, university campuses both in the US and in the UK have yet to take a concrete stand on sexual assault, most cases go unreported because of the layers of bureaucracy, and numerous accounts of victims being sidelined make it even harder to break the mold of standing up. Why is this relevant to politics you ask? Because it currently seems to be irrelevant and deprioritized in politics, despite 31% of women in the UK experiencing some sort of sexual abuse form the ages of 18-24[4]. It becomes clear that thinking and analyzing about politics through a gendered lens is not detached from anyone’s reality, we often find that the most common occurrences of everyday life is in one way or another connected to expectations of our gender.

Hopefully, this article was able to bring a few ideas and questions to the table about the relationship between gender and politics. There is no limit to the discussions requiring better analysis and platforms to present and learn from. Breaking the Glass Ceiling Blog is ever so important as conversations about gender inequality in every aspect of politics needs to be brought to the forefront. Overcoming gender bias will not happen overnight, but through our privilege as students, we hope that we can learn, empower and unite each other as we shed light for those who are not as fortunate as us.

It is with my full heart that I bring my personal aim to this blog – I look forward to what shall and should be, a space of critical analysis through empowerment.

 

 

[1] Nira Yuval-Davis, Gender and Nation (SAGE Publications: 1997).

[2] Cynthia Enloe, Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (California, University of California Press: 2014), Chapter 2.

[3] Peter Smyzech, Kenneth Artz, “Sexual Assaults in the Military: Porn is Part of the Problem”, The Witherspoon Institute Public Discourse, 14th of July 2013, accessed 20th of October 2016, http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/06/10360/.

[4] “Rape Statistics”, Rapecrisis England & Wales, accessed 20th of October 2016, http://rapecrisis.org.uk/statistics.php.

Image Sources:

http://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-updates/do-you-think-well-pay-for-bad-things-weve-done-revelations-of-aussie-sex-tourists-in-thailand/news-story/a1490ec57bb51253003aa5a2c1547acd

https://fba.se/en/how-we-work/women-peace-and-security/

http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/01/un-outraged-at-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers-in-haiti/

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mona Yang says:

    Fantastic blog post Carina!

    Liked by 1 person

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