NOT IN THE PINK OF HEALTH: VIEWING INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS THROUGH THE FEMINISTS’ LENS


CHAYANIKA SAXENA

 … …

A1

A quick view across the political, economic and cultural spaces throughout the world, and it would not be hard to witness how these domains are painted blue, with only some spots of pink. And, which rather than adorning the fabric of the world, bring to light instead, a gruesome reality of how women are lost in an order that seems to provide space to men alone.

Welcomed we are to an International Reality, where while ‘half the sky’ is lit up by the shining sun of participation, of representation, freedom and equality, the other half, is in contrast,  systematically deprived of the sunlight of emancipation and is perpetually forced to remain shrouded under the cover of dark clouds that stifle their life.

Reflecting a classic case of paradox that is found in the very spirit of modernity- where it has proven not only to be a bundle of progressive and regressive forces alike, but where, unlike the universality of rationality, equality and liberty it had claimed to, it is their partiality and uneven expanse that it actually came to provide- International Relations has been like an obedient son of its modern father; providing space to some, while the others have been significantly left out of its ambit. Or when permitted entry, whose chances, however history has shown to have been abysmally low, it comes at the expense of demanding from those admitted that they leave their cloaks at the doorstep and adorn on their bodies that piece of cloth that the ‘conventional’ wisdom would permit.

A2

And where this conventional wisdom, it would not be inappropriate to suggest comes to reflect anything except a commonly and universally acknowledged view of the world, and is rather shaped by the discourse that the powerful wish to propound and structure the conduct of the world around.

Thus, as the history of humanity speaks, it comes to speak of the privileges which the ‘man’ kind has been able to afford, while it systematically deprived the other half of the humanity of any position of valor and prestige.

And rendered it a position in the annals of history that are typically dark and gloomy; where subjection, subservience and oppression have often been the tales, through which has been recited the course of life that the ‘fairer’ gender has been made to follow.

Often bigoted against, based on their perceived irrationality, subjectivity and weakness, women have hardly found conditions, amiable enough to have their say articulated.
Rights remain unpracticed, as freedom and equality guaranteed to them by the rational project of modernity remains to be carried out in spirit.

Glass ceilings are aplenty and so are the cultural and social prejudices that hold them back from getting what has been told is their due.

Thus, in the words of Mary Wollstonecraft, as the project modernity fanned out to cover the ‘man’-kind, it left the ‘fate of the fairest flowers as one to be admired, yet pulled into pieces by the careless hands that plucked them’.

Hence, stared in face by a problem so pressing as the near absence of women from the ‘public sphere’, caused as it has been, by an untrue- to- its cause- of- a project as modernity, has thus, called the feminists, to build what they call as ‘Emancipatory Knowledge’, which they believe can help inform practices to improve women’s life and afford them participation, and in a way that comes with no strings attached.

A3

Yet, while the feminists differ in terms of how one gets to describe the content of masculinity and femininity and also in terms of how women can witness amelioration in their condition, with ways and methods that are cited, often being at logger heads with each other.

A consensus however, remains on the contours of International Relations whose dimensions they believe are reflective of attributes that are typically accorded to men by the patriarchal order; making the State, which is a pivotal player in the international semblance, as such a Masculine entity, and not an Innocent, neutral un- gendered space as it was thought it would be.

Rather than being a referee as it was supposed to be; a neutral umpire that was to be of equal help to every individual alike, the State, on the contrary, the feminists believe has come to assume features that privilege the notions of masculinity over those that are often associated with the women.

And where a biased domestic structuring such as this, has in turn been responsible for having organized the international space in a manner that denies women of participation and representation on account of lacking those attributes that are ‘desirably required’ in dealing with an anarchic, self- motivated world order.

It is in fact for this reason that it comes as no surprise that while to begin with women are denied entry into ambits that ‘do not suit their style’, but even when they somehow manage to wriggle through the clogged paths, often assuming attributes that are demanded by these structures and find for themselves a position in the public galleries, their opinions are despised and often ridiculed as being dumb.

The recently witnessed epic battle between the Australian PM Julia Gillard and Tony Abott is indicative of how women are held as non- serious actors to engage with, even as they come to wield positions of such importance.

Thus, as patriarchy comes to intertwine men and women in an order of hierarchy- of superior and subordinate, respectively, such a structure also gets grafted onto the State, and as a consequence on the semblance of International Relations, and whose ramifications have proven to be distasteful for women.

Considering that almost all actions taken at the International level are claimed on privileged masculine values, evaluation of women’s absence from such decisions and men’s preponderance would require the ‘gender sensitive lenses’ to be put on.  Proposed by Anne Runyan and V. Peterson these lenses help look clear at the hierarchies in association of men and women internationally, and how it can be tackled.

Constraining the participation of women in the international affairs, the feminists say that by defining specific roles and characteristics for men and women, the gendered international structure, constricts spaces available for participation for women and reinforce their dependence on men.

Nationalism and National Interests that are pivotal to any State and to that of the Realist discourse as well, and whose ideological motivations continue to provide steam for the turbines of International Relations to rotate, also come to further an already gender iniquitous world order.

In fact, in ascribing to men and women roles that are not only highly different, but which are also placed on unequal platforms vis- a- vis each other- of that of a protector and the one to be protected- the content of Nationalism is seen as driving a spade further between the two genders and reify between the two, a relationship that makes one liable to depend on the other for protection.

And it is also for this reason that the qualities that are associated with men like strength, objectivity and which are espoused to motivate and justify the war, come to be held as coterminous with the ‘state’, replete with coercive strength, while the ‘nation’ which is purported to be protected gets associated with feminine qualities.

What is perhaps more interesting to observe is the ease with which the enemy is also typified using feminine attributes; reflected as they get in any ordinary Hindi movie narrative, where the enemy, is ‘demeaned’  by addressing him in terms as crass as “c****n p**n le”. This shows the level to which attributes that are generally associated with women are not only despised, but are also mocked at, for the sheer inferiority that they are burdened with, thanks to the hierarchies that patriarchy has come to put in place.

And such also becomes the reason behind the shunning of feminine qualities within the men-dominated militaries.  For seen as affecting the readiness of the combatants, women for their inferior strength and lack of objectivity are as a result, not readily accepted in such roles.

But in the same breath, are very much demanded to assume masculinity, like take work in factories, objectively send men to protect the ‘nation’, while insecurity looms large.

Yet, as claims to ‘protection’ justify war, civilian casualties incurred on mass scale, constituted of children and women mostly, calls shots at such claims. Addressing the ‘protection claim’ as nothing more than a myth, in fact a sham, the feminists believe that identity politics, which nationalism is generally entangled with, comes to engulf women in a greater ‘security dilemma’ .  For in the name of protecting ‘their women’, the armed forces of ‘one’s own camp’ come to incur wrath upon ‘other women’ through sexual assaults, and in the process, also jeopardize the security of their women in the same manner. In fact, women, who are construed as ‘national wombs’ are seen as the most potent tool to establish hegemony over the enemy, by ‘planting their seeds’ in the enemy’s nation, which violates not the integrity of a woman as much as it is believed to harm the male honor and that of the State too.

Also, even as women are kept outside the actual line of fire, for they are meant to be protected and not risked with on the battle front, the flagrant use of women as comforters to the weary souls of the soldiers, who are ostensibly deployed to protect their honor and as missives against the enemy, by being doubled as carriers of venereal diseases, punches holes in the claims that are made about protection.

In fact, it is in these hours of crises that those armed bases that are instituted to stave off any threat to the honor of their nation (embodied as it is in the honor of ‘their’ women), become a threat themselves.

For perpetuating exploitation in the name of their own comfort and also as an euphemism for making the enemy eat dust, the armies deployed to protect the grace of women end up churning instead, armies of prostitutes and complicate further the security concerns of women by abetting human trafficking as they  shift their bases from one place to another. A gruesome reality that was exposed to the world, yet left unaddressed nonetheless, in wake of the two massive world wars, whose expanse abetted one of the worst cases of women’s exploitation and human trafficking in the history of humanity.

In fact, the act of prostitution, which is put to display as a lucrative economic option in light of a collapsing economy, brings to fore how even a concept-as poverty- which was believed to have no internal demarcations,  can get feminized, to an extent of forcing women through greater travails than men.

To the feminists in fact, the unfolding of the modern project, particularly its ideas of Liberalism and Capitalism, which showed an unwavering support to the dichotomy between public and private life, made the economics of division of labor, much more gendered then before.

Resulting as such not only in the circumscription of women to those tasks that were situated within the confines of the private life, but also in displaying the private and public as two separate aspects of life; oblivious of the interconnections that they evidently have.

An ignorance that has also become responsible for the lack of scrutiny of the private life, despite the bearing that aspects like inequality, discrimination and injustice within the family have on the psyche of a citizen in the public domain, as was very much cited by J. S Mill as the reason for rooting out iniquitous gender relations from within the private domains. A skewed psyche that thus, keeps women out of the ambit if public participation both at the domestic and international level for the brunt of inferiority that they are made to bear within their homes.

In fact, in consonance with the typical gender expectations, the economics of life not only gets skewed to an extent of largely not allowing women to employ themselves out of the confines of home.

But even when they are allowed to step out, women are generally expected to assume roles that remain bound to patriarchal injunctions, like nursing, teaching or some other profession, which is not risky or adventurous- after all, it is told to them that they have to settle in life- as if that alone is the prime purpose with which they were born onto this planet!

That is also the reason behind the absence of women from the higher rungs of economic structures across the world- where many in the first place don’t reach, and even if they do, they are insinuated at every step and in ways that are morally demeaning.

Another way that an unrepentant masculine structure of the International Order has been responsible for the perils faced by women all across the world, particularly in the Third World are the economic decisions that are imposed from above.  Say for instance, the Washington Consensus- which through agencies like the IMF and WTO, have forced the governments to reduce their spending on social facilities, often to the disadvantage of women who require it most.

A4

The international expanse of Religion, which is in fact not novel to the modern times, is also another factor whose constant scrutiny is essential. For where it not only comes to deteriorate the condition of women within the domestic confines- for instance the recent case of the death of an Indian woman due to the anti- abortion laws of Ireland, which is a stronghold of the Vatican- but it also impinges heavily on their participation outside by subjecting them to narrow, parochial views and prejudices that reduces their involvement outside.

Thus, constricted, confined and denied voice, the overarching patriarchal forces that subsume international interactions, carried out as they may be through the agency of  State or economic structures or cultural institutions, have come to deny women an equal space in International Affairs.

A denial that has long been the cause of their oppression, and to bring an end to which conscious attempts have to be made to gender sensitize the domain of International Relations by making it amiable to the demands, needs and aspirations of women.

And which can be done not only by way of crafting policies that are sensitive to such requirements- through mediums like gender budgeting, but by consciously infusing women into those spheres from where they have been systematically sifted out in the past.What has been termed by some scholars of Feminism as “Critical Mass” needs to be injected into the veins of the body politic of International Relations, such as to enable an intrinsic acceptance to the ‘feminine’ reflections on the management and organization of international associations.

And thus bring about parity that has long eluded this field of human affairs.

CHAYANIKA SAXENA is studying M.A (International Relations) in SOUTH ASIAN UNIVERSITY (SAU), New Delhi, India.

N.B: The write up has already been submitted as Term Paper.

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