Gender and Diplomacy Discussion (Nov 1996)


Editor's Note: The following messages are crossposted from H-DIPLO concerning gender and diplomacy.



>From Laura Belmonte belmont@okway.okstate.edu 20 Nov 1996

I have been following this discussion with interest. Over the past six years, the debate on gender and foreign policy has at times been marred by incredible hostility. Who can forget Bruce Kuklick's dismissal of Emily Rosenberg's article on film and gender in the Cold War (Diplomatic History, 1994) as "junk...the mental equivalent of eating at McDonald's"? Clearly we can establish a better dialogue within the field.

The answer to finding significant connections between gender and foreign policy is NOT - as suggested by some previous postings - to insert the occasional female diplomat, pacificist or first lady into the policymaking process and stir. The result is, almost invariably, that women are found to have marginal influence in policymaking. See virtually every essay in Edward Crapol's _Women and American Foreign Policy_. The overriding conclusion is that women are either absent from the process or ignored by their colleagues - hardly conducive to useful insights.

The answer must also transcend rhetorical analyses which attempt to draw linkages between cultural imagery and foreign policy. These scholars examine books, songs, films, and "language" to "prove" that U.S. officials defined other nations in terms of masculine or feminine. Much of this work is very interesting, but not very convincing. Establishing the cultural context in which national leaders lived, is not the same as substantiating that leaders made policy based on gender stereotypes.

These linkages are, of course, much harder to establish. But they are there, we simply must broaden our purview to include them. Look at policies regarding the foreign children of U.S. soldiers, at population control programs, at development activities, at propaganda targeting campaigns - each of these was imbued with assumptions that policies will affect men and women differently and they are designed accordingly.

In each of these instances, U.S. leaders defined foreign policy in broad terms which included identifying the "superiority" of American womanhood, the glorification of consumerism, the assumption that all families should mirror the American nuclear family with a male breadwinner. Gender, in these cases, was not a factor because women formed the policies, or because of the language of the policies. Rather, it was viewed as a means of exercising power - the core of most foreign policy.

The answers to the connections between gender and diplomacy are there, but we must frame the questions differently.

>From Robert L. Beisner beisner@american.edu 20 Nov 1996

I agree entirely with Laura Belmonte: "gender analysis" is not a question of how many women have so far (not) been secretary of state but, among other things, how the prism of gender affects policymaking and the images of other states and societies. The approach is in its infancy and certainly has not yet produced much that would be convincing to hardcore empiricists; what's particularly difficult is to find convincing causal links between gendered notions and policy decisions. There are now large bunches of lit crit that touch on foreign policy and gender, but for the most part I exclude them in mentioning a short reading list of the kinds of things that are being done to make this subdiscipline increasingly interesting, most of which has so far been about war rather than "diplomatic" history. Interested historians should start with some theory, such as:

Grand, Rebecca and Kathleen Newland, Eds. _Gender and International Relations_(Indiana U. Press, 1991); Peterson, V. Spike, Ed. _Gendered States: Feminist (Re)visions of International Relations Theory_(Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1992); and Tickner, J. Ann _Gender in International Relations:Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security_(Columbia U. Press, 1992).

On war, try Adams, Michael C. _The Great Adventure: Male Desire and the Coming of World War I_(Indiana U Press, 1990); Bourke, Joanna _Dismembering the Male: Men's Bodies, Britain, and the Great War_(U of Chicago Press, 1996); Cameron, Craig _American Samurai: Myth, Imagination, and the Conduct of Battle in the First Marine Division, 1941-1951_ (Cambridge U Press, 1993); Higonnet, Margaret R., et al; eds._Behind The Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars_(Yale U Press, 1987); and May, Robert E. "Young American Males and Filibustering in the Age of Manifest Destiny: The United States Army as a Cultural Mirror," _Journal of American History_78 (Dec 1991):857-86.

Two examples of persuasive use of gender analysis in the diplo field are: Rotter, Andrew J. "Gender Relations, Foreign Relations: The United States and South Asia, 1947-1964," _JAH_81(Sept. 1994); 518-42; Smith, Geoffrey S., "National Security and Personal Isolation: Sex, Gender and Disease in the Cold-War United States," _International History Review_14, (May 1992):307-37.

For a recent image study, see Mart, Michelle "Tough Guys and American Cold War Policy: Images of Israel, 1948-1950," _Diplomatic History_20 (Summer, 1996): 357-80.....I'd like to see more on the list on making those tough links between images, etc, and policy.

>From Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones hisrjjs@arts.ed.ac.uk 27 Nov 1996

Here are some contributions to the debate on women/gender and the United States foreign policy. They stem, in part, from recent contributions to this discussion forum, and, in part, from my book: _Changing Differences: Women and the Shaping of American Foreign Policy, 1917-1994_(Rutgers U Press, 1995). In the book, I supported the idea that women are more peaceful than men, but also tried to suggest that women had a distinctive economic influence on foreign policy in the 1920s and 1930s, being predisposed to support lower prices and lower tariffs.

  1. This is an idea for further research. It is, of course, valid to explore "consumption culture" as an influence on foreign policy. However, consumption as an economic activity also invites examination, and not just for the 1920s and 1930s. If the economist Hazel Kyrk was correct in identifying women as the nation's main consumers in the 1920s, it may be that women were the spenders in the nineteenth century, too. Interesting conclusions might stem from, say, an exploration of the gender aspect of the history of sugar consumption, with special attention to inter-American relations.
  2. This is a reflection of marginality. It has been suggested that Edward Crapol's pioneering collection of essays, _Women and Foreign Policy: Lobbyists, Critics and Insiders_(Scholarly Resources, 1992) demeans the role of women by indicating that they operated only on the margins of the foreign-policy making process. However: (i) it should be remembered that foreign policy is the sum of many and complex minor/marginal influences. In the case of a major power like the United States, it is desirable to explore every avenue (ii) in the next century, women will probably be a major influence on foreign policy, so it is vital to understand the seeds from which that influence will have grown. After all, Seneca Falls was a pitifully insignificant event in its day....
  3. I heartily endorse the plea that gender studies and the study of men qua men need further attention in relation to foreign policy. Too many observers still agree with Shaw that the trouble with women is that they are not more like men. The adoption of bloodthirsty opinions seems to be regarded in some quarters as a rite of passage for women wishing to play a serious role in international relations. But in our dangerous world, it is past and present male deviation from the female rational (more peaceful) norm that requires urgent attention.


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