Gender - Finding women in foreign policy




The integration of these two seemingly disparate literatures—gender studies and diplomatic history—is ongoing, and it is important to note that this subfield is still "under construction." Nevertheless, it is possible to describe and analyze the myriad approaches historians have used thus far. One of the first ways historians have made gender visible in foreign policy is by spotlighting the presence and contributions of the anomalous women who have shaped American foreign policy. This approach reveals how women like Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Eleanor Dulles (the younger sister of John Foster and Allen), and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt have influenced foreign policy in a variety of roles—as elected officials, lobbyists, mid-level bureaucrats, and even first ladies. More recently, women such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, Madeleine Albright, and Condoleeza Rice have risen to the highest levels of statecraft. President Ronald Reagan appointed Kirkpatrick in 1980 to be the U.S. representative to the United Nations. Kirkpatrick's staunch anticommunism and advocacy of a reinvigorated national defense fit comfortably in the Reagan administration, and she became a widely known spokesperson for Reagan's foreign policy positions. President Bill Clinton, too, selected a woman to represent U.S. interests at the UN. Albright served several years at the UN until Clinton appointed her secretary of state in 1996. Secretary Albright was the first woman to serve in that role, and in 2001, President George W. Bush made Rice the first woman assistant to the president for national security affairs.

Tracking these "firsts" and the careers of other notable but lesser known women in the diplomatic corps marks an important contribution to the literature simply because it makes women visible. Biographical information on how these women worked their way through institutions controlled by men can yield important insights about the role of feminism in paving the way for their entry, and about the challenges involved in managing a career in a field still populated with very few women. This approach also encourages scholars to not simply acknowledge women such as Kirkpatrick or Albright but to evaluate their contributions and legacies. Many critical questions have emerged from this literature about the weight of women's influence in foreign policymaking (Albright, for example, enjoyed much more access to policy inner circles than did Kirkpatrick), about whether female policymakers' contributions reflect "a woman's view," and whether American women can effect more change if they operate inside or outside of policy circles.

Still, this quasi-biographical approach to gender and foreign policy has some significant limitations. It tends to focus on elite women, so it is narrow by definition. As a result, we lose something of the story of how the nonelite majority of American women have shaped foreign policy through different means. Further, its "notable women" orientation just adds women to the story, leaving untapped the methods, questions, and theories that define diplomacy and the discipline of diplomatic history itself. Finally, this approach also supports (probably unintentionally) the misguided notion that truly exceptional women, with enough resources and pluck, can enter the inner circle of statesmen, and that the vast majority of women cannot, because of either native inability or subjugation by a male power structure. Neither of these notions can be supported historically, nor are they the intended arguments of writers, but the impressions remain. Many more important biographies and studies of such women need to be done, but they can contribute only modestly to the knowledge about gender and American foreign relations.

Beyond this approach lies another, broader in scope, more inclusive of nonelite women, and more sensitive to the array of historical forces that have shaped women's inclusion or exclusion from foreign affairs. In this approach, women are written into the history of foreign relations as missionaries—emissaries of Americanism. These more prosperous white women (teachers, reformers, and members of faith communities) become part of the larger narrative about the energetic expansion of the United States in the late nineteenth century, and here they can be cast as both villains and victims. Historians have documented the ways in which women missionaries exported "civilization" to nonwhite populations through "uplift" programs that valorized whiteness, Christianity, and conventional gender and family ideologies. Some newer work has complicated this story further, suggesting that women such as turn-of-the century female travelers abroad and the women photojournalists who documented the violence of the Spanish American War participated in missionary types of civilizing projects, even if not formally engaged in missionary work themselves. At the same time, however, all of these works acknowledge that nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century gender systems prevented women's participation in diplomacy (and domestic electoral politics), relegating women to a separate sphere of foreign affairs. Excluded from formal policymaking, these women were still political actors; they promoted the tenets of American foreign policy through the means available to women of their status. Like their sister reformers who worked in immigrant communities in American cities, female missionaries practiced their "social housekeeping" on a global stage. In this approach, then, women become visible in the dramas of foreign policymaking as collaborators in exile, historical actors who support the worldviews and expansionist agendas of male foreign policymakers but only from a position of exclusion.

Like women missionaries, women in peace movements tried to participate in foreign policy-making from the outskirts. Historians have found in peace histories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a meaningful paper trail of women's participation in important national and international debates about U.S. foreign policy. In examining the theories, strategies, and tactics of organized women's peace movements, it becomes difficult to capture the whole of their contributions to policymaking. Historians hold different views about the degree to which peace movements generally have influenced decision makers' choices about interventions and arms buildups. Moreover, historians of women's pacifism have tended to focus less on the policy impact side of the story and more on the social movement story—that is, how it was that women in different eras were able to muster the ideological and material resources to create and sustain movements that addressed foreign policy issues long considered to be "men's business."

It is difficult to generalize about the politics of women's peace movements, because female pacifism has both enshrined conventional gender roles and advanced the ideas of feminism. One safe generalization might be that women in peace movements have capitalized on their outsider perspective; their very exclusion from the "man's world" of diplomacy enabled them to criticize—more perceptively, they argued—the overseas adventurism of the United States. Many female peace activists, whether mothers or not, claimed a maternal identity as the basis of this outsider critique of American diplomacy. Although there was no national, independent women's peace movement before 1914, there were individual women and small peace groups that lobbied in various locales. In these activities we can see a nascent feminist peace consciousness developing over the course of the nineteenth century, and much of this activism sprung from female reformers' maternalist sensibilities. These women, largely middle class, white, and Protestant, argued that U.S. expansion overseas should not extend what they charged were male values of conquest and acquisition, but rather should reflect women's purity, virtue, and maternal morality. By the late nineteenth century, many nationally organized women's groups, such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), had fully incorporated a peace plank into their reform agendas. In fact, the WCTU created a Department of Peace and Arbitration in 1887, which enabled them to link more systematically their crusade against alcohol (a critique of male violence in the family) with a campaign for peace (a critique of male violence overseas).

Over the course of the twentieth century, through both world wars and after, female pacifists continued to claim the mantle of motherhood as an entry into foreign policy politics. Like their nineteenth-century predecessors, these later activists nurtured the notion of a maternalist citizenship, a concept that included not only the demand for the vote, but a full voice in governmental affairs, electoral politics, and any other arena in which foreign policy was made. During the years of World War I, for example, we see the emergence of what Harriet Hyman Alonso calls the "suffrage-pacifists," women who saw peace issues as inextricably linked with women's suffrage. The formation of the Woman's Peace Party in 1915 reflected this fusion of peace and women's rights; its platform called for arms limitation, international jurisprudence and peacekeeping, an end to the war in Europe, and the right to vote for women. Representation from numerous women's clubs at the founding meeting, including the WCTU, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the Women's Trade Union League, and the Women's National Committee of the Socialist Party, reveals the breadth of interest in suffrage-peace politics. Social reformer and Woman's Peace Party leader Jane Addams encouraged women already active in local matters to pay attention to international affairs—to link local with global. Addams and others noted that peace activism was a natural extension of women's nurturance of family and community, and the Peace Party's appeal to "the mother half of humanity" reflected their maternalist orientation.

Years later, well after women won the right to vote, motherhood continued to be an important identity and organizing base for women's peace groups. In 1961, Women Strike for Peace, an organization of "concerned housewives," called on President John F. Kennedy to "end the arms race—not the human race." They, too, claimed the experiences and insights of motherhood as a foundation for activism. As caretakers of the nation's children, they argued, all women had a responsibility to lobby for peace. Taking a multitude of positions on issues from the nuclear test ban treaty of 1963 to U.S. intervention in Vietnam, members of Women Strike for Peace went further than mere criticism of U.S. policies: they argued passionately that the moral, maternal citizenship they embodied promised a new path to more harmonious local, national, and international relationships.

This ideological fusion of motherhood with peace made women's entrance into national debates about global affairs more hospitable than it might have been had they argued for participation based on more feminist principles of justice and equality. But as historians have aptly pointed out, women's pacifism was a politics of feminism as well as maternalism. Indeed, women active in peace movements saw a connection between militarist diplomacy and male supremacy, and they infused their critique of American foreign policy with a critique of male domination. Maternalist peace activism enabled women to understand not only their exclusion from the military state, but also their cultural and economic disenfranchisement in American society as women and mothers. They identified a link between military violence abroad and domestic violence at home. They argued that the violence of war devalued and destroyed women's values and women's work, since it was women—as mothers—who created and sustained life. The war machine was male owned and operated, they claimed, and an American foreign policy based on military intervention was the logical culmination of men's domination in the workplace, politics, and the family. In this sense, many women activists (especially those in the second wave of the feminist movement) went further than mere condemnation of their exclusion from policymaking bureaucracies—they denounced the whole system itself. These ideological currents could be seen in both nineteenth-and twentieth-century peace movements, and it is significant that women's participation in peace movements often grew out of and coexisted with activism in abolitionist, suffrage, and other feminist causes.

Although the focus on women missionaries and pacifists has been instrumental in writing women into the history of American foreign policy, this approach, too, has its problems. It can often assume an essentialized femininity (the idea that women are all the same) across all racial, class, and regional boundaries. At the same time, it can posit a theory of female difference—that women are a special class of human being, uniquely nurturant, maternal, and peaceful. As historians have suggested, this seemingly powerful vision of women can lead to their exclusion from politics and policymaking, based on the assumption that women would be unfit or somehow corrupted by the rough and tumble world of diplomacy.

More importantly, ideas about women's inherent pacifism are not true. As many studies have demonstrated, women have been an integral part of military engagements as auxiliary military forces, production workers, and home front volunteers. In fact, women themselves have invoked a maternalist ideology to endorse as well as oppose military preparedness and war. And, of course, American foreign policymakers have often depended on the rhetoric of maternalism and family to whip up popular support for their decisions. At different historical moments, American women have strenuously affirmed and participated in a whole range of military mobilizations.

Taken together, these histories reveal women's varied levels of engagement with American diplomacy. They underscore the fact that "women were there" in the making of foreign policy: there were a few in policymaking circles, more in missionary work, and even more in peace movements. Yet finding them has not made it easy to generalize about the meanings of their presence, for women were positioned differently in relation to the state that made foreign policy decisions, and they viewed and acted on those decisions in different ways. Perhaps the most important outcome of writing these women into diplomatic history is that now scholars must widen their lens as they seek to understand how foreign policy has been made and implemented by varieties of historical actors in varied political contexts.

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