Gender - Seeing gender in foreign policy




If finding women in foreign policy has broadened the study of American foreign relations, then locating gender has stretched the discipline even further. In the most basic sense, applying a gender analysis to the study of American foreign policy is an attempt to see things differently, or to see new things entirely. Like other tools of analysis, gender offers another angle, another peek into the complicated world of policymaking. Diplomatic historians who use gender analysis are no different than their colleagues in the field; they, too, seek answers to longstanding questions about the emergence of colonialism, the development of tariff and trade policies, the rise of anti-imperialist movements, the origins of the Cold War, and the like. The use of a gender analysis does not preclude the use of any of the customary methodologies of the historian; gender merely adds to the historian's toolbox.

As explained earlier, the emergence of gender studies has made it possible for historians not only to find women but to see both women and men as gendered actors. Indeed, the research on women and femininity as historical subjects has inspired new investigation into the histories of men and masculinity. This has opened a rich vein of scholarship that does not take men's participation in foreign affairs for granted; rather, it interrogates how masculine values and worldviews have shaped diplomacy, enabling students of foreign policy to see anew how normative ideas about manhood inform policymakers' decision making in both domestic and international contexts.

But a gender analysis shows us more than masculinity in action; it offers a critical tool for understanding power in all of its guises. Seeing gender enables historians to scrutinize the organization of power in any arena, from the most public to the most intimate. Gender ideologies can represent relationships of power as innate, fixed, or biologically rooted, but gender history can make transparent the human agency behind those "natural" relationships. Gender analysis can also reveal how ideologies of masculinity and femininity are embedded in language and social structures; the language of warfare, for example, depends on gendered ideas of strength and weakness, protector and protected, which, in turn, shape how an institution like the military utilizes men and women to carry out American foreign policy. A gender analysis can be powerful precisely because it interrogates power itself; it raises fundamental questions about how particular groups have achieved dominance by naturalizing power relations that are, in fact, humanly constituted.

Cold War history offers an illustrative, although by no means exclusive, case of how gender analysis can affect the study of American foreign policy. It was in this field where scholars first began to commingle the study of politics, culture, and gender to expand traditional narratives of diplomatic history. The Cold War's rich imagery of nuclear apocalypse and hyperbolic talk of patriotism and subversion first caught the attention of historians of culture and social history, who sought to explain the relationship between the social-cultural politics of the postwar home front and the diplomatic politics of the Cold War. This work tended to locate gender and national security themes in popular culture (film, mass-circulation magazines) and in the burgeoning social scientific "expert" literature translated for public consumption. Scholars have traced how messages about muscular masculinity and dangerously aggressive femininity made their way into the films, novels, advice columns, and even comic book literature of the era. According to this research, new opportunities for women's independence unleashed by World War II (as witnessed by women's rising participation in the postwar wage labor force) generated new fears about the stability of gender roles and family practices. Female independence, often portrayed in popular culture in highly sexualized ways, was likened to the lethal potency of a mushroom cloud. Social science experts and popular advice literature advocated family stability—and female domesticity, in particular—as antidotes to the past disruptions of World War II and the future uncertainties of the nuclear age. This scholarship revealed intriguing symbolic linkages between the generalized anxiety about atomic energy and the popular apprehension about the slow but steady transformations in gender roles and family life.

In a similar vein, historians have pondered how containment doctrine, a policy hatched in high-level diplomatic circles, became a language and practice in the popular realm. Historians of the family and sexuality, for example, have explored how anticommunism and national security policies became manifest in everyday life. The ambient fear of nuclear annihilation, paired with concerns about the resilience of the nuclear family, spurred campaigns to "contain" the social forces that might prove disruptive to gender and family traditionalism. In fact, scholars have argued, postwar America's red scare was as much an attempt to root out nontraditional gender roles and sexual practices as it was an effort to secure America's foreign policy dominance. The preoccupation with national security abroad was bolstered by a security effort at home that enshrined "family values." According to popular cold warriors, with Joseph McCarthy being merely one of a chorus of voices, only heterosexual nuclear families with breadwinner fathers, stay-at-home mothers, and children could anchor a patriotic domestic security endeavor. Anything outside of that configuration was suspect, probably subversive, a potential menace to national security.

This gender conservatism underpinning the red scare was more than simply a cultural mood. Historians have shown it had concrete policy manifestations as well. Despite the changing gender and sexual practices of the wartime and postwar years, McCarthy-era intolerance led to the criminalization of homosexuality, resulting in the federal government's purge of gays and lesbians in government service. Advocates of the purge argued that homosexuals were "sex perverts" whose tastes and habits imperiled national security. Like communists, gays and lesbians could avoid detection and spread their propaganda under the radar screen. Homosexuals were dangerous as well because they were gender outlaws: mannish women who could not be domesticated and weak-willed, "sissified" men who could not stand firm and tall against communist aggression, at home and abroad. The theme of the "homosexual menace" pervaded postwar political culture, reaching from the very top echelons of the federal government to the most local bureaucracies and organizations. Using the screening and firing mechanisms of President Harry Truman's loyalty-security program, anticommunist officials were able to either screen out or discharge thousands of gay and lesbian citizens from government service. This episode illustrates how policymakers, opinion leaders, and ordinary folk imagined gender and sexual dangers as foreign policy or national security dangers. Without a gender analysis, these symbolic and material linkages would be difficult to see.

This early scholarship on the gendered meanings of Cold War culture and the national security state was highly suggestive, urging historians to think about connections not yet made and pointing out directions for future study. This work took the traditional approach of historians—document analysis—and pushed it into new directions, borrowing from postmodern approaches that take discourse (written and spoken language, images, and symbols) analysis seriously. Historians saw in this Cold War discourse rich and varied gender meanings that could broaden our understanding of how language constructed the national security environment in which policymakers formulated their momentous decisions. In the broadest sense, the work on gender, culture, and foreign policy provocatively suggests that the relationship between text and context is more than incidental—that text actually constructs the historical context, it does not merely reflect it. This work has also performed an invaluable service to both diplomatic and social history, because it has successfully linked these heretofore separate historical literatures. The fusion of this previously bifurcated historiography of the postwar era has yielded a more complex understanding of the Cold War as a creature with both domestic and diplomatic dimensions.

Still, the first historians to do this work tended to look for a gender–foreign policy connection primarily in popular culture, leaving unanalyzed the gender content of the more traditional documents (letters, memos, telegrams, agency reports, treaties) found in presidential and security agency archives. In fact, there was arguably a kind of gendering of the sources themselves, whereby scholars who wanted to find gender in diplomacy tended to look at popular discourses (gendered feminine) rather than at the records of diplomacy (gendered masculine). This left the impression, as Amy Kaplan (1994) has argued, that gender "enters diplomatic history only through the aegis of culture." More recent scholarship on gender and Cold War foreign policy has built on these earlier approaches, and historians continue to fine-tune and adapt the methodologies of literary and cultural studies to traditional historical analysis of diplomacy. Much of the newer work on gender and foreign policy now analyzes gender in sources that few postwar Americans would have laid eyes on. Cold War historians excavate the classified archival materials of presidents, defense bureaucracies, military leaders, intelligence agencies, and nongovernmental actors engaged in diplomacy at various levels. Their analysis of these institutional documents produced in relatively remote political environments is no different than the cultural historian's analysis of documents produced for mass consumption. Like Cold War films or science fiction literature, traditional diplomatic documents are cultural artifacts that can reveal something about the operation of gender in the Cold War era.

An examination of particular moments in Cold War history from the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy administrations may help readers see how this work is done. Diplomatic historians have long debated questions about the emergence of chilly relations between the United States and the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II. Volumes have been written about how the two superpowers sought military, economic, and territorial advantages as they tried to construct a postwar world hospitable to their own interests. Many scholars have focused on the development of the doctrine of containment, foreshadowed by the 1947 Truman Doctrine (which pledged the United States to fight communism in Greece and Turkey), and then articulated more thoroughly by George Kennan, the State Department analyst who penned the now famous "long telegram" in early 1946, followed by the "Sources of Soviet Conduct" article in July 1947. Historians have scrutinized Kennan's policy recommendations and rhetorical flourishes for decades, but until the late 1990s, no historian had done a close textual analysis that incorporated gender analysis. In fact, the question of how gender has shaped the political assumptions, worldviews, and policies of cold warriors has yet to be asked in a systematic way for the whole of the Cold War. Nevertheless, new studies have yielded some compelling findings on particular episodes in Cold War history.

Using the insights of gender studies, historian Frank Costigliola found that George Kennan's writings were rife with gendered metaphors that represented the Cold War as an emotional, sexually charged struggle between a man and woman. Kennan's favorite analogies to describe the changing postwar relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union depended heavily on gender, family, and sexual ideologies and imagery. For example, Kennan likened the relationship between Soviet citizens and their government to a wife who becomes gradually disillusioned with her husband and seeks a divorce from him. Russian people, in general, were gendered feminine, Kennan's way of conveying his firm view that the Soviet citizenry was beholden to their cruel and despotic government, gendered as a hypermasculine authority figure. In his telegram, Kennan went so far as to portray the Soviet government as a rapist who tried to exert "unceasing pressure" with "penetration" into Western society. These gendered metaphors and tropes are not just casual talk; they are the stuff of politics, according to Costigliola and others. Kennan's writings shaped the political environment in which policymakers thought about and negotiated with the Soviets; the invocation of highly gendered and sexualized motifs, Costigliola notes in "'Unceasing Pressure for Penetration'" (1997), "created an emotionalized context" that made the exaggerations of a Soviet threat seem "rational and credible," thus closing off deeper deliberation about the reality and dimensions of that threat. Other scholars, too, have delved into diplomatic sources to see how policymakers relied on gender to understand diplomatic relations between states. Historian Michelle Mart examined the gendered discourses of U.S. relations with Israel in the Truman and Eisenhower years. In this case, gender helps explain how Israeli Jews became worthy of a close relationship with the United States from 1948 through the 1950s, that is, only after they had proclaimed statehood and strenuously resisted subsequent Arab attacks. An analysis of the diplomatic exchanges between the United States and Israel reveals that the manly pursuits of statehood and warfare transformed Israeli Jews, in the eyes of the U.S. policymakers, from marginal global players to muscular fighters, sex symbols, and triumphant underdogs. Jewish "tough guys" had proven their mettle in the battle for statehood, and the reward for their virile and vigorous struggle was a dependable, long-term alliance with the United States. Gender defined the parameters of that alliance, for a toughminded masculine orientation was considered by U.S. policymakers an important indicator of a country's fitness for a close political and military alliance with a global superpower.

A study of U.S. relations with India in the same time period reveals how the very gendered perceptions that enabled diplomatic partnership with the Israelis disqualified India as a serious player in Cold War politics. According to a study by Andrew Rotter, America's postwar relationship with India was structured, in part, by the gendered perception that India's desire to remain a neutral player in the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union was a signal of its passivity and cowardice. American policymakers, frustrated with India's desire for neutrality, portrayed India itself and Indian diplomats as feminine, meaning in this case, weak-willed, irrational, naive about world affairs, and ultimately undependable. Cold War gender ideologies that valorized masculine rationality and decisiveness as a counterpoint to feminine emotionality and passivity thus shaped policymakers' views that India was acting like a frightened woman who could not be relied upon to sustain a long-term diplomatic alliance in Asia.

Moving forward from the Cold War diplomacy of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations into the early 1960s, scholarly work has uncovered the centrality of gender to the policy assumptions and decision making of the Kennedy administration. John F. Kennedy's cultivation of youth, energetic patriotism, and moral courage has been discussed widely. As historian Robert D. Dean argues, scholars and media observers of the Kennedy presidency have often cited President Kennedy's preoccupation with "toughness" as an issue of personal style or habit, not a matter of gender politics. In fact, Kennedy's foreign policy interests and energies were a reflection of his views that American manhood was threatened by indulgent consumption at home and communist insurgency abroad, both of which required the diplomatic muscle flexing of tough-minded cold warriors. Kennedy's physical fitness programs would strengthen youth at home, while his new Peace Corps would dispatch an energetic corps of youth to all ends of the globe to fight the Cold War with American ideology and first-world technology. Meanwhile, his counterinsurgency measures, embodied by the elite Green Berets, would counter Soviet aggression by discouraging any potential—and quashing any real—Soviet-sponsored indigenous uprisings. In essence, Dean claims, Kennedy's policies were a projection of his perception that American men had grown soft and idle in the postwar period, and that the antidote to this crisis of masculinity was an infusion of bellicose and brawny political leadership at home and abroad.

We can reach further back in time, to the nineteenth century, to apprehend gender meanings in American foreign policy. Kristin L. Hoganson's 1998 study about the operation of gender in the Spanish-American War, for example, nudges historians to confront difficult questions about the causal role of gender in American foreign policy decisions. Like the scholarship on gender and the Cold War, her study is premised on the notion "that the conduct of foreign policy does not occur in a vacuum, that political decision makers are shaped by their surrounding cultures," and that "inherited ideas about gender" are a part of that culture and thus shape profoundly the views of foreign policymakers. In the case of the Spanish-American War, Hoganson states that gender ideals "played an exceptionally powerful and traceable role" in the decision to go to war. Advocates of intervention in Cuba and the Philippines believed that international aggression would fortify American nationalism and manhood at the same time. They drew on nineteenth-century ideas about "manly" character and citizenship, arguing that a war for territorial and economic expansion would energize and rehabilitate American manhood, which, they claimed, had grown soft without the challenges of frontier expansion, agricultural production, and warrior experience. Layered upon these concerns was another: women's growing political activism and their insistence on the right to vote. An imperial war, according to interventionists, would certify gender traditionalism (man as protector, women as the protected) and restore the manly (and womanly) virtues and character that were the basis of American democracy.

Interestingly, we see a striking repetition of gender themes between the foreign policy environments of the late nineteenth century and the Cold War era: a perceived crisis of masculinity (notably, associated with consumption in both centuries), an emergent anxiety about women's independence, and a confidence that a virile and robust American diplomatic posture abroad could go far to solve the twin problems of gender disorder at home and global threats abroad. In both periods of expansionist impulse, concerns about masculinity and femininity merged with concerns about affairs of state. Whatever the century or whatever the case study, then, late-twentieth-century scholarship made big and insistent claims that gender ideologies were a fundamental part of foreign policy formulation. In all of the examples cited, it appears that gender shaped the identities of foreign policymakers themselves before they arrived in Washington, and that it continued to shape their assumptions, anxieties, aspirations, and actions once they were fully ensconced in diplomatic circles.

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