Feminism is Becoming a Catch-All Term
By Joanna Im
In today’s society, ideas surrounding political and social activism have fortunately become more diverse and inclusive of various methods of understanding and fighting inequality. Politicians and governmental policies have even been stepping up, which can be seen in the rise of legislation regarding gender equality towards women as well as those in the LGBT+ community. While this is good and activists should advocate for these inclusive policies, there are definitely examples of ‘feminism’ being to justify non-feminist policies, such as advocating a masculine form of military interventionism while merely hiring a couple of female generals or higher-ups in the process.
Even recently, policymakers have justified legislation as feminist by simply including women within their policy, rather than evaluating the effect that the policy may have for woman’s liberation.
The best example of this is the Bush administration’s co-option of feminist rhetoric in order to justify the war on terror; when speaking of the War in Afghanistan, Laura Bush often appealed to feminist sympathies by highlighting the gender inequality in Middle Eastern countries that are supported by terrorism.
While this seems feminist on the surface, this example of ‘feminism’ is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, many critics of the Bush Administration believe that while the U.S. championed democracy and liberalism in the Middle East during the War on Terror, it was truly for the U.S.’s geopolitical benefit and does not truly improve conditions for gender minorities abroad.
In fact, military aid even elsewhere, such as in Latin American countries, is justified through the war on terror, but actually shuts down local grassroots, feminist movements in different countries. In 1980, groups of Latin American women created a coalition in order to advocate for better labor conditions for women as well as community-based education. During this time, according to Irene Campos Carr of Northeastern Illinois University, these Latin American countries and movements were “referred to as ‘developing democracies’ by the U.S. which sends massive military aid to be used against ‘subversives.’”
All in all, when policymakers use the image of suffering women abroad in order to justify their legislation and make themselves seem feminist and progressive, it actually hurts gender minorities, especially those abroad. Especially in the instance of the War on Terror, policymakers often used the feminist struggle in order to paint a threat construction, in which the U.S. and its citizens must pre-emptively fight countries abroad before they fight us.
However, this just feeds into a form of ‘masculine war-making.’
As University of Florida’s associate professor of Political Science Laura Sjoberg describes, “states' survival and success have depended on the creation and maintenance of legitimating national identities; often these identities have depended on the manipulation of gendered representation. . . . Drawing on metaphors that evoke matrimonial and familial relations, the nation has been portrayed as both male and female. . . . The sense of community implicit in these family metaphors is deeply gendered in ways that not only legitimate foreign policy practices but also reinforce inequalities between men and women.” Additionally, the fact that policies only evaluate body count and war as ‘large impacts’ push intimate violence (which often targets gender minorities) aside in discussions of conflict and war.
Overall, international policies that are justified through the images of suffering women is not really feminist at all – instead, it’s ethical blackmail that deploys the inclusion of women in order to uphold gendered boundaries between various nations and uphold American hegemony and interventionism. While we should be accepting of different forms of activism and feminism, we should still set standards – and not buy into the false notion that interventionist policies can somehow be ‘feminist.’