Editorial written in collaboration with Priyanka Joshi.
In every American election cycle, the question of gender is inevitably raised. Woman candidates rail against the perception that their chromosomal alignment makes them incapable of handling foreign policy. In fact, as Northwestern Professor Alice Eagly writes, “[P]eople view women as lacking the stereotypical directive and assertive qualities of good leaders — that is, as not being tough enough or not taking charge. Sometimes people dislike female leaders who display these very directive and assertive qualities because such women seem unfeminine.”
Now that’s not to say that we need to pretend like this stereotype doesn’t exist. Rather, we have to actively confront the problems with perceiving women in politics as universal symbols for peace — and only that. Not just because it’s a useless generalization enforcing a one-dimensional stereotype. But because, more subtly, and far more nefariously, it makes men afraid to follow suit. We see this in everyday life. Take the subject material of many a Tweet for example — men showering? Female trait. Diet soda? Female trait.
How does niche meme culture translate to gender roles, much less anything on a global scale? Well, the simple reason is that we replicate our gender structures in our diplomatic interactions. Osama Bin Laden, terrorist, once commented on the warped masculinity of the West, claiming they had lost all sense of what it means to be a man. Mohandas Gandhi, peace activist, was assassinated by a fellow Hindu who simply believed his politics were too “womanly.” Many more have tortured, raped, and killed in the supposed pursuit of justice—eradicating those who would damage a cause with their femininity. When we view peace as womanly, and masculinity as violent, we turn our global affairs into what is essentially an overhyped pissing contest. And since we live in a patriarchy, what is seen as “good” global politics turns into a futile but glorified pursuit of violence; silent antagonism and open hostility towards enemies and even allies. Now synonymous with feminine and weak, peace accords and compromise are only settled upon as an absolute last resort, with the wealthy global superpowers forcing less powerful nations and territories into submission — global politics and imperialism don’t just involve underlying elements of female subordination: they revolve around it.
The structures of patriarchy and traditional gender roles wield the power inherent in all global conflicts, fostering unnecessarily gendered injustices. The patriarchy enforces war, death, and destruction as a prerequisite in foreign policy and diplomacy. The dominance of masculinity is inextricably tied to a culture of violence and aggression without backing down to lead with empathy. But it’s not just female consciousness that has to be realized: it’s everyone. Because peace is not a problem. Our perception of it is.