Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Getting an Education and Learning to Ask: Where Are the Women?

What's a nice Roman Catholic, Center-Right lady like me doing in a class on Gender?

I dropped into a class called Gender and Conflicts the first week of school because, well, it was right after another class required for my degree and I was already on the premises and not ready to head home that afternoon.  To my surprise I liked the professor and the class topics, and so I signed up.

One month later I am loving the class and the prejudices I brought to it (and they were legion) are slipping away as I read Joane Nagel,  Nira Yuval-Davis and Cynthia Enloe.  Would I have read any of their works had I not taken a chance on this class?  No, I'd never even heard of these women.  But what they have to say has enriched my understanding of  citizenship and international migration in ways I would never have imagined.

Looking at the world of migration through the lens of gender is something I have tried to do in the past.  Sort of.  Back in 2013 I submitted this article Open Borders Would be Great for Women to the Open Borders website and they published it and invited me to submit more.  I never did.

Today I'm glad of that because when I wrote it I was at the lowest level of ignorance - I didn't even know what I didn't know.  I certainly stand by what I said back in 2013 but I could do so much better now thanks to my classes and reading - the ones on migration and identity and the one on gender.

Where are the women?  Where are the men?  You can ask those deceptively simple questions of almost anything. For example, one could do a gender analysis of the renunciations of US citizenship.  In fact, I think I should because something tells me that the way men and women experience this is very different, and their reasons for making that trip to the US consulate may be informed by very different concerns.  I have never heard, for example, an overseas American man tell me, "My wife will divorce me if I don't renounce."  But I have heard that from more than one American woman living abroad whose spouse is a foreign national. What would I find if I looked at this through the prism of gender, class, ethnicity, or migrant status?

Is it worth doing?  A few weeks ago I would not have been interested.  Why complicate situations that are already complicated enough?  And a gender analysis?  That's just not serious...

It was Cynthia Enloe, in her introduction to  Bananas, Beaches and Bases:  Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (a damn fine book) who convinced me otherwise.  Have a little curiosity, she said, because "Gender Makes the World Go Round" in interesting ways.   And that has implications for all of the topics that interest me:  migration, nationalism and citizenship.
"Therefore, when asking 'Where are the women?'-and following up with 'How did they get there?' 'Whe benefits from their being there?' and 'What do they themselves think about being there?'-one should be prepared for complex answers." (Enloe 2014:255)
Can a middle-aged, politically conservative, religious woman like me learn to ask questions like these?

Well, mes amis,  that is what getting an education at any age is all about.


DL NELSON said...

If you knew everything you wouldn't need courses. Makes me wonder what I don't know that I don't know.

Ellen said...

Go for it!

Anonymous said...

What a delight to witness this moment of enlightenment! I'm sure you will contribute greatly to enlightening many others. So YES, you go Sister!

For me, true feminism is humanism. Meaning we cannot have humanism if we cannot acknowledge, accept, validate, admire and justly compensate the feminin and its contributions to human survival and genius, both in individual men's and women's lives and in society.

What about "manism"? That would cover the default position of humanity for a good many thousands of years, so there was no need to coin such a word for separate concept.

Vive la différence !! Cj

Andrew said...

Always worthy to assess policies and programs for their impact on gender and other aspects of diversity, not just assume policies and programs affect all equally or fairly.

Blaze said...

I know of a man whose wife left him because of FATCA. Renunciation was not an option for him for a variety of reasons.

But it does seem to be far more the opposite. Gender matters.

Anonymous said...

Victoria, thank you so much for sharing your education with us! I am eager to follow up on your book tips. I teach intercultural communication at a university and never heard of those three women. Yes, what else am I missing?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Donna, I'm learning that I don't know much at all. :-) And that this state of confusion from all the texts I've been reading is absolutely normal. NOTHING is as simple as it appears. But the great part is that I have no axe to grind, nor am I 25 years old and worried about kicking off a career. There's a certain freedom in that which makes being an older student less stress and more joy.

@Ellen, I took a stab at one of the renunciation lists from 1998 (might as well start at the beginning). So far it appears that about as many women as men renounced that quarter. I'm also seeing couples and siblings which makes renunciation a FAMILY affair? Now wouldn't all this be an interesting spin?

@Cj Thanks very much for the encouragement. It really clicked for me when I was reading Enloe and I began to look at some of my other readings in a very different light. Yes, women are generally not acknowleged or appreciated and they are usually there but they become invisible so you have to look for them. My professor for gender and conflicts talks about peacekeeping and rehabilitation for soldiers in post-conflicts and noted that in cases she is aware of the powers that be decided that "soldiers" meant "men" and ignored the fact that women had been combatants too.

@Andrew, That and something called intersectionality which looks at gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class. I originally thought it was a rather odd approach and now I'm seeing that it makes a hell of a lot of sense.

@Blaze, Interesting. I'd love to lok at that case more closely. I suspect that it has to do with the balance of power in the relationship. I've also talked to aspiring renunciants whose spouses have refused to allow them to renounce. To the extent that they don't feel threatened by FATCA (perhaps they already have separate accounts and assets) they are reluctant to lose the possibility of being able to move to the US as a spouse of a US citizen.

@Anonymous, I'm about to begin a book called Gender and Nation by Nira Yuval-David which is about citizenship and gender. I'll continue to do reviews when I find good ones and also add the books to my readings lists here if I think they are REALLY good.

I would also really appreciate readers proposing titles they've read.