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.