Women advocates, both liberal and conservative, are frustrated by the media’s fascination with the narrative that for the first time in American history, women, not men, were supposedly key in pushing for the use of military force against a foreign government.
Reports highlight that the three-woman diplomatic team of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and the Office of Multilateral and Human Rights Director Samantha Power pushed the male-dominated administration to take military action against Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.
Many women are not impressed, believing that it is somewhat sexist and condescending to be surprised that a woman could make a traditionally male decision.
According to The Nation’s Katha Pollitt, the very fact that people are pointing out that it is odd for women to push for military action is sexist in and of itself.
“[T]he fact that three women argued for it skillfully and won their point is not very interesting. So why stress it, except that it mobilizes a raft of misogynist tropes about castrating females, the dangers of petticoat government and the folly of expecting anything good to come out of gender equality?” she asked.
Amy Siskind, president and co-founder of The New Agenda, echoed Pollitt, shaking her head at the idea that this is even a topic of conversation. She contends that it is noteworthy largely because the administration has not put many women in positions of power.
“I find it troubling that in this day and age we are even having a discussion about this,” Siskind told TheDC. “Women should be part of many more decisions and our organization has been very disappointed in the gender representation of this administration. It has really been a step backward for women.”
Despite a distaste for the coverage, Yana Walton, spokesperson for The Women’s Media Center, noted a silver lining, that with more women in visible positions of international power, old stereotypes are falling by the wayside.
“As more and more women hold international leadership positions, it’s clear that gender stereotypes just aren’t holding up,” Walton wrote in an email. “Women do bring up new perspectives on issues and alternate solutions to such crises, but this isn’t about men vs. women. It’s about the ability of diverse leadership to solve a human rights crisis.”
Carrie Lukas, vice president for policy and economics at the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, stressed that the focus should be on the mission and less on the cultural phenomena of women in power. Like Walton, she added that it does help to dispel the long held stereotype that women would always seek the less aggressive path.
“I always think it has been a silly, the idea that women don’t recognize that sometimes military action is necessary. Women are going to judge things on the merits just like men,” Lukas said.
The concern for many of these women is that as the Libyan conflict progresses, the gender of the decision makers will somehow shape the debate.
“When media covers this story as a gender battle, the larger story of a democratic struggle is lost, and it’s simply unproductive. Holding to a sexist framework isn’t helping Libya’s democracy, and it’s certainly not helping ours,” Walton wrote.