Politics & Gender

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Politics & Gender (2005), 1:1:166-182 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © 2005 The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association

Critical Perspectives on Gender and Politics

Defending Modernity? High Politics, Feminist Anti-Modernism, and the Place of Gender

Julia  Adams  a1 and Ann Shola  Orloff  a2
a1 Yale University
a2 Northwestern University

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In the wake of 9/11 and the subsequent struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq, gender has become even more obviously important for understanding contemporary world politics, including armed conflict and war. Gender is an explicit structuring principle of contemporary conflicts between Western powers and an Islamist fundamentalism energized by opposition to the freedoms enjoyed by Western women and committed to the imposition of a version of sharia that explicitly denies to women rights equal to men's.

In the wake of 9/11 and the subsequent struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq, gender has become even more obviously important for understanding contemporary world politics, including armed conflict and war. Gender is an explicit structuring principle of contemporary conflicts between Western powers and an Islamist fundamentalism energized by opposition to the freedoms enjoyed by Western women 1 and committed to the imposition of a version of sharia that explicitly denies to women rights equal to men's.

Work on gender across the social sciences has for the last decade or two been preoccupied by issues far from the macropolitical questions that concerned the feminists of the 1970s and early 1980s. 2 A broad range of theoretical transformations—embracing versions of the linguistic and cultural turns, poststructuralism, and psychoanalysis—turned our collective gaze to bodies, the formation of subjects, discourses, and identities. These shifts certainly engaged questions of power. But they could not, on their own, generate the kinds of theoretical understandings of political institutions and contexts that are rather clearly demanded by recent world events. Gender analysis at the macropolitical level has also been undermined by the decline of grand theory; the shifting center of gravity within gender studies itself toward the humanities, away from social science; and the crisis of confidence among many feminists over the use of the category of “woman,” in response to criticisms raised by theorists of intersectionality and those who follow the strong Foucauldian program of assimilating all conceptual categories to projects of power and exclusion. Still, some political scientists and political and historical sociologists never stopped analyzing high politics and gender. They—or should we say “we, collectively”?—can help lead the way toward a reengagement with high politics in the cross-cutting field of gender studies while continuing our efforts to gender the study of politics within our own disciplines and subdisciplines.

First, however, there are some crucial arguments to be engaged among those who have been attuned to the macro level of politics. Certain disturbing analytic trends, widely represented among those political scientists and sociologists, are making it difficult to understand and actively address contemporary events and phenomena. Most fundamentally, we will argue here, too many academics are refusing to draw critical analytical distinctions between modernity and its alternatives. Nor do they place these differences in the crucial social and historical contexts of intrastate command and control—that is, the ways that states hold together internally—and of interstate conflict and cooperation, the basic structuring of “us versus them,” which obviously includes questions of gender. For that reason, there is an eerie timelessness and spatial deracination in the claims and generalizations about the symbolic operations of gender and statehood, particularly in how the term patriarchy, or politics conducted under the sign of the father, is invoked. Iris Marion Young's (2003) recent article on masculine protection and politics is a telling example of these forms of reasoning, which one could call “feminist antimodernism.” Young's intervention is particularly important not only because of her general intellectual influence but also because it was composed at a formative moment, not long after 9/11, and was a lead article in Signs, the flagship journal in gender studies, in which, in the recent past, articles focusing on high politics have occupied a relatively limited space.

Young recognizes the centrality of gender and discursive political logics to contemporary global conflicts. She takes issue with early feminist understandings of war-making flowing directly from deformed masculine personalities and with those who insist on a single masculinist logic, that of “domination.” Instead, she would like to identify an additional set of gendered meanings of masculinity, which she calls “the logic of masculine protection.” This set organizes interpretations of recent political events, including the passage of the U.S. Patriot Act and the invasion of Afghanistan, which followed the events of September 11, 2001, when “a marauding gang of outsiders attacked buildings in New York and Washington with living bombs, killing thousands in barely an instant and terrifying large number of people in the country” (Young 2003, 10). She is trying to explain why there has been popular support or at least a reasonable degree of popular consent to the responses of the American government, including the Patriot Act and the Afghanistan invasion. She argues that American citizens, just like women and children under the guard or aegis of a household patriarch, have traded their democratic freedoms for promises of protection. These are, she thinks, not only false promises but the basis of a protection racket, because the threats are illusory, exaggerated, or even generated by the protector himself: “The Bush administration has repeatedly appealed to the primacy of its role as protector of innocent citizens and liberator of women and children to justify consolidating and centralizing executive power at home and dominative war abroad” (2003, 10). The end result of an “assertion of dictatorial power” is an American “security state” that “has slipped too far down the authoritarian continuum” (2003, 12, 10).

The other side of Young's analysis stresses the United States as “warmaker” (Young 2003, 17) and the Bush administration as cynically manipulating the rhetoric of women's rights to further an essentially imperialist project in Afghanistan (see also Cohn and Enloe 2003). American citizens, she says, and some feminists have not only consented to this project but have helped lay the ideological basis for it: “Even before the war it seemed to me, however, and still seems to me, that feminist focus on women under the Taliban constructed these women as exoticized others and paradigmatic victims in need of salvation by Western feminists, and it conveniently deflected attention from perhaps more intractable and mundane problems of gender-based violence, domination, and poverty in many other parts of the world, including the enlightened West” (Young 2003, 18–19). She conveys two points. U.S. feminists are as guilty of deploying the logic of “masculinist protection” as is the U.S. government. She also condemns what she takes to be a reflex of modernity: the necessary consignment of formerly colonized and peripheral women to the category of “other,” and the elevation of “modern” forms of life above others.

Young sees her project of understanding and critiquing the linkage between a particular form of “male domination and militarism” (Young 2003, 1) as drawing on several sources of inspiration. One is the American and European women's peace movement of the 1970s and early 1980s, which, she thinks, saw through the Cold War protection racket, its acuity reminiscent of Mae West's bon mot, and the epigram that opens Young's article: “Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can't figure out what from” (2003, 1). The second source is the democratic theory that she would propose as an alternative to the logic of masculinist protection, founded in an understanding of politics that Thomas Hobbes might recognize as his own. Finally, she is influenced by one strand of feminist work that underlines the multiplicity of forms of masculinity and power, and the analytical separation of gendered meanings and gendered bodies.

We like the fact that Young recognizes that political commitments are unlikely to flow from some crude “desire to dominate”—or even to torture and kill—as popular left-wing commentators often allege about everyday Bush voters, 3 in the flip side of a typical Ann Coulter diatribe about liberals' propensity toward treason. We also admire her attempt to develop the insight, beautifully articulated by Jean Bethke Elshtain in the chapters on men in her book Women and War (1995), that there is more than one possible logic of masculinity or multiple signs, valences, and practices associated with that of “the father.” There are problems even here, however, for Young is silent on the “how-tos” of cultural interpretation. How do we distinguish one cultural logic from another? Even in a text, how would we assess the presence of multiple or contending logics? This would seem to be a strength of feminist political theory as an enterprise, which has given feminists many alternative readings of classic political theory, whether of emancipatory elements or hidden scripts of domination. But there are no pointers offered here. In addition, what constitutes valid evidence for the claim that a given logic inheres in the upper reaches of a state? And what about Young's further assumption that these discourses resonate with their intended audience? Here is a place where some public opinion research would be very useful! Or at least, some modesty about claims about who is or is not interpellated—who does or does not resonate to such language—is in order. But she offers no theory of interpretation, and does not give us the wherewithal to apply her insights with regard to the concepts of patriarchy (father-rule) to current politics, whether at the level of states or subjects. These may seem like big problems, and they are. But they do not yet capture the heart of our disagreement.

Even as Young attempts to introduce some needed differentiation into our conceptions of masculinity, she takes an essentially ahistorical approach. Her analysis limns a timeless version of a Hobbesian landscape in which the character of states, sovereigns, patriarchs, and their flocks are not theorized, and this means that she cannot differentiate between the symbolizations and practices of masculinity and femininity in different settings and eras. That is most evident in her remarks on the problems of women under the Taliban versus those in “the West,” quoted earlier. Yet the differences were stark. Women were coded as internal Others in the most extreme fashion in Taliban ideology; they were even systematically put to death on the basis of attributes ascribed to femininity itself. This is a form of genocide, in our view, consistent with the United Nations definition. How is a feminist focus, whether Western or not, on this systematic oppression—including mass murder—necessarily a construction of “these women as exoticized others and paradigmatic victims in need of salvation” or necessarily a deflection of attention from “more mundane” problems of gender inequality? 4 How can such serious differences simply be analytically submerged in notions that one patriarchy is just as bad as the other? Young is here representative of much new feminist writing, in which the once taken-for-granted association between modernization and progress toward gender equality, and the correlative ideological link between so-called traditional styles of life and masculine domination, have come under attack. Modernity has also been understood as ineluctably linked to racist imperial projects, in which “Western women” have often been enlisted or have even been the standard-bearers. Thus, it is not surprising that some analysts are ready to excoriate all things modern and even to dismiss modernity—any modernity—as a political destination as they construe the politics of the day.

There is, of course, a strong counterperspective on gender, patriarchy, and modernity in political science and sociology, and that is modernization theory. For Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris (2003), and the legions of modernization theorists with similar views if less well worked-out analyses, modernity and modernization clearly imply progress on gender equality and women's autonomy, individual rights, and basic humanity. We think that they are onto something. Feminists should not so readily dismiss the persuasive empirical evidence presented by Inglehart and Norris, as well as others (e.g., Bergmann [1986] 2005; Jackson 1998), linking a number of indicators of women's freedom, autonomy, economic capacities, literacy, and education, on the one hand, and capitalist industrialization, urbanization, and the expansion of democracy, on the other. These latter processes, along with some others often bundled together under an umbrella concept of “modernization,” are surely part of any broad understanding of modernity. But Inglehart and Norris also underline the significant cross-national differences around questions of gender—“it's the women, stupid,” as they put it pithily in the title of an article in Ms. magazine (Norris and Inglehart 2004)—that have not typically been highlighted in standard modernization-theoretic accounts and in fact pose real challenges to them. In their view, there really is an epochal clash of civilizations—traditional Islamic versus the modern West—and that clash is centered on gender, including women's capacity to participate in public life and politics, and to hold power, rather than on differences over the general value of democracy as some others (most influentially, Huntington 1996) have argued (Norris and Inglehart 2002). Note, too, that Inglehart and Norris are investigating the opinions of people living in Islamic societies, not those interpellated by radical Islamist modes of thought.

Inglehart and Norris supply a startling array of evidence about differences in public opinion regarding gender equality and sexual mores, particularly as they inflect women's political participation and leadership. They show us snapshots of public opinion of different cohorts, contrasting the lack of change across cohorts in Islamic societies to the increasing liberalization around gender and sexuality in the West, and therefore registering a large and widening gap. How to explain the gap? In an analytic move adopted by many modernization theorists confronted by recalcitrant data, Inglehart and Norris appeal to the notion of cultural—in this case, religious and evaluative—differences beyond or at seeming odds with the level of modernization. To wit: “[W]e anticipate that religious legacies will leave a strong imprint on contemporary values. In particular, controlling for a society's level of GNP per capita and the structure of the workforce, we expect that the publics of Islamic societies will be less supportive of gender equality than the publics of other societies” (2003, 19). “In particular,” they sum up, “an Islamic religious heritage is one of the most powerful barriers to the rising tide of gender equality” (ibid., 71). How it is that “basic values” (ibid., 20) could simultaneously move and not move in tandem with modernization is not explained. Furthermore, they go so far as to imply that gender equality, including its encoding in politics, will flow relatively unproblematically from modernization—if only in non-Islamic societies. We are by no means ready to make such a blanket claim.

Although we believe the links between women's and gender emancipation, politics and modernity are extremely significant and applaud Inglehart and Norris's efforts to bring them to our collective attention, we see two major problems with their overall formulation, at least as it bears on the present problem at hand. They assume, first of all, that modernity is a unitary and beneficent tide, one that may “ebb and flow” (2003, 163) but otherwise simply sweeps away the immobile traditions that precede it. We sympathize with the many critics who have pointed out the greater complexity of the concept and experience of modernity. Modernity considered solely as an idea incorporates a whole series of subconcepts (e.g., individualism; science; capitalism; industry; the city; rationality; the cutting edge; the “now”; democracy; rights; and so on) and associations, positive and negative. In future developments, they will likely not be bundled together as they have been in the original Western historical trajectory. That is in part what the very uneven literature on “alternative modernities” adumbrates (e.g., Gaonkar 2001). The modern era has also birthed monstrous phenomena—slavery, industrialized genocide, and war—alongside the favored offspring of modernization theory. Thus, modernity in metropole and periphery has engendered social transformations that have been indispensable to feminist and other emancipatory projects, even as it has sometimes strengthened the hands of some of their greatest foes. Given these complexities and problems, many people have argued for jettisoning the project (not to mention the concept!) of modernity altogether. Instead, in the Introduction to Remaking Modernity: Politics, History and Sociology (2005), we along with Elisabeth Clemens have argued at length for remaking it. 5 And as a practical political matter—here we are solidly aligned with Inglehart and Norris—we as feminists find the best hope for gender equality in modernity. Not in any automatic way, however, and not without continuing debate and struggle.

Every day, social actors around the globe invoke modernist bases to advance political projects on behalf of women (e.g., “women's rights”), or to oppose them as apostles of tradition. Within the terms of modernization theory, ironically, there is no real way to study how, when, and under what conditions people do these things. That brings us to the second problem with Inglehart and Norris's formulation: that they extrapolate what they take to be a single “culture” from variegated opinion data to a country or “civilization” as a totality. On this basis, we can capture neither the uneven development within and across states and societies, nor the ways that people struggle to link cultural signs and political practices differently within a given social space. As social scientists, and feminist analysts of the present moment in global politics, we need to be able to do these things. How else are we are to understand, for example, how partisans of fundamentalist religious movements call on reconstructed senses of tradition, fueled by what they perceive to be modern (and therefore threatening), and focused on women as the ur-sites of fantasy and enactment? For these actors, “tradition” represents not just what antedates modernity but also what they think it excludes, and what they romanticize but often, by the same token, deride and despise. The signifiers of those reinvented traditions—such as the veil, or women's bodies themselves (see Fanon 1965; Gole 1996)—are invested with such shifting, ambivalent political meanings. Modernization theory does not equip us (sociologists, political scientists, feminists) to understand these historical formations of signification and emotion, to assess why they resonate for those who propel and are caught within them, or more generally to analyze the nexus of culture and politics.

Inglehart and Norris do a nice job of marking out the boundaries between their account, focused mainly on cultural change, and at least some political-institutional variables (e.g., 2003, 127–46). Young, on the other hand, does not explicitly acknowledge any scope conditions for her claims. We also miss a sensitivity to the actual mechanics of politics and states, including more or less patriarchal politics and states. It is not that we think everyone needs to research everything, doing away with all established academic divisions of labor. But it should not be possible to make assertions about a supposed “security state” on the basis of textual analysis alone, without reference to more grounded cultural and political analysis. One simply cannot, as she does, extrapolate from the tropes employed in George Bush's speeches to generalizations about how the state works. Some sort of institutional analysis of the mechanics of the American state is necessary—for how else would analysts know whether it has “slid down” an authoritarian slope, as Young claims, or not? Other forms of political science can certainly be helpful here, for they have made these sorts of analysis, including both international relations and the aggregative dynamics of democratic decision making, their stock in trade. And in fact, there are welcome indications of a renewed focus in political science and sociology on the intersection of gender and the workings of governance in contemporary states (e.g., Brush 2003; Chappell 2002), as well as on conversations between feminist theorists and international relations specialists (e.g., Keohane 1998; Marchand 1998; Tickner 1997, 1998).

That institutional analysis should also include the coercive moment of state power. Young seems to assume that well-behaved, appropriate states (states that are not running protection rackets?) can simply do without coercion, whether “dominative power that exploits those it rules for its own aggrandizement” or the pastoral power that “often appears gentle and benevolent both to its wielders and to those under its sway, but is no less powerful for that reason” (Young 2003, 6). Perhaps Young and many like her cannot conceive of the normative ideal of politics as anything more than deliberative debate or, at most, law enforcement on a global scale. Wielding coercive power, even against terrorists or fascists, is for them simply beyond the pale. But all states face the issue of how to sustain the sinews of power, the extraction of resources—taxes, soldiers—in order to function, against resistance and in competition with other powerful domestic and international actors, whose goals may not coincide with their own. We cannot ignore the insights of Max Weber (1968, 56) and others about the conflictual nature of politics and the bottom-line coercive nature of states. Nor do we believe that even a fully democratic system, national or international, will ever shed its conflictual or agonistic (to use the term favored by Chantal Mouffe) character. We share Young's aspirations for a genuinely democratic world order, but such an order simply cannot be wished into being. Perhaps we should attend to the bracing warnings of Carl Schmitt (whose insights are interpreted in Kalyvas 1999 and Mouffe 1999), who if nothing else had the virtue of understanding the constitutive role of us-versus-them conflicts, especially in shaping interstate politics. What are the dynamics of interstate relations, the historically specific patterns of alliance and enmity, dependency, and interdependency, that matter in this regard? Such questions are crucial if we want to understand the conflicts between the United States—or “the West” more broadly—and an Islamism that are among the wellsprings of both Islamic jihad and U.S. foreign policy.

One important implication is that coercion, conflict and domination are not, as Young suggests, by definition masculine. In her argument, masculinity is symbolically equated with domination, “masculinist protection,” authoritarianism, violence, and war, while femininity is coupled with peace, victimization, and subordination. This binarizing move assumes that signs and characteristics load in a neatly split fashion onto masculine and feminine. There is no question that this is sometimes how these signs are used in politics, whether from the Right (instance the various forms of fundamentalism mentioned here) or the Left (for example, again, the women's peace movement of the 1970s–80s). But one of the many potential contributions of feminist analyses of politics is to pinpoint the ways in which state actors and their opponents actively deploy signs of gender in these conflicts, forging these very symbolic links in service of coalitions for political and military action. The conjoined signs of father-rule, patriarchy, are often an important one in this regard. But that does not mean that these linkages cannot be disrupted and reorganized. Nor does it mean that, say, the early modern European ruling patrilineages that one of us (Adams 2005) has studied, the reformist elite men of the U.S. Progressive Era who initiated modern social provision for breadwinning men that the other (Orloff 1993) has analyzed, the familially related patriarchs that run some contemporary Middle Eastern or Maghreb states (Charrad 2001), and American democratically elected leaders are the same thing and can be reduced to one another as a phenomenon. Young's intervention takes this reductionism to an extreme.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Young's essay paints the United States “as bad as or worse than” any of its supposed foes or Others—even implying that the United States is the sole author of their problems and, in the case of al Qaeda, aggressions. 6 This inability or refusal to differentiate is also fed by the lack of any grounded analysis of politics, including interstate politics, or of the specific foe in question—rendered as a “marauding gang of outsiders” with no apparent social characteristics, no connection to a movement or states that sheltered that movement. Outsiders, in other words, to what? Young has to rip the attack on the United States out of any larger political frame, which might imply that the “gang” was in that instance an actual, organized threat, sheltered by a state power —in this case, the Taliban regime, which had if not a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, in the classical Weberian sense, then certainly statist access to formidable means of coercion.

If, as we argue, contemporary threats to democracies are not illusory—and certainly not produced by elaborate protection rackets—feminists will have to figure out how to defend as well as advance modernity's incomplete promise of gender emancipation. We want to close with two sets of suggestions—macropolitical and analytic—flowing from our critique of feminist antimodernism. Politically, we might begin by recognizing that this promise is presently institutionalized in democratic if decidedly imperfect states. No kind of national or global security can be achieved anytime soon without also calling on the coercive powers of these states—the states we live in now—rather than, say, a fantasized global law enforcer deputized by all the peoples of the world. 7 Thus, we find Young's appeal to the women's peace movement of the 1970s–80s entirely unpersuasive in this context, particularly since the core of that movement portrayed the threat posed by the Soviet Union as an illusory fabrication and, in general, showed itself unable to confront the geopolitical realities of the day. Since the fall of communism, all of us now know even better the nature of that threat, as well as the internal deformations of Soviet society. Certainly that movement—and contemporary feminists, in retrospect—were right to question Ronald Reagan's Cold War policies, but their questioning should have extended past the United States to the Soviet Union, whose grounds for opposing the United States were hardly limited to promoting world peace. 8 We should be willing to admit that however admirable the women's peace movement's aspirations for a world free of conflict, the movement had it wrong on the actual threat posed by the USSR and on the importance of upholding democracy during the Cold War, just as Iris Young has it wrong on Afghanistan and the importance of opposing Islamism and defending modernity today. This stance need not in any way involve handing a blank check to the Bush, Blair, or any other political administration among the world's capitalist democracies. In fact, Young and others are properly skeptical about the goals of the Bush administration. But they seem to lose that necessary modernist skepticism, judgment, and analytical distance when it comes to evaluating the statements of Islamists.

When representatives of Islamic fundamentalist movements—energized by their perceptions of godless Americans and Europeans, condemnation of their putative sexual freedoms, and the presence of women in the public sphere—embrace terror as a viable tactic in advancing their aims, is this not a real threat to democracies, and to many of the rights that women and all small-d democrats should hold dear? We think so, and believe that the answer is not to resign ourselves to, much less endorse or applaud, their depredations. To respond defensively, as many on the Left have, that radical Islamists have simply been produced by U.S. aggression or its foreign policy more generally is ludicrous. These arguments typically assume that they had no agency of their own. Ironically, this entails not taking seriously the statements of jihadists about what they are doing and aim to do in the future (see Gould [2005] for a helpful analysis of Islamist appropriations of key elements of Islamic doctrine). If there is a real threat to modernity's promise, as we think there is, feminists should organize against it domestically and internationally, as they have begun to do. The fact that George Bush and his administration might well invoke the promise of “women's rights” tactically and opportunistically at times in what is a multifaceted and internally contradictory struggle against Islamic fundamentalism does not alter these fundamental points. 9

However much we disagree politically, we are united with Young, Enloe, and others on a key analytical premise: scholars of gender must not relinquish the terrain of the political, and particularly its most symbolically masculine aspects—war, international relations, the administrative apparatus of governing, in short, high politics—to scholars who ignore the gender subtext of political meanings and social relations that organize the practices of war making, state formation, and governance. It is clear enough from the studies we do have that gender is constitutive of politics and that politics is a central moment in the continual reconstruction of gender. Now feminists must push forward the intellectual project of “gendering” all relevant aspects of politics, including the domestic and international activities of states. In Remaking Modernity, we and Elisabeth Clemens note that the uneven process of bringing the insights of feminist scholarship to sociology and political science reflects a pervasive gendered division of intellectual labor and symbolic coding of certain subjects as feminine or masculine: “Feminists … have conducted a spirited campaign to bring gender into the political and still masculinized core of modernity. The masculine redoubts of the working class (such as welfare states) have been revealed in exemplary historical sociological [or political science] research as sites of gendered contestation and sources of gendering broader social orders, but we have been less successful in entering the corporate headquarters of modernity” (Adams, Clemens, and Orloff 2005, 55). This state of affairs reflects both intellectual resistance to feminist work and feminist scholars' own academic choices. Both need to change.

We want first of all to see more serious analytical engagement between gendered and mainstream students of politics, so that gender analysis is not only embedded in but also draws from the political institutional realm in all its dimensions. This will mean learning from—as well as bringing a stronger gender-analytic presence to—the ongoing debates around the clash of civilizations and modernity, postmodernity, and “alternative” modernities. It will involve much more serious engagement with analyses of institutional change and stability (e.g., Streeck and Thelen 2005), politics as process, and the relations between political strategy and culture (Adams, Clemens, and Orloff 2005, 1–72). It will embrace and expand what are now quite rare analyses of the relationship between gendered representations of war and actual military campaigns and practices (e.g., Hull 2004). We hope that we have made clear that we admire the way that Inglehart and Norris have directly addressed Huntington's theses, and Young's effort to distinguish different logics of masculinist politics. If people are successfully interpellated by a logic of masculine protection as well as by a logic of domination—if they are ever to be hailed by a “gender-free” logic of political participation—we will ultimately need to consider that such logics arise out of properly political sources that need to be better understood and incorporated into gender studies.

We like to think that such change would be salutary, not only for feminist scholars within the social sciences but also for gender studies as a larger interdisciplinary academic project. Scholars hailing from the humanities have led the field intellectually for the last 20 years, and we have all learned much from their leadership. So yes, for example, we do need theories of subjectification to understand the multiple operations that can be characterized (but only as a shorthand!) as “power” (e.g., Butler 1997). But the contours of gendering processes will be shaped by reasons of state as much as by the psychodynamics of mourning and melancholia. The modern subject is likely to be a citizen of a modern state, or at least to be struggling with political expectations and institutions imposed by the modern interstate system. Without the collective help of social scientists, in all their varieties, feminist scholars cannot grapple with the specific intersections of gender and politics in modernity—and we take this task to be particularly important at the present historical moment.

For some women and men, defending modernity will involve practical political interventions; for others, intellectual arguments, drawing on the intellectual and evidentiary resources of multiple disciplines. We do not underestimate either the difficulty of these tasks, even in this preliminary step of urging more analytical clarity, or the debates and struggles involved. Even those who are united against the noxious mix of invented tradition and modern technology exemplified in the Taliban's embrace of public stoning and surface-to-air missiles, for example, or men's cleric-sanctioned access to instant cellphone divorces in Iran, will differ with respect to the possible accommodations they see among the emancipatory promises of modernity, invented tradition, and indigenous sociocultural forms. Defending modernity necessarily includes openness to different interpretations of what it involves, of its foundations, varieties, and futures. It implies the necessity for strong public discussions, including arguments over alternative theories and conflicting evidence. And it involves agonistic politics. That is part of the project itself.


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1We are well aware that this is a generalization, and that there are instances—too numerous for any feminist—of the deprivation or incomplete extension of “Western” women's rights. It is not the defects of a women's rights–giving regime that Islamists target, however, but the extension of rights allowing women a place in the public sphere, equality with men under family law, and so on, in the first place. The term “Islamist” is here taken to mean a politics that envisions Islam not only as a religion but also as the basis for both state power and fundamental societal and intersocietal transformation.

2We have in mind, for example, the attempt to develop a specifically gendered theory of the state or to understand gender systems as having logics parallel to capitalism (see, e.g., MacKinnon 1982; Rubin 1975; Sargent 1981).

3See, for example, Katha Pollitt, in a November 3, 2004, column in The Nation, fulminating about the American elections: “Maybe this time the voters chose what they actually want: Nationalism, pre-emptive war, order not justice, ‘safety’ through torture, backlash against women and gays, a gulf between haves and have-nots, government largesse for their churches and a my-way-or-the-highway President.”

4Carol Cohn's Signs interview with Cynthia Enloe, a pioneer of feminist international relations scholarship, exemplifies this false opposition (Cohn and Enloe 2003). Enloe responds to a question about whether she is interested in understanding the 9/11 terrorists as follows: “September 11 engaged my emotions, a sense of horror, and a sense of worry about people I knew in New York. But the terrorists who hijacked those three planes? They aren't the main objects of my curiosity, because I think they are more the symptom than the cause. And I think ultimately they are nowhere near as capable of affecting our ideas, our lives, the structures and cultures in which we live, as a lot of other people who look not very narratively interesting. I'm pretty interested in bland people, people whose blandness is part of what's interesting about them—the rank-and-file men in conventional armies, the women who work as secretaries in aerospace corporations. Or Kenneth Lay, the CEO of Enron; nobody till last winter thought he was as interesting as Timothy McVeigh. I'm interested in Kenneth Lay and the culture he and his colleagues helped create that destroyed everybody's pensions. So, yes, I put up a bit of an intellectual firewall between my curiosity and certain popular—and statecrafted—diversionary narratives” (Cohn and Enloe 2003, 1198).

5Note that the views expressed in the present article are those of the authors only, and should not be attributed to Elisabeth Clemens.

6Young is by no means as extreme in this regard as, for example, Miriam Cooke (2001). But perhaps that critical and political skewing is the reason that Young minimizes the threat of Islamism, and even symptomatically misstates the facts, thereby muting the emotional impact, of the deaths on 9/11, claiming, for instance, that “they died in an instant,” a less emotionally trying description of the carnage than one that could come to terms with people's having burned to death or jumped to their deaths from the windows of the World Trade Center.

7Here we might also recommend a better understanding of the affective sources of political support for states qua communities defined in part by exclusions. See Craig Calhoun's (2002) astute questioning of “cosmopolitanism” as a plausible replacement for nationalism in undergirding international political projects. This is not to endorse all forms of nationalism, of course, but to enjoin realism about whether there are alternative modes of sentiment that might sustain the vision of global law enforcement that some feminists recommend. If not, we need to proceed with redoubled caution before assuming that Young's and other “marauding outsiders” can be dealt with apart from invoking the coercive capacities of existing democratic states.

8Roseneil (1995) offers a more sympathetic reading of the movement—but nonetheless one that we think accords with our basic argument. Of course, many feminists and others on the Left were sometimes critical of what was then called “actually existing socialism”—though only rarely as critical of the USSR as of the United States. The much-needed process of reexamining—including from a feminist perspective—what kind of political formations the actually existing socialisms really were is just beginning. See Verdery (1996).

9That George Bush and Tony Blair make political appeals based on the public's attachment to women's rights strikes us as a marker of feminist accomplishment and cultural change and not merely an example of political opportunism. (Are we surprised that politicians are cynical? No.) Would we prefer that women's rights not be invoked at all? Do we prefer it when women's rights conventions are actively opposed? Obviously few if any feminists would approve of everything the Bush administration is doing! (As we go to press, for example, the U.S. government has just backed off its attempt, on the basis of opposition to any expansion of “rights to abortion,” to delay endorsement of a document drawn up for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women to reaffirm the closing declaration of the group's meeting 10 years ago in Beijing [Hoge 2005].) However, we see the international role of the United States as more mixed than is typically argued in feminist circles, where it is too often taken as axiomatic that anything the Bush administration endorses must be wrong, and therefore, anyone opposing Bush must be a political ally. The enemy of my enemy is sometimes my friend … but—as Mao, Napoleon, or Clausewitz might tell us—not always.