Friday, February 27, 2009

Violent Patriarchy in International Security

The new International Security features an extremely interesting research article on the possible impact of domestic gendered structural/cultural hierarchies (of violence) on the incidence of interstate conflict.

Entitled "
The Heart of the Matter: The Security of Women and the Security of States," the piece is a collaborative effort that draws on insights from gender-feminist theory to offer a new paradigm for understanding the domestic and systemic causal bases of interstate wars. That is, the authors are hoping to establish the notion that traditional scholarly paradigms focusing on the world distribution of power, as well as domestic-level theories of regime type and international outcomes, need to be augmented with a gendered analytical lense, if not supplanted by the feminist perspective ultimately altogether.

Folks can read the whole thing,
here. I simply want to quote a long passage for flavor and context, and then make a couple of observations on some contradictions in the article.

The initial review of the literature discusses the impact of evolutionary biology on the formation of violent gendered hierarchies (as well as the social-psychological diffusion of female subordination within the social system). Especially fascinating is the historical discussion of patriarchical human development hundreds of thousands of years ago:

Human groups formed because of the increased protection they provided against predators. Although we imagine the first predators of concern were large carnivorous animals, the most important threat to males in terms of reproductive fitness were not only out-group males but also in-group males. Evolutionary theorists posit that male dominance hierarchies were naturally selected among humans to maximize protection against out-group males and minimize conflict between in-group males. Dominance hierarchies are a system wherein a subgroup of superordinate (or “alpha”) males dominates subordinate males, and alpha males generally control sexual access to females. In contemporary terms, male dominance hierarchies are the foundation of patriarchy. Wrangham and Peterson write, “Patriarchy is worldwide and historywide, and its origins are detectable in the social lives of chimpanzees. It serves the reproductive purposes of the men who maintain the system. Patriarchy comes from biology in the sense that it emerges from men’s temperaments, out of their evolutionarily derived efforts to control women and at the same time have solidarity with fellow men in competition against outsiders . . . . Patriarchy has its ultimate origins in male violence.”

In the first place, this violence is directed against women. Unfortunately, given sexual dimorphism in humans, coercion is an effective male mating strategy. Women accede to dominance hierarchies because of “the one terrible threat that never goes away”—the need of females to have protection from killer males, who will injure or kill not only females but also the children that females guard. The battering that women suffer from the males they live with is the price paid for such protection and occurs “in species where females have few allies, or where males have bonds with each other.” Indeed, among humans, sex differences trump the blood ties associated with natural selection for inclusive ÂȘtness. As anthropologist Barbara Miller notes, “Human gender hierarchies are one of the most persistent, pervasive, and pernicious forms of inequality in the world. Gender is used as the basis for systems of discrimination which can, even within the same household, provide that those designated ‘male’ receive more food and live longer, while those designated ‘female’ receive less food to the point that their survival is drastically impaired.” Those with physical power also dominate political power, so that when law developed in human societies, men created legal systems that, generally speaking, favored male reproductive success and interests—with adultery as a crime for women but not for men; with female infanticide, male-on-female domestic violence, and marital rape not recognized as crimes; with polygamy legal but polyandry proscribed; with divorce easy for men and almost impossible for women.

The development of male dominance hierarchies may also alter female evolution, and females apparently began to make adaptive choices that serve to perpetuate this system. Primary among these female choices that entrench violent patriarchy are a general preference for the most dominant men (who are able to provide superior protection, though may also offer increased domestic violence and control), and female-female competition for these males, which reduces the opportunity to form countervailing female alliances to offset male violence against women. Male dominance hierarchies also appear to change women emotionally, and as a result, change them endocrinologically. The experience of chronic, intimate oppression, exploitation, and violence shapes women hormonally, molding them into creatures more easily persuaded by coercion to yield and submit—predispositions that Kemper asserts may be inherited by their daughters through placental transfer of specific ratios of hormones in utero.
The essay continues by noting that these same processes of patriarchy lead to violence against outside groups, and hence the logic that gender subordination in a physical-violence regime contributes to a permissive sociocultural and political environment leading to hypothesized extra-community conflict.

Note first that the authors offer a huge caveat here:

Contemporary human societies do not inhabit the evolutionary landscape of hundreds of thousands of years ago. We would be remiss, however, if we did not note how primal male coalitionary violence and resulting patriarchy are, and what influence these forces still have today ... humans are only about 400 generations removed from that landscape, and only eight generations have passed since the industrial revolution: the past still bears heavily on our behavioral proclivities.
Well, it would have to if this history of violent patriarchy is to have any explanatory power to contemporary gender politics and international relations (which many doubt, here, for example).

Additionally, there are a couple of other inconsistencies I found in the article.

One disconcerting, if not disconfirming, issue is found the paper's initial empirical investigation, which posits one hypothesis in part suggesting that the physical security of women will be a better predictor of state security than is the "prevalence of Islamic civilization" (the "civilizational hypothesis").

In the footnote to that hypothesis (p. 33), however, the authors suggest:

To test the civilizational explanation for state peacefulness, we must first identify a particular identity associated with greater levels of conflict or a lack of state peacefulness. In the early years of the twenty-first century, Islamic civilization—rightly or wrongly—has been singled out for this dubious distinction. See, for example, Lee Harris, Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History (New York: Free Press, 2004); Norman Podhoretz, World War IV: The Long Struggle against Islamofascism (New York: Doubleday, 2007); and Oriana Fallaci, The Force of Reason (London: Rizzoli, 2006). Huntington makes particular reference to Islam’s “bloody borders” in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
Note how the authors disount in advance the notion that an Islamic identity is more prone to interstate conflict.

Well, I mention this as a troubling point, not just because of the American foreign policy focus on radical Islam in the war on terror (driven in large part by neoconservtive foreign policy foundations), but also because the authors cite, earlier in the paper (p. 29), the research of M. Stephen Fish, "
Islam and Authoritarianism," where he finds that while Muslim societies are not necessarily less conducive to the development of democracy, there does seem "to be an unusual degree of subordination of women in Muslim societies."

Noticing these conflicting citations, we might ask why the authors would suggest that Islamic societies have the "dubious" distinction as being singled out as conflict-prone, while at the same time rigorous peer-reviewed research finds that these very societies practice the precise social regimes of patriarchical gender dominance as that hypothesized by the authors as contributing to domestic and international violence? This seems like a significant problem, and as that authors do not find a robust correlation between Islamic culture and state violence outcomes, these researchers seem to have a lot of explanatory reconciliation to do. Simply, the authors need to carefully and fully untangle the notion of "physical security of women" in general with the notion that female subordination in Islamic regimes is high amid a counterintuitive finding that the "civilization hypothesis" does not explain state peacefulness.

Relatedly, this discrepancy suggests that a possible explicit and understandable postmodern epistemology (or ideology) systematically blinds the authors to the possibilty that Islamic nations are of a particular propensity toward gendered violence and social barbarity than are Western nations. Keep in mind the stakes here: If Western nations are not (deeply) prone to the kind of structural-cultural hiearchies of male dominance as suggested in the literature review and the correlational model, then it's not likely that domestic gendered violence will serve as a robust cause of interstate conflict, and thus the theory of women's security as state security will fall flat.

Furthermore, on that point, this larger question of a (radical) gender-feminist ontological, theoretical foundation is problematic in and of itself.

While the authors indeed note that gendered paradigms in world politics are indeed marginalized within the dominant discourses and scholarly practices of the field (article rankings in peer-reviewed journals, assignment of key feminist works in graduate student comprehensive curricula, etc.), the paper exlicity sets this research as a model of conventional methodologies, empirical-statistical hypothesis testing, and theory development. As such, the notion that this research may very well be driven inordinately by radical feminist scholarship in rape, marriage, and domestic violence (Susan Brownmiller's, Against Our Will: Men, Rape, and Women, for example), would certainly raise red flags as to the objectivity of this research program.

That is to say, if the researchers of this piece are fundamentally (if perhaps unconsciously) post-positivist in their ideological orientations, if they see society as irredeemably sexist, racist, and homophobic, which would be mostly true of the late-second wave gender feminists of the contempory culture wars, then it would be difficult for scholars to take this work seriously outside of the circles of hip multiculturalism and political correctness.

Of course, since much of the academy today is besmirched by postmodern politics and leftist cultural radicalism, perhaps this program may be highly received after all. Alternatively, if gendered hierarchies are as bad as the paper would suggest, then the aspirations of these scholars for mainstream acceptance may not get high off the ground no matter what.


courtneyme109 said...

The American experience proves as girls advance status wise, so do families, communities, career work places - and the entire nation.

Tolerance and egalitarianism are the handmaidens of success - on every scale - personal, national and international, wealth, education, self worth.

With war against women, there will be no peace.

Deny us learning and literacy and we grant failure, intolerance, misery and rage to our own sons and daughters too.

Ignore us and neglect us. Keep your societies pitiful, needy, and backwards.

If we are not loved, we will not love back; and if we are not nurtured, we will neglect.

If we are not valued - we have no values to instill.

Women who are treated with cruelty give birth to murderous intolerants and oppressors.

If we are destroyed, we destroy too.

AmPowerBlog said...

I'm questiong the assumptions of this research, Courtney. It sounds like the authors are discounting gender violence in Islamic developing countries

LFC said...

I think you're misreading the footnote you quote from p.33. It does not discount in advance the possibility that 'prevalence of Islamic civilization' is associated with state violence. In fact, the opposite: The authors choose 'prevalence of Islamic civilization' to test 'the civilizational hypothesis' as opposed to choosing prevalence of some other religion.
You've been misled by their use of the phrase "dubious distinction" which does not mean here what you seem to think it means.

AmPowerBlog said...


What in this quote do you not understand?

"To test the civilizational explanation for state peacefulness, we must first identify a particular identity associated with greater levels of conflict or a lack of state peacefulness. In the early years of the twenty-first century, Islamic civilization—rightly or wrongly—has been singled out for this dubious distinction."

The authors find the notion that Islamic culture is more prone to war a priori dubious. Then they test for it. Read the whole piece and then comment once you understand the argument.

LFC said...

1. We are not going to agree on the footnote b/c you are reading "dubious" as if the word were being used alone. Instead here it's part of a standard English idiomatic phrase, "dubious distinction," by which they mean that it's not much of a distinction (it's a "dubious distinction") to be singled out as a war-prone/violent civilization. (Even though it's a well-understood idiom, it was perhaps not the best choice of words on their part.)

2. On your larger point about their scanting the research on the treatment of women in Islamic societies: You may have a point here, but I'm not sure. That's all I can say on it now. Perhaps you should invite the authors of the article to read your post and respond. One of them might take you up on it.