Manly States and Feminine Men: Politics of the 20th and 21st Century

I was thinking about how I would start off this summary post and decided it would be best to discuss my feelings pertaining to my research project as well as what I learned from the past few months. First off, I enjoyed doing research, specifically the freedom it gave me to delve into a topic without a timeframe or a syllabus. I was able to move at my own pace and focus on what I thought was important rather than what a professor stipulated as being so. That being said, I definitely had a case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach. When I sat down with my advisor in September to discuss my progress I voiced a concern that I had done months of research and seemed to only scratch the surface of what I wished to uncover. My professor responded that my research proposal and hypothesis was more comparable to a senior honors thesis than a 2 week summer research project and that she wasn’t surprised. I guess I never fully comprehended the difficulty level of a research project until this summer. At least it was a learning experience.

That being said, I will summarize in this post where I am, what I have researched, what my thesis is, and how further research can strengthen it significantly (and yes, it can be strengthened immensely).

Despite historical amity between France and the U.S., many shared values and norms, and shared membership in many different international organizations, cultural anti-Americanism and an entrenched resistance to American foreign policy exists in France (most notably during the Bush administration). Cultural French anti-Americanism first seriously reared its head in the mid to late 1800’s, a time period that coincided with a strong feminist movement that changed the masculine identity of each state and set in motion events that would lead to hyper-virility in the U.S. and feminization in France.

As my first post discussed, the divergence of masculine identities was a result of economic, geographic, and cultural forces, most notably the cultural movement known as the feminist movement. A major feminist movement gained speed in many western nations during the time period of 1871-1914, challenging the gender hierarchy and the masculine identity that had been established. In America, rapid industrialization, successful expansion to the west, and success in violent conflicts caused a cultural backlash to the feminist movement in the form of hyper virility. The hard-working, self-made man became idolized as value was assigned to the rags-to-riches parable. Institutions such as football and boy scouts began to appear as society attempted to perpetuate the status quo of gender. France, on the other hand, met the feminist movement by negotiating gender roles. Slow industrialization and successive failures in war did not allow for French masculinity to assert itself, and thus the upper classes embraced enlightenment ideals of equality and justice. French masculinity became progressively more feminized as American masculinity reached a near stereotypical status of Daniel Boone and the Terminator.

My second post discussed the strand of IR theory known as feminism. Feminism argues that realist theory, and offshoots of realist theory, through discourse and a gender hierarchy that values masculine experiences and knowledge more than feminine, has socially constructed a world in which realist theory can operate but a world that is not entirely real. Realism as a theory stipulates that the world is anarchical and states must defend themselves through the accumulation of power. Thus, realism essentially asserts that war is inevitable and to ensure security a state must prepare for war. In this realist world, security is measured in military strength and characteristics of a state that become desirable are that of strength, power, autonomy and independence. In so doing, the realist state is gendered male, hyper-virile and reflective of the masculine identity of the U.S..

With the premise that, through discourse, institutional practices, and embodiment, the state has been created as a masculine establishment, feminists move to draw parallels between family, domestic, and international interactions. In specific, they see violence in all three of those spheres to be interrelated, ultimately caused by the presence of a masculine persona. The masculine figure creates violence in order to subordinate and dominate those he protects, as well as to protect them from other masculine figures. This behaviour, of course, creates a paradoxical situation in which a masculine figure must exist in order to counter other masculine figures.

Much of feminist IR scholarship argues that a feminized state would be more peaceful, and as the argument goes, overall better. Femininity would define security as being economic and social justice, as well as the absence of war, violence, and hostilities at all levels. Interdependence and mutual enablement would replace domination and violent coercion.

Now here is the new stuff, the synthesis of these two responses. I diverge from feminist theory at the point that it argues for the feminization of the state identity. I do not believe this ideal is neither obtainable nor even worth obtaining. The state is gendered masculine, and that notion is so engrained in the international system and in society at large that to change it would require near entire reworking of the world’s social fabric. The cultural masculinity of a state is the driver of that state’s foreign policy, and thus to actually effect change in such a permanently gendered entity can only be done if the masculine culture of the society is changed. Therefore, the shift in masculine identity in both France and the U.S. over the past one hundred and fifty years has also caused a shift in how the states define their own security and the appropriate methods of obtaining it. So much so, that they are very nearly, and very often, antagonistic.

France, through feminization of their masculine identity, has come to value interdependence and define security as economic and social justice, an absence of war, violence, and hostilities. France does not value things such as rugged independence in the face of war and violence or military power. This value system is evidenced by France’s membership in the EU, and France’s response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The U.S., having for the most part retained the status quo masculinity against the feminist movement operates off a different definition of security, one that is measured by military strength and the ability of the state to carry out a successful war.

In my original proposal, I had intended to carry out a case study that focused on French and U.S. reactions to the September 11th attacks and test how my theory functioned in the real world. Unfortunately this critical part of my project proved too large to tackle. To strengthen my thesis, and ultimately write a paper, historical case studies must be used and analyzed. For the time being, however, it would appear that I have produced a theory that may be functional.