On learning to be diplomatic and the F-word (pssst, the other one)

Friends, it has been a while. My silence (“Funkstille” as Germans would call it) hasn’t been due to lack of travel—there has been plenty of that. But any time that I have recently sat down to write an entry, I have become keenly aware of how trivial our travels seemed during this time of political strife and upheaval. Our country is experiencing a watershed moment in politics and I wonder if there has ever been a time when we have ever been as divided as we feel now.

This is an interesting time to be posted abroad. For one, it gives you a unique perspective on how other countries view yours. This past fall, I regretted I wasn’t more proficient in Portuguese in order to follow the Brazilian news and radio coverage of our U.S. elections. Still, from casual conversations, it was clear that though Brazil is going through massive political scandals and cases of corruption (in case you missed it, their president was impeached last year!), the country is still paying close attention to our elections and the outcome.

Secondly, you are able to view your country from a distance and are spared some of the political tension that my friends back home described. You recognize that the Americans who surround you are all here on official duty, with the same commitment to our mission abroad—here at post, partisan issues are not discussed. Coming from academia, where opinions are voiced unabashedly and dissent is encouraged, this was a difficult lesson to learn. At first it was infuriating; now I have developed a deep respect for the restraint that diplomats show in keeping their personal political opinions to themselves and working to put forth the most dignified, respectful image of the U.S. that they can. Of course, political conversation arises in private among friends—but in public, our diplomats are bound to the Hatch Act, which prevents them from engaging in any partisan activity. While this doesn’t directly apply to spouses, there is a general expectation that while abroad, we comport ourselves similarly. But that doesn’t mean that I will stop being politically engaged–on the contrary, I am even more motivated to exercise my democratic rights, even if this must now occur more “behind the scenes” than before.

So, the rest of this entry will not be about the 2016 presidential campaign nor the election. It will not be about the recent inauguration and our new president’s first days of office.

Yet it is about an issue that must always remain political: feminism. The dreaded F-word that even in the 21st century remains stigmatized.

But we can talk about this though together, right? You and I?

This past weekend when hundreds of thousands (perhaps even millions?) of people took to the streets to participate in or show solidarity for the Women’s March on Washington, I ached to be one of them. I cried as I watched the livestream of speakers passionately appeal to the massive crowds on the National Mall. I applauded my friends who brought their daughters and sons along to march, instilling their values and beliefs not by saying, but by doing, by concrete action, by brave defiance of misogyny, sexism, racism, xenophobia, and all other forms of hate. I delighted when I saw the sea of pink pussyhats. I debated going to a small, planned solidarity event here at Brasília’s National Museum—a moment of silence to honor those marching. For the reasons mentioned above and after several conversations with trusted friends here, I decided to practice caution and not attend, though now I am regretful that I did not go– for if women’s rights are human rights, then this is not a partisan issue, right?

But of course, it is. There was the #notmymarch backlash—and poignant feminist responses to it, like this one here or here.

Present-day feminism is grounded in inclusivity and intersectionality. It’s not prescriptive in telling you who gets to belong or what might prevent you from being a feminist. And just because you may not identify with a certain struggle or challenge doesn’t mean that you cannot stand in solidarity with those who do.

See, our personal identities are made up of so many different facets that intersect— our sex and gender, our sexual orientation, our race, our class, our ethnicity, our faith, our nationality, etc. The way in which these intersect with one another matters because it defines who we are and shapes how people view us. And to a large extent, these intersecting identities determine our position in society. It matters, for example, that I am a white, straight, cisgender, college-educated woman who was raised by a single mother in rural West Virginia.

If you have never questioned your position—or asked yourself how different facets of your identity come together and complicate your identity—then you have also never wondered how life is lived from positions that are different from your own. And that is what allows people such as the #notmymarch supporters to dismiss struggles, challenges, and despair that are not their own.

Sometimes the different facets of your identity are at odds with one another, sometimes their convergence yields even more oppression and inequality. But feminism is about solidarity, celebration of difference, dialogue, justice and equal rights. And it is about policy that protects and supports those rights. Let me ask again, how is feminism a partisan issue?

Fact: of the 22 proposed presidential cabinet members, only 4 are women. I would venture to guess that some women do not see this as a problem. Are women (still) so used to men leading them that they are content to sit back and let them do so? Do they feel reassured by patriarchal structures, since this at least guarantees that their own privilege remains untouched? Do they feel intimidated–or worse, have they been so weakened, that they don’t feel as if they deserve the chance?




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