Voice

On Beauty Pageants, Gender and the Living Dead

Last week, Jessica Trisko Darden wrote a guest blog post about the international politics of the Miss Universe pageant.  Yesterday, over at Duck of Minerva, Megan MacKenzie took me to task for this post on a number of fronts.  Problem #1:

Like my professors over a decade ago, Drezner doesn’t come back in at the end of the lecture to engage with the content and he certainly doesn’t address the half-naked ladies elephant in the room: that pageants are different from other entertainment/political events in that they involve (largely men) judging the esthetics of one WOMAN who is meant to embody each country. Good lord, if you can’t find and name the gender and race politics of Miss Universe where will you ever be able to find them? Skinny, straight, long-haired women parading in romantic, caricature costumes of their nation….and you don’t think to write about gender and race? You missed the politics completely Drezner (and I’m holding you accountable, not your guest lecturer).

I'd encourage you to read the rest of MacKenzie's post to get a taste of the (pretty odious) race and gender politics that she references.  And I agree that, while Trisko Darden's guest post certainly did reference these issues, I did not.  

But I'm not sure MacKenzie's teaching analogy is appropriate.  This wasn't a guest lecture -- it was a guest blog post. I don't have them very often, but when I do, I tend to let the post speak for itself.   In the classroom, or perhaps in a journal article, MacKenzie would be absolutely correct to push me to be as comprehensive on a topic.  I'm not sure the same rules should apply to a blog post -- though this is a far-from-settled question, and I'm curious what others think. 

MacKenzie's other criticism runs quite a bit deeper -- namely, that I shouldn't have outsourced the topic to Trisko Darden at all: 

I felt like I was back at uni and my male professor had brought in a female body (any female body) to teach the week on gender. Sure she has a PhD and was Miss Earth- and she does have a unique perspective on pageants; however, since when do we need an insider to write about the politics of an issue....

Do we still need ladies to comment on lady issues Drezner?

Hmm.... Trisko Darden's unique perspective was exactly what made it a useful and informative guest post.  But let's step back from these particulars, and get to the deeper question.  If MacKenzie really wants to go there, then I'd observe that, yeah, responses like hers do an excellent job of raising the barriers for male political scientists to comment on gender politics when it's not their area of expertise.  Why on God's green earth would I want to venture out from my professional comfort zone of American foreign policy and global political economy to blog about the politics of gender -- just so I can be told by experts on gender politics that I'm doing it wrong?  To be clear, there is some upside to such engagement -- see the next paragraph.  But the thing is, the downside risks of poorly articulated arguments on this subject are pretty massive.  Indeed, I suspect Duck of Minerva bloggers are fully cognizant of those risks

Now, all that said, MacKenzie makes a good point -- I've talked about lady issues in the past, I shouldn't be too scared talking about them in the future.  And it is altogether good and appropriate for scholars to venture beyond their intellectual comfort zone -- it's the best way to learn.  And as it happens, an opportunity presents itself on this front. 

I'm about to start work on the revised revived edition of Theories of International Politics and Zombies.  There's gonna be some updating of the zombie material -- a lot has happened in recent years.  But one of the things that's gnawed at me since the first edition of the book came out was that I didn't talk a lot about more critical perspectives of international relations theory.  So I'm throwing caution into the wind and adding a chapter on feminist international relations theory and zombies.  [Because of this?--ed.  No, I decided to do this quite some time ago.]

This means I'm gonna have to read up on feminist IR theory.  A lot.  As I've noted, feminist approaches to international relations are not my strong suit, and it's going to be rather important to get the tone right.  So I'd ask MacKenzie, as well as readers on this subject, to suggest in the comments the pertinent feminist literature (beyond the obvious canonical citations) that would speak to "post-human" politics.  And vice versa -- which parts of the zombie canon clearly have things to say about the politics of gender? 

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