Whither the feminist movement?

Published: Monday | March 16, 2009

Barbara Ellington, Lifestyle Editor

Jane Jaquette: Most of the feminists are in the anti-globalisation and anti-everything movement. I am not. Nor am I someone who thinks capitalism is such a great thing that we should just cheer it along. - Rudolph Brown/Chief Photographer

Dr Jane S. Jaquette is Bertha Harton Orr professor of politics at Occidental College and Chair of diplomacy and world affairs. She joined Occidental faculty in 1969, received promotion to full professor in 1992, and was named to the Orr professorship in the liberal arts in 1996.

In addition to her work on the politics of development and women, Jaquette has published widely on women in politics in Latin America and is now working on a project on women and democratisation worldwide. She is finishing a manuscript on power in Machiavelli and Hobbes.

Active role

From 1979-80, Jaquette worked as a social scientist in the women's development office at the United States Agency for International Development in Washington, DC, where she played an active role in the planning for the United Nations' decade for women meeting in Copenhagen. She is a member of several professional associations and served from 1990-2 as president of the Association for Women in Development. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Pacific Council on International Policy.

Jaquette was in Jamaica last week with her husband, Dr Abe Lowenthal. She sat with Lifestyle editor Barbara Ellington to look at her role in the feminist movement and where it goes from here.

How did your interest in women's affairs start?

When I went to Peru in 1968 for my dissertation research, I was studying political economy. There was a big feminist meeting when I returned to the United States.

I became involved in this very interesting movement and forgot to write my thesis. It was an interesting time in our history, the Vietnam War was going on and the Civil Rights Movement was also in full force. We were totally involved.

First paper

No one was doing any writing on women at the time so I decided to write about it. My first paper was on why machismo is not what North Americans think it is and what stake women have in machismo and going against the grain. I went on to work at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the women in development office under Arvonne Fraser. She was connected to Jamaica and she wanted me to come here. I have been back many times since, but, at that time, I came to look at USAID's programmes and how they affected women.

Many different projects were going on. I wrote a lot on women in development and became involved with the United Nations' decade for women and attended the conferences, except Beijing.

Almost everything to do with developmental issues affecting women seems set in the context of 'Beijing' plus this or that milestone in the timeline, but people tend to forget that there were conferences preceding that one.

Yes, significant work took place before Beijing. I wrote a chapter in one of my books on the Copenhagen meeting and did a movie called What do Women Want, out of the others.

There is a popular belief that women who are feminists don't like men or don't need them in their lives, and it's even worse if such a woman marries. How would you address that?

I would say what's the point in being a feminist if you are not negotiating with a man? You arenot being a feminist to live with other women; you are doing it to live a different kind of life with men. It's easier to understand what other women want than what men want. Terrible things have happened to the concept of feminism in my time and I have always insisted that I am a feminist.

I ask my class how many of them consider themselves feminists and only three of 25 would raise their hands because it's got a bad name. Young, attractive college women are not going to admit that.

What do you find are the views of young women on the subject of feminism at a time when we are supposedly more advanced and liberated in every way?

It varies. The course I teach is Women in Politics and, for some reason, some women can't seem to understand that there is a way to relate successfully to men. You invite unsolicited attention then complain when it happens. That is not to say they are inviting it, but sometimes some modes of dress make you a target. You have to be aware of it. Violence against women is a big issue too; economic pressure, expectations about roles and other factors cause it. Women can be violent in relationships too.

Survey data out of Latin America revealed that when women were asked what their first response to violence was, they said they hit him back. That was surprising,

It probably would be the same here in Jamaica, but I think it's the temperament of the Latin women who are stereotyped as hot blooded versus their North-American counterparts who have a victim mentality that says 'it's my fault'.

This is true and that's why I was so interested in the fact that they said they hit back.

What would be the socialisation of these women?

They are migrants from Mexico to the United States, living either as green card holders or citizens.

So they developed coping skills for a new, strange home early but the aggressive behaviour would have been there waiting to explode.

Absolutely. That's why it was so striking to me. Not that I think it was a life-saving response, but the fact that it was the first thing they said was striking to me, because no one ever talks in those terms about violence. Everyone talks victimisation to get the attention of legislation and so on.

So, after all these years, is the feminist movement of the '60s and '70s alive and well?

Yes and no. Things have changed; women have many more rights so a lot of what we fought about in those early decades we got. Culture has changed so a lot of respect is now evident; women now have positions they did not have before, they can say things they couldn't before. All those things are to the good. But something happened to the radicalism in the United States?

You think it's gone?

I think it has become very 'precious'.

Is it because there is no more of an urgent, desperate need to be so aggressive because there are not so many important causes to fight for today?

Yes, hence the whole post-feminist era where we have all the advantages but don't have to pay the price.

Do you think we need a resurgence to tackle things like equal pay for equal work?

My thought on that is that there are many more avenues to use, such as the the courts, to apply pressure. We have more egalitarian institutions like universities but we need the private sector to be equitable in pay too. One of the reasons the inequity in the statistics still exists against women is that it's difficult to get ahead and it has to be done company by company. In many societies, what men do, even if it's low skilled, is still considered more important than what women do. Women don't complain because there is other phenomenon of us making more money or being the breadwinner. There are are many problems too.

So, you are in Jamaica this time because?

I'm helping my husband to doresearch for a book called Rethinking US-Latin American Relations (and the global situation). I am intrigued to be doing it with him. It will take us throughout the region.

Does that include the much-feared and maligned Venezuela (which we don't mind?) Let's face it, strategically, we (the region) are not that important to America anymore; Cuba is no longer a threat.

Sure, it hasn't been for a long time. It ought to be low-hanging fruit for the Obama administration. Raul Castro has to figure out his succession strategy, he's 76. But, yes, we are going to Haiti and the Dominican Republic among other countries.

Are you a Democrat? I assume so since you are a feminist with liberal/progressive ideas.

Yes, and my father was a Roosevelt Democrat and I am not giving that up. I am born and bred a Democrat.

As we speak, it's half way through President Obama's first 100 days; your thoughts?

People are very upset about some of his cabinet picks but I think he's been extremely bold and careful. Some say he's more Caribbean than American because he did not go through most of the racist experiences that most of the people who were worried about whether he was black enough had gone through. But the end result of that is that whites are now perceived as having a chip on their shoulder. So, when Holder comes along and says they are cowards, and when President Obama deals with the situation the way he did, he has to be applauded. I feel positive about him.

Are you one of the persons who felt slighted that he did not have more women in his Cabinet?

No, I think he was marvellous in his support of Hillary Clinton who is in his Cabinet. I too supported her candidacy before Obama emerged the nominee; she is capable and I thought the time was right, but she is a great public diplomacy person, so I think he made wise choices.

Well, on this side of the ocean, we are hoping that the would-be assassins give him a chance to succeed.

Yes, I think anything can happen but not the kind of intentional backlash we worry about. I think people are excited about our improved image abroad and prospects for the future. So I think he can cope.

What's the next big thing for the feminist movement to achieve?

We have lost our international openness. Most of the feminists are in the anti-globalisation and anti-everything movement. I am not. Nor am I someone who thinks capitalism is such a great thing that we should just cheer it along. A lot of feminism has gone into literature and film criticism and very little is left for politics. We have lost our focus. There is no more openness to welfare politics or the FDR-type politics. The whole American political spectrum has gone so far right that in these discussions we are now anti-welfare, redistribution of wealth and anything that helps people be more effective. So you find that we can spend money on guns but not on food.

I attended meetings for decades that were about bringing a female consciousness to the idea that we care about poverty and other quality of life issues. If the movement was doing anything about this, it got deviated into anti-Taliban stuff. Being concerned about women globally is no longer the agenda.

So, I am going to the mainstream and trying to get people to understand. I am frustrated, trying to think of the frustrations with the feminist world. Foreign policy is more than about Muslims and bourkas. We need to refocus as a movement.

What would you consider the most pressing need of women, globally, at this time?

I think it's the most effective use of the resources in education. Women are out-numbering men academically but there are still high rates of illiteracy among Latin American women.

And second, not losing a sense of the solidarity aspect of feminism. We need to be aware of the ways we can stick closely together through immigration, etc.

How do you unwind?

I spend time with my children or on Cape Cod half the year, or writing or travelling.

Jane Jaquette believes United States foreign policy is more than about Muslims and bourkas. - Rudolph Brown/Chief Photographer