Sunday, October 02, 2011

Women and National Security

This week for National Security, we are assigned to read the recent exchange between Daniel Drezner and Anne-Marie Slaughter. This led me to think about the role of women in the U.S. foreign and security policy bureaucracy.

In class, we have 39 assorted articles and books as assigned reading. Of these, only 4 have a woman author. That’s a paltry 10%, and I’m not sure that there are articles written by women that could replace some of the material. Even looking at my professors, two are women, and of these two, only one has worked in the security sector.

Micah Zenko wrote an article in Foreign Policy this summer looking at the lack of women in the industry and academia. He discovered that there are low percentages of women leaders in the State Department, USAID, and the Pentagon which disproves the idea that women prefer to work in soft power departments as opposed to hard power. And despite the lack of women in top civilian posts at the Pentagon, the military could be considered a success when it comes to women in leadership positions. While the overall percentage of female officers is under 20%, this is roughly the gender breakdown of the military as a whole.

As a young woman studying these materials and aspiring to a career in our national security apparatus, these numbers leave me worried. This is in spite of my personal experience at the Patterson School. My male classmates treat me as an equal and listen respectfully to my opinion in all of classes. I’ve never experienced a negative comment on my gender and/or sex from my professors. But this is in the confines of academia. The real world is clearly very different, and I’m not the only one who’s saying that.

The blog Gunpowder and Lead, begun by women, had an article that fed off of the Zenko one. Caitlin Fitzgerald, a 20-something woman with an advanced degree in International Relations, notes that due to cultural associations of strength and toughness with men, “there is undeniably a macho culture around a lot of the military, as well as the national security/defense field at large.” This isn’t the most welcoming industry for young women, and I do expect to experience sexism from older male colleagues. However as men and women of my generation pass into leadership positions, this should dissipate in time.

I have heard Dr. Farley say that one of the stories of the past fifteen years has been the influx of women into the security field. In that time, the glass ceiling has been broken by incredible women. Read the bios of women like Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Michele Flournoy, or Ms. Slaughter, and you’ll be stunned by how accomplished they are. These women are role models for the women coming after them.

It is clear that the security and foreign policy world is changing in terms of composition. I just want it to change faster.

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