Foreign Policy Blogs

The Summer Floodgates

Image courtesy mandolux/flickr

Summer 2012 will be most likely be remembered for the London Olympics, the Republicans’ awkward, gaffe-prone run-up to the US presidential election and the situation in Syria. What also made Summer 2012 was the number of female-led stories the media picked up on and which got people talking. It feels like the floodgates opened…but for how long? This isn’t a precise, detailed chronology (though it hopefully doesn’t wander onto Niall Ferguson’s patch of thin ice) so please add to it in the comments!

Though the sun wasn’t quite out in full force back in April, that’s where I’m going to begin – the month when Barbie, in a ‘designer pink power suit’ reminiscent of Reese Witherspoon’s character in Legally Blonde, joined the US presidential campaign in collaboration with The White House Project. I Can Be President Barbie The Summer Floodgates has a very pink and cute leadership packet available to download and the doll comes in Asian, Black, Latina and White versions. Ms Roberts’ campaign platform encourages girls to ‘B informed’, ‘B a dreamer’ and ‘Reach for the stars!’ but unfortunately doesn’t provide information on her foreign policy stance or views on Obamacare. s.e. smith posted a piece recently, noting that “The goal is to get girls engaged at any level they’re interested in, whether that’s playing with the doll or actually engaging with the campaign, and I love that. Instead of just being an aspirational toy, Presidential Barbie is also a great way to interact with the systems around us.”

Also that month came a video urging Asma al-Assad to halt the escalating violence in Syria. (Caution: contains graphic images)

As the sun became a more common sight in the sky, so did female-centered articles, The Summer Floodgateskicking off with the flurry generated by Foreign Policy magazine’s initial 100-long Twitterati list in June…which contained less than 10 women. This glaring and inexcusable omission was swiftly highlighted; a crowdsourced long-list was compiled and then shortly after, FP published “Introducing the FPwomerati” – (though really, a pink Twitter logo? Do Barbie and FP Magazine share the same designer?) For a great outline by key curator Jillian York, see her post on the snafu.

Then came Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article for The Atlantic on “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”

The response it provoked was extensive, so here are a selection of pieces discussing, dissecting and driving conversation on the topic:

Why Women Shouldn’t Want to Have It All” – taking issue with Slaughter’s assumption that women naturally wish to be mothers;
Men Can’t Have It All Either” – “The fact is that life is full of trade-offs. It’s not possible to “have it all.” It never was. And never will be. For women or for men.”
Why Women Still Can’t Ask the Right Questions” – Naomi Wolf notes that “Slaughter’s article is one that is published in the US by a revolving cast of powerful (most often white) women every three years or so.”
Why America Can’t Have It All” – Slaughter’s red flags are actually symptoms of wider social myths perpetuated by US culture;
Can Modern Women “Have It All”? – “A new Atlantic cover peddles one of the most dangerous myths about modern women”
‘Having it all’ looks very different for women stuck in low-paid jobs – the “focus on a few high-powered women hanging out with the boys is meaningless to millions.”
…and finally, “No One Has It All Because Having It All Doesn’t Exist – “The idea that there is one homogeneous definition of “it all” that all women are supposed to desire is painfully reductive.” (warning: strong language)

Come July, the Slaughter debate had cooled off a little and the impending Olympics took up the slack with stories on the female participants – the biggest perhaps being the sending of a female athlete by every participating country. The Columbia Journalism Review has a great piece by Jennifer Vanasco which notes that while media coverage “should be about female athletes’ achievements … it’s often more focused on their chromosomes.”

“Women may be are [sic] everywhere in the coverage of these Olympic Games, but they will be real winners only when the subject of their gender is less of a story than their achievements in the competitions.”

No sooner had that coverage started to die down then Pussy Riot grabbed global headlines. The Summer Floodgates Celebrities stumbled over each other to declare support for the three members of Pussy Riot standing trial. And, on August 17, these three women were sentenced to two years in a prison colony after being found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” A critical article questioned whether Russia-bashing leading up to, and following their conviction, is opportunism. Author Vadim Nikitin argues that “just like in the bad old days … knee-jerk yet selective support for Russian dissidents — without fully engaging with their ideas — is not only hypocritical but also does a great disservice to their cause.”

Summer is now coming to a close so it seems likely that the ‘slow news season’ will also shortly be over. Female-led stories may once again take more of a back seat in the media until the next fallow period. Or now the floodgates have opened a crack…will the stories continue to flow?



Cate Mackenzie

Cate works as an editor in Zürich, Switzerland. She holds an MA in Comparative and International Studies from ETH Zurich, and a BA (Hons) in International Studies with Political Science from the University of Birmingham (UK).

She has previously lived and worked in Fiji and the US.