Women And Exclusive Politics

Five Kuwaiti women made history on Thursday by becoming the first females to register as candidates for parliamentary elections, ending a 44-year-old ban on their political participation.

“It’s a historic day. It’s a dream come true and the actual beginning of Kuwaiti women’s participation in public life,” leading women’s rights activist Rula Dashti said after filing her papers at the election department. [source]

I’ve been studying politics for about 5 years now and I’ve come to notice that in most cases women are generally swept aside even though they are in the act of making history. In those 5 years I’ve managed to avoid any poli sci course labelled “Women’s Studies” mostly because I didn’t have the abundant desire to be the only guy in a room full of neo-feminists (who I find personally scary not because of what they believe but rather the force of which they believe it and the fact that few of them actually shower). But I’ve grown to understand that there is actually a need in political science and in general history to separate women and make them an exclusive entity of their own.

Why is that? Is it because they haven’t made the historical impact that men have had on this world (which is not entirely their fault)? Is it because they are generally detached from politics or have been socially nurtured to leave the politicking to the men; their fathers?

Not 1 hour ago did I just walk out of two graduate level poli sci classes where I kid you not; at least 70% of the class was female. In fact in the first class I was one of 3 in a room with 9 women. And this is not an “intro” or “101” class where you’re in a room with wasp-type blondes who say “like” every 5 words and are just taking this course as an elective or “for fun”: this is hardcore material. This is as refined a group of people as it gets.

Here’s what I know (and I tend to constantly compare everything to the world’s political super power for some odd reason), in the U.S. it took women over 70 years of campaigning to finally get to vote, so technically recent middle eastern countries like Kuwait are not so bad (unless we adjust for historical inflation). Today there are more women in America than men, therefore more women voters. There are more women voting during elections than there are men. YET fewer women run for office and even when they do it’s less likely that women will vote for them. Now some might return to the politics and say that the big fish male politicians not only court the vote but are being courted by women groups who feel that given the reality of the situation they are more likely to endorse a male candidate because he is more likely to win and more likely to serve them. Do you see the contradictory circle?

Most people, if asked in Jordan, would say it’s all about social traditions. But what’s the excuse for the Americans, or the Canadians for that matter? If and when our political environment ever comes close to theirs, will we still say it’s all about social traditions, social roles? Are the social barriers of entry that high, that unbreakable, to the point that we can’t get (in a population of nearly 6 million) at least 200 women running for office?

These are the kinds of questions that wrap around my brain. And they’re all relevant because they have an actual effect on the political culture of my country, where absurd quota systems are imposed in the name of “encouraging political participation” when in reality it only forces people to not vote for women. It creates a tradition where people will vote for the person who they know is not ensured a seat to begin with. And this is only a small part of the problems with quotas which I’ve ranted on about several times in the past (and continue to do so in my mind)

I think that women being politically aloof is a myth and I’ve spoken with many in Jordan who I could see taking a seat in parliament, but won’t, which begs the question of why that is.

Is it because we now treat them as an exclusive entity, in the sense that when the Jordanian constitution said “all” Jordanians were equal under law, we just made the shocking discovery that the â??founding fathersâ? meant just â??menâ?, hence the need for laws concerning just women? Which then begs the questions of why do we need such a law when the word “all” Jordanians is inclusive of gender? Do they require a special protection?

I’m reminded by a situation a few weeks ago where a professor of mine asked us, his small class, to design the syllabus for the course. He put out a bunch of files and folders that we all went through to see what should be included. A young woman (Arab no less) in the class held up a folder marked “minorities” which included immigrants and women. This is not my professor being sexist, as all textbooks generally categorise women as such. But I remember her saying that she felt it shouldn’t have to be a separate topic, that she’d much rather have it be dealt with in every topic that’s discussed; it should be inclusive. This is what I’m getting at.

I never liked the concept of having “women’s studies” in a course. My aforementioned fear of taking such a class was exactly as I said it was and nothing more (obviously I was joking about the showers). I don’t like the exclusive nature of it. The concept of “women’s studies” or their role in politics should be included in every course I take as a natural part of the history. I should not have to open a text book and make the assumption that it was written exclusively for men. We don’t live in that world anymore and we shouldn’t have to. When Machiavelli wrote â??The Princeâ? was he being sexist? Hell yeah! He not only wrote it for a specific man but he was incredibly sexist for his time. But let’s discuss that; let’s not remove it as a topic that should be dealt with exclusively in a “women’s studies” course.

When women are made to be an exlusive entity it means that men too have become exlusive. It sends to signal that women were not equal before and continue to not be now which is why they require the protection of men who write these laws (or course or textbooks) that give women special attention, away from the central framework.

It’s like studying Biology all these years and then removing a part of it and saying well this is just about the “female anatomy”. This is just “women’s history”. This is just “women’s arts”. These parliamentary seats are reserved for “women only”. Iâ??m not advocating unisex washrooms, but are these assumptions too much to ask?

The “courses” and my “classes” here are all obvious metaphors for the much bigger fish (not to sound condescending; itâ??s only if you missed it due to my ambiguous nature).

Anyways, this is just more or less a rant and not a well refined argument. So I don’t know if I completely agree with what I’ve just said, which is not to say that I completely disagree. I know saying that about one’s argument doesn’t exactly give the impression of it being a solid one, but that’s exactly the point. This is a subject that was meant to be debated.

(Ironically I always start off writing a short succinct argument in the form of a rant but it never ends up that way. If you made it this far give yourself a pat on the back).


  • –It’s a man’s world … women are the true story, hence women studies 😛

    –and by the same token, history has been written from a white(man) perspective and that’s why we have black studies (what is now referred to as african studies)…

    –I took a WS course back in undergrad …the class was a good mix of males and females…anyway, I dropped the course after the instructor shared with us why she dresses her little boy in pink to school!

  • hmm, if it’s a man’s world then i guess in the future when this Earth’s air becomes toxic women will just all live on venus and men on mars and like Katharine Hepburn said…they should just “visit every now and then”

  • Femininsts don’t shower? Honey, I don’t know what kind of walking stereotypes YOU’VE been meeting, but I’m willing to bet I’m a whole lot cleaner and well-groomed than the average dude. This is like saying all Muslims are a bunch of grenade-throwing extremists. Cheap.

    I think with time, Women’s Studies will go down by the wayside, but I do admire both the male and female academics in the field. Not all of them are nuts. Far from it.

  • It might work for a graduate course to integrate women’s studies into your topics rather than have it as a seperate section because at the grad level your courses are a bit more narrowed topics than you would study back in undergrad.

    But for undergrad I think women’s studies courses should be there because there are some important topics that take a whole semester to teach. Like, you can take a course about nationalism and spend a week on gender in nationalism, but a whole semester talking about gender in natioanlism is a bit much. On the other hand, a course like “contemporary feminist theory” is not something you can cover in a few lectures. Would you want to cover Women in Islam in merely a three hour lecture?

    But i’d much prefer they rename it to Gender Studies instead of women’s studies, sounds more accurate description.

  • lksfadljk i would prefer to cover women in islam as i would cover men in islam. in other words, if you look at a course syllabus, for example the middle east, there will be one week on syria, and one week on say lebanon etc etc etc. it’s comprehensive.

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