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  • Writer's pictureAriel Karn (Phantitra Phuphaphantakarn)

Gendered Nuclear Policy: Comprehending Leadership, Disarmament and Femininity.

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

Looking back on life, I am unsure of my relationship with my femininity. I started school life believing that us girls are blessed with special genes since we seem to do better in school. Yet, I grew up a young woman in my science-high-school debate team as a whip because the teachers said I have a “persuasive tone of voice” and I should “give” the captain position to that young man who was louder than me.

It was not helping when I, that very same no-captain-material young woman, found an online article explaining the key of an excellent presentation. It said that (and I remember this vividly) if you are a woman; you “must not put on heavy make-up such as red-colour lipstick or jewellery that is easily visible”. This is because the audience will think that you care too much about your make-up and therefore spent “too much” time putting on that red lipstick instead of focussing on preparing your presentation or “being professional” in general.

Fortunately, such a thought no longer has an impact on me and I have become a huge advocate for women with led lips anywhere. Still, when I came across the book “Alva Myrdal: A Pioneer in Nuclear Disarmament”, particularly the third chapter: “Alva Myrdal and Disarmament in a Man’s World” written by a scholar from Stockholm University - Emma Rosengren. I was once again forced to review my relationship with my femininity. This time from a “career” perspective. In that article, Rosengren discusses the gender assigned to national policies. Both she and Myrdral acknowledged and highlighted the existence of the “female peace values” among the decision-makers in the national-level position.

Unfortunately, the “female peace values” are not as pretty as they might sound to all the feminists out there. It is derived from the biases that national “security/defence” politics is the affairs of the men and therefore whatever opinions that women may have, regardless of the seniority of their position, are just the “female peace values”- soft, emotional, irrational - exactly the descriptions Alva herself received as a “female politician” in field of defence-related policies.

However, the biases regarding the “female peace values” do not rest solely on women but all the way to the “disarmament” efforts as Rosengren has pointed out in her study regarding the concept of “Gendering” - an act of associating things with genders. In short - we as a society are deeply stuck with the need to associate the element of our day-to-day affairs/objects with either “male” or “female” boxes. The “logic” behind the grouping is simple - if they are soft, light, weak, sweet or similar then they go to the “female” box while all the opposite goes to the “male” one. This could easily be observed through various norms that still exist today such as that “the Sun” is associated with men while “the Moon” is associated with women.

Same as the case for defence-related policies, the “armament” policies are associated with the male gender while “disarmament” policies are associated with the females (along with the “female peace values”) and therefore the latter is perceived with the exact same biases women suffered - soft, emotional and irrational, making them being overlooked regardless the strategic contributions for the country - or at least much harder to be advocated.

An admiration I have for Alva Myrdal is personal. I believe what I shared with her, besides being a woman in the same field (if I may), is that we are coming into this arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation affairs with questions (on strategic deterrence) as our motivation. And yet regardless of how practical and rational her arguments would be as she advocates for anti-nuclear policies, she was constantly dismissed as emotional and of course - irrational.

The “Masculinity values”, if I may, lurked in all our society values like parasites in our brain only capable of convincing us that “strength = men” and “weakness = women”. I mean, is it not frustrating it is to watch the Prime Ministers of Finland (Sanna Marin) and New Zealand (at the time - Jacinda Ardern) explain that they are meeting because they are both Priminister and not because they are “similar in age and have a lot of common stuff”?

I call this article a “Gendered Nuclear Policy: Comprehending Leadership, Disarmament and Femininity (a Personal Journey)” because I too am on this frustrating road. How does one go about this journey? Do we reject the “gendered” description of disarmament policy or do we embrace it and focus on getting rid of the biases? Perhaps by saving all the young women with dreams and “places to be” from this unseen conflict, can we rescue the disarmament policy at the same time? Should this be the strategy? How does one fight the battle caused by beliefs that continue to persist for hundreds of years?

I do not have the answers to those questions yet but I do know that they needed to be both answered and implemented. Perhaps what one can do best while studying to fill out the task is to never stop making a fuss about such a bias imposed both on women and disarmament policies.

As of now, all I can say (and if I may) to all the women out there is that let’s keep our heads high and our love for whatever we do even higher. If that red lips and extra-sparkling earrings are something you like then put them on and join that panel. And if you are in the same field as me and Alva Mrydral, hustling for the world where the only place nuclear weapons are stationed are museums, then let’s protect this purpose with everything we have - regardless of the irrationality, emotionality and weakness the world assumes on you and your vision.

“I have, despite all disillusionment, never, never allowed myself to feel like giving up. This is my message today; it is not worthy of a human being to give up.”

- Alva Myrdal

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