As a nuclear policy practitioner, I think it’s fair to say that many in my circle are supportive of greater gender equality in our field, whether as an activist, policymaker, analyst, or generalized “expert” (an elitist term that’s hashed out here, but that’s outside the purview of what I want to talk about right now). As are many in the broader national security and foreign policy space. As with any goal, however, metrics matter. This broader community, and those working within it to drive change, will need to develop more clarity as to what achievement would really look like. Coming to a conclusion will be no simple task — that essay that would certainly take more than 800-1000 words. So let’s start with a few metrics of, well, the opposite of success. Those metrics we should not strive to include. As may or may not already seem apparent, the themes we’ll explore have heavy parallels in the fight for racial equality.
First, we must take a deeper look simply at the language we use. Gender equality or gender equity? I would argue that equality is unattainable without equity. For example, one simple question has been raised: should we work to promote more all-female panels in response to ubiquitous all-male panels (manels)? Some may argue no. To outright accept only females on a panel, even those regarding the gender gap in the field, is itself exclusionary and a contradiction of the original ideal of equality, perhaps interpreted in this way as balance. To this argument, I say certainly, men could have valid arguments for supporting more women or second-hand experience of discrimination via friends, mothers, wives, daughters, etc. But does that really mean they deserve a seat at the table when discussing that topic?
The answer can most evidently be seen in the Black Lives Matter vs All Lives Matter debate. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement began as a hashtag in 2013 in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin and subsequent acquittal of his killer but has since grown into a nationwide movement against racial injustice and police brutality. Quickly after the spread of the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” however, came the response that “All Lives Matter.” In theory, both statements are true. And both men and women (and nonbinary people) can hold opinions both constructive and destructive to the discussion of gender inequality. Unfortunately, “All Lives Matter” misses the point.
Gender equality or gender equity? I would argue that equality is unattainable without equity.
While ideally, all lives should matter, history and current reality has shown this is not the case when Black Americans are three times as likely as white Americans to die at the hands of a police officer, when Black, American Indian, and Alaskan Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, or when Black infants are twice as likely to die as non-Hispanic white infants. The point of “Black Lives Matter” isn’t to argue that their lives matter more; rather, it aims to highlight how their lives matter less. “All Lives Matter” in contrast works to pull attention away from a particular group actively suffering injustice, and talk about everyone all at once instead. Shying away from all-female panels because they appear unequal and unfair to men falls into the same trap as that set by “All Lives Matter.”
This is not to say white people or men cannot be allies. Should men or white people’s voices become a center point in the conversation, though? Some arguments for this may say yes because others may be more willing to listen if they hear it from someone like them. It could prove that the movement isn’t just for Black people or isn’t just for women. But these arguments, again, miss the point. A Black or non-male experience should not need the support of a white or male colleague to be legitimate and deserve to be heard. An overcommitment to equality while discrimination is still the reality can impede the journey to our final destination. And in letting in a person incapable of truly experiencing the pain of racial or gender inequality, misrepresentations can occur.
Just look at Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility.” Since the killing of George Floyd, the book became quite a hit for white consumption as white audiences looked for ways to be better allies. Although DiAngelo has spent her entire career exploring racism and bias, she is not in fact Black. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) have spoken out against DiAngelo’s arguments saying she dehumanizes and mischaracterizes Black people while providing few practical methods (if any at all) for white people to sincerely educate themselves. It is true, in this respect, that white people cannot speak for the Black experience and men cannot speak for the female (or non-binary) experience.
Which brings me to my last point: we must not forget that even trying to define “race” or “gender,” “Black” or “female” can result in exclusion and go against the very purpose of the movements for equity and equality in the first place. Black is a fluid term that is not necessarily defined by genetics or heritage but by experiences. Womanhood is similar, but on top of that, to turn gender into a dichotomy of male and female defeats our fight before it even begins. Until true equality is reached, all-female panels are not exclusionary to men just as “Black Lives Matter” is not exclusionary to other lives. But we cannot stop at all-“female” panels. The entire spectrum of gender identity deserves equal recognition and representation. Equity then equality means uplifting the marginalized voices to the same level of the privileged before equal footing can be realized.
Molly Hurley is a Nuclear Program Fellow with The Prospect Hill Foundation and Fellowship Associate with Beyond the Bomb. She is a recipient of the Wagoner Fellowship allowing her to research nuclear weapons issues, their intersectionality, and how art can help build the movement for disarmament. She will be traveling to Japan next year to continue her work.
Want to support Black Lives Matter or gender equity in the nuclear field and beyond? Look at the BLM website, the Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy, or Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation.