Citizenship brings a range of rights and responsibilities in countries all over the world. But in many nations, according to Radcliffe Dean Lizabeth Cohen, “the link between gender and rights is hardly a settled issue.”
Cohen’s remarks opened “Who Belongs: Global Citizenship and Gender in the 21st Century” on April 6. The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s annual gender conference touched on topics ranging from the hijab to the history of citizenship in America to the rise in nationalism in the U.S. and abroad, and worrying trends of intolerance and exclusion.
In a morning discussion titled “Rights, Duties, and Responsibilities,” moderator and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne ’73 voiced a common sentiment among the panelists, lamenting that the “We” that begins the U.S. Constitution is rarely heard in today’s contentious social discourse.
In the wake of the 2016 election, pundits and politicians have argued the heightened political polarization in the U.S. reflects an “us versus them” mentality that then-candidate Donald Trump seized on during the presidential campaign. A year later Trump issued a series of executive orders banning travel to the U.S. from a range of Muslim-majority countries, leaving many with families and deep ties to jobs and schools in America stranded outside its borders.
Additional directives have further eroded procedural protections for asylum seekers, said Boston College Law School Professor Kari Hong, separating children from parents, allowing agents to deport asylum seekers without a hearing or appeal, and punishing immigration judges who don’t close 700 immigration cases a year. Hiring more asylum officers, ending detention for asylum seekers, and ensuring they receive legal protections could go far in improving the system, she said.
Hong added that while Trump “is using detention to weaponize misery,” his actions are no different from those of previous presidents, including Barack Obama.
“All of these practices are worthy of alarm and are worthy of criticism, but I want to highlight that the Trump administration is doing nothing new that prior administrations, including and especially the Obama administration, have not done,” she said. “Even the most shocking example of separating mothers from their children is only different in degree, not in kind from the past 20 years.”
In what will come as no surprise to many women, Princeton University Professor Tali Mendelberg called public speech a domain of “highly gendered authority,” where men typically take the lead and often talk over or interrupt their female counterparts. Even high-ranking women in a room full of men can find it hard to break into the conversation, said Mendelberg. She cited former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who in her memoir acknowledged keeping quiet in meetings early in her career for fear of sounding unintelligent, only to later hear a man praised for the same idea.
As tough and talented as she was, said Mendelberg, even Albright “found herself tongue-tied.” She said the problem reflects gender imbalances in and outside of the workplace, and the solution requires “recruiting more women into positions of power” and encouraging more self-awareness in men.
According to Mendelberg, numbers are key. Her research into the dynamics of group dialogue suggests women are treated the same as men when they comprise a supermajority of a group, not the 30 percent that had been noted in previous studies. “Even 30 or 40 percent still leaves women in a distinct minority,” said Mendelberg, adding that decisions made by majority rule mean “the majority identity group” sets the tone and determines who gets respect.