Why Wonder Woman matters

WW courage

What, you may wonder, is a blog about a super hero film doing on IntLawGrrls? Well beyond my own personal excitement about the newly released Wonder Woman film, I think there’s an important symbolism that anyone committed to the Women, Peace and Security agenda of UN SC Resolution 1325 will appreciate. And a narrative that anyone committed to raising the profile of women’s voices in international law and international security will value. The film did a superb job of presenting the 75 year old comic book character the way she was intended by her creator William Moulton Marston, as a champion for peace, truth and equality at a time of conflict. He invented her during the Second World War, based on his belief that we need heroes in times of instability and conflict, and the retelling in the DC movie released just this weekend not only stays true to her origins, but reminds us that we all have capacity for war and for love within us.

In the height of the Second World War, Marvel Comics had just created a new character to raise the spirit of a fighting nation, Captain Marvel. He was dressed in the American flag and was a super soldier, and his comics were an immediate hit. Desperate to compete, DC Comics approached Marston, a psychologist who had been writing about why we need heroes in times of war;

Wonder Woman Sensation Comics Issue no. 1

as symbols to galvanise our beliefs. They asked him to create a character that would sell as well as Captain America, and he answered that what they needed was a female superhero. Marston was a staunch feminist, and believed that if women were in positions of leadership there would be more diplomacy and less war. Though many of us today would question this essentialism, there is no doubt that having more women at the decision-making table makes a difference to pre- and post-conflict negotiations, and that women are disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Marston wove the story of Wonder Woman around his classical education, drawing from Greek mythology stories of the Amazon warriors, who in his origin story were entrusted by the gods to protect Pandora’s Box and keep peace in the world. When “the world of men” finds itself caught up in a world war, Wonder Woman is sent as their champion to teach men the ways of peace and justice. She is incredibly strong, but she fights only to defend, never to attack, and she carries the Lasso of Truth, which forces anyone she ensnares to tell the truth. Marston is credited with also having invented the lie detector, so Wonder Woman was a multi-layered creation of his commitments. He even created an alter-ego for her as a military intelligence officer, granting her a status higher than the inevitable title of “secretary”.

In the film, director Patty Jenkins (who may just have broken the Hollywood glass ceiling for female directors with the sweeping box office success of Wonder Woman’s opening weekend) presents the origin story true to Marston’s values, with one small difference that it is set during the First World War, the War to End All Wars. This allowed for interesting commentary about women being completely politically disempowered at the time, still fighting for the vote, and being hustled out of any room where political negotiations were taking place. Placed in a period of history when we knew women were politically disenfranchised, it’s easier to understand, but it’s a mirror of the way women are still absent and underrepresented at the most powerful tables in the world today. The impact of the mass weaponry of the First World War was also the perfectly devastating background for depicting  how civilians are targeted and affected by war. Women and children are highlighted as the innocent victims, and an entire village is decimated by a deadly gas. One is reminded painfully of Syria today. As she begins to understand how power relations play out, Wonder Woman becomes the voice of the civilians, and fights for what she believes in: the possibility of peace. She is the representation of women in leadership positions, and the importance of women’s participation in decision-making.

The complexity of her character is beautifully portrayed. She is shocked at the corruptibility of humans, at our capacity to destroy each other, but she learns that it is not a simple question good versus bad people. Instead she sees that we are all just as capable of warring (as we know from non-state armed groups, from civilian participation in conflict, and from horrific war crimes and crimes of torture perpetrated by highly trained members of the military) as we are of love. She comes to the conclusion that she cannot save the world, but she can continue to bring love, peace, justice and equality to everything she does. That is her mission as Wonder Woman.

Although I was a fan of the 1970s series with Lynda Carter, which was fun and campy, it was a hyper-sexualised representation, and a long way off the character Marston intended her to be. WW Lynda Carter

In the film she is played by Gal Gadot, an Israeli woman who has trained in the armed forces and understands the warrior mentality just as well as she understands the feminine mother energy of the character she plays. (Stunningly, Gadot was 5 months pregnant during final shooting of the film, and they used digital effects to edit out her rounded belly. I have to admit I was moved to even greater excitement to learn that Wonder Woman was carrying life while fighting the god of war!) WW Gal Gadot

The film also does a great job of referencing the classical education which informed her creation, and the feminist role she was created to play. Gadot’s Wonder Woman speaks hundreds of languages, ancient and modern, and when confronting the German General Ludendorff, she cites Thucydides – in such a way that reminds us of today’s competing powers.  She refuses to have men of high rank tell her what to do, even her love interest Steve Trevor, and when she questions the assumptions about obedience in marriage, she cites Sappho, reversing the wartime assumption that women’s bodies are for men’s pleasure: rather, men are necessary for reproduction, but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary. (Let’s not debate the truth of that statement! The point was her challenge to the mainstream assumption.) Marston himself was polyamorous, living with two women, who stayed together as partners after his death. He believed marriage was a patriarchal institution which subordinated women and treated them as property. His comic book character defied men’s superiority but still sought partnership between the sexes, which is a subtlety maintained in her film portrayal.

Wonder Woman is unafraid to use force when that is necessary, but she believes in the possibility of all of us being released from “the grip of Ares, god of war“. In the comics she used to go to great efforts to turn Nazi characters – particularly, but not only, the women – back towards good, and would release them rather than kill them if she saw a possibility of remorse. Marston reminded us that women also play the role of perpetrator in many conflicts, and one of his female villains, Dr Poison, has a key role in the film, inventing the chemical weapons used against civilians. Yet even when Wonder Woman has the chance to kill her, she sees the humanity of Isabel Moru behind the mask of Dr Poison, and decides to let her go, rather than be corrupted herself by the desire to destroy. At the same time, Wonder Woman is not naive: there are times when force is called for, as long as it is proportionate and there is a distinction between lawful and unlawful targets.

Which is why Marston was so committed to us understanding the importance of super heroes. It’s not that we should look to these non-existent fantasy figures who have indestructible (and highly sexualised) bodies as models, it’s that we need something to believe in when the world becomes politically unstable, unpredictable and violent. And given his commitment to women’s political participation, and his understanding of the complexity of human nature regardless of gender, anno 2017, Wonder Woman is a hero for our times.

Advertisements

Happy birthday IntLawGrrls!

As I begin my international journey home after a very brief but extremely rich visit to the  Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia School of Law in Athens, Georgia, I am tired with that rare kind of exhilarated, contented tiredness. What a truly apt way to celebrate 10 years of the community that this blog gave birth to!

20170303_202600

The programme for this conference was packed with 18 panels, which for any other one-day academic conference would be the sign that there had been no selection process and would lead to a rush of ideas with no time to engage. But not this bunch of IntLawGrrls! Instead it was a day of very thoughtfully constructed panels, with a wonderful balance of senior scholars together with junior and emerging scholars, and topics that interwove and intersected in new and interesting ways. Each session led to original, stimulating dialogue and exchange. And everyone walked away from each and every panel they attended with new ideas and perspectives, having been enriched by the discussions.

win_20170303_23_35_50_pro

When Diane Amann (who I think has clearly earned the title of “founding foremother”) joked that IntLawGrrls was born on the 3rd March 2007 when she “accidentally created a website” after having Googled “how to start a blog?”, she also acknowledged that it has since become a movement. How true.

When IntLawGrrls was started, the blogosphere was a much smaller, quieter space than it is today, but it was clearly the right time to create a space dedicated to giving a platform to women’s voices in that sphere. I remember reading each and every post with a hunger, an eagerness, and an excitement. I remember being so proud to count myself among the contributors when I posted my first IntLawGrrls blog post. When the blog disappeared for a short while in 2012, because it had become a burden on the few founding mothers (own that title, ladies!), I remember mourning its disappearance. And when it reappeared in a new format in 2013, I celebrated its return with a cohort of women all doing PhDs in international law at the University of Amsterdam – women from all over Europe, South America, New Zealand, Australia, China. Not just because a blog had returned, but because this important resource, platform for exchange of ideas, and megaphone for women’s voices on so many issues, was alive and well. Because it had come to represent the importance of all of our voices as international law scholars and practitioners. That sense was there for this 10th Birthday conference as well, with women flying from across the globe to be there.

Thank you to all the original IntLawGrrls, for creating a space for us all on the blogosphere, and for encouraging all of our voices to be heard. Thank you to Britney and Kate and the entire team for all your work creating a seamless, heartfelt conference. And thank you for welcoming us into your home, Diane, and into this community that has become international and inter-generational. We tip our pussyhats to you in gratitude, and we look forward to the 20th birthday conference!

Write On! Read On! “Inter Gentes”: a new kind of international law journal

Yesterday a buzzing social event at McGill Faculty of Law marked the launch of a new peer reviewed international law journal – but rather than adding to the existing plethora of academic journals, Inter Gentes is breaking the mold and doing something truly exciting and innovative. And they welcome your submissions in many different, multi-media forms.

intergentes-logo

The name Inter Gentes represents the ethos of this journal, to consider international law not according to the traditional 19th Century conception of law between States, but rather as law between people. This goes far beyond a “transnational” or “transboundary” approach, and is broader than “legal pluralism” or “cosmopolitanism”. The intention is to create debate and interaction on the way in which international law affects individuals and peoples, and the way in which we affect international law.

To facilitate this debate, Inter Gentes is an open access online journal, with no paper print issues. This reduces the overheads for the team producing the bi-annual publication, but more importantly ensures true international accessibility.

Inter Gentes will be publishing articles in English, French and Spanish, all of which will be peer-reviewed by members of the star-studded Advisory Board, including Bruno Simma; Francois Crepeau, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants; Mark Drumbl; Lorie Graham; Sally Engel Merry; Jens Ohlin; Rene Provost; Juan Carlos Sainz Borgo and others. The expertise of the Advisory Board will guarantee the quality of the work published, but the real footwork will be undertaken by a dedicated team of students at McGill Faculty of Law, a faculty renowned for it’s commitment to linguistic and legal diversity, and which attracts students from all over the world.

As well as the peer-reviewed articles published in the bi-annual themed issues, Inter Gentes will have op-ed dialogues, encourage debate and dialogue among readers through interactive comments platforms, and provide multi-media content in the form of podcasts, images, posters and more. Since 2015 it has been creating ad-hoc content in the form of editorials, and it will continue this alongside it’s bi-annual issues.

inter-gentes-inaugural-cover

The inaugural edition has the theme “International Law and Peoples’ Resistance”, and it is testament to the commitment and ethos of this new journal that the articles included are written by authors from around the world, from perspectives as diverse as indigenous law and international law as colonialism; self determination as resistance; and global participation in global democracy.

The theme for next Spring is “(In)tangible Ownership in the International Sphere”, looking at diverse notions of property and land rights. The deadline for the Spring edition has now passed,  however the editorial team is happy to receive op-ed pieces on topics related to this theme.

Keep an eye out for this exciting new platform, which really is an expression of twenty-first century perspectives, dialogues, multi-media forms of knowledge dissemination and learning, and diverse identities. And let the editorial team know if you have something you’d like to submit – they  accept non-thematic articles on any area of international law year round on a rolling basis, which will be considered for ad-hoc publication, outside the publishing schedule for the theme issues

 

International Law Grrls at the table

The attempt to highlight and combat the phenomenon of the all male panel, or “manel”, as this now very popular tumblr feed does with humour, is to be applauded. But the compound effect of male experts selecting and inviting other male experts to take part in academic projects cannot be denied. If there are no – or few – senior women experts visible on panels and speaking or writing authoritatively in projects, then there are also very few pathways for younger women scholars to emerge. In one recent positive experience it became clear to me that many of the men who are culpable for creating and taking part in these “manels”, are in fact blind to this fact, and that once it is pointed out to them, they cannot help but see it all around them. These men have become great allies, a fact that gives me courage to continue to speak out rather than just complain.

A couple of years ago I made the move from international criminal law (ICL) and IHL to space law, with a particular interest in military activities in space. I assumed that because it’s a dynamic area of international law, I would escape the dominance of “manels” in ICL, and that there would be ample opportunities for me as an equal player. I was sorely disappointed in my first few months attending all sorts of events, from university, government and military  events in Washington DC, to academic and space sector conferences in Canada, to truly international events where everyone interested in space gets together.  Not only have the authoritative voices been nearly exclusively male, they are also generally very much of an older generation. There is little room for emerging voices of any kind, and among the few younger voices present, the majority are also men’s, endorsed by the “old masters”, who tend intuitively to mentor those who they recognise as similar to themselves.

The upside has been that among the women I have met who work in space law, there is a very strong camaraderie and an immediate welcoming into the network. Particularly among the senior women who, for a couple of decades, were few and far between, I have been welcomed and encouraged and supported.

So when it came to my involvement in a recent timely international project, to develop a Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Activities in Outer Space (MILAMOS), I decided to speak up where I would hope others would dare to as well. In September 2015, I had a key role in facilitating an Expert Roundtable, hosted at the McGill Institute of Air and Space Law in Montreal as a precursor to establishing the MILAMOS project. There were a few women around the table when we discussed substantive issues, but when it came to a smaller meeting on the third day, to discuss logistics and how we would move ahead, I was the only female “at the table” (there were two female graduate students taking notes). The management board of the MILAMOS were rightly focusing on how to enlist a team of experts sufficiently international to represent different views, and I hesitated a moment, wondering whether my junior status would work against me if I were to says something about gender representation as well. I decided to speak up anyway, and said in as clear a voice as I could, that it was imperative that the team also consist of women experts, if it were to be truly representative. I remember two of the members of the Management Board, one senior academic and one senior lawyer of the armed forces, looking me right in the eye and nodding with respect. They both took it very seriously and at our inaugural plenary last week, Editor in Chief Dale Stephens proudly stated that 31% of the participants committed to this three year project are women. While not as significant as gender parity would be, this is a huge leap forward.

The MILAMOS follows in the footsteps of previous manuals developed by independent international experts, as a way of clarifying the way in which IHL applies in times of armed conflicts, where technology has taken us beyond the context of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. In 1995 the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflict at Sea was developed by the San Remo Institute of International Law; in 2009 the Harvard Manual on International Law Applicable to Air and Missile Warfare was produced under the auspices of the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research; and in 2013 the Tallinn Manual on International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare was published, with the Tallinn 2.0 expected to be published towards the end of this year, both under the auspices of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. These manuals are important in clarifying the law where technology challenges traditional applications, and have been incorporated into some national military manuals, directly impacting the ways in which States engage in armed conflict.

For every single one of those previous manuals, women were in an absolute minority among the core experts, government and military representatives. As with any developing area of the law, ensuring women experts are included is simply a matter of addressing the covert (and sometimes inadvertent) sexism prolific in these fields. It is also true that including women’s voices in these projects can impact the content, by bringing different perspectives.

I am therefore honoured and excited to be working with the superstars who have been rallied together for this project, including IntLawGrrls’ own Beth van Schaak; as well as Setsuko Aoki; Laurie Blank; Emily Crawford;  Heather Harrison Dinniss; Deborah Housen-Couriel; Major Susan Trepczynski; and Melissa de Zwart. We also have the benefit of the wealth of experience that Liis Vihul brings with her as one of the group editors, from her work as project manager of the Tallinn Manual; and the super smart Laura Grego, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, leading the team of technical experts.

I suspect that the 31% female participation includes graduate students who are taking part as research assistants, and while this is often a way of hiding how few women are in senior or leadership positions, for the purposes of this Manual, diversity is to be encouraged at all levels. And though we are not yet at parity, I acknowledge the Management Board of the MILAMOS for actively seeking out women experts to contribute to this important project, knowing that it will add to the credibility of the final product.

Write On! Women in International Security

 

WIIS-logo-web-shrunk

Women in International Security (WIIS) is an excellent international network base for any women interested in political science, international law, international relations, military careers, peacekeeping, policy-making and just about anything to do with international security. It operates not only as a career network base for young women, but also as a platform for women’s voices in academia, military and government.You can read about WIIS International here.

There are 6 US regional chapters and 21 International chapters around the world. Last year I attended the WIIS Canada Annual Workshop, and I was struck by the environment of positive engagement and support from men and women alike. It stood out as one of the best conferences I have ever attended.

This year’s WIIS Canada Annual Workshop will be held in Halifax in beautiful Nova Scotia  on June 17-19. The call for papers is open until March 15, and this year’s theme is “Women in Security Across Military and Civilian Lines”. The emphasis is very much on graduate student participation, so if you are one, or know any, please consider submitting an abstract. There are (at least partial) travel funds available for participants.

A non-exhaustive list of possible topics includes:

  • The role of gender in militaries and military-to-civilian transitions
  • Sexual harassment and sexual violence in militaries
  • The experiences and well-being of female soldiers and veterans
  • Women in military families
  • Women in international development and humanitarian sectors
  • Women in peace negotiations, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping
  • UNSCR 1325 on women, peace, and security
  • Women’s peace movements
  • Women and combat
  • Women in the defence and private security industry
  • Feminist foreign policy

 

Write On! Conflicts in Space and the Rule of Law

The Institute of Air and Space Law of McGill University wishes to invite submissions for its 4th Manfred Lachs International Conference on Conflicts in Space and the Rule of Law, which will take place on May 27-28, 2016.

Deadline for abstracts: 31 January 2016

Given the increase in the number of States and non-State actors that are now active in space, and the increased reliance that the military in many countries have on space capabilities, there are growing concerns about the risk of a conflict in outer space, or incidents involving the use of outer space systems leading to a major confrontation. As space infrastructure grows more vital to global economic, business and strategic systems, the potential of space conflict therefore appears to increase.

The general public remains largely unaware of possible armed conflict in space, even though they might have devastating implications for the space systems of all nations and perhaps even for life on Earth. Therefore, in order to avoid potentially devastating conflicts and to regulate the military activities of States (and non-State actors) in outer space, there is a manifest need to clarify the applicable rules of international law and emerging codes of conduct, particularly rules governing the prohibition of the use of force, as well as the relevant rules of international humanitarian law.

This 4th Annual Manfred Lachs Conference therefore seeks presentations related to the state of the art in current and future military and security technologies and activities, the development of military policies and doctrines, the challenges and risks they represent in terms of space security, the national exploitation of space natural resources, space sustainability, and the peaceful uses of outer space for the benefit of all. In addition, we invite presentations addressing the adequacy and inadequacy of the current rules of international space law, public international law, and international humanitarian law, with respect to conflict avoidance in outer space.

For more information: https://www.mcgill.ca/iasl/channels/news/call-papers-conflicts-space-and-rule-law-257235

International Space Law in “The Martian”

So it took me a while to catch up, but I finally watched the film “The Martian”, in which the main character, Mark Watney, is left behind on Mars when the rest of his crew makes an emergency departure, assuming he is dead at the time. I expected yet another drama-filled sci-fi film, complete with intense music and an apocalyptic scenario, and instead I was treated to a story about problem solving and co-operation, accompanied by a fun disco soundtrack, since this is the only music left behind for Watney to listen to. It struck me that the book by Andy Weir, and the film based upon it, were written to inspire a new generation of space scientists and policy makers, about what’s possible if we set our minds to it. (And that even a woman might be the scientist who makes an important discovery, in the depiction of satellite operator Annie Montrose.)the-martian-movie-poster-matt-damon-600x240

As an international space lawyer I am also excited to see some elements of space law come to the surface. Without wanting to spoil the film for anyone who has not seen it, I want to comment on a few such issues which arose in the film.

Continue reading