Feminist International Relations Theory
Table of Contents
The Feminist turn in IR
While feminism firstly disregarded International Relations as a potential field of feminist studies and focused on domestic politics or socialization, an important change occured during the 1980’s. At that time, it appeared to feminist thinkers that the recurrent paraphranelia used by different IR Schools was gender-biased and that such concepts as power, domination, control and safety were typical male concepts. Furthermore, gender wasn’t absent from power games. Just thinking of the link between war and mass Rape or the link between female work and economic power would recall it.
Among the miscellaneous feminist thinkers working on IR Theories and Gender issues, some key thinkers can be mentioned such as the beginners: J. Ann Tickner, Cynthia Enloe or Jean Elshtain. J. Ann Tickner is famous for her article published in 1997: “You just don’t understand” where she analyzed the epistemological differences between positivist Schools and postmodern Schools. Cynthia Enloe is best known for her books and among them, one published in 1989 “Bananas, Beaches and Bases. Making Feminist Sense of International Politics” and one published in 1993 : The Morning After. Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War”. She attempts to reveal the importance of gender and the role of women in the theory and practice of international relations. Jean Elshtain specialized in gender in politics, Western State construction and women at war.
Three different Feminist Theories
Feminist Theory in IR can be divided into three groups: liberal, critical and cultural or essentialist.
Liberal Feminism intends to empower women and give them an equal role in society, especially in politics and at work. Its goal is to insure complete Gender Equality between men and women without changing completely the way the society works or girls’ and boys’ socialization. The French Philosopher Simone de Beauvoir can be seen as one of them. This theory was also one of the first to be expressed in 18th-century Europe by the leading French feminist thinker Olympe de Gourges and its British follower Wohlstencraft. This theory focus on gender equality at work and in politics, promoting policies to insure parity in Parliament or in boards of directors. It has extended the concept of “Glass ceiling” to gender issues. In IR, liberal feminists look at women in international politics and international economics.
Following the marxist-oriented critical school, Critical Feminists want to change the society and focus on socialization. They showed not only that IR concepts are gender-biased and based on male assumptions and representations but they show the way gender is central in IR. For example, Christine Chin linked the Malaysian Modernity policies and the female domestic labour that allowed men and women from upper-classes to invest in work and in developing the country. Whithout this “woman force”, often Philippine immigrants, Malaysia couldn’t become one of the so-called new Asian “tigers”.
Cultural or Essentialist Feminism
This theory isn’t really popular among scholars because it supposed partly, contrary to what its name might mean, that women are superior than men and that the way females are socialized should be extended to males. Women would be naturally and socialy less aggressive than men. As a result, women should be more able to bringing peace to the world and eliminating violent male culture and socialization.
– Griffiths Martin, Roach Steven C., Solomon M. Scott, “Fifty Key Thinkers in International Relations”, Routledge London and New York, 2nd Edition, 2009
– True Jacqui, “Engendering international relations: What difference does second-generation feminism make?”, Working Paper 2002/1, Australian National University, Department of International Relations, Canberra, May 2002