Tag: gender and IR (page 1 of 2)

What’s an expert?

Yesterday’s post Confidence and Gender in International Relations got me thinking. The post draws on the excellent survey data from the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) project at William and Mary’s Institute for the Theory & Practice of International Relations and notes that in the snap polls conducted by the project over the last year, women international relations scholars choose the response “I don’t know” more often than their male counterparts. They conclude that structural factors such as socialization might explain this “confidence gap” between female and male respondents who possess similar levels of knowledge and expertise.

Full disclosure: I have dutifully completed several TRIP snap polls, I have often selected “I don’t know” and I am a woman. I do not lack confidence in my expertise, but I do know the limits of it, which is why I respond, “I don’t know” when asked about topics outside my realm of expertise. Continue reading

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Gender in IR, Now at the Cutting Edge

[Note: The following is a guest post by Prof. Dan Reiter of Emory University]

Joshua Goldstein wrote in the preface to his award-winning, 2001 book War and Gender that while finishing his book he “discovered a list of unfinished research projects, which I had made fifteen years ago at the end of graduate school. About ten lines down is ‘gender and war,’ with the notation ‘most interesting of all; will ruin career—wait until tenure.’” This was probably not a completely inaccurate assessment, at the time. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the study of gender and international relations was viewed by many as outside the mainstream of IR, lending itself only to post-modern and critical methods of inquiry. Fortunately, during this period scholars such as Cynthia Enloe, Ann Tickner, Spike Peterson, and others sloughed off this marginalization, producing path-breaking work on gender and IR, asking new questions, posing new theoretical answers, and crafting entirely new agendas.

The status of the study of gender and IR could not be more different today than what it was when Goldstein wrote those words in the mid-1980s, as I describe in a forthcoming Journal of Conflict Resolution article. Continue reading

Conversation Hijacking: How Not To Insert Yourself into a Conversation by Pushing a Woman Out of It

This is a guest post from Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.  She is the author of Inside the Politics of Self-determination (Oxford University Press, 2014).

I was recently at a relatively small academic conference, one that I’ve been attending for years whenever I can. The size of the meeting encourages engagement between big names and small names, grad students and professors, and across genders. It is a classic academic mixer, filled with slightly awkward people, many of whom are slightly disheveled, talking about things that are really interesting in really boring ways (to outsiders).

I started attending as a grad student and have made a number of critical personal and professional connections. In addition to getting useful feedback on my own work, this venue is a great opportunity to reconnect with people in my field and get to know some new ones. While I began as a young grad student, I am now at place where I am a (newly) senior member in the field.

After the final session one day, while people trickled out of the room, I sat down with a colleague I hadn’t seen for years. I was just hearing about a fascinating research project he’s working on when another person (another senior man in the field, though I’m not sure that matters) walked up and sat down, smiled at me but did not introduce himself and started a totally independent conversation with my colleague. I got up a few minutes later to make another meeting, but this small event stayed with me.

Continue reading

The power of mentorship: a reflection

In the Monkey Cage’s recent symposium on gender and political science,  David Lake writes how important it is that our scholarly networks become less gendered, how male scholars must make an effort to mentor women in the field.  In my view, the importance of mentorship cannot be understated.  Without the support of several scholars in security studies, not all but many of them men, I may have indeed decided that this field was not for someone like me.

In my first year of graduate school, I was beginning to see myself as more of an “IR theory” than a “security studies” student (yes, whatever that means).  But in May of 1997, our department administrator called me into her office to talk teaching assistant assignments.  “We’d like you to be a T.A. for Warner Schilling’s class,” she said.  I was thrilled, but terrified.  The course was “Weapons, Strategy, and War,” and if there was one thing I was absolutely certain about, it was that I did not know enough about weapons, or strategy, or war to be teaching anyone anything about those topics.  And, having taken this course with Schilling, I knew that this was not for the faint of heart.  I would have to guide undergraduates through the basics of shot and pike, of column and line, of counterforce and McNamara curves.  I very simply was not qualified.

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What’s Wrong with FETs? Thoughts from Gendering Global Conflict

(Note: This post is cross-posted at the Columbia University Press Authors’ Blog

Over the last couple of years, the US military has begun to employ FETs (Female Engagement Teams) in Afghanistan, characterizing their purpose as “to engage the female populace” of the country. The mission of these groups of female soldiers seems to be divided between victim services, trust building, influence seeking, and intelligence gathering. Many feminist scholars (e.g., Keally McBride and Annick T. R. Wibben) have expressed their deep concerns about both the effectiveness of FETs and the ideas about sex, gender, and warfare that their deployments suggest the US military holds.

My recent book, Gendering Global Conflict, is not about FETs specifically, but it does provide insight into this (and hopefully a number of other) problems of sex, gender, and war. It argues that, in order to understand fully how something like an FET became possible, we have to be able to see gender subordination and war-fighing as mutually constituted. Understanding that, it argues, provides insight into a number of other policy choices and theoretical assumptions in the security sector that might initially appear paradoxical when approached from a feminist perspective. The rest of this post discusses that with regard to FETs.

Continue reading

International Women’s Day: Cupcakes and Hateraid

I did not make these to destroy feminism.

Duck readers, I have a confession. I bake cupcakes. Thousands of them. I love doing it, I love icing them, I love decorating them and I really like eating them.

This is not something that I would typically share with a blog on international politics. Normally I write about things that blow up or try to calmly argue that twitter is not going to stop a war lord. But you see I am compelled. I am compelled to write in defence of cupcakes for International Women’s day.

Apparently some people think my love of cupcakes makes me a bad feminist: real feminists hate cupcakes:

Cupcakes are just so twee-ly, coyly, ‘ooh no I really shouldn’t’-ly, pink and fluffily, everything that I think feminism is not. It’s feminism-lite, feminism as consumption and ‘me time’ (grr), rather than feminism as power and politics and equal pay.

You see, this “Bun fetish deals a blow to feminism”:

Because these cupcakes – mark my words, feminists – these trendy little cupcakes are the thin end of the wedge. It will start with cupcakes and it will end in vaginoplasty.

And so – maybe you thought the ideological battle was between men and women. Or even liberal feminists and radical feminists. You’re wrong. The real debate has moved to Cupcake Feminism.

This move is not deliberate – probably not even conscious. But the pop-culture image of feminism today – as perpetuated at Ladyfests, in BUST magazine and its Craftaculars, on so-called ‘ladyblogs’ and at freshers’ fairs – is ostensibly the direct opposite of the Hairy Dyke. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call her the cupcake feminist….
Twee and retro have been seeping into feminism for a couple decades now, gaining potency. It’s all about cute dresses, felten rosettes from Etsy, knitting, kittens, vintage lamps shaped like owls, Lesley Gore. And yes – a lot of cupcakes.

Another problem with this trend towards the high-femme is that we inadvertently court the enemy. We inadvertently justify the vilification of the Hairy Dyke image, as if we were ashamed of it all along. Why are ‘fat’, ‘ugly’, ‘gay’ or ‘never-been-fucked’ still the first insults sent whistling towards the trench? What is their supposed import? To cry ‘We’re not all like that!’ only lends power. Some of us are fat/ugly/gay, some of us aren’t. So? Really, though, so what?
Mainstream society only finds cupcake feminism more palatable because it can lick off the icing and toss the rest.

These chickies want equal rights, darn it!

Look, I take these points seriously. Feminists who fought for the right to have equal pay, birth control and the idea that I could basically become whatever I wanted are uncomfortable with women “cooing” over pink fluffy things.

Tend to your cupcake lady-garden!

But I’ve never seen a woman “coo” over a cupcake. (Seriously? Who does this? Who are these anti-cupcake feminists hanging out with?! Get better friends!) I’ve seen an entire Department of Politics and International Relations devour 30 of them in under an hour. But I’ve never seen a woman making an intelligent point suddenly suffer a cupcake-lobotomy because of some buttercream.

In fact, the very reason I like baking cupcakes is that they are cheap, easy as hell and don’t take very long to make. I can make an entire batch in under an hour. It’s a fantastic way for me to be creative and then write about targeted killing. Or mark essays. Or reference letters for many of my excellent female (and male) students applying to do masters programs in their chosen fields.

Surely, the worst kind of feminism is the one that tells feminists what to do in uncompromising terms. Or the kind that perpetuates a “Hairy Dyke” vs “Cupcake Feminist” false dichotomy. Cupcakes, cupcake bakers and cupcake aficionados are not secretly trying to make feminism more palatable. To see cupcakes this way is to unthinkingly buy into the gendering of an activity – or wholeheartedly buying into a male-created stereotype without thinking about how the humble cupcake might be an act of liberation for those who partake in the cake.

I don’t consider myself to be a “Cupcake Feminist” – I’m just a feminist who likes cupcakes. I believe in questioning gender barriers AND unnecessary carbohydrates. But most importantly, I’m tired of individuals explaining to me what I am, who I am and what I can or can’t do on baseless, dated logic – whether they are feminist cupcake haters or Rick Santorum.

So I am asking you, Duck readers, this International Women’s Day – please consider ways we can rethink the gerontocratic patriarchy – and have a cupcake. These activities are not mutually exclusive. Plus I spent, like, an hour on these things.

EDIT: And for the love of cupcakes, read this excellent post by Sarah Duff at Tangerine and Cinnamon

Come to the Feminist Side! 

All Male Soldiers are Rapists and all Female Soldiers are Weak Homewreckers: Fox News on Female Soldiers


I mostly try to let Fox News polemics slide past me like water off a ducks back. It was easy to dismiss Liz Trotta’s first rant about the proposed changes to the US military, which will allow more women into front-line positions (and recognize those women who are already in these posts) but the second iteration, in which she clarifies her position (and clearly reads a diatribe from a prompter) demands another interruption to my blogging hiatus. We should start with a briefing of Liz-isms, including: “hardline feminist,” “feminist biology,” and “feminist creed.” Let’s see if these become clear after a quick view of her main arguments:
1. The women and combat issue has “never gotten a fair and open hearing” and has instead been established as a “fait accompli” by “hardline feminists.”
2. These same hardline feminists have helped to fabricate “silly and dishonest fairy tales about women’s heroism in war” to support their case for removing the exclusion.
3. Biology is destiny and that men are facing “feminist biology” and having to work with weaker women.
4. Testosterone rules in war and that in closed combat “basic instincts” take over, which put women at risk.
5. Signs of abuse within the military are all too often used to support the “never enough bureaucracy of women victims within the armed forces.”

Let’s just leave her rant about pregnant women and the desecration of the American family aside for now and work with these 5. First, the women and combat issue has received almost as many open hearings as Fox has failed Republican hosts. Liz herself cites the 1991 Senate hearing on the issue and fails to note that the policy changes she is talking about came as a result of a commission initiated by Congress. Second, Trotta cites the Jessica Lynch fabrication as evidence that women’s participation in combat more generally has been essentially ‘made up.’ The Lynch debacle is something to take note of precisely because the fairy tale it created was one of female victimhood and male heroism. Why turn to this example of military propaganda when there is other evidence of women’s participation in combat- for example, women make up 16% of the fatalities in the Iraq and Afghanistan missions and several have won medals for their contributions to combat missions in Iraq. Trotta is right on the third point in the sense that women do measure up differently than men in physical standards tests. But, as reported in a previous blog, the military chose to have sex-specific testing- not because it wanted women to have lower standards, but as part of a recognition of physical difference and the requirements needed to test job capacity rather than meet the male standard. And PS Liz, biology isn’t destiny because according to experts like Maia Goodell, over 5% of women are kicking men’s butts on physical standards tests. The AVERAGE women has less upper body strength and endurance than men, but the military often attracts and creates above average female candidates. The fourth and fifth points that Trotta makes are the most troubling. This ‘basic instinct’ argument is a thrown back to prehistoric analysis of men as incapable of controlling their drive and their genitalia. The argument is insulting to men and ignores subsequent evidence that women and men can work in close proximity without men feeling obliged to rape. As for the sexual violence statistics- surely this is evidence of a major gender problem within the military rather than proof that women need to be kept out.
How did we get here Liz (I feel like we’re on a first name basis since you call feminists whatever you want)? What is your objective? Who are these crazy hardline feminists you speak of and why are you so cynical and dismissive of a “feminist creed” focused on “the right to choose, rights over one’s body etc” as you put it? Why are you and other Republicans like Santorum making this about family values rather than seeing it as a sign the changing reality of the US military (and others)? Australia, Canada and 12 other countries have NO restrictions on women in combat roles and the family structure has not disappeared, men do not rape every female in their proximity, and feminists have not overrun the countries with their irrational cries for respect, rights, and recognition.

Whitney Houston, Chris Brown, and Grammy Irony


image taken from Jezebel.com

This Sunday the 2012 Grammy Awards attracted more attention than normal due to the untimely passing of Whitney Houston on the eve of the awards show.
During the Sunday night event, numerous artists dedicated their award to Houston or mentioned her amazing talents and the loss her death will mean to the industry.
Interestingly, running counter to this somber dedication theme of the evening was a notable counter story: the ordained comeback of Chris Brown’s career. Chris Brown was made infamous in 2009 when he was charged with beating his then girlfriend Rihanna. Images of a brutalized Rihanna surfaced across the web and Brown’s skyrocketing career was effectively snuffed out with big names in the business like Jay-Z and Kanye refusing to associate with the artist.
But that was 2009 and this is 2012. Since the incident Brown has had a subsequent album that rose to the top of the charts. He’s back in favor with key R&B players, and is largely viewed as one of R&B’s sexiest males (Glamour.com nominated him the hottest male solo artist in 2010).
The 360 turn-around for Brown culminated at the Grammys on Sunday, where he performed alongside the other industry top-players, and won for best R&B album.
There are several troubling aspects of these counter-themes to Grammys.
First, that a man who was publicly associated with domestic abuse would be so generously celebrated at the same awards show that made tribute to Whitney Houston, a woman who herself suffered a public battle with domestic abuse from her former husband Bobby Brown.
Second, the music industry’s general amnesia or hypocritical acceptance of an artist it chose to shun just three years ago- what about all the hype in 2009 about sending a message about violence and respecting women?
Finally, what’s most concerning has been some of the unexpected responses to, and defense of, Chris Brown’s return- including a surge in women not only supporting him, but also sending tweets about their desire to ‘be beaten’ by him (see the following summary of tweets if you want to be completely dismayed).
What does this all mean about the state of domestic abuse generally, and the music industry and its promotion of womanizing, degrading, and violent lyrics and artists? Does no one connect Houston’s drug abuse to her experience of domestic abuse and her tumultuous private life? I don’t look to awards shows to stand as moral beacons, but I do think it is worth considering these counter Grammy narratives as a signal of the state of popular culture and gender relations at the moment.

The Aussie Military Accepts GI Janes into the Ranks


While the US and UK continue to debate the ways that women impact cohesion and combat effectiveness, effective immediately, the Australian military will allow women to participate in combat roles. Australia joins a small group of countries that have removed combat restrictions for women, which includes Canada, New Zealand, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Norway, Denmark, France, Serbia, Israel and Switzerland.

Several individuals within the Australian Defence Forces I’ve spoken to over the last year have indicated that this policy change has been a long-time coming. Defence Minister Stephen Smith came out several months ago indicating his support for the policy change– even in the face of national concern and criticism. Despite warning signals from the department of defence, several national media outlets and opposition leaders are calling the policy a gimmick and an attempt to distract attention from recent sex scandals associated with the military, including the now infamous ‘skype scandal’ involving the un-consented broadcasting of a sexual encounter within a military academy. Neil James of the Australian Defence Association said that the policy ‘jumped the gun’ and warned that there could be more female casualties if women were allowed to serve in all combat roles.

One former naval officer told ABC radio that she didn’t expect many women to meet the physical requirements for some of these positions but that “it just has to be done, and I think Australia’s very brave to do this.”

The impact this policy change will have on the Australian military and its ability to recruit and retain women can only be measured in time. But if other military’s experiences of gender integration are any indication, this policy will largely be forgotten in a few months and women who meet the physical requirements will enter these roles with little fanfare. Perhaps this renewed debate will spark attention back in the US, where policy-makers and the US government still cling to weak arguments about the need to keep women out of combat.

Post-revolution Walk of Shame in Libya: women asked to ‘go home’ in the afterglow of the revolution


The exciting and tumultuous eve of the revolution in Libya has achieved many of its objectives: the power balance has swung in the rebel’s favor, many national governments around the world now recognize the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the legitimate leadership, and most (though not all) of the country is under their control.

In many ways, this week can be described as ‘the morning after’ the revolution in Libya. Rebels drunk on gun battles are now waking up with adrenaline hang-overs to the realities of post-revolution Libya. There’s mortar rounds everywhere, hundreds of displaced Libyans are crashing indefinitely in Tripoli, and- perhaps worst of all- Cameron and Zarkosy showed up way too early, keen to help get the revolutionary council on its feet/ensure their financial interests.

In keeping with classic ‘morning after’ politics, men are waking up with only hazy memories of which women were at the party and what they did to contribute to the revolution. The TNC are trying to get their house in order for Cameron and Zarkosy as well as for the international media and for some reason these women just keep hanging around asking about what kind of future there is for them together, wanting some kind of commitment. The TNC’s responses so far reminds me of the scene in the movie Bridesmaids when Jon Hamm’s character turns to Kristen Wiig after a one night stand and says “I really want you to leave, but I don’t want to sound like a dick.”

Women supported the revolution in Libya in countless ways- from hiding and feeding rebel fighters to taking up arms themselves– yet now that the post-revolution glow has worn off, the TNC seems to be asking women to take their walk of shame. The party is over, and this morning, the Transitional National Council has just one woman. Will the rest of the women who sacrificed for the movement- taking up new roles, and fighting for political change- be asked to get out of the political bedroom? Can the TNC really expect to rebuild Libya and move forward without acknowledging the significance of women’s role in the movement?

Unfortunately, women’s walk of shame post-conflict or post-revolution is all too familiar. Women have struggled to maintain a significant voice in the new Egypt; similarly, women who fought as soldiers within rebel forces in countries like Sierra Leone and Angola often found themselves left out of post-conflict political agenda setting. For these women, as is likely for many Libyan women, the last thing desirable post-conflict/revolution is a ‘return to normal.’ For women, this means giving up any power gained and fitting themselves back into traditional patriarchal gender hierarchies. The TNC and the international community must stop the pattern of revolutionary one-night stands and work not only to acknowledge women’s role in the political movement, but also to secure political space for women as Libya faces a new day.

Assessing the Arguments Against GI Jane II: Unpacking the Cohesion Hypothesis

In my post last week I talked about the three main arguments against removing the combat exclusion for women: the physical standards argument, the moral argument, and the cohesion hypothesis. My main point was that with increased research on physical standards, the intangibility of the moral argument, and increased evidence that women already are in combat, the cohesion hypothesis remains as the most significant set of arguments against GI Janes.

There are two main premises to the cohesion hypothesis: 1. cohesion is causally linked to group (in this case military unit) performance; 2. women negatively impact cohesion and thereby negatively impact troop effectiveness.

The trouble with these two premises is that they both have been largely discounted by researchers. In her 1998 article on the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in International Security, Elizabeth Kier concludes that “the results from more than five decades of research in group dynamics, organizational behaviour, small-group research, sports psychology, social psychology, military history, and military sociology challenge the proposition that primary group unit cohesion enhances military performance.” Some research even indicates that high levels of cohesion can be detrimental to military performance as it results in conformity, groupthink, and a lack of adaptability. Many of the studies on cohesion and the military find that leadership and task- not social- cohesion have a greater impact on performance than social cohesion.

In terms of the second premise, as mentioned in the last post RAND’s major study on cohesion in 1997 found that women don’t impact group performance or military readiness. Subsequent research has reconfirmed this conclusion.

In addition to shaky (at best) premises, another major problem with the cohesion hypothesis is that it is never clear what exactly is meant by cohesion within the military context. In hopes of finding answers to this puzzle I went on a wild goose chase for cohesion clarity.



Sifting through research on social cohesion in the military I found myself sinking in masses of studies on social cohesion, citizenship and multiculturalism, group dynamics, as well as military studies on cohesion. It turns out that social cohesion is the meaningless catchphrase of the moment (I think it may have even eclipsed ’empowerment’ and ‘deliberative democracy’). Social cohesion has been used to explain the London riots, failed and successful immigration policies, winning sports team dynamics, as well as the need to keep women out of combat roles. Cohesion has also been defined as everything from: shared norms, ‘liking’ one another, commitment to a group, bonding, and trust. So how can one vague concept explain such wide-ranging and disparate policy decisions and social dynamics?

There is little substance to the cohesion hypothesis, almost no empirical evidence supporting it, and even the different forces with the US military seem to define and measure cohesion differently. I certainly don’t have the answer, but it does seem that in most contexts it is employed- especially in discussions of migrant integration, multiculturalism, and the combat exclusion- ‘cohesion’ is a red herring that distracts from attention to deeper issues of discrimination and cultural bias. In the case of the US military, cohesion is a smoke and mirrors debate that will persist until sexist attitudes and gender discrimination are addressed.

Assessing the Arguments Against GI Jane: The Combat Exclusion for Women Part I



As American troops trickle back from Iraq and-eventually- Afghanistan, it seems like the perfect time to examine the lessons learned from the last decade of warfare. One of the policies requiring a review is the combat exclusion for women. Although most positions within the US forces have been opened up to women over the last 50 years, there has been adamant efforts to sustain rules which prohibit women from joining the so-called front lines of conflict in combat roles. Many of the remaining justifications for this exclusion are based on expired research (or no research at all), and outdated or irrelevant assumptions about military operations (including the idea of a clear front line).

First, some quick facts: over 130 women have died in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom; women are excluded from 9% of all army roles, and 30% of active duty roles and 38% of marine positions are closed to women; two servicewomen have been awarded the Silver Star- the military’s third highest honor for valor in combat.

The arguments for sustaining the exclusion can be divided into three categories: physical standards, the moral argument, and the cohesion hypothesis.

The focus on physical standards is a legitimate one. Women and men are just different physically, particularly in terms of body fat and upper body strength- not to mention the fact that women menstruate and get pregnant. There are no feminist arguments that can undo these differences. There are a couple of worthwhile considerations here: 1. standards have increasingly been adjusted in training to recognize the difference in male and female bodies 2. there is growing research indicating that a single standard isn’t necessary for operational effectiveness 3. some research shows that tasks can be adapted (using two people to lift, for example) to allow women to succeed.



The second argument against women in combat is less tangible and certainly impossible to measure- the moral argument. This is the position that women simply ‘don’t belong’ in combat. It may seem like this would be irrelevant to policy-makers; however, in senate hearings and in much of the literature on the combat exclusion this position emerges. A quote from Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff summarizes this position, “I just can’t get over this feeling of old men ordering young women into combat…I have a gut-based hang-up there. And it doesn’t make a lot of sense in every way. I apologize for it.” The moral argument is an important one to take notice of. Research and the interviewee’s response indicate the existence of deeply embedded beliefs about men and women’s valid place during conflict. In many ways it is difficult to disentangle the moral argument from the physical standards and the cohesion hypothesis as these embedded beliefs seem to inform and influence much of the debates surrounding women’s participation in combat.

The final, and perhaps most significant, argument for keeping women out of combat roles is the cohesion argument. Or, what I call the cohesion hypothesis. According to this position, the presence of women affects the emotional bonds, friendships, and trust amongst troops and therefore jeopardizes the overall effectiveness of military units. The cohesion hypothesis is used by other defense forces across the world, and was also used to support Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. There are a couple of difficulties with the cohesion hypothesis: 1. cohesion is difficult to define and measure. In military scholarship it is defined as anything from commitment to a shared mission, trust, bonds, to ‘liking’ one another. As a result, it has become nearly impossible to test the cohesion hypothesis conclusively. 2. partially as a result of disparate definitions and partially as a result of the lack of test population, research on cohesion is all over the map when it comes to combat cohesion women.

RAND did a large study on women’s impact on cohesion in non-combat units, concluding that it was largely leadership, not the presence of women, that impacted cohesion. Despite some research indicating that women don’t spoil cohesion, it is impossible to conclusively determine if women would spoil cohesion in combat units. As the 1992 Presidential Commission looking at women in military found, “[t]here are no authoritative military studies of mixed-gender ground combat cohesion, since available cohesion research has been conducted among male-only ground combat units.”

The arguments against so-called GI Janes seem to defy the reality that women have been and are operating in dangerous, physically demanding roles in the US forces. Arguments about cohesion and standards were used to exclude African Americans and homosexuals from the US forces. These arguments were dropped and largely discredited as soon as policies changed, yet they continue to be used to exclude women from many positions with the US forces. Is the US military ready to open all positions to women? Will the removal of the combat exclusion be on the table for policy makers over the next 5 years?

Best exam question EVER!



I know it is hard to believe, but while most of the academic world is enjoying the last few weeks of university break, down under in Kiwi-land we’re in the thick of the academic year. This year I tried out some new essay questions for my Gender and Post-Conflict Development and Feminist International Relations courses and I have to say- I created the best essay question ever. The suspense is killing you right? Here it is:

You’ve been asked to help create a realistic video game that illustrates women’s experiences of war and insecurity. Referring to readings covered in class, what types of activities, challenges, and events would you include in the game? How do you think the public would respond to your game?

The best part about this question has been the incredible debates and discussions it created in class and the amazing answers students came up with. I had to share a couple.

One student designed the game to follow a family forced to flee their village. The family faces numerous challenges at each level of the game, including finding food and daily necessities through the black market, hiding from rebel attacks, and eventually joining and adapting to life in a refugee camp.

Another student created a female soldier character that survives war by joining in atrocities such as amputations. In the last phase of the game the player has to find a way to get included in the disarmament process- at the disarmament camps the female soldier character has to avoid sexual abuse and physical violence. Another student gives the player the option to choose from the following characters: a woman caught in a civil war in East Africa and a Western woman fighting within a peacekeeping unit. Both women face different sets of obstacles- including the threat of sexual violence from their comrades.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The question was meant to be thought provoking (and quite frankly was a last ditch effort to create an exam that I thought might be more interesting to grade!). There were no limits to the ideas on how to create a game, but when it came to thinking about how audiences would respond to such a ‘realistic’ video games students were less enthusiastic. I guess it is worth asking: Would a truly realistic war video game, one that represented men and women’s experiences of war- complete with sexual violence, food scarcity, amputations, and refugee flows- flop? No answers here, but would love to start a discussion. Or to hear what your video game would look like.

Friday Nerd Blogging: GoT IR?

I was recently asked whether Game of Thrones was going to become “the cult IR series of 2011.” My initial response, spouted on a FB update was, “it remains to be seen,” not least since by next Spring GoT will of course be competing with Blood and Chrome.)

As of today, however, “seen” it has clearly been, with multiple IR bloggers posting on various “IRGoT” themes. So I guess that answers that. We can look forward to a veritable bevy of GoT-blogging among IR types for the foreseeable future.

OK, let’s see, Steve suspects the show can best be viewed through the lens of cognitive psychology, and Dan thinks it demonstrates the timeless wisdom of realism. Pablo K, however, in a remarkable, wide-ranging piece at The Disorder of Things takes a more critical view, interrogating gender and racial imagery in Season One with all the tenderness of Gregor Clegane:
The most common female figure is that of the whore; the most common male one a loyal killer. Physically weak, generically meek, hopelessly devoted to their menfolk, the women of Westeros cower and sob at violence and prove useless at the calculations of politics. Catelyn Stark provokes outright war by bowing to her maternal urges and kidnapping Tyrion Lannister on slim evidence that he tried to kill her son, a decision unlikely to have been endorsed had she consulted with her husband, notorious as he is for bad decisions. Cersei Lannister, as Queen of the realm, fares better, managing to manoeuvre her son onto the throne, at which point he becomes a power-mad sociopath, forcing Tywin Lannister to send his own imp son to the capital to pick up the pieces and rule from behind the scenes. Which leaves Arya Stark, everyone’s favourite tomboy, protected from the solid binaries of Man and Woman by the relatively ungendered space of girlness. Thin and still flat-chested, she is able to pass, Shakespeare-like, as a boy. For now.

Married off to Drogo as the bargaining chip for his army, Daenerys Targaryen becomes the sock-poppet for a Game Of Thrones version of feminism… In a parody of anti-rape politics, it requires the authority of this high-born Queen to prevent the conquering Dothraki army from sexually violating the wives, mothers and daughters of the conquered… Wilful in spite of her relative fragility, Daenerys derives her determination from the male heir inside her… empowered by protective feminine impulses over her precious boy cargo, she transcends the pliant object we first encounter to become a commander of men, but only so long as she can claim to speak for their true Lord (wait until I tell Drogo about this!)

Burn! [Sorry…] Seriously, read the whole thing. The discussion of the heavily racialized Dothraki is pretty spot-on – “like Klingons without technology. Oh, and they’re quite swarthy.” The comments thread is also to be studied closely.

I do however see a few things differently from Pablo in terms of gender. I may develop a longer and more coherent essay on feminisms in GoT in due course (this one was drafted at 2am), but here are four initial thoughts:
1) Any discussion of gender in GoT needs to closely examine men as well as women. (To give only the most obvious example, the institution of bastardism is as fundamental to social relations in the show as are male/female hierarchies.) And let’s not exaggerate: the most common male character is not a “loyal killer,” it is (probably) a conflicted witness to killing. Of course there are loyal killers aplenty, but even more disloyal killers plus all manner of men and boys trying to avoid the profession: spies, cravens, eunuchs, squires, metal-smiths, clerks, and capitalists. And the male characters with whom we are most allowed to identify are those who embody an ambivalence toward violence and aim to wield it, if at all, justly. (That Martin means it this way is evident from the way he organizes his book chapters.) There is more complexity here than meets the eye.
2) The most common female character is certainly not the whore (Ros, Shae). It is the political figure – queens (Cersei, Daenerys), ladies of the realm (Catelyn, Lysa), or princesses (Sansa, Arya). But more importantly, it is simplistic to suggest that the female characters all follow any single gender archetype – different “ladies” do different things with their status and power, and even the “whores” are multi-dimensional. I see tremendous and fascinating variation in the way women are portrayed and their connections to gender and politics generally in their societies.
3) Pedagogically, one can usefully distinguish strong women from feminist characters in the show, and also different models of feminism with which Martin toys: i.e., there is not “a Game of Thrones version of feminism” but rather different representations of different feminisms that have analogues in global politics. First, there are many strong, smart women here – I certainly count Cersei and Catelyn among them, if not Sansa and Lysa – but this doesn’t necessarily make them feminist characters (in my view) since their frame of reference has nothing to do with overturning gender hierarchies. Arya, however, does embody a liberal feminist discourse: she insists on the right to take on ‘male’ roles but resists denying her own sex in order to do so. “Passing as a boy” is not her modus operandi but rather a strategy imposed on her, an eventual, temporary nod to traditional norms in a desperate bid for survival.
4) Consider Daenerys by comparison. I continue to disagree that Dany’s character simply reflects and reifies patriarchal norms. She does not, first of all, derive her determination from her male fetus, but rather from the friendship and mentorship of women who surround her (especially her handmaiden and later, at least for a time, a female priestess/healer), as well as the respect of powerful men (she has no time for those who disrespect her – her brother, Drogo’s men, duplicitous merchants).
True, it’s vital to interrogate what peculiar kind of gender ideology she represents. I would argue that Dany, in contrast both with Arya’s rejection of conventional gender norms and Cersei/Catelyn’s indifference to them, represents, for want of a more appropriate term, “state feminism” – her strategy is to accept and embody patriarchal gender archetypes long enough to achieve insider credibility. She then uses the formal power this gives her to engage tribal governors in the service of feminist ends, seeking common cause with other women across clan boundaries and attempting to alter the violent gender norms of her new society marginally in their favor, without questioning its foundations. But her embedded position within a violent, gendered governance structure means she can take this agenda only so far. Ultimately, Dany fails to question, empathize and comprehend the perspective of women with a different standpoint, so her best intentions turn on her and on the objects of her pity. Hers turns out to be the neo-colonial feminism of the white northerner bent on rescuing the oppressed (and in so doing obfuscating her society’s brutality to its ‘own women) rather than seeking to understand them. Failing in this effort this she turns oppressor to reconsolidate her own power base against the “other.”
Is this a patriarchy-affirming narrative? Certainly it is a narrative of patriarchy, illustrating its capacity to divide women against themselves despite their best intentions. But it is also a story of female agency and of identities that cut across and transcend sex and gender. The Maegi’s death represents the post-colonial feminist lesson about the limits of state/colonial feminism. We are meant to be sickened and shamed by it, and to be reminded that neither women nor feminism should be equated with nonviolence. The denouement of this chapter in Dothraki history should not be interpreted itself as being blindly orientalist or patriarchal but as tragically illustrative of the promise and pitfall of different feminist strategies.
Now, Pablo K would (I think) respond as follows:…
fiction is an important stage for tropes of war, diplomacy, sex and race, not least because we’re freed to engage in a more fulsome emotional investment precisely because it’s not real. Excepting professional researchers, activists and inveterate news addicts, the time spent with such representations outstrips that devoted to engaging them in the realm of contemporary politics.

Maybe. However since I’m thinking about this series primarily as a pedagogical tool, I hope I can be forgiven for thinking the series is – or can be understood as – more subversive than it means to appear. Thoughts?

*Though in fairness, the HBO version of Dany and Drogo’s first ride is very different than the book version.

Feminist IR 101, Post #10, Feminist Scholarly Community

One of my favorite characterization of feminist theorizing is in Sarah Brown’s 1988 Millennium article, where she calls feminist work “fundamentally a political act of commitment to understanding the world from a perspective of the socially subjugated” (p.472). From this and other reading in feminist theory and praxis, I’ve always seen feminism as not just an intellectual interest in gender as a force in global politics, but also as a politics of knowledge, and a politics of scholarship. As a politics of knowledge, to me, it is a commitment to multiple knowledges, perspective, (inter)subjectivity, and changing the power dynamics of science.

As a politics of scholarship, I’ve always thought that there are ways feminist thought suggest scholars treat each other and each other’s research. I’ve articulated it as a research claim before: “I make an ontological, epistemological, and methodological choice that my process of knowledge-acquisition is constructive in nature … in this spirit, I explicitly choose not to emphasize debates between or among feminisms. Instead, … I note where feminisms disagree, but focus on how those disagreements can be seen as contributing to a more complete understanding of political situations rather than as confounding knowledge.” (Gender, Justice, and the Wars in Iraq, p.41).

In theory, this has meant to me that my purpose in feminist theorizing is solidaristic, bridge-building, and pluralistic. In Hayward Alker’s terms, I’ve seen the substance of feminist IR in the debates, discussions, and disagreements. In Christine Sylvester’s terms, I’ve seen it as art. In my terms, I’ve embraced feminist IR theories as multiple.

But I think that feminist research process is more than about how one writes one’s research. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what feminist theory tells one about how to be a professor, a scholar, and a political scientist, but rarely articulated it. When I have, I’ve called it a “pay it forward” idea of how to operate in the academic community. But what does that mean, and how do I see it as explicitly (and necessarily) feminists?


If feminist IR theory is critical of the violent and competitive nature of the international system which selects for dominance, masculinity, and power-over, feminist IR theorists should be critical of the cut-throat and competitive nature of the academic pursuit of international relations, which selects for dominance, masculinity, and power-over. If feminists suggest that, instead of complicity with the competitive international system, feminisms suggest alternative policy strategies – including but not limited to empathy and care, then feminisms might suggest that instead of complicity with the competitive academic system, we should live and experience our careers with empathy and care. If feminisms suggest drawing attention away from the traditional halls of political power (and their necessary narrowness) in studying global politics, feminisms might also suggest drawing attention away from the traditional halls of scholarly power (and their necessary narrowness). If feminisms suggest that they have an inherent political commitment to the margins of global politics, they might also have a commitment to the margins of academia – to people traditionally disempowered, either by theoretical/methodological proclivity (outside the mainstream), institution, location (around the world), or position (graduate student, adjunct faculty, junior faculty, teaching faculty, etc.)

If the feminist political movement has talked about feminisms as a community, working together to show and correct gender subordination; feminist research is a community, working together to show and correct gender subordination in global politics; and being a feminist scholar is being part of a community, working together to show and correct gender subordination in academic political science and international relations.

There are those who will say that their main concern isn’t the academic community – in fact, after years or decades of the community’s mistreatment, masculinism, and exclusivity – who needs it? And the real world needs feminism more, right? At the same time, that logic, however true, can often serve as an excuse for not “practicing what feminist theory preaches” (or some other cliche like that) within the academic community. And perhaps for good reason – it is much easier to write about empathizing with potential enemies in far away lands that it is to empathize with people who treat you poorly in an academic context. It is much easier to talk about sacrificing self-interest for the good of others and/or a community in a distant country than it is to sacrifice self-interest for the good of others and/or a community in our lives and in our careers.

And, certainly (and before I get 1000 comments about it), I haven’t been flawless at practicing what feminisms preach in my career. I’ve tried to take a solidaristic view of feminist theory, to put advancing the needs of the collective over advancing my needs, to work to care for others – but I have been far from perfect at it. But I didn’t write this post to say I was good at it, or to hold myself up as an example. Instead, I wrote it because I truly believe feminist theorizing tells us a lot of good stuff about global politics, but it also tells us, perhaps through that good stuff, a lot of good stuff about how to be scholars of international politics. And perhaps I wanted to remind many – most of all, myself – of that enduring legacy that our intellectual work has in instructing our day-to-day work.

Feminist IR 101, Post #9, Transforming IR

Twenty years ago, Robert Keohane proclaimed that “feminist standpoint theory provides a particularly promising starting-point for the development of feminist international relations theory.” From the feminist side, Sandra Whitworth declared that “the next stage of international relations theory will not be one that is merely critical, but one which is critical and feminist.” Ann Tickner set upon a project to “de-gender” International Relations as a field.

Even then, though, there were differences of opinions: Fred Halliday explained that “it is not as if consideration of gender will alter the teaching and research of international relations as a whole” and expressed concern that feminists wanting to fundamentally alter the world of the mainstream may “overstate the case” for gender-based approaches. Instead, feminists insist that their work “does not simply ‘add’ gender to an unchanged object of study … rather, the gendering of IR has forced, and continues to force, a more radical rethinking of what properly constitutes I/international R/relations to begin with, transforming the boundaries and conceptual basis of IR” (see discussion by Judith Squires and Jutta Weldes).

In the intervening 20 years, feminist IR has developed into the vibrant research program that I have been describing in this series of posts. The Feminist Theory and Gender Studies section of International Studies Association is one of its most vibrant, and puts together 50-60 panels at each annual conference. Feminist work now appears on many syllabi and is represented at many (if not most) conferences. Still, there remain tensions between IR as a discipline and feminist IR – not least the ones that inspired this series of post, given poor communication in the review process at an elite journal in the field. Feminists like Jill Steans have argued that “ultimately, the legitimacy of feminist work will only be recognized as a part of the discipline if the discipline is rethought in ways that disturb the ‘existing boundaries of both what we claim to be relevant in international politics and what we assume to be legitimate ways of constructing knowledge about the world’” (citing Marysia Zalewski).

As Ann Tickner tells us, there are “different realities or ontologies that feminists and non-feminists see when they write about international politics.”
In other words, feminist IR should not just be a part of IR, but should transform it. But what would that look like?

To say I have no idea would be an overstatement, I suppose – but the sort of drama appropriate to the blogosphere, perhaps.

After all, gender has been on the political agenda of most state governments, as well as the United Nations Security Council, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, and a number of other multinational governmental bodies. Feminist theorizing had focused on and incorporated that reality into building on, critiquing, and reformulating theorizing about global politics through feminist lenses. Feminists have provided evidence that gender is a pervasive power structure in global politics, guiding divisions of power, violence, labor, and resources and playing a key role in the preservation of race, class, sexual, and national divisions in global politics.

But what would re-theorizing IR through those lenses look like? We’ve done a fair amount of this work, but it hasn’t made its way into the mainstream of IR (in research or in classrooms) as pervasively as perhaps it might. For example, think about explaining feminist IR to students: what if one wasn’t doing it on “gender week” or in a “gender and IR” class, and what if “gender” wasn’t just a chapter in an IR text that you have to take another course to learn about.

Instead, if IR is fundamentally different when viewed through feminist lenses, and, as feminists claim, you cannot think about IR without thinking about gender – that is both a comprehensive and transformative statement. I have been thinking about transforming IR as a pedagogical mission primarily, and as a research mission secondarily. At a time when there is a lot of controversy in feminist IR about whether or not it is worthwhile to engage IR as a discipline, and when IR as a discipline continues to marginalize feminist work, I argue not only for engagement, but for increasing the intensity of that engagement.

What if feminists rewrote and rethought IR theory, starting on its terms? (see, e.g., Lauren Wilcox’s recent article in Security Studies) And what if IR actually read that work, taking it on its own epistemological and ontological terms? (here’s hoping there’s a great example to replace this parenthetical soon). This is not the only work of feminist IR, or even work that should hold a privileged position within feminist IR, but I think it is important.

In brief example: There is a significant research program (certainly too significant to cite individually here) on dyadic approaches to the causes of wars – interested in regime type, economic engagement, bargaining pathologies, and enduring rivalries – features of the relationships between states. Mainstream IR uses that term – “relationships” – something we all have (and know are more complex than person-type, economic interdependence, communication break-downs, and enduring rivalries) – but don’t really think about as we analyze “dyadic relationships” and war(s). Something as simple as asking – what would a feminist analysis of how “dyadic relationships” between states influence the likelihood of war look like? – opens up a productive avenue not only for intellectual exploration but engagement with (and transformation of) IR.

Among common definitions of the word “relate” are “associate or connect,” “have relation,” “social or sympathetic relationship with person or thing,” “to show or establish logical or causal connection between,” and “to find or show a connection.” In this spirit, a “relationship” is a “connection, association, or involvement,” “an emotional or other connection,” “having dealings with each other,” and “the mutual dealings, connections, or feelings that exist between two parties, countries, people, etc.” A couple of properties of relating and having relationships recur: they are bi-directional, interdependent/mutual, connected, have an emotional dimension, and can be among individuals or other entities. Feminists have often thought about global politics this way – as relational, as interdependent, as sensed/sensual.

A relationship, then, between states includes not only their relative or absolute economic strength, their regime types, or their state self-identities. It is not only one side relating to the other, which in turn relates to the first state; instead, it is states relating with each other, in context of other relationships, and constituting each others’ identities. It is not a result, but a process and a journey, where, often it is the sharing, the interpretation, and the principled opposition of these often antagonistic approaches …that truly constitute dialogue. Taking this definition of relating, and recognizing that many relationships are fundamentally gendered, feminisms looking at the dyadic causes of war might not only see different boundaries and issues than many traditional theories, but also different causal factors. The different boundaries include a focus not only on the properties of each state, but on relations international, broadly interpreted and a broader understanding of who is in and impacted by wars, where traditional dyadic approaches normally focus not only on states but “great states.”

While this is by no means a complete exploration, it perhaps lays some groundwork for transformative engagement and dialogue – something that might not only make feminist IR comprehensible to students, but also to those elite journal reviewers I started this series of posts to pick on.

Feminist IR 101, Post #8, Human Rights

Controversial feminist lawyer Catherine MacKinnon titled her latest book Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues. MacKinnon was, of course, referring to a feminist campaign to have women’s rights recognized as human rights (see, e.g., the work of Charlotte Bunch) …but what struck me about this title is the normalcy it implies – like, questioning women’s humanity (and thus their eligibility for human rights) is as commonplace as any other international dialogue.

Feminist work on human rights has been very diverse – and by no means only a project of Feminist IR. Women, and feminist groups, have been interested in human rights generally and women’s human rights specifically for as long as we have a history of those organizations existing. Somewhat unlike the study of war through feminist lenses, feminist IR is not pioneering into new territory when it thinks about human rights issues. So what is feminist IR work on human rights? And why does it matter?


A caveat before exploring this question in more detail: of course, the boundaries between “feminist IR” and feminist work in political science more generally, or even between feminist work in political science and “feminist theory” or “gender studies” or “women’s studies” or even “queer studies” is not as clear or sticky as I draw it here for illustrative purposes. At the same time, I want to be clear in making the argument that feminist IR approaches not only have something to contribute to IR’s understanding of human rights but also to feminist theorizing about women’s rights as human rights.

Since this post is aimed largely at an IR audience, though, I’ll focus on the latter: what can feminist IR tell us about human rights? Feminist IR work has done a lot of thinking how human rights are conceptualized internationally. Feminist IR scholars have demonstrated that, often, when it comes to gender issues, universal international agreements about what humans should be provided devolve into relativist “exceptions” to how women ought to be treated to accommodate cultural difference. Likewise, feminist analysis has demonstrated that international discourses often omit or even countermand “human rights” which might be important to women, including but not limited to reproductive rights, prenatal health care, sexual rights, and rights associated with (often forced) migration. Feminist work has shown that women are often not (in legal terms) “similarly situated” to men on a host of other human rights issues – they are differently affected by labor rights issues, citizenship rights issues, domestic violence issues, and the like.

That empirical work has led feminists to be at once critical of unreflected notions of human rights (particularly from a postcolonial perspective) and concerned with the empirical realities of women’s lives, especially as they are constantly impacted by gender subordination. A growing feminist literature, then, tries to grapple with (in Brooke Ackerly’s words), human rights in a world of difference. Feminist work like Ackerly’s looks to navigate a space for a universal conception of human rights through feminist lenses paying attention to difference and diversity with methodological rigor and precision.

This work through gendered lenses has implications not only for the meaning of human rights, but also the politics of human rights advocacy and enforcement; the laws that provide for and/or inhibit human rights; advocacy for ending gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and other subordinations; and broader epistemological and ontological assumptions about the role of people in global politics.

So what does this mean if you are asked to read or review feminist work on human rights? While the implications as a whole are too broad to discuss, I will lay out a couple of ideas that might help in digesting this work from an unfamiliar perspective. First, it is not a methodological mistake or cognitive error when feminist work on human rights, when focusing on women’s human rights or women’s rights as human rights, does not compare women to men. Instead, the focus on women (as embodied and as performed) is often intentional – women as women are often the subjects of feminist work on human rights. A great example I just read is a book called Terrorizing Women, edited by Rosa-Linda Fregoso and Cynthia Bejarano, which looks at the practice of feminicide (the killing of women based on gendered power relations) in Latin America. The object of study was the violation of women’s rights; a comparison to men, when it happened, was not only politically but methodologically secondary.

Second, gender-neutral discourses of human rights often have gendered implications. Feminist scholars have often looked beyond the letter of the law to how the law is meant, performed, or practiced to see that the omission of gender words doesn’t make gender irrelevant. For example, one might deduce from the fact that the word “women” appears only twice in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (both as a part of the phrase “men and women”), a gender analysis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is uncalled for, since gender is irrelevant to it. Feminist analyses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however, have showed that the Declaration is deeply gender biased, and nowhere more than in its omission of gender-specific language or acknowledgment of gender subordination. So feminist work on human rights that analyzes documents, laws, or practices that don’t mention gender isn’t crazy – it is, in fact, a very important part of thinking about how gender and human rights interact. This is related to, in Hilary Charlesworth’s terms, searching for silences.

Perhaps finally for this post, feminist IR work on human rights is not just about women and gender. Instead, feminist work includes analyses of race, gender, and nationality – looking at the different axes across which human rights issues impact, and are impacted by those factors. For example, feminists like Anne McClintock have shown that women’s symbolic place in (gendered) nationalisms has negative implications for women’s reproductive rights. Laura Shepherd and I just finished an article examining the ways that cisprivilege is a key logic of contemporary airport security practices, and the rights of trans- people are often violated at airports in the name of anti-terrorism.

Feminist IR 101, Post #7, Political Economy and Globalization

Why is it that women represent 70% of the world’s people living in poverty? What does it mean to have economic stability? How do international structures interact with local structures to produce or disturb that stability? Is economic stability something people (or states) only gain at the expense of others? Are sex trafficking, migration patterns, home-based work, and base economies, related? If so, what does gender have to do with it? These are some of the questions feminist IR political economists ask.

Women are the majority of people in poverty around the world. The percentage of women living in rural areas who can be classified as impoverished is actually rising, not dropping. Women who work for wages are generally poorly paid, and many women do home, care, and agricultural work that goes unpaid. Women have not been left out of the economic reforms planned by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, but their gender is often invisible to the planners and implementers of these policies.

Feminist perspectives on global political economy (GPE) are investigating the extent to which these disturbing trends should be blamed on gender discrimination. They are interested in the causes of women’s, and other marginalized groups’, economic insecurities, and potential solutions to these problems. Feminist work in political economy has recognized what scholars have identified as the gendered division of labor in global politics, and analyzed its impacts.

The gendered division of labor in modern times can be traced to the Industrial Revolution in Europe, where definitions of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman were shaped around the growing division of work to be done at work (man) and work to be done at home (women). The notion of a “housewife” developed, where women’s work was seen as private, domestic, and the property of the family, and the public world of the market was populated by rational, economically oriented men. Despite the fact that more and more women have come to work outside the home in recent times, the association of women with housework, caregiving, and mothering remains strong.

When women do go into the workforce, they are overrepresented in the caring professions (teaching, nursing, daycare, service industries) and underrepresented in the financial industries and capital trade. To the extent that women choose these professions, they do not choose them on the basis of profit maximization (which is what traditional economic theory assumes), but instead based on social expectations of what women should be and what they should do. Cynthia Enloe once claimed that a “modern” global economy requires “traditional” ideas about women.

Feminists have noted that ideas about gender also often lead to women having double responsibilities. Women who work outside the home continue to do the majority of the care work inside the home, while being paid less than men with comparable qualifications for their workforce duties. Care labor often requires time and energy that would otherwise be spent on paid labor. Women often sacrifice professional opportunities to care for children and elderly relatives.

The narrow definition of “work” as work in the waged economy tends to make it difficult to see many of women’s contributions to the global economy. Feminists have argued that the gendered division of labor cannot be understood without reference to political, economic, and social choices based on assumptions about gender. Feminist work about the global political economy has made a number of observations to highlight the importance of gendered forces.

For example, feminists have highlighted some gendered economic forces, like the global sex trade (see the recent work of Jacqui Berman, Jennifer Lobasz, and Jessica Peet), that are often ignored by political economists. Feminists have studied gender representations in the movie and beauty industries (see the recent work of Angela McCracken and V. Spike Peterson). They have pointed out that the gendered divide between the “public” realm and the “private” realm obscures the work women do. Feminists have also argued that, in addition to neglecting women generally, conventional work in political economy has also underestimated women’s economic agency.

Several feminists have also attempted to understand the gendered nature of globalization. V. Spike Peterson has divided the globalized economy into three sectors. The “productive” sector is the thing we usually think of as the global economy – where goods and services are made and traded. The “virtual” economy is the trade in intangible things, like money and information. The third sector, which Peterson gives equal weight as the other sectors, is the reproductive economy. The reproductive economy includes pregnancy, parenting, household maintenance, elderly care, and socialization. Feminists argue that these three categories taken together are more suited to finding women and gendered structures in the global political economy, and a more accurate reflection of how the world works more generally.

Feminists have therefore asked about how the global political economy would function if we restructured it taking women’s labor and women’s experiences into account.

They have looked in unconventional places, like households, sweatshops, and camptowns, for economic knowledge. These inquiries have led feminist to suggest restructuring the health care industry on the basis of care (see the recent work of Fiona Robinson). Feminists have also argued against the treatment of sexuality as a commodity. They have suggested that women’s unpaid labor be recognized not only intellectually but financially. Feminists have suggested that the gendered structure of the political economy and the gendered distribution of resources in the global economy require attention not only among feminist scholars, but also in IR more generally. Feminists have argued that we cannot understand the global political economy without reference to gender, and feminist political economists have built a research program to explore these questions.

(Caveat):
I know the “feminist IR 101” series has been on (incidental but long) hiatus, but, with the end of my blogging career coming soon (July 1), and the series now being very security-biased, I figured I would finish its unfinished business, and hope the last couple of posts (#7 on Political Economy and Globalization, #8 on Human Rights, #9 on Transforming IR, and #10 on Feminist Scholarly Community) will be as useful to the people who have let me know that they are using these posts in their classroom as the others have been. While war/security is the theoretical territory in which I am the most comfortable, I think “Feminist IR 101” sort of thinking – quick discussions for students, crib guides for potential reviewers – is generalizable across (feminist) IR, and want to finish it. That said, since this isn’t my specialty, specialists should feel free to critique and correct.

Boys’ Toys

The following word cloud from Crystal Smith’s The Achilles Effect blog reflects the vocabulary commonly used for toy advertisements directed toward young boys (i.e. those toys in the 6-8 year old boy’s section of the Toys ‘R Us website were classified as “boys’ toys”). While the data visualization was not meant as part of a rigorous study, it is nevertheless interesting anecdotal evidence pointing toward the ways in which gender stereotypes are shaped and/or reinforced, particularly when the word cloud is compared to toys targeted toward girls from the same age group. (Yes, I am aware that a wordle based on a word count cannot analyze a text or set of texts, but it can point toward interesting lines of inquiry.)

Should IR scholars care about advertisement to young boys? Maybe not, but maybe there is something to be concerned about if the process of gender construction leads to highly polarized (non-overlapping) ideal types. To borrow from an earlier post/Foreign Affairs article about the so-called “Lady Hawks” by Charli Carpenter, it may matter to IR scholars if social expectations about gender roles can be shown to frame policy choices. At the very least, these gender stereotypes do matter for domestic politics because they certainly influence the lens through which foreign policy decisions are often interpreted by spin doctors.

A Reply to the Reply: Jean Elshtain, Gender, and IR (Part III)

Part 3 (of 3) …

In concluding, Elshtain characterizes my essay as “overreach,” “hyper-theorizing,” and “prosaic,” arguing that (like “the entire post-structural arsenal”), “when you get down to the nitty-gritty, things slip through your fingers.”

Its true that my essay discusses more than it could ever back up – because the essay is not a research essay or an original work, so much as it is an accounting for, and asking for recognition for, hundreds of books and thousands of articles that provide evidence for the points mentioned in it which are categorically ignored in Elshtain’s discussion of Waltz’s levels of analysis, to which they are crucially relevant, especially insomuch as Elshtain is(/claims to be) talking about gender.

This is evident in Elshtain’s discussion of the positive contributions of “women scholars” (which I was unaware was a theoretically significant category) in history and anthropology (presumably as opposed to political science/international relations), because those scholars “spend time researching questions, reading vast amounts, trying to sort out how things really worked – whatever the big theories said about them.” Again, this can only be argued by someone who hasn’t been reading feminist IR – in addition to the AMAZING empirical books that I read in graduate school (Kathy Moon’s, Charlotte Hooper’s, Lisa Prugl’s, Jacqui True’s, Brooke Ackerly’s, Lisa Prugl’s, and Christine Chin’s, I believe, all dissertation books), I have had the opportunity not only to do, but to read, hard-nosed, ethnographic research based on years of field work. Reading books for the Oxford Series in Gender and International Relations, the great majority of feminist books in Political Science/IR are deeply empirical, highly sophisticated, and highly complex – things that my article-length summary of twenty years of contributions necessarily could not be.

But Elshtain could see this if her argument were more than a careless, disengaged polemic.


Elshtain’s polemic ends by urging feminists to focus on “what women actually did – the roles they really played” and critiquing them for relying “too heavily on male theorists.” This is over-simple, and just silly, not least because (at least my) feminism does not care what sex organs people have (or where they like to put them, for that matter) in reading their gender analysis (or critiquing their failure to think about gender critically).

In one sentence, Elshtain accuses feminists of not having “kept up with rapidly changing social categories” ….three sentences after having cast a wholly inaccurate picture of feminist scholarship’s engagements with said social categories. The ONLY THING I was arguing in my article is that you have to understand gender studies and/or feminism to critique them, and Elshtain clearly does not. She urges me to “get past defensive claims about feminists having done this or that, to the truth,” but the WHOLE REASON defensive claims about what feminists have done were necessary is because Elshtain manages to silence and do discursive violence to decades worth of rich, empirical research on “the truth” about gender in global politics through cynical, partial assumptions about what feminist work is(/was 25 years ago). That’s assuming, of course, that most feminists are wrong that the idea of “truth” is itself gendered. If Elshtain wants to know either if gender is transformational of “man, the state, and war” (the question in her original article) or “about the lives women are living and how ‘gendered categories’ may or may not be definitive or determinative in particular situations,” it might behoove her (work) to acknowledge the research program asking particularly those questions.

Is that such a radical argument?

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