Tag: feminism (page 3 of 4)

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.

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Which Sexual Scandals Matter?: sorting gossip from substance with the Sexual Scandal Scale


It seems the seasons, and our attentions, have shifted from the Arab spring to the summer of sex scandals. May 2011 has been a notable month for high profile affairs and sexual indiscretions (let’s use this term loosely for now). Dominique Strauss Kahn’s (DSK) attempted rape charges, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s love child, Anthony Weiner’s alleged tweeted self portrait, and the developments in Silvio Berlusconi’s trial for sex with an underage female have all occurred within a few weeks of one another, but does that warrant the tendency lump these scandals together? It may be that all four are emanating various degrees of sleaze but the truth is that there are only two factors uniting these men: sex scandal and power. With so many scandals to think about, how’s a guy/gal to sort through all the details and determine what matters and what’s just good gossip? What differentiates these and other sex scandals and which ones should the public care about?

My answer: the Sexual Scandal Scale (I toyed with using sleaze-o-meter but it sounded a touch normative).

The scale includes four categories:

1. Upgrading/down-aging wives
From Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump (he pretended to run for president for five minutes so we can include him) to Nicola Sarkozy, this activity has come to define many men in positions of power- political or otherwise.
Gossip or Substantial? This is just classic good gossip material, and- unless you are running on a family values platform- shouldn’t impact one’s political career.

2. Concerning allegations/Consensual affairs
Concerning allegations is the ‘catch all’ category and should include Weiner’s pic as well as Chris Lee’s topless photo on craigslist. I consider consensual affairs like Prince Charles of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles on par with these sorts of allegations even though they certainly differ.
Gossip or Substantial?: Creeping to grey areas, although still mostly just good gossip. In such cases integrity and judgement might be called into question but typically the decisions are largely personal (albeit potentially unfortunate) and don’t impact one’s job (what does Charles do again?) performance.

3. Abuse of Power
This category is primarily reserved for affairs with an employee or subordinate. The question here isn’t whether the sex was consensual or not (that’s a legal question- non-consensual=rape) but whether someone either leveraged or took advantage of their position of power for sex. Schwarzenegger affair with his employee fits here. Perhaps clearer cut examples include Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his secretary.
Gossip or Substantial? Substantial. See below.

4. Illegal sexual activities
Here we include a laundry list of crimes, including sex with minors, rape, statutory rape, and the use of paid call girls/prostitutes (unless, like me, you live in New Zealand where this activity is legal).
Gossip or Substantial?: Red alert substantial. Technically Berlusconi is off the charts here.

The mere fact that one would compare Schwarzenegger’s affair with DSK’s attempted rape is hugely problematic. Blurring the lines between bad choices, abuse of power, and illegal activity dilutes the gravity of sexual crimes and places them on par with affairs and topless photos. This conflation also implies that men in positions of power are so driven, drunk with testosterone, burdened with weight of decisions, that they are more likely to have an accelerated sex drive and less able to control it. Last week the New York Times’ Benedict Carey wrote an article entitled “The Sexist Pig Myth” wherein he pondered how he might behave with “all that power”, and asked if “power turn[ed] regular guys into sexual predators?” hinting that most men simply lack the means to commit multiple sexual indiscretions. The presumption is that, if given the chance- men will catch Tiger Woods syndrome and ‘swing at whatever they can.’ The questions “do all powerful men cheat?”, “Does machismo cause rape?” and “Why do powerful men risk everything for sex?” have been raised again and again over the years- seemingly with one answer: they can’t help themselves, and why should they? These are simply the wrong questions. The right questions focus on the substance of the sexual activity rather than concluding ‘boys will be boys.’

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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.

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Horrorphilia (Or … I couldn’t resist weighing in on the zombie debate)

Though I clearly swim in the shallow end of the pool of those who think about Zombies in International Relations – in fact, I learned what a zombie is from Dan Drezner’s book. At the same time, I can’t really resist a brief observation on the popularity of the Zombie book, and follow-up journal articles, blog posts, and ISA panels. I don’t mean this to engage all of the relevant issues, but can’t resist a few reflections.

Dan Drezner asks what the global political community would look like it the undead walked among us. What if the undead were aggressive attackers looking to exterminate humanity? How would people react? How would states? What would (mainstream) International Relations theory have to say about the security threats posed by Zombies? About the differences between zombies and humans? How might IR theory suggest ways to minimize, or potentially eliminate, conflicts and or injustices brought about by the presence of zombies among us?

While we’re at it, why not take seriously the claim that Harry Potter’s world intertwines with our own? Why not celebrate IR analyses of wizardry, the majestic, and the fantastic? Why not explore what facets of the young (then teenage) Harry Potter’s world are reflective of (and reflected in) our own world? What are the muggle sports between states? IR theorists fantasize about wizards and their magic(s) enthusiastically, along with the Lord of the RingsStar Trek and Battlestar Galactica, UFOs, Enders Game, and other “hip” pop culture stuff.

These questions, asked in a tongue-and-cheeck if not satirical way, are comfortable questions among a new generation of IR theorists, who engage IR as if zombies walked among us in journals, on blogs, and on panels – in the same rooms, on the same websites, and on the same table of contents as discussions of the capitalist peace, offshore balancing, institutional design, bureaucratic politics, and the normal business of IR theorists/the mainstream on the discipline.

However cool … (through feminist lenses), I’m concerned. Why? …

Because the new, cooler IR is comfortable with (and fantasizes about) the world as if it contained zombies, wizards, hobbits, and aliens. They discuss the ethics of inclusion, the problems of difference, liminality brought about by uncertainty, security dilemmas created by differential positionally, epistemological issues brought about by performances of otherness, and the like. But the world as if women existed (and as if gender needed to be taken seriously) remains taboo.

What are the ethics of sex, gender, and sexuality inclusion? What are the problems of sex, gender, sexuality difference and differentiation? What liminalities are brought about by gender uncertainty? What security dilemmas are created by differential positionalities of gendered bodies and gendered actors? What epistemological issues are brought about by performances of gender(ings)?

You will tell me (and you may be right) that this is not a zero-sum game … and you may be right. But you may not be.

Thinking of Hilary Charlesworth’s argument that good feminist work “searches for silences” because the unsaid in texts matters as much as the said, I wonder why and how IR can ask questions about the co-constitution of monsters and IR but not about gender and IR. Then I remember Carol Cohn’s brilliant analysis of the (gendered) function of abstraction in nuclear security discourses, and think that (gendered) abstraction is often covering (gendered) discomforts.

Along these lines, I fear it is possible that IR’s (recent) interest in the fantastic and its (continued) blindnesses to gender(s) are intimately intertwined. Feminists have previously identified mainstream IR as “malestream,” a world of research questions and methodological standards made by men for men. Ann Tickner noted that “all too often, [the mainstream’s] claims of gender neutrality mask deeply embedded masculinist assumptions which can naturalize or hide gender differences and gender inequalities.”

As odd as it might sound, fantasizing about monsters, UFOs, aliens, hobbits, and wizards does not (in Sarah Brown’s words) threaten the division of knowledge which presently defines the discipline – one which has structural gender bias in its epistemologies and ontologies. Those biases are at once reproduced and glazed over in the new, cool IR – which mentions “gender” (by which it means sex) in passing while talking about the relationships among wizards or the differences among zombies.

I believe it is and remains true that gender belongs in, and transforms, IR – and not as a (sex) question in IR’s traditional or fantastic work, but asking questions about what we don’t see in either of those genres of IR work. I believe it is and remains true that IR needs gender analysis to make its worldview less partial, and to increase the explanatory value of its theoretical propositions, and to clarify its empirical observations. And I worry that books like International Relations Theory and Zombies are at once widening that gap and making it invisible. But maybe that’s just me.

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Buffy, Feminism, and the Importance of Paying Attention

Natasha Simon at The Mary Sue argues that Joss Weedon Whedon’s shows are insufficiently feminist. Shani O. Hilton says most of what needs to be said about Simon’s odd reasoning, particularly with respect to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But she misses one crucial point that, from my perspective, renders Simon’s interpretive skills highly questionable (via).

Simon writes:

Buffy, for all her killing vamps and breaking stuff, is rather a weak character. Let’s consider that she, as a Slayer, descends from a line that was literally created by men – a formation that stems directly from the male anxiety over an inability to create life the way that women do. And inherently problematic is the idea of the Watcher, a predominantly male presence that is the male gaze made manifest – a source of constant looking that is an explicit form of control.

I’ll admit that Buffy’s seventh season was a (sometimes horrifying) mess, but the fact that Simon knows that the Slayer line was “literally created by men” suggests that she watched it. And therefore has no excuse for apparently failing to notice the entire point of that season: to use these aspects of the Buffy universe to criticize patriarchy.

I mean, for frak’s sake, the Big Bad of the season — the First Evil — works through Caleb, a personification of misogyny. Weedon makes clear that the creation of the Slayer, the magic used to prevent the existence of more than one Slayer, and the institution of the Watchers themselves are part of that evil — a control mechanism to keep women down. The show ends with the lifting of that magic, and the sudden (literal and metaphorical) empowerment of countless numbers of theretofore “potential slayers.” The defeat of the “First Evil” is rendered coterminous with a massive blow against patriarchal domination.

Hmmm. What could that imply?

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

Elshtain, before characterizing my article as a “massive shopping list” of “feminists argue,” “feminists claim,” etc. (i.e., as the critical literature review that it is and she forgot to do before writing her initial article), “engages” my questions about her approach to each of Waltz’s three images, and her finding that gender would not change how we think of any of them.Though she characterizes my work as failing “to grapple in a theoretically sophisticated way with the Waltzian inheritance,” doing that inheritance justice requires it engage with ideas that have evolved in the last 50 years (which other authors in the special issue do very well). Arguing that feminism in 1959 (or in 1970) is all that can be used to evaluate gender’s significance to Waltz’s levels of analysis would be on face ridiculous in any other argument (would one evaluate the claim that the earth was flat without the aid of Galileo?).

Not only are Elshtain’s arguments about gender and the first, second, and third images poorly argued (and poorly defended), contemporary feminists are right and Elshtain is wrong on their substance. I won’t be able to fully make those arguments in limited space, but I’ll outline the contours here.


In her discussion of the “first image,” Elshtain (correctly) points out that perspectives other than feminism have pointed out that the “international system” is “interdependent with its most vulnerable members.” She first asks if there is a “feminist analogue of this developed body of theoretical and conceptual argumentation,” particularly, that coming from the Catholic Church. Why yes, it turns out that there is, though, by definition, it cannot be “over a century” old (though I find it to be an odd position for someone once very engaged with the cutting edge of feminist scholarship that older is better). Writers like Cynthia Enloe, Kathy Moon, Lisa Prugl, Jacqui True, Cindy Weber, and even Caron Gentry and I have made sophisticated theoretical arguments that looking to the “margins” is important in part because marginal bodies are gendered, which changes how we think about vulnerability. Among those writers, I certainly have a problem with the ways in which the Catholic Church’s positions on women’s issues (particularly birth control) reverberate at the cites of vulnerability the church is so concerned with.

Elshtain then notes that Ann Tickner has acknowledged her as a “pioneer” in the study of “feminist IR,” an acknowledgment that I was perhaps late in making, but made in part I of this post. That, of course, makes her current position all the more confounding to me, but is neither here nor there. Elshtain notes, however, that she and Tickner disagree on the question of objectivity, because she “fears” that “linking ‘objectivity’ to ‘masculinity’ put feminists” (who she inaccurately describes as ‘women scholars’ with ‘feminist concerns’) “in a bind” because they won’t be taken seriously, and urges them, should they reject objectivity, to assure that feminist scholarship has standards for good research that are accessible and distinguish “strong truth claims based on solid work” from “mere opinion or ideology.” THAT’S WHAT FEMINISTS HAVE BEEN DOING FOR THE PAST TWENTY YEARS – working on standards, on methodology, on epistemologies, and on what it means to do feminist work and to do it well – standards that do not just describe how ‘we do’ what ‘we do,’ but also that should guide taking account of gender across the field of IR. Elshtain mistakenly conflates ‘political’ and ‘ideological,’ and (wrongly) implies that it is possible to know apolitically.

Elshtain concludes her rebuttal of my use of feminist work to argue that gender does fundamentally affect the first image by letting us know that “seeing women as relational is nothing new – that has been the dominant view of women and it has often worked to women’s detriment.” That is, of course, why I didn’t argue that women are relational; I argued that human autonomy (men’s, women’s, and people who are/identify as neither men nor women) is relational, which is a VERY DIFFERENT claim that has been central to the feminist literature over the last twenty years (see, for example, the work of Christine Sylvester). When Elshtain “fears” that “calling women’s natures ‘hybrid’ or ‘relational’ in and of themselves tells us very little,” I agree, in fact, I think it tells us nothing, and is theoretically regressive. Reading my argument correctly will tell you that I argued (like Nancy Hirschmann did, back enough ago that perhaps Elshtain saw it) that looking at women’s lives shows humans as relationally autonomous (that is, relational BUT autonomous), a complex understanding of agency gleaned from a feminist critique of social contract theory. That is why, though I respect Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s feminism, I would argue that there is no such thing as ‘the solitude of self,’ though self is an important (actual and analytical) unit.

Elshtain then turns to my discussion of her assertion that gender does not fundamentally and basically change our analysis of Waltz’s second image, the state. Elshtain is right that she did not actually use the words “evil” or “nihilistic” to refer to radical or postmodern feminism, but I am right that she used the worst examples and cast them in the worst light. She does so again when she argues that calling different states “patriarchal social orders” is problematic because “it compels one to force nasty analogies” like comparing Nazi Germany and Great Britain and deciding that, since both are patriarchal, United States foreign policy should have been the same to each since “there was no substantial difference between the two systems.” This is reductive, and silly. Great Britain and Nazi Germany had things in common, of course – that they were states, and that they were states with patriarchal social orders, but neither of these (or any other similarity) merited similar moral value or similar foreign policies. One can recognize characteristics of social orders as complex and multidimensional, and not calling either of those states patriarchal would only accomplish one thing – blindness to their (very different brands of) patriarchy.

Elshtain then takes issue with my discussion of the gendered public/private dichotomy, on which she wrote a(n excellent) book, Public Man, Private Woman (1981). While matters are “considerably more complicated” than I suggest, and, as Elshtain notes, the public/private dichotomy “got cemented at a particular historical moment,” it remains that they are read into, performed in, and enforced on the lives of people associated with masculinity and femininity throughout the world, and while it “fell apart” for particular women at a particular moment in time, its discursive salience remains high, particularly in war discourses.

In her reply, Elshtain next writes that “it is rather late in the day – is it not? – to repeat, yet again, the ‘assertiveness, coarseness, toughness, rationality’ of men and the ‘warmth, gentleness, sensitivity, emotion’ of women as attributed characteristics with some basis in reality, at least according to most feminists.” I guess I just have to ask if she read what I wrote, and, if not, if she might read how I defined gender, and then re-read what I wrote. I, of course, listed “characteristics associated with masculinities” (which do not map one-to-one onto ‘men,’ perceptively or empirically) and “characteristics associated with femininities’ (which do not map one-to-one onto ‘women,’ perceptively or empirically).

Elshtain concludes her discussion of my use of the feminist literature to argue that calling the state ‘gendered’ is not only worthwhile but conceptually and empirically essential by contending that I misunderstand the state “as a juridical entity” and accusing me of holding “the ‘state’ as synonymous with ‘society.’” Implying that if I truly understood the state, I would recognize that calling the “state ‘gendered’ does not do any real conceptual heavy-lifting.” Elshtain may be right that I am not careful with the idea of the state – it is not the focus of my work, and I certainly haven’t given Gifford Lectures on it. That said, I am certain that feminists who have really worked on, looked at, and looked into the state do not make the same conceptual errors I do(/might), and that the careful work of scholars like Spike Peterson, Christine Sylvester, Sandy Whitworth, Rebecca Grant, Anne Sisson Runyan, and Cynthia Weber that argues that states are gendered actually does think of the state seriously and complexly. My argument was that Elshtain needed to engage that work, not mine, on the gendered nature of the state. Likewise, while my short review essay does not “demonstrate compellingly the extent to which, for example, nationalism is gendered and how this spurs conflict,” the work of Anne McClintock, Nira Yuval-Davis, Floya Anthias, Sita Ranchod-Nillson, Miranda Alison, and others does provide that evidence which Elshtain is content to ignore, and accuse me of not repeating. Using (a strawman of) Palestinian women, Elshtain argues that gender’s impact on the state is culturally contingent when it exists. The state of the art in feminist work on the state takes account of this, and looks at the constant/consistent mechanisms through which that contextual and contingent influence is performed and instituted.

Elshtain’s (somewhat muddled) response to my argument that gender fundamentally changes how we think about the third image (a subject addressed at length in my forthcoming book) by arguing that she’d discussed women and war in her book, Women and War, and asserting that it includes some “quite chilling moments” where women tried to shame men into fighting war(s). For “quite chilling moments,” see also Caron Gentry and my Mothers, Monsters, Whores (about women’s violence in global politics), and my in-the-works Raping Ourselves (about women genocidal rapists in wars) … of course, this is not the point, both because I was not writing about “women and wars” but about “gender and wars” at a Waltzian, third-image level. Elshtain’s reply then goes into a somewhat lengthy discussion of gender and just war theorizing, the punchline of which is that feminist work on the protection racket is not a contribution to just war theory. While I will defend my (and Iris Marion Young’s, and others’) work on gender in war ethics in some other more appropriate space, it is neither here nor there for the majority of my argument about gender and war in the article.

Elshtain’s argument with my assertion that gender fundamentally changes how we think about the third level of analysis concludes with the contention that “it is a rather worn-out claim by not to say things like ‘gender stereotypes that justify war also persuade people (mostly men) to fight those wars.’” Following that, Elshtain instructs me that “feminists …[are] lamenting the femininity/masculinity divide even as they reincode it, repairing to ‘femininity’ as the presumably ‘good’ thing that bad masculinism is set to oppose.”

It must be a comfortable position to be in to be able to “argue” with someone without really having any idea who they are or what they research. Of course, the whole argument of the Mothers, Monsters, Whores book (and the feminist research program on women’s violence in global politics that it is engendering) is a feminist corrective to the feminist assumption that women are men’s equals without their flaws. I have no desire to attach normative value either to femininity or to masculinity, and I do not do so in the article Elshtain is replying to. I argue that gender stereotypes of masculinities and femininities are used by both ‘men’ and ‘women’ to encourage fighting for (gendered) protection, (gendered) chivalry, and (gendered) honor. Empirically, however, I feel compelled to let Elshtain know that, even in the “All Volunteer Force” the overwhelming majority of fighters are men (and women indeed remain banned from some combat positions), and that the “All Volunteer Force” in the United States is one of literally hundreds of militaries in the world, the great majority of which are even more sex-imbalanced than the United States military. So is conceptualizing militaries as gendered passé? Anything but. And if you don’t believe me, Cynthia Enloe’s new book (with extensive empirical documentation of the Iraq War) does a very good job of making the argument.

Of course, none of these discussions actually address the ‘newest’ argument my article makes – using the gendered organizations literature (which has a very similar conception of structure to Waltz’s) to conceptualize the international structure as a gender hierarchy (as opposed to, or even in addition to, Waltz’s conception of structure as “invisible” and (therefore) “anarchical”). This is the part of Waltz with which I am the most familiar, and the part of the discussion of gender and the levels of analysis with which I am most intimately involved.  So, in answer to the question of how gender might “alter in significant ways” third-image thinking, I argue that “understanding gender hierarchy as international structure has two comparative advantages over the Waltzian conception of structure as (merely) anarchy: it could account for both war generally (as a permissive cause) and wars specifically (as a direct cause), and it could account for changes in the frequency and severity of war over time. For this, Elshtain has no answer.

I’ll discuss Elshtain’s conclusion, and mine, in Part III, to wrap up the “reply to the reply.”

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More On the Gap Between Feminist IR and Gendered Foreign Policy Debates

Foreign Affairs has published a longer version of my original remarks about the so-called “Lady Hawks” who supposedly “ball-busted” our presumably lily-livered president into a war ostensibly “not of his choosing.”

We’ll see how he deals with all this, among other things, tonight at 7:30 EST – (my guess: with his own brand of tough-and-tender masculinity) – but in the meantime, here’s the capsule version of my scholarly take translated into Belt-Way-ese:

Commentators are falling over themselves to explain the “gender divide” among Obama’s staff, particularly the apparently astonishing fact that several key pro-intervention voices came from women… These discussions reveal far more about gender misconceptions among foreign policy journalists than about the preferences or influence of Obama’s female foreign policy staff. Avlon, Dowd, Dreyfuss, and others apparently subscribe to the classic gender myth that women are generally more diplomatic and opposed to war than men…

But systematic social science studies have shown that the ‘women and peace’ myth is partially correct at best. Evidence suggests that it is not sex but gender ideology that correlates with more pacifist views… Political scientists Marc Tessler and Ina Warriner found that both men and women who generally value gender equality also generally value non-violent resolutions to international disputes such as the Palestinian conflict. And Mary Caprioli… has found that a higher level of gender inequality within a country yields a greater likelihood of militarized international disputes, even when controlling for democracy.

But gender trends are only probabilities: they have very little to say about what policies an individual woman or man would prefer once in power, or about the extent to which she or he will succeed in pursuing those preferences. And fixation on the sex of the pro-intervention voices in this case overlooks a far more fundamental difference between the hawks and doves on the Libyan issue: in the hawks’ view, the national interest included both human and national security…

Ultimately, it does not matter whether a political actor is male or female; it matters whether social expectations about gender roles shape or frame policy choices. It is unlikely that the sex of these policymakers alone determined their preferences, and it is unclear if it influenced their authority in briefings with the president. It is, however, apparent that gender expectations — based on myths and stereotypes — have influenced the interpretation of these events. And if such spin damages Obama’s credibility in the eyes of U.S. allies or adversaries, the responsibility is on the spin doctors, not the policymakers.

Check out the whole thing here.

[cross-posted at Lawyers Guns and Money]

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“Manning Up” and Making (the Libyan) War

Women are supposed to be those innocent of war, protected by chivalric warriors. The Trojan War was made over Helen. G. W. Bush justified the invasion of Iraq with the platitude that “violence against women is always and everywhere wrong.” Yet Maureen Dowd, in the New York Times Op-Ed Section, notes that the story of the Libyan no-fly zone is one of “a group of strong women swooping down to shake the president out of his delicate sensibilities and show him the way to war.” A number of others have been framing this in terms of gender as well.

Dowd notes that “we have come a long way from the feminist international relations theory two decades ago that indulged in stereotypes about aggression being ‘male’ and conciliation being ‘female.’” This is a misreading of feminist international relations theory, and the misreading leads to a misinterpretation of the events surrounding the decision to go to war in Libya.

Rather than indulging in gender stereotypes, feminist international relations theory has always pushed back against gender essentialism. The argument that Dowd misreads is actually that aggression is often associated with masculinity (and thus expected of men) and conciliation is often associated with femininity (and thus expected of women), despite neither sex holding those characteristics naturally or essentially. It is the expectation of masculinity (rather than the presence of men, or their inherent manliness) that shapes (especially security) politics.


In fact, feminist international relations theorists have written extensively about women who “break the mold” of gender stereotypes – women leaders, women soldiers, and women terrorists – and how socially held gender stereotypes create double standards for, push back against, and punish them. They have argued that, so long as masculinity remains a standard in politics, both men and women will be constrained by that standard.

So what does this mean for Dowd (and others) who tell the story of women pressuring the President to “man up” and make the war in Libya? That is really a story of masculinity being required not only of Barack Obama but also of his (male and female) advisors. Masculinity (strength, decisiveness, aggression, dominance) is something we assume men possess when they enter the public sphere – but a characteristic women must prove. Women leaders are actually often overrepresented in “masculine” parts of government – defense, intelligence, and war – not because women are more aggressive than men, but because women must prove their masculinity while men’s is assumed.

But men’s masculinity is only assumed until it is questioned – and Barack Obama’s was questioned over an initially “soft” reaction to the situation in Libya. Proponents of intervention (including but not limited to Obama’s senior women aides) realized that they could challenge Obama’s masculinity as a way to get him to “man up” and “harden” his stance on Libya. The missiles flying over Libya were a victory for masculinity as a standard in U. S. political leadership as much as they were for the “Valkyries” that pressured the President into doing it. Any success will likely be credited to that masculinity, though any failure will likely be credited to women’s emotional and/or impulsive whims.

Instead of telling stories about “the men” and “the women” in politics, feminist international relations theorists have spent the last twenty years telling stories about the power of gender-based expectations on political interactions, from the interpersonal to the interstate. These stories remain relevant (and perhaps become more so) as Barack Obama defends his masculinity (and perhaps innocent, feminized Libyan civilians) in Libya in the coming months.

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Feminist IR 101, Post #6, War and Security (In Practice)

(after a long hiatus, which you don’t even want to know about)

When we last visited “Feminist IR 101,” we were talking about the ways that gendered lenses reformulate the way(s) we think about what security is and how it is practiced (empirically and normatively) in the global political arena – and I promised to put gendered lenses to work to talk about a “real world” security problem – what Feminist Security Studies might look like in practice.

The usual caveats apply – theory is practice, the “real world” as IR theorists see it is overdetermined by and co-constituted with IR theory’s orthodoxies; there are many feminist approaches that don’t all converge on the same issues; and there are many levels on which feminisms can engage the “real world” however conceived. Above and beyond that, feminisms have critiqued the field’s assumption that the personal and the political/international are separable, which extends to questioning whether we can analytically separate the world “out there” and the world “in here,” wherever that is.

Those caveats aside, the question “do what does feminist theorizing say about [insert news story here?]” is compelling to explore. So, what “what does feminist theorizing contribute to thinking about the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq?”


While I can’t speak for all feminists, I can talk about it from my feminist perspective. Of course, the easy answer is one might be against it – through gendered lenses and perhaps generally as a sane/leftist human being. But there’s more to it than that …

There are a number of angles through which feminist lenses can look at the continued military presence in Iraq. Thinking about the international arena as structurally gender-hierarchical allows us to think both about the relative gendered positionings of the United States and Iraq, and how the initial and continued United States military presence there impact those relative positionings. For example, in 1991, a “tough but tender” masculine United States (under the leadership of George H. W. Bush) scolded and punished a hypermasculine Iraq, where George H. W. Bush lectured Saddam Hussein on the evils of “real men” “invading a neighbor at night by surprise” and Saddam Hussein responded by offering to show the United States real masculinity upon a military invasion. A decade later, American “cowboy” masculinity chided the Saddam Hussein regime for failing to “man up” and confront the invading forces, and an American missile read “to Saddam, with love, up yours – Dick” signifying sexual violation of (weaker) Iraqi masculinity. While masculinity as an idealized characteristic of the state was an underlying assumption in many of the gendered discourses between the United States and Iraq, the two states disagreed on the ideal content of masculinity during the first Gulf War, and their masculine state self-identities changed fairly significantly over the evolution of the conflict. In 1991, the United States “tough but tender” masculinity shamed the hypermasculine (facade of the) Iraqi state; in 2003, American cowboy masculinity imposed its will on (weak, shamed, feminized) Iraqi masculinities (think Abu Ghraib). The relative positions of the states was expressed through gender hierarchy, and the relative genders of the states changed over time and in relation to each other. The continued US military presence in Iraq has also been framed in terms of gendered state personality-characteristics: the United States has alternately been framed as a bully, an evangelist, etc.; while the Iraqi insurgency has been framed in terms of barbaric masculinities reminiscent of colonial discourses.

Thinking of gender in “second image” or dyadic terms, rather than structural terms, leads one to think about the “international relations” between the United States, Iraq, and other players in the continued military presence there in terms of the (oft-neglected) second part of that phrase – relational. Even when we think of “US-Iraq relations,” we often think about it as two separate/separable entities, the properties of which affect the likelihood of them engaging in conflict. Is Iraq a democracy? How much trade does it do with the United States? Generally? What’s Iraq’s selectorate? The same questions could be asked the other way around. Feminist theorists have questioned the idea of radical or reactive autonomy, whether it be of persons or of states, arguing that we aren’t really independent actors with no constraints on their behavior but instead are relationally autonomous – they maintain recognizable identities, but sometimes have obligations imposed on them that are not of their choosing, directly or indirectly, and are influenced and constrained by other actors. Thinking about the relationship between the US and Iraq _as a relationship_ with all that entails could be a radically different way of understanding the continued United States military presence in Iraq. In relationships, actors interact, but they also are co-constituted; they react to each other, but they also see, feel, and interpret each other; they act in “their own interests,” but those interests are sometimes emotional (and or rather than material); they look for good, but sometimes lie, manipulate, use, miscommunicate, posture, and hide. Relationships, even those like the one between the United States and Iraq with radically disparate power dynamics, are also always hybrid – the powerful actor is always influenced by (perception about) its relationship with the less powerful actor, and the powerful actor is often (for those reasons) insecure.

Any analysis of the continued United States military presence in Iraq would also benefit from the feminist questions – where are the women? where are the men? where are the masculinities? where are the femininities?

Cynthia Enloe does a much better job of tackling this question than I can in a blog post, but I’ll give it a start – the gender(s) of the actors in the continued military conflict in Iraq matter. Enloe tells the story of the war through the lives of eight women – four U.S. citizens, four Iraqis – who live and experience the war in ways that are often invisible to IR scholars but crucial to knowing what is really going on. Through the eyes of a woman who owns a beauty parlor, Enloe tells the story of the crucial role of the politics of private spaces in the continuation and redevelopment of Iraqi social structures. Through the eyes of a woman whose son was injured as a member of the United States military, Enloe tells the story of the intricate interweaving of marriage, women’s unpaid labor, and social responsibility with the United States’ self-identity and self-perception of its mission in Iraq. As the United States “remains in” or “withdraws from” Iraq, gender tropes play into military recruiting, military training, the structure and employment of private military corporations, the structure and action of intelligence communities, and the like. These tropes don’t play a simple role (men do this, women do that), but are nonetheless crucially important to understanding differences that the policy world is interested in. For example, it isn’t just incidental that many PMC employees talk about their split from their military careers in terms of masculinity, and their PMC “families” in domesticated terms – it means something about what PMCs are, how they function, how they interact with Iraqis, etc. Interactions about valuing race, culture, ethnicity, religion, and form of government are also often transmitted through gender-based languages and actions (the increased domestic violence and rape rate in Iraq over the course of the occupation, both “domestic” and by American soldiers) can be read that way. Spike Peterson’s “triad analytics” framework helps to understand the significations of military/militaristic behavior in Iraq.

This is, of course, too broad to be truly illustrative, so, the next substantive post will focus on a particular dynamic of the conflict specifically and in detail.

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Feminist IR 101, Post #5 War and Security (in Theory)

There’s been a small break (understatement) in my posting as I dealt with some pressing stuff personally and professionally, and to post about some time-sensitive stuff (like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which I couldn’t resist, though I did resist talking about Wikileaks). I will now return to “Feminist IR 101,” a series of posts designed to provide audiences that had (intentionally or not) an understanding of feminist approaches to IR that caused them to misinterpret the intentions, goals, and potential contributions of feminist work in IR, particularly when assigning reviewers and performing reviews.

The last few posts before Feminist IR 101’s winter break were really an attempt to provide the basic tools that would help readers to understand the words and concepts employed in feminist research in international relations/global politics; the post-winter break posts will delve more into topic-based contributions that feminist lenses might make to seeing and understanding the ways that the world(s) ‘out there’ work(s), and how that is interdependent with, and intersubjective with, our theorizing about it.

I start where my work largely falls, in gender and security, or Feminist Security Studies – something I’ve written a fair amount about, theoretically and empirically, including, most recently, a feminist Special Issue of Security Studies, and a book, Gender and International Security: Feminist Perspectives. What does feminism contribute to thinking about security?

Feminists (including but not limited to Ann Tickner, Spike Peterson, Anne Runyan, Jindy Pettman, Christine Sylvester, Laura Shepherd, Annick Wibben, and myself) have argued that feminisms not only contribute to but transform both the central concerns of security studies and its methods, purposes, prescriptions, and performances.

So the first answer to how feminisms read war/security is – multiply and too broadly to discuss in one (readable) blog post. I’m going to make two posts – one about theory and the other about practice – but it will still necessarily be only a small snapshot of what Feminist Security Studies is/can be.

Feminists point out that there are genderings in concepts of international security that are often t ken for granted as gender-neutral if not even objective. Looking for women in global politics shows feminists that secure state often contain/make insecure people, especially at their margins, and especially women, which leads to questioning interstate gender relations; relationships between sexisms and militarisms; and the gendered natures of states, interstate relations, international institutions, and the international system structure as well as our perceptions and/or performances thereof.

Feminists have suggested that one of the key contributions of scholarship looking for women and gender in global politics to thinking about war and security is seeing them as fundamentally differently defined than the “common sense” understandings which pervade contemporary security scholarship. In “common sense” understandings, security is about the threat, use, and control of military force (so argues Steve Walt), and war is a time-deliminted but sustained violent conflict between two states, which starts and ends as/when those states decide it does (so argue Jack Levy and Bill Thompson).

Instead, feminisms have seen security policies as performed in/on women’s bodies, and personal security at the margins/periphery as every bit as important as (and often threatened by) state security/ies at the center/core of the international system. As such, they define security broadly and multidimensionally (see Ann Tickner’s work), and war/violence as a system (see Betty Reardon’s work) or a continuum (see Chris Cuomo’s discussion). Feminists have asked different questions about war(s) as well, including (but not limited to) how wars are sensed/sensual (see Christine Sylvester’s work), performed/enacted/experienced (see Judith Butler’s work), and how warring parties feminize each other (and relatedly how gender relations occur in/with wars, see the work of Spike Peterson). Feminists have provided evidence that gendered logics and war logics are co-constituted, that genderings operate as causes of war(s), and that studying war(s) and security without reference to/cognizance of/”control for” gender hierarchy is incomplete.

On the one hand, some say “so what?” or argue that these ideas are too broad or sweeping, or normatively weighted.  To the first, I’d argue that this work has a sort of “choose-your-own-ending” answer to the “so what” question. It could be strictly “practical”: operationalization of any traditional security policy is going to fall short of “working” to its fullest capacity without recognizing/taking account of gender subordination. It could also be fully transformative: security is not what “we” thought it was, nor do any of our traditional causal or constitutive analyses “work” fundamentally. To the second, well, of course, given the nature of the medium here – but there are hundreds of feminist books and articles that explore these assertions, and I could provide more guidance than I do here via email or personal conversation. To the last, of course the work is normatively weighted. All work is, some is just ignores its normative content. Feminist politic(s) are explicit; feminist security narratives (see Annick Wibben’s new book) are explicitly narratives. That’s a strength, in my view, not a liability.

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Feminist IR 101, Post #4: Common Myths about Feminist IR (and the ‘truth’)

Here are some common misperceptions of feminist IR; the “truth” is below the “fold” …

1. Feminist IR is a paradigmatic alternative to other IR paradigms – there’s realism, liberalism, constructivism, poststructuralism, and then … feminism. It is its own “ism,” and therefore should be a chapter in each textbook proposed as a dialogue with and/or critique of International Relations.
2. Feminists are whiners – either the field of IR see, e.g., this debate nor global politics (see, e.g., Barbara Ehrenreich’s discussion of Abu Ghraib) are sites of rampant gender subordination.
3. Women are feminists, and feminists have to be women; feminist research in IR is about women (see, e.g., some of the conceptual errors in Adam Jones’ most recent book).
4. Adding gender as a variable to existing analysis satisfies feminist research concerns. Feminism can fit comfortably within the traditional boundaries of IR (see, e.g., Ann Tickner’s discussion of this issue).
5. Adding a “gender week” on the syllabus of classes on IR theory, IPE, security, and the like does pedagogical and theoretical justice to feminist concerns (see discussion in International Studies Perspectives special section “Mainstreaming Gender into the IR Curriculum,” edited by fellow Duck blogger Charli Carpenter).
6. Hiring more women addresses feminist critiques of IR as a discipline. Feminists think there should be hiring discrimination against men.
7. There is one “IR feminism” to which all IR feminists subscribe.
8. Feminism in IR is particularly relevant to things that “concern” women (like wartime rape), and things that women are (perceived to be) good at (like peace, and negotiation).
9. Feminism in IR assumes that women are/should be equal to men, and treated that way, but valorizes women and femininity, picturing women as without men’s flaws and femininity as by definition better than masculinity.
10. Feminism is irrelevant to the traditional concerns of IR (like nuclear war, trade imbalances, levels of analysis, and the like), but can have its niche studying the things it is relevant to.
11. Feminists are humorless (see blog discussion with Dan Drezner)

All of these are misguided. I will discuss each in turn.

At the outset, it is important to note – my views are not others; and this is a blog post and not a journal article, so it hasn’t been vetted and peer reviewed. Since it is being written late at night on an airplane, there may be some errors. If you have questions, I’m glad to answer them.

Now, onto the myth-busting …

1. Feminist IR is not a paradigmatic alternative to other approaches, nor is it a critique of (all) other approaches. Instead, it is a way of looking at IR’s many concerns “through gendered lenses” (in the words of Spike Peterson and Anne Runyan). Therefore, you’re not an “IR scholar” or a “feminist critic,” or a “feminist,” instead of a “realist,” or a “liberal,” or a “constructivist.” Likewise, though feminist theorists outside of IR sometimes divide feminist theorizing into “standpoint,” “liberal,” “empiricist,” and “postmodern,” IR feminism doesn’t map neatly onto those divides. Instead, there are “feminists” of all IR stripes – liberal IR feminists (interested in women’s formal/legal equality and rights), constructivist IR feminists (understanding gender as a social construct and its impact on/being impacted by global politics), critical IR feminists (interested in the ways that gender hierarchies could be reversed in emancipatory ways), poststructuralist feminists (interested in the discursive/performative aspects of gender subordination in global politics), postcolonial IR feminists (interested in the intersections between gender/race/ethnicity/colonialism and gender subordination in global politics), and (I argue) realist IR feminists (interested in gender as a global structure/power relation). There are also feminists in IR whose works traverses (and transforms) IR’s boxes. Either way, it cannot be seen as a paradigmatic alternative (because it by definition interacts with the other paradigms) or just a critique of IR’s paradigms (because it works to not only critique but revision and reconstruct.

2. The field of IR and global politics are both sites of rampant gender subordination. In IR (see discussion between the TRIP survey administrators and Brooke Ackerly, Jacqui True, Mary Ann Tetrault, and myself in Politics and Gender), women remain underrepresented at almost every level of the field, even proportional to the Ph.D.s they receive and the subject matters they choose to study. This underrepresentation gets worse, not better, at the senior levels of the field – that is, women leave the profession at greater rates than men; women lose out on tenure more than men; women get less jobs out of grad school than men; and women are less likely to finish Ph.D. programs than men. Women are less likely to publish in major journals and rank lower than men on a number of indicators of professional success. This is more exacerbated in IR than in other subfields in political science. In global politics, women remain 70% of those below poverty levels globally; they remain the primary civilian victims of war and conflict; sexual violence and domestic violence remain rampant throughout the world; many countries still have incredibly high rates of denied access to birth control, maternal mortality, and adolescent birth; and characteristics and people associated with femininity remain undervalued compared to characteristics and people associated with masculinity almost everywhere in the world.

3. Not all women are feminists. Not all people who study gender are feminists. Some people study “gender” without recognizing gender hierarchy. Not only is this bad research, it is by most definitions not feminist. Some people study how to suppress women more. They are not feminists. Feminists are not only interested in women. IR feminists are interested in gender(s), including masculinity (see the great IR feminist work on masculinities by people like Charlotte Hooper, Marysia Zalewski, Jane Parpart, and Terrell Carver). There are some men who do great IR feminist work. They don’t get bit or scowled at when they come to meetings. In fact, there are male officers of the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies Section of ISA. Feminist researchers in IR recognize that gender tropes do not just hurt “women,” but also “men,” as well as people who do not fit comfortably into either category.

4. Let’s say we’re trying to figure out what causes war. We’ve got regime type, economic status, ethnic differences, past wars, and all sorts of other variables that people who are interested in figuring out what causes war count in their regressions. Some people would just add “level of gender inequality” to their regression and see if it is a significant variable. This may be interesting to some (putting aside briefly issues of countability, and if gender inequality is linear), but it isn’t the point. First, “level of gender inequality” in a state is not an indicator of “gendered relations among states” – that is, states don’t assume their relative position on the international gender hierarchy from the relative level of gender subordination within each state. Second, gender relations among states have many dimensions – material, performative, perceptual, etc.; which can’t be captured on one axis. Third, gender relations within and among states influences all those other variables people who are interested in what causes war count in their regressions. Fourth, the traditional places that we look at for the causes of war are themselves subject to feminist critiques and reformulations about where global politics takes place. Fifth, “level of gender inequality” usually measures what happens to women as compared to what happens to men – how unequal women are on some axis. This is an incomplete (and one-directional) understanding of sex subordination; and it accounts for sex but cannot account for gender … I could go on, but this question will doubtless be the subject of a full post.

5. Adding “gender week” to an IR, IPE, or security syllabus perpetuates a number of myths about the place of feminisms in the discipline of IR. It perpetuates the myth that gender is a paradigmatic alternative (see #1), that it is irrelevant to the traditional concerns of IR (see #10), and that it doesn’t fundamentally transform how IR does what it does. Most “gender weeks” treat feminism(s) as critique(s) of IR, or afterthoughts – like, after you learned about the “real” IR, here’s some extra stuff you might want to know. My syllabi try to integrate gender concerns each week – feminist engagements with each substantive topic (in security class) or paradigmatic approach (in IR theory class).

6. Hiring more women doesn’t address feminist critiques of IR. First (see #4), not all women are feminists. In fact, some women kind of stink at feminism, and some women are anti-feminist. Hiring women is a good thing, because the profession should be sex-equal regardless of its gender content.  But  epistemological and ontological openness to feminist work, and methodological acceptance of it, is necessary as well – hiring feminists, engaging feminisms, and rethinking IR’s masculinism is as important as (if not more important than) hiring women, engaging sex, and adding “gender” as a variable.

7. There are many IR feminisms (see #1) that engage feminist theory and IR differently – in addition to falling within or across different paradigmatic “boxes,” feminisms are interested in different sectors of global politics – international/global security, international/global political economy, international/global migration, international/global law, international/global human rights, and the like. In the International Studies Compendium, there are 54 different essays on different areas within and approaches to feminist IR in the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies section alone, and several more in other sections’ collections.

8. Certainly, it is easy to see gender in things which “concern” women, like wartime rape. Feminists are (intensely) interested in these things – in the example of wartime rape, the way that gendered nationalism(s) play(s) into motivations for mass rapes, the gendered assumptions that are necessary to make rape an (accepted) part of the making and fighting of wars, the gendered stereotypes in the prosecution of wartime rapists, the difficult road for women victims of forced impregnation (and the resulting war babies), the way that men inscribe dominance on other men through women’s bodies, and the like. That said, feminist scholarship is as interested in and as relevant to the choice of weapons or artillery (which initially appears gender neutral) as it is in wartime rape (see #10). This interest, though, is not about women’s special abilities in particular areas. For example, Robert Keohane, in 1989, suggested that feminisms should pair up with neoliberal institutionalist approaches to IR basically because women are better at negotiation and compromise, and therefore could teach us to be better institutionalists. As Ann Tickner and Cynthia Weber noted, this is so not the point (see also #9). Feminisms in IR are not about capitalizing on gender subordination for policy efficiency.

9.  I won’t argue that no feminisms in IR assume that women are/should be equal to men, and treated that way, while picturing women as without men’s flaws and femininity as by definition better than masculinity – some of it does, blaming “masculine violence” on “men,” and not thinking/talking about feminizing violence, or about women who behave as masculinists, or the like. That said, feminisms in IR are at their best, I believe, when they recognize that “women” are not “beautiful souls” (in Elshtain’s words originally) always innocent of and victims of the terrible things in the world. At the same time, women’s flaws, their complicity in gender subordination, their reproduction of gender-subordinating tropes and ideas, do not mean that women are not subordinated on the basis of gender, or that masculinities do not generally trump femininities along gender hierarchies. Women can subordinate women on the basis of gender (I am, in fact, writing a book about this very phenomena in wartime sexual violence). That doesn’t make it not gender subordination. Men can also subordinate men on the basis of gender. Again, still gender subordination. For me, the “problem” with gender hierarchies is the consistent valorization of masculinities and devalorization of femininities. Would I like to see what the world would be like if it valorized femininities? Sure. But is that the point? Not so much. The point is to question and reform the naturalness of masculinities and femininities as categories and descriptors, and the naturalness of choosing masculinities when we choose among traits, characteristics, ideas, people, states, or nations.

10. A discipline shaped by men (with and for masculine values) about a global political arena where only men were visible with interest in the subjects that men thought were important at levels of analysis men saw and formulated hasn’t changed much since those formative times. Feminism critiques the process of evolution of the traditional concerns of IR, and argues that those concerns are partial, short-sighted, and masculinist. But it also has something to say about each of those concerns and ideas. While feminists don’t think IR should be (exclusively) about nuclear war, terrorism, trade imbalances, and regime types, they have had something to say about all of those things. Those observations, theoretical reformulations, and case studies are not niches or irrelevant to how others think about those same issues. Instead, they interrogate the ways IR theorists have thought about them, reformulate traditional approaches, and reveal dynamics that were previously unseen. I’d go on, but, again, this is likely to be the subject of another post.

11. Feminists aren’t humorless. I may be proving the point by bringing up a long-dead and initially half-joking assertion that Dan Drezner made, but I’m going to take that risk. Some people can blog about their work, and have their work made fun of, secure in the position that it is taken seriously in the discipline of IR and in global politics more generally. That’s fine, and more power to them. Feminist work, however, is consistently marginalized, trivialized, and not taken seriously. Jokes about feminist IR work are sometimes “funny haha” sort of jokes, but more often they are jokes that betray a belief that feminist IR specifically (and sometimes women and gender studies in IR generally) belongs in IR’s galleys, in its punchlines, and in its innuendoes. While, usually, I have a thick enough skin to deal with that extra layer of crap one gets for doing what I do, sometimes I don’t, and I shouldn’t have to. If feminisms were comfortably “in” IR – joke all you want. Until then … take it seriously first, joke second.

More soon … requested future posts include “feminism in political economy,” “feminism in security studies,” and “the transformative power of feminisms in IR.” More requests are welcome.

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Feminist IR 101, Post #3: What is “feminist” about “feminist IR”?

So I’ve been accused elsewhere in the blogosphere (not linked here because of profane language) of just posting a lot of overlong (language cleaned up) definitions in service of a poststructuralist cause which is “irrelevant (insert choice words here).” I could get all defensive or argumentative (insert sarcastic comment about feminists here), but I think that I’ll those comments as proof that perhaps the explaining needs to continue.

I posted all those definitional discussions because it would be easy to misread what came after them without that foundation, which is not obvious or intuitive to most IR scholars. The next series of posts (this one, #4, “common misconceptions about feminist IR,” and #5, “what feminist IR can do for you”) lay out generally what feminisms in IR are and what they do. Posts that follow those will discuss particular theoretical areas or empirical puzzles of interest to feminisms and IR.

So what is “feminist” about “feminist IR”? This is, to me, another way of getting at the question of “what is feminist IR?” There are some colloquial definitions that get us somewhere. In high school, I had a bumper sticker that said “feminism is the radical notion that women are people too.” More helpfully, perhaps, Betty Reardon once described feminism as “the belief that women are of equal social and human value with men.” That’s a start, but not the crux of it.

A caveat before I go into this in more depth: I’m not the foremost authority of, the founder of, a gatekeeper for, or the voice of feminisms in IR – I was in grade school when the people I’m now proud to call my mentors began feminist interventions in IR. These statements, while meant to make feminist work accessible to people who otherwise wouldn’t (make the effort to) engage with and understand it, are only my approaches, and not something by which to judge the enterprise of feminisms in IR, which I feel privileged to be a part of, but am only a part of.

With that said, Reardon is right that feminisms (in IR and elsewhere) started with (and maintain) a concern with the subordinating treatment of women in social and political life. Feminists have noted that, on almost every indicator of social, political, and economic well-being, participation, and “development,” “women” remain behind “men;” this is true in the most progressive places in the world and the least progressive places in the world, however measured, and everywhere in between. Many feminists in IR started with the (important) empirical and theoretical question – (in Cynthia Enloe’s words) where are the “women” in global politics? Why do they fare worse than the “men,” almost universally? Why are they largely absent(ed) from histories and contemporary accounts of social and political life?

So, feminist IR has cared about, and does care about “women,” empirically (because showing where they are tells us more about global politics than we knew when we didn’t see them) and normatively (because women’s invisibility and marginality in social, political, and economic life is not incidental, but a product of gender subordination. But this care for “women” is (in most cases) not some unselfconscious interest in promoting women’s rights or interests as if all women are the same, or have the same wants and needs, or as if “women” have “gender issues” and men are “genderless.”

Instead, in Jill Steans’ words (using a concept employed by Spike Peterson and Anne Sisson Runyan and Christine Sylvester before), to look at the world through gender lenses is to focus on gender as a particular kind of power relation, or to trace out the ways in which gender is central to understanding international processes. In other words, feminist IR is not an enterprise of labeling or targeting “men,” of vindicating or idealizing “women,” of idealism, of waxing philosophical about things irrelevant to the “real” IR. It is an enterprise of looking to understand “real” IR differently, and better, through seeing how gender matters in the (causal and constitutive) relationships (mainstream/malestream) IR cares about, and the role it plays in which relationships are deemed outside of the disciplinary purview.

“Feminisms” in IR are normative, but they are (largely) not idealist. They are normative in that they have a political agenda (which all scholarly/epistemological enterprises do) and they admit it (which very few scholarly/epistemological enterprises do). That political agenda is in recognizing and deconstructing gender hierarchies in global politics generally (and the academic discipline of IR specifically). (Most) feminists argue that it is studying (gender in) global politics is done less rigorously without that political agenda, or, at the very least, taking account gender as a dichotomy which is hierarchical rather than “equal.”

What does that mean? “Gender” is not category where each choice in the dichotomy is equally valued. Instead, most everywhere in the world, consciously or unconsciously, we select for (people and values associated with) masculinities (which often include, but do not map one-to-one onto “men”) over (people and values associated with) femininities (which often include, but do not map one-to-one onto “women”). If you treat gender as a variable (asking what “men” do and what “women” do, or what is done to “men” and what is done to “women”) without taking account of that hierarchy, it is impossible to understand what is really going on, because “men” and “women” do not act outside of that gender-hierarchical social structure. For an in-depth discussion of this point, see my engagement with (fellow duck blogger) Charli Carpenter’s work in International Studies Quarterly a couple of years ago.

The implications for “men” and “women” matter empirically and normatively, feminists argue, but gender hierarchy in global politics has implications outside of (the relations between) sex categories. When we prize masculinities over femininities, association with masculinity comes to be a place of power, and association with femininity comes to be a place of weakness – so people, states, social organizations, and the like often have a vested interest in positioning themselves at the higher ends of gender hierarchies (masculinization) and positioning their opponents or enemies at the lower ends of gender hierarchies (feminization). This makes gender both an organizing principle of global politics (since global politics can be understood as gender-hierarchical) and an acting principal of global politics’ agents (since relative position along gender hierarchies is important, and can be altered). Therefore (in Marysia Zalewski’s words), the driving force of feminism is attention to gender and not simply to women …the concept, nature, and practice of gender are key. Scholars looking through gender lenses (in Lauren Wilcox’s words) ask what assumptions about gender (and race, class, nationality, and sexuality) are necessary to make particular statements, policies, and actions meaningful. Therefore, as I have argued before, failure to recognize gender hierarchy makes IR scholarship less descriptively accurate and predictively powerful for its omission of a major force in global politics.

Of course, this is an oversimple summary of decades of careful theoretical work which has certainly left major points out. The punchline, which I hope to expand in future posts, is that seeing gender hierarchy in the world transforms both what we think about in global politics and how we think about it, for a more accurate empirical view of how the world “works” and a different normative understanding of what needs to be changed in it. Feminisms in(/of/critical of) IR (of which there are many, and they are substantially different, a question that will be addressed in the next post) try, through empirical research, theoretical work, critique, and reformulation to encourage(/perform/enact) that(/those) transformation(s).

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Feminist IR 101, Post #2….vocabularies for talking about sex/gender hierarchies

In the last post, I discussed gender as a system of symbolic meanings. People understood to be “men” are often expected to be “masculine” and associated with masculinity/ies; while people understood to be “women” are expected to be feminine, and associated with femininity/ies. Traits associated with masculinities and femininities are often also transposed onto ideas, concepts, and things, in everyday life and in global politics. Masculinities and femininities are often salient in political, economic, and social life.

But, like all good political “scientists,” you ask the “so what?” question – what does that matter? What does it tell us about how the world works? Most of the answer to that question will be in another post, but, to get there, you’ll need the punchline of the answer: because global politics (at the individual level, at the state level, and at the systemic level) is gender-hierarchical. To discuss that meaningfully, though, we’ll need to know a few more gender-words, and have a vocabulary for talking about gender hierarchy.

Sex hierarchy: the explicit or implicit valuing of people (or things, concepts, ideas, etc.) differently on the basis of their (perceived) sex difference(s).

Gender hierarchy:  the explicit or implicit valuing of people (or things, concepts, ideas, etc.) differently on the basis of their (perceived) gender difference(s), usually the valuing of masculinity/ies over femininity/ies. Any give gender hierarchy is not absolute or universal, sometimes gendered hierarchies value different gender-related characteristics differently in different times and different places. Still, the existence of gender hierarchy/ies is/are universal. Patriarchal gender hierarchies (or gender hierarchies dominated by (hegemonic) masculinity/ies are often described in terms of “gender oppression,” or “gender subordination,” indicating the devaluing of non-idealized masculinity/ies and femininity/ies as compared to dominant/hegemonic (Weberian) ideal-typical notion of what “a woman” or “the feminine” should be and what “a man” or “the masculine” should be. Different feminism(s) refer to deconstructing gender hierarchy differently, using those words, or “ending gender subordination” or “gender emancipation.” Note that none of these terms are explicitly about or exclusively for “women” (to be discussed in a later post).

Other terms describe important complexities, including …

masculinism (n.) – the social preference for masculinity/ies and/or the social exclusion of femininity/ies.

homosexual (adj.) – describes people (perceived to be) of a certain (biological) sex, having sexual preference for or exclusive sexual attraction to people who are (perceived to be) of the same (biological) sex.

lesbian (adj.) – describes people (perceived to be) “women,” having sexual preference for or exclusive sexual attraction to people who are (perceived to be) “women”

gay (adj.) – describes people (perceived to be) “men,” having sexual preference for or exclusive sexual attraction to people who are (perceived to be) “men”

bisexual (adj.) – describes people who are sexually attracted to “both” (“male” and “female”) sexes, regardless of their own (perceived, biological) sex.

heterosexual (adj.) – describes people (perceived to be) of a certain (biological) sex, having sexual preference for or exclusive sexual attraction to people who are (perceived to be) of the “opposite” (biological) sex

homophobia (n.)/homophobic (adj.) – describes (unreasoned) fear or discrimination against people perceived to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual

heteronormativity (n.) – the assumption of the normalcy of heterosexuality and the abnormality of “homosexuality” or “bisexuality”

heterosexism (n.) – the preference for or bias towards heteronormative personal, social, and political organizations and bias against (people and lifestyles classified with) “homosexuality” or “bisexuality”

transgender (adj.) – an imagined cross-gender community

transgender (n.) – people who do not appear to conform to traditional gender norms by presenting and living genders different than those which are assigned to them at birth and/or presenting and living genders in ways that may not be readily intelligible in terms of traditional gender roles and norms. Sometimes “transgender” is distinguished from “transsexual,” where “transsexual” refers to people who use hormonal and/or surgical technologies to alter their bodies in ways that may be construed as at odds with the sex assignment at birth or which may not be readily intelligible in terms of traditional conceptions of sex bodies (see Talia Mae Bettcher’s work on this). Others object to the reification of biology in separating “transgender” and “transsexual.”

FTM (adj.) and MTF (adj.) – signify directionality of “sex change” or “gender change” in trans- people (“female to male” and “male to female”). Some object to the use of these terms because they legitimate illegitimate biological sex categories.

transphobia (n.)/transphobic (adj.) – negative attitudes (hatred, loathing, rage, or moral indignation) towards (perceived or “actual” trans- people and/or transgressive gender performances.

cisgender (n.)/cissexual (n.) – people who are comfortable with and/or identify with the sex and/or gender one was assigned at birth and who experience their “physical” and “conscious” sexes as being aligned.

cissexism (n.) – the belief that trasngendered or transsexual identifications are inferior to or less authentic than those of cisgender or cissexual persons; including (in Julia Serrano’s words) trans-fascimiliation(viewing or portraying transsexuals as merely imitating, emulating, or impersonating cissexual male or female genders), trans-exclusion (refusing to acknowledge and respect a transsexual’s identified gender, or denying them, access to spaces, organizations, or events designed for that gender), trans-objectification (when people reduce trans people to their body parts, the medical procedures they’ve undertaken, or get hung up on, disturbed by, or obsessed over supposed discrepancies that exist between a transsexual’s physical sex and identified gender), and trans-interrogation (when people bring a transsexual’s identified gender into question by asking them to answer personal questions about their life story, their motives for transitioning, medical procedures they have undertaken, or when they obsess over what causes transsexuality – such questions reduce transsexuals to the status of objects of inquiry.

Sexism, heterosexism, and cissexism are iterations of gender hierarchies seen throughout the world, though they take different forms and play out with different empirical results over time, place, culture, and situation.

Still, only armed with these “vocabulary words,” one might think that the only people who should care about sex/gender hierarchies in global politics are the people on the “bottom” end of them – that is, women, persons of non-heterosexual sexual preference, and persons of non-cissexual sex/gender identification. One would be wrong.

to feminize (infinitive), feminizing (gerund), feminization (n.) – subordinating people, political entities, or ideas by associating them with values perceived as feminine. (In Spike Peterson’s words), not only subjects (women and marginalized men) but also concepts, desires, tastes, styles, “ways of knowing” …can be feminized – with the effect of reducing their legitimacy, status, and value. Importantly, this devalorization is simultaneously ideological (discursive, cultural) and material (structural/economic) … this devalorizaton normalizes – with the effect of “legitimating” the marginalization, subordination, and exploitation of feminized practices and persons.

In Catherine MacKinnon’s words (which I am sure I will get a lot of blog-spam for mentioning, but, whatever), feminization is something that can (and often does) happen to anyone – it is only that we assume that it is natural when it happens to women. Put another way (and key to the forthcoming discussion in post #3), gender hierarchy is operative in social and political relations not just when “men” discriminate against “women,” but in a variety of instantiations where associations with perceived genders/sexualities/gendered characteristics are mapped onto persons, states, and other entities in (global and everyday) interactions.

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Feminist IR 101, Post #1 … definitions of sex and gender

(disclaimer: this is my attempt to define/illustrate; mistakes are mine, not to be assigned to feminist IR as a whole)

sex (noun?): traditionally used to refer to the biological characteristics of bodies based on their internal and external sex organs, where persons with “female” organs are “women,” and people with “male” organs are men. It can also be divided on the basis of chromosomal characteristics, where people with “XX” are “women,” and people with “xy” are men. In actuality, substantially more complicated than that, where there are more than a dozen chromosomal combinations on the “sex” chromosome, and more than 20 different combinations of sex organs that people are born with regularly enough to be documented (they total between half of one percent and one percent of the population, and include people labelled ‘trans,’ ‘intersex,”hermaphroditic’ (which is generally looked at as a pejorative description). Usually, babies born with ‘abnormal’ sex organ configurations are ‘corrected’ into a particular sex at birth, and their parents told that they just needed cosmetic surgery to make them appear the ‘sex’ they ‘really are.’ Many of these babies never find out what happened to them, while others struggle with their sex identity for most of their lives. To the extent that ‘sex’ is a valid category @ all, there are more than two ‘sexes.’ Still, the idea that the human species can be neatly divided into two ‘sexes’ by clear and recognizable criteria permeates almost every aspect of our daily lives. (see Anne Fausto-Sterling’s work)

to sex (infinitive)/sexing (gerund): to impute/(imputing) sex to a body, or some other object, and, in so doing, assume particular characteristics (see “gender” below), or distribute advantages or disadvantages, privileges or punishments, etc. (see, for example, Deirdre McCloskey’s memoirs for an illustrative treatment, and Anne Fausto-Sterling’s work cited above for a theoretical one)

sexed (adjective): a body or some other object which has (or has been assigned or imputed) a ‘sex’ (n.). About bodies, see Annie Potts’s the Science/Fiction of Sex; about an object, see the recent book Sexed Pistols, edited by Vanessa Farr, Henri Myrttinen, and Albrecht Schnabel.

(see below the fold for “gender”)

gender (noun?): 1) not equivalent to “sex.” 2) (actual definitional discussion) Gender is a system of symbolic meaning that creates social/material hierarchies based on perceived associations with masculinity/ies and femininity/ies (most often assigned by the shorthand of perceived biological sex). It is expectations, assumptions, and outcomes assigned to people, things, concepts, and ideas based on their association with one of those categories (and often their assumed membership in sex categories). People, things, concepts, and ideas that are associated with masculinity (including but not limited to most “men”) are usually valued differently than and often valued above people, things, concepts, and ideas associated with femininity (including but not limited to most “women”). Traits often associated with masculinity/ies include, but are not limited to, strength, rationality, autonomy, independence, aggression, protector-ability, assuredness, and the public sphere. Traits often associated with femininity/ies include, but are not limited to, helplessness, emotion, vulnerability/dependence, interdependence, peacefulness, maternalism/care, sensitivity, and the private sphere. These traits, and their gender-associations, vary over time and place.

to gender (infinitive)/gendering (gerund): to read/reading, or to assign/assigning, gender-based characteristics, into/onto a particular person, thing, concept, or idea (consciously or unconsciously through gender-related assumptions and/or performances.

gendered (adjective)/gendering (participle): a person, thing, concept, idea, process, or object which has (or has been assigned or imputed) a ‘gender’ or ‘genders (n.)

Next post(s): “Feminist IR 101 … post #2: a vocabulary for talking about sex/gender hierarchies;” “post #3: so what is “feminist” in “feminist IR?,” and post #4, “common misconceptions about feminist IR.” Feel free to let me know (by comment or backchannel) if there are other issues you’d like covered and/or other questions you’d like answered.

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A (not so) open letter to a journal editor (or five): Part II

Dear Dr. Journal Editor,

As I mentioned in “Part I” of this letter, I “lost” this battle, and it matters to me.

Why? Because it’s not just “work” to me that happens to be on a particular topic because it is an interesting question. I believe all knowledge has a politics, acknowledged or not, and I acknowledge mine.

I do feminist work because I’m interested in deconstructing gender hierarchies in IR as a discipline and in global politics more generally. I think that such a move would benefit everyone in IR/global politics, not just women (a category I’m not particularly fond of).

I don’t want all IR the sort of work that I do, but I want (and need) it to be open to the sort of work that I do, because the world (both the real one and ours) is worse off when it isn’t, both normatively and in terms of our empirical/theoretical knowledge about the world.

In an unpublished paper a couple of years ago, I argued that the relationship between feminist IR and IR generally was an impossible one, where feminist work would always (and only) be included when it mimics IR, which robs it of its (intellectual) identity – a paradox to say the least.

I might believe that, but I’ve acted differently – attempting to mainstream feminist work at every opportunity, even when just publishing in “our” journals and talking to “our” audience would be both intellectually more interesting and substantially easier. And a lot of times that has been a great learning experience for both “sides” with an excellent result, (thanks, for example, to Security Studies), but, more often than not, like it was last week, it is an exercise where futility meets ridiculousness.

Why do I say ridiculousness? And, “so what”?


The ridiculousness: 

I wrote an article that makes a constitutive (not causal) argument about gender (not sex). It is interested in symbolism, in underlying justificatory logics, and in the ways that the unsaid plays into the particular problematique. It is heavily based on existing feminist literature in security studies, which it cites, but does not rehash for reasons of space (after all, when did you last read a 1000 word summary of Michael Doyle in the regime type literature?). It combines case explorations and multivariate regressions, though those regressions are used to show relationships rather than “measure” gender hierarchy and determine the directionality of its relationship with a “dependent variable” (the reviewers’ words, not mine).

As I implied in the first part of this letter, it was not taken on its own terms. It was not even taken on the terms usually used in evaluation of feminist work. I don’t know if the article would pass the bar on those terms, but I would sure like to.

A brief example: Reviewer 1 complains that (s)he doesn’t need the lesson on the difference between sex and gender (which I included, since I sent it to a mainstream journal and was talking about the latter, which is always conflated with the former). Then the Reviewer complains that the theory doesn’t take into account the heterogeneity among/between women, which it does, because that’s the whole point of laying out that feminist work is about gender, not about sex, and talks about women/femininity not women/sex organs. The article isn’t about “women” per se (but gendered representations and performances in war signification), and it doesn’t come anywhere near assuming either that all women have anything in common, or that femininity is something natural to (any) women. I feel fairly sure that people who do feminist IR (or even take it seriously) wouldn’t have read it that way. Its almost like some of the replies to the last letter I posted – people see the word “gender” (or, god forbid, “feminist”) and read all sorts of ridiculous things that the work doesn’t argue into it.

A second brief example: Both reviewers conclude with examples of what counts as “good work” in this field to them. First, that work isn’t in my field. I won’t “name names” in a blog post because I’m not looking to grind axes with particular people’s work, and they are people I respect personally and professionally – but they are people who “study gender” (by which they really mean sex …as dichotomous … what do men do? what do women do differently?) from a ‘non-feminist’ approach (by which I mean that they do not take account of the gender hierarchy as a fundamental condition of global social and political life). The particular work referred to in the reviews (and tacitly accepted by the journal editors as the standard by which my work should be judged) is just not good analysis from a(/my) feminist perspective, and not just for the normative reasons some may accuse me of being attached to (as if that were a bad thing). Instead, it misses links in a (you choose causal or constitutive) chain of analysis about how the world works, it makes (false/unjustifiable/oversimplified) sex essentialist assumptions, it doesn’t understand the empirical implications of sex/gender distinction (and confluence), it assumes the countability of uncountable things and the materiality of performative things, it doesn’t “hear” the substance to silence …. I could go on.

So what? 

Losing these battles is unjustified, and getting old. As a commenter on the first part of this letter notes, it’s not your journal and your journal alone. Your journal could be one of many. It’s also not just journals, its hiring committees, book publishers, etc … not universally, but by and large. So on one hand, it is not your “fault.” But it is our collective fault, and yours more than mine (both because of the relative power differential between us and because I critique the orthodoxy you reify).

Be on notice: feminist IR won’t lose the war. We will open up this discipline to feminist work (and critical work more generally), hell or high water, and I will devote my career to that work, even if it takes the rest of my career. And not tokenism, but real, rigorous, complex, contingent, modest, engaged inclusion.

I will do so because feminism belongs in IR, and not only when it looks and acts like it fits in mainstream IR’s narrow world, but maintaining its own identity and transforming IR to make it broader and better. IR needs feminist work in order to make its worldview less partial, to increase the explanatory value of its theoretical propositions, and to clarify the meanings of its empirical observations. The “relationship” cannot continue forever on its current terms, where tokenism but general closedness is the practice. Instead, feminist IR should and can transform IR – maintaining “our” sense of identity, embracing “our” diversity, and flexing “our” strengths.

That part, though, is beside the point. When Ann Tickner wrote You Just Don’t Understand, she was asking IR to think about feminist work by the claims it makes and the positions it takes, not despite them, ignoring them, or trivializing them. I, for one, am embarrassed to be needing to repeat that request (over and over) thirteen years later. But that’s what I’m doing, now, to you, and to anyone else who might be listening.

Look for a series of “PS” posts to this letter (tentatively titled “Feminist IR 101”) explaining what you might want to know to give feminist work a fair review.

Best,

Laura
…who is exhausted by having to stick up for her (research’s) right to exist.

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Methodology411: feminist methodology?

Other duties have prevented me from posting as much as I’d like to for the past couple of months, but now that the summer is really upon us I am going to try to make more regular appearances. I received a query from a reader that seemed quite appropriate for the Methodology411, so here we go:

Mada asks: “Is there a feminist methodology? And if so, what does it consist of?”

By way of kick-starting a discussion, I reply: You ask a deceptively complicated question, one that feminist scholars have been wrestling with for a long time. Part of the complexity stems from the fact that there are many different operational definitions of feminism, some of which lend themselves to methodological reflection and some of which explicitly reject any such reflection as inherently problematic. And to compound the issue, some extremely broad definitions of feminism — such as “the radical proposition that women are people” or “anything that helps to advance the status of women” — would more or less deliberately encompass a variety of methodologies, and thus answer your question by saying something like “there are many different ways to do feminist work, and any attempt to define a feminist methodology is likely to cut some of them off, so we should avoid the question altogether.”

That said, self-identified feminist scholars working in the social sciences usually share a rejection of neopositivist hypothesis-testing as the sole or even a preferred mode of knowledge-production. My colleague Charli Carpenter stirred up quite a hornet’s nest of controversy by using that kind of methodological approach to study questions about the impact of sex and gender on world politics; to her great credit, she explicitly framed what she was doing as a “non-feminist standpoint,” using a convenient shorthand made possible by the general feminist rejection of neopositivist hypothesis-testing throughout the social sciences, especially in IR.

What feminists often prefer are research techniques that stress personal experience rather than general abstraction as the foundation of valid knowledge-claims. “The personal is political” is a well-known feminist rallying cry, and a lot of feminist scholars take that to heart in seeking to ground their analyses in the personal experiences of their research subjects. This does not mean that feminist scholarship is somehow exclusively about personal feelings and impressions, but it does mean that knowledge that does not come from a personal standpoint is relatively valueless — especially when compared to that knowledge that can be gained by explicitly adopting the standpoint of the relatively marginalized members of a given society. Within IR, my favorite articulation of this is Cynthia Enloe’s essay “Margins, Silences, and Bottom Rungs” in the Smith/Booth/Zalewski edited volume from a few years ago.

Now, if we want to think about this methodologically, and not just in terms of methods or techniques, what is distinctive about placing personal experience at the center of one’s strategy of knowledge-production? After all, one could conceivably use the information gained by such experience-near modes of information-collection to code variables and test hypotheses the way that any neopositivist would, so it’s not the simple act of remaining close to the personal experiences of one’s research subjects that makes the difference. Instead, I’d argue, what makes feminist work methodologically distinctive is its emphasis on locating the researcher — the knower — within her or his specific social context. This reflexivity is obviously not just characteristic of feminist work; postcolonial theory and some strains of post-Marxist critical theory also share in this emphasis, along with sociology in the Bourdieusian mode. But in IR in particular, feminist scholars have been the most articulate and consistent proponents of this reflexivity.

So that’s what I would focus on as “feminist methodology” — not because there’s anything particularly or exclusively feminist about reflexivity, but because feminist scholars and feminist scholarship in the social sciences provide an especially good example of that reflexivity.

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Young men who don’t have anyone to screw blow themselves up?


While I am generally respectful of the journal International Security‘s clear effort to publish more gender-related work, Bradley Thayer and Valerie Hudson, in “Sex and the Shaheed” have managed to write about gender while missing the conceptual foundations and research insights of decades of work in feminism, gender, and IR.

This article ranges from factually partial at best and inaccurate at worst. It focuses on male suicide terrorists when a significant percentage of suicide terrorists are women. It treats the Middle East as if it were a “real” region and homogenous in respect to propensity to suicide terrorism. It focuses on Islamic Suicide Terrorism as if: a) the majority of suicide terrorism is Islamic fundamentalist (which is likely untrue, and if true, recent in the last year or two), b) Islamic “suicide terrorism” is a separable phenomena from Islamic terrorism more generally which shouldn’t be explained at the same time with the same factors, and c) the religious and the political have an easy relationship where “Islam” is the political cause of those who engage in martyrdom missions and are Islamic. “Real world” suicide terrorism is, of course, messier: it is not universal to the “Middle East,” it is carried out by persons who are not Islamic (until recently, the LTTE held the record for the highest number of suicide attacks), it is carried out in service of causes other than the politics of Islamic religion (for example, Chechen suicide terrorism is aimed at independence from the Russian state), and it is carried out by (elite and non-elite) men and women from all over the world.

The conceptual work in this article is as wanting as the factual work. There are, of course, a much broader range of explanations for (Islamic) suicide terrorism than are discussed there (where the authors mention international anarchy, U. S. hegemonic involvement in Islamic states, and Islamic fundamentalist belief systems). To start with, of course, only a small minority of suicide terrorist attacks are aimed at the United States even indirectly. But above and beyond that, political scientists have offered other explanations (e.g., Mia Bloom‘s understanding of the contribution of personal trauma and Bob Pape‘s use of both regime type and actor strategic interest as explanatory variables, not to mention more nuanced/sophisticated accounts). There are also a number of psychological accounts of suicide terrorism, some of which account for explanations interested in sex and belonging like the one in this article (for an overview, see Chapter 7 of Caron Gentry and my Mothers, Monsters, Whores book on women’s violence).

If both the factual and conceptual work are problematic, so are the politics of this article – even beyond what is implied in the discussion above. For example, on p.47, “though the concepts of honor and virility may be hard for a Western academic audience to understand ….” and other references throughout the article to the uniqueness (and impliedly, degree) of masculinity/masculinism in the Islamic world are both patently false and culturally problematic. To whom among us are the ideas of honor and virility really foreign? And what leverage is gained by making them sound foreign, in setting up an “us/them” dichotomy between (sane) white, Western academics and (suicidal) young, Arab/Islamic men?

I’d better stop now, or I’ll be stealing the thunder of people who will write a response to this from an article. But if someone wrote about deterrence without citing the decades worth of literature on deterrence in IR, no reputable journal would accept it. So why is it still okay to write about gender in IR without engaging decades worth of literature on gender in IR relevant to the point at hand (and now years worth of work on gender and terrorism, of course)? And who is responsible for the result?

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Reading Andrea Dworkin to Write Feminist IR?


“I wasn’t raped until I was almost ten which is pretty good it seems when I ask around because many have been touched but are afraid to say …. I couldn’t tell how many hands he had and people from earth only had two … You get asked if anything happened and you say well yes he put his hand here and he rubbed me …and he scared me …you say the almost-ten-year-old version of f*ck you something happened alright the f*ck he put his hands in my legs and rubbed me all over …and they say, just so long as nothing happened” (Andrea Dworkin, Mercy, p.11)

My first feminist mentors were in the legal profession, particularly Catherine MacKinnon, and my first exposures to feminisms were in debate rounds and law schools rather than political science or International Relations departments. My first feminist books were (therefore?) Andrea Dworkin, before Ann Tickner or Spike Peterson or Jindy Pettman. Perhaps that’s why I return to Andrea’s work whenever I start writing a major project, despite the fact that it does not translate to and often is not directly cited in my work.

But I think there also might be more to it.

While I remain, always, committed to feminist politics and combatting the other oppressions that gendered lenses help me to see, there’s a rawness, a plainness, a terror in Andrea’s work that’s not in mine explicitly, but which is a lot of why I am committed to feminism and feminist politics.

I am a feminist because I will never be free when rape culture exists. I don’t even know what free means, or if I will ever be free, but I know I will never be free if rape culture exists. I do not know what it would look like or how it might be achieved. Still, I want to inspire thinking about it through my work, and use my work to agitate for the cause.

I also think, though, that (my exposure to) political science and International Relations does not have the radicalism of words, feelings, or ideas to express that visceral need as well as work in women’s studies, particularly Andrea’s, does. I don’t think that’s trivial, in fact, I think it says something about the narrowness and (sterile) gendered nature of the discourses in political science and IR. I think the importance of recognizing that is why I frequently return to Andrea’s work as fuel for mine.

Catherine MacKinnon once said that Andrea’s work about gender shows that it is impossible to conceptualize gender by just thinking about different things the same way, instead, that Andrea shows it is necessary to think differently. Five years after Andrea died, that still resonates to me. As do some of her words … “the blood of women is implicit; make it explicit,” “it is widely understood, among the raped, who do not exist, except in my mind, because they are not proven do exist, and it is not proven to happen …”

You might see those words and ask, sure, there’s feminism, but what does that have to do with feminist IR? But Andrea’s work helps me think about that stuff as well. For example, it won’t make the book, explicitly, but Andrea’s thinking about flags (from a martial arts training session) is a crucial part of feminist “outside-the-box” thinking about nationalism, symbolism, gender, and honor:

“I never thought I would bow down in front of any f*cking flag, but I do, in perfect silence and symmetry insofar as my awkward self can manage it; my mind’s like a muscle that pulls every time; I feel it jerk and I feel the dislocation and pain and I keep moving, until I am on my knees in front of the f*cking thing. Its interesting to think of the difference between a flag and a dick, because this is not a new position; with a dick how you get there doesn’t count whereas in the dojo all that matters is the elegance, the grace, the movement the strength of the muscles that carry you down; an act of reverence will eventually, says Sensei, teach you self-respect, which isn’t the issue with the dick, as I remember” (Mercy, p.308)

I’ll ultimately write something, not this, about gender symbolism, nation, nationalism, and women’s subjugation. But this, and the other work from the countless books, articles, and excerpts Andrea Dworkin wrote, will always be a crucial part of my thinking about gender and gender subordination, and a part of my thinking for which IR does not have a language, a place, or a home.

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“Girls Don’t Do Math Past Algebra”


Today, a group of articles in the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and other newspapers, comment on the AAUW (American Association of University Women) report which will be webcast this Thursday.

These articles reminded me of a teacher that I’d had when I was young, who, despite my stellar performances in math courses, told me that girls don’t do, or need to do, math past algebra. Apparently, I am not alone, as the report lets us know that 40% of women who are now in the surveyed “STEM” (science and engineering) fields were discouraged at some point in their academic career from being in the sciences. While, if anything, that teacher’s sexism encouraged me to seek out education in math and science, story after story both related to this report and more generally can be told where women were explicitly discouraged from participating in or excluded from work in the sciences and engineering.

Just five years ago, at-the-time Harvard President Larry Summers (and current Director of the National Economic Council) argued that women are underrepresented in the sciences and engineering because of innate differences between men and women. I think there are two important things to say to this discussion: first, that women CAN do science and engineering as well as men can and shouldn’t be discouraged from it on any sort of (innate or social) capacity logic. Second, though, it might be important to explore the argument that our very conceptions of science are gendered. I have written about this in International Relations specifically in the journal Politics and Gender, but will make the argument briefly here …

In these fields, women’s underrepresentation is so grave that this “failure” to make it cannot be understood as individual or incidental, but, rather, as a consequence of structural barriers to women’s participation. Incidental explanations identify some factor or set of factors, such as educational differences, differences in the subfields of international relations that women are interested in, age differences, methodological differences, and so on, and “blame” women’s underrepresentation on those differences. These explanations imply that, if women had the “same” education, the “same” interests, and the “same” methods, then their experience in the subfield of international relations would be similar to men’s. As such, many who look for women’s equality in these fields are actively interested in finding more women who do “good work” and including them among the ranks of faculties. I have heard several department chairs and deans lament that they simply were unable to find a woman who met their criteria, and thus were unable to hire a woman to fill a vacant tenure-track line. In this scenario, senior colleagues explain, were there to be a woman who did the same work at the same level as the (more qualified) male candidate, then the department would have no problem hiring the person — women who were “the same” would be treated that way.

The problem, then, for those who consider women’s underrepresentation incidental, is that women are not the same. Because of perceived inferior preparation, skills, research interests, research methodologies, or other qualifications, women are often understood as less qualified job candidates and less desirable contenders for promotion. Women’s underrepresentation could be fixed by assuring that women got the same training, worked in the same areas, and obtained the same qualifications.

Still, there is a sociology to what is counts as “traditional” or “good” work. Feminists have described this as the “malestream,” rather than the “mainstream” because even where women are becoming more accepted as scientists, it is largely conditional upon socializing themselves into disciplines as defined by the men who came before them. If what is “traditional” is endogenous, then the problem of women’s underrepresentation is structural rather than incidental. Even were women numerically “equal” to men in terms of their participation and rank in the sciences, they would still be participating in a men’s world.

Perhaps the problem, then, is not that women’s work is nontraditional. Rather, it is that we consider women’s perspectives outside of tradition because tradition is laced with gender subordination. If “tradition” excludes women’s perspectives, indoctrinating women into tradition will not “fix” the gender disparities in these professions.

As such, instead of focusing exclusively providing women the “same” education and the “same” opportunities, perhaps it is time to question the value sciences assign to sameness. Perhaps it is time to stop thinking that women fall outside of the norm, and start redefining the norm in terms of the presence and importance of women’s perspectives in the sciences.

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