Tag: gender and IR (page 2 of 3)

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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Feminist IR 101, Post #8, Human Rights

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Boys’ Toys

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

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

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

Some of you might have seen the summer 2009 issue of International Relations; a retrospective on Man, the State, and War, by Kenneth Waltz, and its fiftieth anniversary. Among those essays was one by Jean Elsthain, entitled “Women, the State, and War,” where Elshtain asks whether gender as a category of analysis or as a central feature of a logic of explanation alters in significant ways Waltz’s levels of analysis, and answers in the negative. My (empirical and theoretical) response to her article is published in the March 2010 issue of the same journal, which published Elshtain’s reply following my article.

Of course, there’s a limit to the amount of this conversation the journal can publish, and I have a “reply to the reply” and a hope that the conversation can be continued, not least because I think that Elshtain fundamentally misunderstands both my argument and (what I see as) feminist IR. In the spirit of exploring these issues, I’ve decided to blog my reply to Elshtain’s reply.

I’d like to start out by giving credit to Elshtain’s foundational work studying sex and gender in global politics, particularly the book that she mentions in her reply, Women and War (1987), which was certainly foundational to my beginning to think about my research as a college student, and I know has played a similar role for many in their field. I do not mean to be disrespectful of Elshtain’s good work, or of her influence on the field. That said, I think that it is the very high level of esteem in which I hold her work that compels me to question the positions she took in her original article in the Waltz special issue, and in her response to my article.

The punchline (expanded below and in subsequent posts) is this: Eshtain’s argument is incorrect (intellectually), wrong (normatively), and it is made badly. I cannot stop journals from publishing it anyway or even get them to require it to be made well (frankly, I’m on the losing side of the relative power in the field “academically” and personally). As an Assistant Professor, I cannot even hope to “win” an argument with some who is apparently above peer review. But I can decide not to greet it with silent complicity, and I have.

I will talk about her reply’s overview in this post, and then the address the “images” in Part II.

To start out her response, Elshtain mentions that she does “not need to be instructed on the ‘sex’/’gender’ distinction” and mentions that she devoted an entire book to the “complicated construction of gender,” particularly to the question of “how have men’s and women’s identities been structured historically in relation to war?” Three things come to mind. First, as a younger scholar and student of people of Elshtain’s generation, where is that Jean Elshtain? A leader of the feminist movement in hard times? Why is she writing normatively ridiculous things like Just War Against Terror, rather than work that expands on, institutionalizes, and deepens Women and War? Why is she going out of her way to harm the feminist cause in the field, rather than to build it up? That aside, since it is irrelevant to the argument, two theoretical observations are important. First, the sentence Elshtain writes implying that the question of “men’s and women’s identities” maps onto gender shows that she does indeed need the lesson I give on the sex/gender distinction. Elshtain calls on science to argue that “there are, in fact, standard differences between males and females,” but ignores the science that argues that there are people that are neither male nor female, and that male and female are indeed not distinct categories even in terms of biological sex. Most feminists are not (and I as a feminist am not) arguing for ignoring sex(es), embodiment, or physicality in IR; in fact, there’s some great work out there now on the body (like that of Lauren Wilcox) and on sense/sensuality in war (like that of Christine Sylvester). Elshtain’s reading of feminism as severing sex and gender just demonstrates that Elshtain doesn’t read current feminist work, which references much of the “creative research” in the cutting edge of biology, which talks about sex and gender as co-constituted (and thus both dynamic categories). Second, as I implied in the last sentence, Elshtain’s interpretation of feminism is based on an outdated and partial reading of the feminist literature, which I will discuss next.

Elshtain then replies to my argument that her examples of what counts as feminism were anomalous, and her interpretation of feminist theory is outdated (and therefore inaccurate). She contends that her examples are “not at all anomalous; they were dominant and central at the time that they were adumbrated,” and that she’s “not sure exactly what chronology has to do with it if the issue is ‘human nature.’”

On the “chronology” issue first … it is, of course, not about chronology, but about theoretical development. From her reply, Elshtain clearly reads (if selectively) current work on gender in the biological sciences and neurology. What would be so hard about reading the current work in gender and war (to write an essay about gender and war), just to see if there was a good idea that one had not thought of? The question in Elshtain’s article is whether or not gender would fundamentally change Waltz’s levels of analysis. I’ll admit that I’m relatively new in the field. I was eight when Women and War was published, and still in primary school when the newest citation in “Women, the State, and War” was published. But that’s my point, I guess. Feminist IR was new then, and the arguments have developed substantially since Elshtain (apparently) stopped reading in it. Elshtain’s article has a number of arguments feminists used to make about how gender might matter to Waltz’s levels of analysis. Those arguments have changed, become more nuanced, and frankly, gotten better. Why use generation-old arguments as a strawman when the new ones could be argued with more skillfully and more persuasively? I may not have been in the field as long as Elshtain has, but I know that not reading and engaging the relevant literature to one’s assertions is poor scholarly practice. My pointing out that Elshtain’s references are outdated, then, is not about “chronology” for something as age-old as “human nature,” it is, instead, about omitting (or deliberatively ignoring) the best feminist arguments about “human nature” (and the other levels of analysis) by reading selectively (and in an outdated way) in the feminist literature. Frankly, I do not see how this is even controversial. It would never be okay to ask a question like “is democracy relevant to war?” without citing the democratic peace literature, even if just to disagree with it, because it has discussed the issue at length. It is likewise not okay to ask “is gender relevant to Waltz’s levels of analysis in IR?” without citing the feminist IR literature, even if just to disagree with it, because it has discussed the issue at length. Relatedly, I would argue that Elshtain’s examples of feminism(s) were indeed anomalous, even at the time, and that the fact that they have been largely repudiated/moved on from by contemporary feminism is not irrelevant to the argument. Due to space limitations, I will not talk about them specifically, but am willing to discuss in the comments, should anyone be interested.

Elshtain then points out that my argument that the “epistemology of feminist work” that “acknowledges its political content” is “noted matter-of-factly” but “begs many questions.” While space limitations in the journal took out a lot of my elaboration of this contention, it is not “muddled as stated” and has been addressed in much more sophisticated ways in the feminist literature (particularly, in Ackerly, Stern, and True’s Feminist Methodology in International Relations, but also in my Introduction to the special issue of Security Studies), which I would suggest Elshtain refer to in asking her questions about the nature of feminist epistemology. Elshtain suggests I am assigning feminist work a particular, singular epistemology; that’s not true, and if what I wrote could be construed that way, then I miswrote. What I was arguing, of course, which Elshtain repeats, is that “feminist work is work with an explicit political agenda in mind” – that is, that multiple feminist epistemologies have a politics in common.

Several times in her reply, Elstain criticizes me for saying that “feminists have argued x,” rather than making the argument myself, asking “how does that make the claim stick?”  It is true that I didn’t recount hundreds of books and thousands of articles, or redo their work, in a 10,000 word article, to create a “digest” guide for Elshtain so she actually doesn’t have to do the reading and engage with the work.  MY work in this article is not the stuff that “makes the claim stick,” others’ work that I cite does that.  MY argument was that, in order to say that “gender is not causal” (as she does in her article), she needed to read, and engage with, the work that argues that it is, and points out specific paths to proving causality. Her very questions about this show her ignorance of this literature …she notes that, “in the area of globalization, one would have to ask how ‘patriarchal social organization’ somehow ‘causes’ international finance flows, or other central features of the global economy.” Of course, feminist work by a number of amazing scholars HAS asked these questions and HAS backed up these claims with meticulous research (including but not limited to foundational books by Spike Peterson, J. K. Gibson-Graham, Sandra Whitworth, Shirin Rai, and Lordes Beneria; as well as the work of Suzanne Bergeron). So, Jean, to answer your question, “does the claim about ‘principal cause’ precede any research, yes; decades worth of labor of hundreds of scholars. It would behoove you to, say, google it, if not read it.

It is not that the argument that gender doesn’t change Waltz’s levels of analysis couldn’t be made well. I would still disagree, and present evidence to the contrary, but the argument could be made carefully, and with intellectual integrity. Then, maybe, my response wouldn’t have to be all over the place, at once pointing to the silliness of the argument as made and trying to argue against the argument were it made well and with reference to the relevant literatures. More in Part II.

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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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The Oceanic Conference on International Studies (and Finally, Some Thoughts on Feminist Method)

I spent the last week at the Oceanic Conference for International Studies (OCIS) in Auckland, New Zealand, a conference that was something of a luxury for me in that I had no leadership responsibilities, and got to be in a beautiful city I’d never been to literally on the other side of the world.

While zorbing and bungee jumping would normally be the highlight of such a trip, actually, the Conference was. I didn’t know what to expect at first; after all, this was a regional conference far outside of my region – would there be any work of interest to me? I was pleasantly surprised on a number of levels however. First, I learned a lot about things I didn’t know about. The conference opening address taught be about the history and current struggles of the Maori people in New Zealand. I got to hear a number of interesting empirical presentations about pacific life and cultures. Second, this was hands-down the best run conference I have ever been to (and I am counting the several I have run) – the organization was perfect (literally), the accommodations were excellent and affordable, the conference facilities were amazing, adequate networking breaks were provided, and there were totally rocking (frequent and yummy) meals, snacks, and (gasp) cakes.

The thing I really got out of OCIS, though, was the panels. I don’t get to go to a lot of panels at ISA, or even at APSA sometimes – because I am frequently doing organizational work, service stuff, and professional development panels and stuff – so I’m not saying the panels @ OCIS were better than the other ones that I don’t really get to see (though I think they might have been). That said, I attended ten panels over three days (fine, nine, if you don’t count the one I was on). Highlights included: Jacqui True’s talk about gender and norms, Megan MacKenzie’s talk about the role of the family in security, Ann Tickner’s keynote on an alliance between feminist and postcolonial historical narratives, Spike Peterson’s discussion of intersectionality in feminist IR, Katrina Lee-Koo’s talk on the place of gender in Australian IR, Miranda Alison’s talk on inclusion of women combatants in peace processes, Tulia Thompson’s talk on heterogender in Fiji, talks by Tony Burke and Laura Shepherd on ethics and security, Penny Griffin’s talk on sex and global political economy, Juanita Elias’ presentation on the incorporation of feminist agendas, and Ruth Jacobsen’s discussion of the challenges of feminist data collection. The list could be longer. These presentations (and others) were high-quality and very interesting. OCIS left me not only with a reinvigorated enthusiasm for the research program that I am a part of but also with a renewed sense of desire to tackle its hard questions.

It is in that spirit that I now return to the discussion of feminist method that Patrick started a couple of weeks ago. I never ended up posting mostly because I was incredibly busy, but also because posting at that time would have required me to work through some of the methodological difficulties I had been struggling with recently, a place of discomfort for me. But the question of “is there a feminist methodology?” or (more how I would put it) “what is the appropriate methodological approach for feminist work in IR?” is an important one, and I’ll share some thoughts.


First, there is not one feminism in IR – there are diverse feminisms – liberal ones, constructivist ones, critical ones, postcolonial ones, poststructuralist ones, postmodern ones, marxist ones, etc. Those different “takes” on feminisms do have different methodological outlooks based on different epistemological assumptions.

Second, I’ve described several times that I see feminist method as a journey – one of observation, critique, revealing, reformulation, reflexivity, and action, guided by feminisms’ principles. While none of those steps are necessarily unique to feminist research, perhaps that they are linked or how they are linked is particularly feminist. If methodology is the intellectual process guiding reflection on epistemological assumptions, ontological perspective, ethical responsibilities, and method choices (Ackerly/Stern/True 2006, p.8), Patrick is right that reflexivity is a substantial part of and contribution to how to “think like a feminist” – but there’s more to it, I think.

Third, then, “thinking like a feminist” in IR, I think, has a number of key elements, which I’ll gloss over here and discuss in more detail if any readers are interested. Those include:

1) Many feminisms share with (other) critical approaches an understanding that the relationship between the knower and the known is fundamental to knowledge, and that therefore all knowledge is political, social, contextual, and intersubjective. Feminisms add, however, that a crucial part of the position(s) of knowledge(s) is their position along gendered hierarchies of social and political thought

2) With (some) other scholars, (many) feminisms see knowledge as personal, theory as practice, and reflexivity as a key part of the research process. Unlike (most) other scholars, feminisms view that reflexivity through gendered lenses, where, in Jill Steans’ words (1998, p.5), “to look at the world through gender lenses is to focus on gender as a particular kind of power relation” and therefore to trace out the ways in which gender is not only central to understanding international processes, but the ways in which gendered assumptions shape our research on gendered assumptions.

3) Like (some) development scholars, feminist researchers have recognized a difference between power-over and empowerment. Feminists, however, both understand the key role that gender has in that distinction, and that it is to be analyzed not only in the world “out there” but also in the discipline.

4) As some feminists have recently discussed (like a 2010 forum in politics and gender), feminist work is likely to look to deconstruct the quantitative/qualitative divide in IR rather than taking a “side” in it – feminist stakes in epistemology and method (where they exist) are about the purpose of the tools (in service of discovering and deconstructing gender hierarchies) rather than what the tools are. That is (oversimplified, of course) it is a question of positivism/post-positivism instead of a question of quantitative/qualitative. While not all feminists/feminisms would agree, I would argue that quantitative methods could be used effectively to serve (postpositivist, epistemologically skeptical) feminist ends.

5) This does not mean that most feminisms see utility in the use of gender as a variable (which usually means “sex” as a variable in practice in the literature). Feminist questions above all inspire feminist methods. Feminist questions often ask “how do masculinities and femininities define, constitute, signify, cause, reproduce, and become reproduced by x?” rather than “are women more x?” – the former question is one about gender hierarchy; the latter is an essentialized approach to sex that assumes that gender hierarchy either does not exist or is irrelevant to answering the question. (Most) feminisms in IR prefer the first.

6) Though there are no essential tools for feminist IR, there are a group of tools feminisms have found useful: dialectical hermeneutics, ethnography, critical discourse analysis, in-depth case studies, feminist interviewing, and other tools. Good feminist method essays (like Brooke Ackerly’s in Audie Klotz and Deepa Prakash’s edited volume) and books (Ackerly/Stern/True 2006, and Ackerly/True 2010) expand on these ideas.

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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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Gender and Security: Theory and Practice

My post-ISA blogging is slower than it otherwise would have been, due to an unfortunate interlude with food poisoning. But I figured I’d start with the “working group” that Jennifer Lobasz and I ran at ISA, called “Gender and Security: Theory and Practice,” which Charli mentioned in her previous post. A Working Group at ISA meets on the day before the conference, and then twice during the conference, and members are asked to attend common panels around the theme of the group.

The stated mission of our group was:

The “Gender and Security: Theory vs. Practice” working group aims to develop an evolving subfield of Feminist Security Studies by creating a discussion between key scholars in the field of gender and international relations and new voices seeking to grow and consolidate these research programs. Addressing subject matter of interest to the Peace Studies, International Security, Feminist Theory and Gender Studies, and Women’s Caucus sections of the ISA as well as the conference theme, this working group will deal with questions about the relationships between gender, war, and peace; between the theory and practice of gender and security; between gender/feminist theorizing on security and the mainstream of “Security Studies”; and between different branches of Feminist Security Theorizing.

In the last five years, work in Feminist Security Studies has proliferated, producing dozens of journal articles, several important books, and several journal special issues, including, most recently, a special issue of the journal Security Studies. This workshop is meant both to reflect on and analyze this recent proliferation of scholarship and to look forward to defining and developing Feminist Security Studies as a subfield. Gathering a group of approximately 20 junior and senior scholars working in the field, the Working Group will look at Feminist Security Studies both internally (what is this subfield) and externally (how does it relate to Security Studies/IR more generally, and what does it have to say about “real world” practice of security?) through a variety of panels, informal conversations, roundtables, and other presentations.

While I couldn’t be at all of the meetings, I caught snippets of very interesting conversations: Tuesday, about the “state of the field” in Feminist Security Studies and the relationship between theory and practice in various areas of research, including conflict, post-conflict reconstruction, foreign policy, and peacemaking; Thursday, the conversation that Charli referred to about the relationship between Feminist Security Studies and Security Studies more broadly; and Saturday, concluding conversations reflecting both on those discussions and panels. I very much enjoyed listening to and participating in these conversations, and its hard to pick what to talk about, but two things jump out …

First, at the Thursday meeting, we posed a number of questions to participants, some of which Charli mentioned:
1) What (if anything) can gender analysis tell us about international security that security analysis omitting gender cannot?
2) What (if anything) can Security Studies tell feminist theorizing about security that it would not have access to otherwise?
3) Is a conversation where the sum will be greater than its parts? If so, how do we get to those benefits? What are the potential risks?
4) Can we develop effective strategies for communication among scholars coming from substantially different epistemological understandings to make a bridge between Security Studies and Feminist Security Studies? Should we?

Particularly, most of you who know my work, know that the great majority of what I do is devoted to making links between Security Studies and feminist theorizing – so I’ve defended that as a mission many times and remain committed to it. That said, a commitment to engagement, in my understanding, also requires asking the third question on this list – particularly, what are the risks of engagement? Sarah Brown (in a special issue of Millennium 22 years ago) warned that, in engaging IR, feminism risked losing its ontological and epistemological uniqueness. I’m interested in this concern particularly as I read Charli’s post which effectively advocates instrumentalizing gender as the way to package, re-present, and sell “feminist” concerns to the security establishment. While I don’t want to argue that there aren’t policy benefits that come from such approaches, but do worry that being quick to accept (or accepting at all) that it is okay to “sell” gender emancipation as a means to “normal” (impliedly gender-neutral) policy ends is problematic, reifying both the secondary nature of gender concerns and the existing (gendered) hierarchy of policy concerns in the security arena.

So, to me, write about gender in gendered techno-strategic language? No so much. Or, at least, not exclusively. But that brings me to the second question – the one to which I don’t have the answer, entirely. That is – if it is important to speak to/with the security arena, but not appropriate to do it in a way that “sells out” gender emancipation (at its ultimate expense) – then how? Separately, works in Feminist Security Studies reformulate mainstream approaches to traditional security issues, foreground the roles of women and gender in conflict and conflict resolution, and reveal the blindness of security studies to issues that taking gender seriously shows as relevant to thinking about security. Together, these works, as a research program, show that gender analysis is necessary, conceptually, for understanding international security, important for analyzing causes and predicting outcomes, and essential to thinking about solutions and promoting positive change in the security realm. How to “sell” that, though? Still working on it. But many of the very bright, very engaged participants in the Working Group had a lot of very interesting ideas and important success stories that I thought walked the line better than I ever have. And I will try to share some of those in the coming weeks and months.

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“Women as Prey” in Guinea

Though my post about serious issues in IR through gendered lenses got less attention than tongue-and-cheek discussion with Dan Drezner, it has been almost impossible to ignore gender in the news the last couple of days, so I think I’ll re-try blogging about gender and IR.

The New York Times led a story yesterday, front page, above the fold, called “In a Guinea Seized by Violence, Women as Prey” and followed it up with an article called “US Envoy Protests the Violence in Guinea” later online.

The article recounts that “women were the particular targets” of “rapes, beatings, and acts of intentional humiliation,” further evidenced by the public distribution of humiliating rape pictures taken on a cell phone. Adam Nossiter, the author of the article notes that at least 157 people were killed in the breakup of a protest on Sept. 28, “but even more than the shootings, the attacks on women, horrific anywhere, but viewed with particular revulsion in Muslim countries like this one – appear to have traumatized the citizenry …” Witnesses testified to seeing several rapes, including gang-rapes and the combination of sexual violence and beatings.

Nossiter explains that “rape is a fairly common tool of military repression in Africa, but large-scale violence against women has not been a previous government tactic here.” The article concludes with Guinean sources calling for the junta to lose power as a result of this behavior, and the follow-up article quotes U.S. envoys and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking a similar stance.

There’s an obvious point for those who would see IR through gendered lenses here: women’s rights. What happened to the women who were raped in Guinea is terrible, fraught with gender subordination, violent, and should never happen to anyone ever again.

It would be a mistake for gender analysis of this situation and the news stories portraying it to stop there, however.

Through gender lenses, I’m interested in the question of how it came to be that “rape is a fairly common tool of military repression” (the article adds “in Africa,” but most research on wartime rape shows that the prevalence of rape as a weapon of war is not geographically or culturally limited). What is it about rape that makes it an effective tool of repression and war-fighting (or, if not effective, perceived as effective or desirable)?

I don’t think its possible to understand that question without reference to the gendered nature of war (see the work of Carol Cohn, Ann Tickner, Cynthia Enloe, etc.). There are a number of different tools in this literature to help to understand and analyze this reporting about the situation in Guinea. With limited time and blog space, here’s just one idea:

The argument that Jean Elshtain originated (and which has been built on by my work, Iris Marion Young’s, and Lauren Wilcox’s, among others) that expected roles in war are distributed on the basis of gender (where men are expected to be “just warriors” who bravely defend and protect women “beautiful souls” who are at once innocent of war but its casus belli), is instructive here. If one side’s warriors are motivated by proving their masculinity (that’s Joshua Goldstein’s argument, www.warandgender.com) and protecting the feminized “other” at home, then it makes sense that the other side would want to “get” the (symbolic and actual) motivation that its opponent is fighting “for” – wartime rape (and rape in the context of oppression, like that reported in Guinea), then, can be seen targeting the (symbolic and actual) “heart” of the enemy.

In the book I am writing right now, Gendering Global Conflict (for Columbia University Press), I make the argument that women are a Clausewitzian center of gravity. According to Clausewitz, a center of gravity is something that is the “heart and soul” of a belligerent – that is, that it must have to win the war and that its opponent eliminate and thereby eliminate that belligerent’s will or ability to fight. The uniqueness of the Clausewitzian concept is that, unlike many theorists who followed him, Clausewitz recognized that a center of gravity does not have to be entirely material, but, instead, can be symbolic or representational. I argue that feminist analysis shows that (innocent, civilian) women are that thing – the thing that a belligerent’s soldiers fight for and without whom war has no justification. This is both because innocent women are a casus belli, and because they are seen as producers/reproducers of the nation. This logic also tells us something about when belligerents attack “their opponents'” civilians – belligerents attack civilians as a proxy for women (and sometimes women civilians directly, e.g., wartime rape) in order to attack and dismantle opponents’ center-of-gravity/will to fight. This explanation accounts for attacks on civilians in a more complex and nuanced way than belligerent desparation, and accounts for other observable phenomena (like claims that wars are being fought for innocent women, and genocidal rape).

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Hello, my name is ….

I wrote my college admissions essay to the University of Chicago about a very bad country song (the B-side to a single) called “The Cape,” by Kathy Mattea. It is about a boy who ties a flour sack around his neck as a cape, and keeps jumping off the roof of his house … he “did not know he could not fly, so he did.”

Despite often being guided by a disregard for and desire to abandon traditional order, I found myself incapable of making a substantive post without introducing myself.

So, I guess, first, the basics: my name is Laura Sjoberg. I recently turned 30. I seem to have survived it, despite many friends’ insistence on still calling me 19. I have done some moving around – I grew up in the “redneck Riviera” (Florida District 1, in and around Pensacola), went to college at the University of Chicago (“where fun comes to die”), went to grad school at the University of Southern California (to work Ann Tickner, the greatest advisor ever), went to law school at Boston College while a Harvard Postdoc (paying for it by working at Lee Volvo/Jaguar), then spent a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Duke while finishing law school at UNC (RTP: where football goes to die), before taking a tenure-track job at Virginia Tech (little known fact: full name is “Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University”) in the fall of 2007, which I am leaving for a post at the University of Florida starting this fall (who says you can’t go home?). I’m building a house there, I think it will stick.

My research: my work is broadly in the area of gender in international security. Currently, I am interested in questions of how gender dynamics influence systemic processes related to interstate conflict. In theory (and if my editor asks, in practice), I am currently writing a book called Gendering Global Conflict: Towards a Feminist Theory of War. I’ve done a fair amount of editing (most recently, a special issue of the journal Security Studies, as well as Gender and International Security: Feminist Perspectives and (with Amy Eckert) Rethinking the 21st Century: ‘New’ Problems, Old Solutions. Currently, I’m editing the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies Section of the International Studies Compendium. When I take time off of professional editing, my main research foci have been: feminist reinterpretations of theories of the causes and nature of war (see Gender, Justice, and the Wars in Iraq, as well as articles in International Studies Quarterly and International Politics) and feminist readings of women’s violence in global politics (including Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Women’s Violence in Global Politics (with Caron Gentry), and articles in International Relations and the Austrian Journal of Political Science). I’ve also (thanks mostly to Hayward Alker) dabbled in issues of methodology and potential interdisciplinary work in geography and IR (including an article in International Studies Review).

My hobbies: Florida Gator football (both of my parents are UF alum, I wore orange and blue diapers, my Chihuahuas wear gator shirts), Tampa Bay Bucs football (over/under on one win next season after firing everyone over 30 including the coach?), Lakers basketball (early guess: three-peat), fast cars (don’t currently own one), country music (mixed with a little bit of rap), model trains (there’s a room in my house dedicated to them), bridge, chihuahuas, cooking, making and framing large puzzles, bumper stickers (favorite: “talk nerdy to me”), theoretical math, scrabble, and, recently, getting yelled at by Wii Fit, ejecting it, and playing MarioKart instead. It seems I’ve also just picked up blogging …

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No Clone of Star Wars

My son and I finally saw Clone Wars this weekend. Afterward, I went back through some of the reviews I’d been ignoring during the past month of moving and settling in. No one seems to think the movie was great, but people are disappointed for different reasons. David Germain of the AP writes:

You’ll know you’re in a different galaxy within the first seconds of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” which substitutes the Warner Bros. logo and theme music for the familiar 20th Century Fox searchlight and fanfare. Whether because of its cartoony format or its relatively lightweight story, “Clone Wars” definitely is not an event.

From the NY Times:

“Expectations were set so low by George Lucas’s lousy trilogy of “Star Wars” prequels that the latest from the Lucasfilm factory, a feature-length digital animation called “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” comes as something of a surprise: it isn’t the most painful movie of the year!… No more than a pretext for exploding robots and light-saber duels, the plot concerns the efforts of Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano, his neophyte sidekick, to secure a fragile alliance by retrieving Jabba the Hutt’s baby son from the double-crossing clutches of Count Dooku, blah, blah, blah. Exploding robots!”

Well yes, this film was definitely made for children not grownups. Yet for what it was worth, I thought it not that bad. I may have been less critical because I saw it with my six-year-old, and therefore wore a firmly six-year-old mentality during the film: had I come as an adult, as I did to the prequels, I’d have been more disappointed. I also didn’t try to compare it to the other films – it was clearly designed to be of a different style and caliber: filler, really, to give depth to the often disjointed political story told in the other films. Yes, anyone who was hoping for special effects or character development at the level of the feature films will be let down. But here are three ways in which I thought this film actually exceeded the others in sophistication:

1. Gender Constructions. The original trilogy was ridiculously sexist, with Leia the only important female character, whose role is largely to serve as a big-breasted incentive for the boys to fight well. And in the prequels, though Padme starts off with some spunk, she morphs into little more than a waiting, weeping wife archetype by Revenge of the Sith, standing by lovingly while (among other things) Anakin commits war crimes and then abandoning her infants and her government to die of a broken heart. Women in these films are there primarily to inspire and validate the masculine heroes, and to provide eye candy for the audience. But in Clone Wars, we watch Anakin develop a reluctant but close and platonic bond to his young, wise-cracking female Padawan. Ahsoka combines multiple opposing gender archetypes by being a skillful warrior, a reckless neophyte, and a generous caregiver – the sort of Starbuck-esque female lead that is strikingly absent from the original movies. And then there is Asajj Ventress, Count Dooku’s assassin, who has her own history leading to the dark side and who gives Obi-Wan a run for his money. Watching male Star Wars characters relate to a female as something other than a prize to be protected was quite refreshing, particularly given the complex female characters in other science fiction media such as Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Trek: Voyager.

2. Battlefield Tactics. The prequels, and to some extent the original films, were heavy on grand political maneuvering and light on issues of logistics and tactical decision-making, but in Clone Wars we get to watch first-hand what every day life fighting an insurgency looks like (OK, it’s a cartoon version, but still…) through the eyes of a rookie Padawan wannabe, rather than through seasoned Jedi omnipotents who never mis-step. No, the fight scenes were nothing breathtaking; and no, not horribly instructive (I had to remind my son as we were leaving that in the real world, one would be rather out of breath after ten minutes of handfighting not to mention with broken knuckles), but there is something refreshing about watching day to day life in the military, in between grand appearances in the Imperial Senate. And it leaves one recognizing that half the story of Anakin’s obsession over Padme and subsequent fall must be chalked up to his status as a shell-shocked veteran experiencing various forms of PTSD.

3. De-Emnifying the Evildoers… At Least, a Little. One of the key breaks with the archetypal Star Wars narrative we see in this production is the humanization of (some) of the bad guys. In this case, Jabba the Hutt. Whereas we previously knew him as the quintissential nasty, greedy, good for nothing slime-ball, in this film we come to know him as a loving father. By getting to know and identify with his son, the innocent and helpless little Hutt-let with whose rescue Anakin and Ashoka are charged, we are reminded that even the bad guys have children, and that even a stinky little larva can be worthy of protection by honorable soldiers. This narrative chips away at the earlier good-and-evil, with us or against us, black-and-whiteness of the original Star Wars, which has always struck me as an extremely nationalistic, conservative narrative relative to its counterparts in other series’.

This is in some ways a continuation of Revenge of the Sith’s opera-house scene, where we begin to understand, through the tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise, that the Sith too have an ethical logic to their politics and are not simply evil. However, Clone Wars doesn’t take this too far… in the end, the Sith are the Sith, irredeemable, unstoppable, and beyond the pale. I wonder if in the CTV series this Fall some character development will take place among those characters at well, to shed further light on the complex motivations of the different sides in the war? One thing’s for sure… my son and I will be watching.

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Serenity Now

At the urging of a friend, I have recently finished consuming the complete box-set of Joss Wheddon’s now-defunct Firefly TV series plus the feature film Serenity. (Totally missed this show in 2002 while writing my dissertation.)

Though my partner can’t quite see what I like about Firefly/Serenity(and didn’t accept my claim that I was viewing it as a mere artifact of popular culture – really), truth is it’s a damn cool series that should have survived beyond one season.

If you’re unfamiliar with Firefly, here’s the premise: humankind has colonized a new solar system, characterized by a strong, centralized, bureaucratic, quasi-authoritarian “Alliance” that governs the central planets through an elaborate system of surveillance and benevolent but Orwellian incentive structures. However the Alliance struggles to maintain control over the outer planets, which are largely characterized by tribalism and vigilante law akin to the U.S. Wild West or, for those on whom the metaphor is not lost, ungoverned spaces of today’s globe in which criminal networks, banditry, slavery and insecurity thrive. In other words, the political geography of the series rather resembles Thomas Barnett’s distinction between the “Functioning Core” and the “Non-Integrating Gap.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the “good guys” of the show are not the Alliance civilizers, keen to spread rule of law throughout the fringe, but rather the crew of a smuggling ship captained by a one-time anti-Alliance insurgent and his sidekick, plus various crew and passengers picked up for utilitarian reasons along the way. The series follows their everyday life skirting Alliance officials, bartering, smuggling, and shooting when necessary.

But the series seems less about a band of criminals than about survival of kin-groups under failed state systems. Of particular interest to people concerned with governance under anarchy is the complex way in which honor codes come to check otherwise self-interested rationality.

I haven’t (yet) delved into the considerable fan writings on Firefly/Serenity, but I did discover a brilliant gender analysis of the series published last year in the British Journal of International Relations. (It came to my mind as I considered the bleg PTJ posted recently about how to teach globalization and security.) Christina Rowley writes:

“[Joss] Whedon’s vision appears to share much in common with Cynthia Enloe’s (1996) appeal that we focus more of our analytical attention on the ‘margins, silences and bottom rungs’ of world politics, in order to illuminate the amounts and varieties of power that are required to be exerted in order to keep the world functioning as it does…. The Issues with which F/S engages – e.g. travel and migration, trade and smuggling, crime and terrorism, prostitution and sex work, individual and societal security – are simultaneously local and international – or, rather, post-national.”

The show is also, Rowley argues, “post-feminist” insofar as:

“the individuals who comprise Serenity’s crew and passengers, and the situationg in which they find themselves, provide critiques and alternative visions of what it means to be gendered.”

She fleshes out this claim with reference to Zoe the warrior wife, Kaylee the sweet, sensitive ship’s mechanic, Inara the high-class Companion (geisha/prostitute) and various other protrayals of women and gender issues in the show. (Rowley spends only one paragraph on the men of Firefly, unfortunately, although in my mind different constructions of good and bad masculinity underpin the show, and Jayne Cobb’s gradual conversion from greedy, Neanderthal-esque cretin to good guy sidekick is one of the most interesting themes.)

At any rate, perhaps partly due to the misfit between “post-feminist” narratives and an increasingly retro gender culture characteristic of post-9/11 US political culture, the series failed after one season. But thanks to the show’s strong and growing cult following, this could change. Fan organizations such as Browncoats.com and Fireflyfans.net are dedicated to “keep[ing] the fandom growing” not just in its own right but also to bring back the show by demonstrating that “we Browncoats are a mighty force of consumers.”

One site exhorts fans to “throw a conversion party,” “make your own bumper-stickers,” “call Universal” or (two of my favorites):

“Any time you rent a sci-fi, western or action movie, put a small flyer or sticker on the case underneath the DVD. Where the renters will see them, but employees inspecting the cases won’t.

Type in www.whatisfirefly.com into any public access Internet computer you come into contact with (libraries, computer stores, cyber cafés, etc) and leave it on the screen when you leave.”

(Geez, the SaveDarfur coalition could take some pointers from this movement.)

Such efforts (and this blog post should in no way be construed as guerilla marketing of this type) have not yet succeeded at either reviving the series or securing the right to produce Season 2 informally, but they did result in a major feature film.

As Americans grow weary of the US government’s Alliance role, might there may indeed be more mass support for pro-libertarian shows of this type? I suppose that depends on your estimate of the relationship between foreign policy and popular culture, on which I’m no expert. Thoughts?

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