Tuesday, 13 December 2011
Feminism in international relations is a broad term given to works of those scholars who have sought to bring gender concerns into the academic study ofinternational politics.
In terms of international relations (IR) theory it is important to understand that feminism is derived from the school of thought known asreflectionism. One of the most influential works in feminist IR is Cynthia Enloe's Bananas, Beaches and Bases (Pandora Press 1990). This text sought to chart the many different roles that women play in international politics - as plantation sector workers, diplomatic wives, sex workers on military bases etc. The important point of this work was to emphasize how, when looking at international politics from the perspective of women, one is forced to reconsider his or her personal assumptions regarding what international politics is 'all about'.
However, it would be a mistake to think that feminist IR was solely a matter of identifying how many groups of women are positioned in the international political system. From its inception, feminist IR has always shown a strong concern with thinking about men and, in particular, masculinities. Indeed, many IR feminists argue that the discipline is inherently masculine in nature. For example, in her article "Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals"Signs (1988), Carol Cohn claimed that a highly masculinised culture within the defense establishment contributed to the divorcing of war from human emotion.
A feminist IR involves looking at how international politics affects and is affected by both men and women and also at how the core concepts that are employed within the discipline of IR (e.g. war, security, etc.) are themselves gendered. Feminist IR has not only concerned itself with the traditional focus of IR on states, wars, diplomacy and security, but feminist IR scholars have also emphasized the importance of looking at how gender shapes the current global politicaleconomy. In this sense, there is no clear cut division between feminists working in IR and those working in the area of International Political Economy (IPE).
Feminist IR emerged largely from the late 1980s onwards. The end of the Cold War and the re-evaluation of traditional IR theory during the 1990s opened up a space for gendering International Relations. Because feminist IR is linked broadly to the critical project in IR, by and large most feminist scholarship has sought to problematise the politics of knowledge construction within the discipline - often by adopting methodologies of deconstructivism associated withpostmodernism/poststructuralism. However, the growing influence of feminist and women-centric approaches within the international policy communities (for example at the World Bank and the United Nations) is more reflective of the liberal feminist emphasis on equality of opportunity for women.
By focusing on 'traditional' women’s roles (as victims or being used by men), feminist IR may exclude those women participating as diplomats or soldiers as well as ignoring men's issue such as why it is generally men are forced to fight in wars. Furthermore, as with criticisms with feminism in general, feminism almost always treats women as the subject of analysis at the exclusion of men—whether as agents or victims. In defence, some feminisms do consider men—though it still often makes the assumption that due to patriarchy, a certain, rational man is privileged. This may result in aconfirmation bias.
Two of the most well known scholars to raise criticisms of feminist IR have been Robert Keohane and Francis Fukuyama. Keohane's target was not feminist IR per se but the attachment of many feminist IR scholars to postmodernist methodologies and theories. For Keohane, feminist IR need to develop scientific testable theories—a claim that J. Ann Tickner responded to with her piece 'You Just Don't Understand!'. Fukuyama suggested that the problem with feminist IR was that it put forward the view that if women ran the world then we would live in a much more peaceful world, a claim that he disputed. In fact, few feminist IR scholars have argued this.