Feminism in International Relations

*The following was the answer I gave in one of the questions for the IR theory part of my comprehensive examinations for graduate school last August 2012. I have edited some parts because we were to encode them verbatim and it was really funny to look at some of my typographical errors. =D Good thing the general context was considered. I still have yet to see the murdered with red ink returned paper with the comments from the examiners tomorrow, though.

Rosie the Riveter by J. Howard Miller --- a feminist icon from the U.S.

(Photo from www2.warwick.ac.uk)

Feminism in International Relations can’t be grouped using a single philosophical underpinning, in the same manner that mainstream theories are. However, they share a common argument in criticizing mainstream theories for being gender-biased, and their neglect of the issue of gender. Given the seemingly loose characteristic of this theoretical approach, it is actually divided into three strands. Paul D’Anieri discussed three strands of Feminist IR theories: Feminist Empiricism, Feminist Standpoint Theory and Feminist Postmodernism. Looking at these prominent views, we can see that Feminism in International Relations can’t be boxed immediately as postmodern because of the competing approaches within the paradigm.  The following essay will first discuss Feminist Empiricism, then Feminist Standpoint Theory and lastly Feminist Postmodernism. Then the essay will evaluate whether the strands can be amenable to mainstream theories of International Relations.

First, Feminist Empiricism focuses on how issues concerning women are not taken into account in mainstream theories. Cynthia Enloe in her study of the effects of military bases in the Philippines and Kosovo argues that the presence of such bases has changed the traditional roles of women in these areas because prostitution became an indelible part of their lives. Due to the decommissioning of these bases, the women are then left without their source of income and could not sustainably find an alternative . Jill Steans, on the other hand, studied the effects of globalization on women, particularly on sweatshops were women are most likely affected by policy changes.

Next, Feminist Standpoint Theory argues that concepts of International Relations theory are defined in ‘masculine’ terms (such as war and conflict). Rebecca Grant in “The Gender Bias of International Relations Theory” argued that incorporation of “feminine” traits attributed to altruism and cooperation can give a different perspective on how we study International Relations. Christine Sylvester argued that the separation of the women “private” sphere and the men’s public sphere is the reason why statistics of war casualties do not include children and women, but just soldiers killed in warfare. J. Ann Tickner in “Hans Morgenthau’s Principles of Political Realism: A Feminist Reformulation” argued that gender bias as power defined in masculine terms depict power as amoral. On the other hand, she suggested that power has no definite definition and posits that power has moral implications.

Lastly, Feminist Postmodernism, as argued by Jean Bethke Elshtain, takes a postmodern stand in criticizing not only mainstream theories, but Feminist Empiricists and Feminist Standpoint Theory most especially. According to her, the Feminist Standpoint Theory is very much concerned with the notion of the word “feminine”. For example, their argument of oppression of women by wearing a veil is seen through the Western construction of what freedom is, without taking into consideration the cultural reasons by which the veil is worn.

In discussing these three strands, we can see the Feminist Empiricist is amenable to mainstream theories, by employing empirical and quantitative methods of analysis in proving their cases on military bases and effects of globalization. As for the Feminist Standpoint Theory, it is constructivist in nature because emphasis in idea (of differentiating masculine and feminine concepts) that certain truths are knowable, subscribes to a post-positivist way of thinking. The Feminist Postmodernism strand, as the name suggests, could be classified as postmodern because it questions the presence of a universal truth, that even the Feminist Standpoint Theory’s notion of gender, specifically what is feminine might be biased as well. As Jean Bethke Elshtain emphasized, this is dangerous because making such associations for dichotomy is a form of oppression as well.