How valuable is the contribution of Feminism to the study of international relations?

The Evaluation of Feminism's Contributions to International Relations

The evaluation of feminism’s contributions to the field of International Relations is complicated by the fact that feminist discourses are not only a multifarious segment of conflicting ideas employing multiple epistemologies, but also a marginalized branch in the study of international affairs.

Feminist Theorists' Attempts to Expose Gender Biases

Feminist theorists work in various ways to expose gender biases inherent in traditional international relations theories such as liberal institutionalism and realism. They are also attempting to rebuild gender-neutral attitudes in international politics. Feminist theorists’ conclusions have a transformational impact on the fundamental foundations of international relations.

The Marginalization of Feminist International Relations Theory

Nonetheless, feminist international relations theory is still relegated to the fringes of the discipline; while mainstream IR scholars decline to engage in productive discussions about the issues raised feminist critiques. Even though traditional positivist theorists are confounded with agenda driven by post-positivists feminists and how it correlates with their research program, feminists are afraid of cooption and hence they are not willing to accept their theories to be incorporated into other bodies or schools of thought. This paper begins by outlining feminists strategies to international relations and gender is linked to the evaluation of international politics. It also explores how feminist theories have been used to reconstruct international relations theory through encouraging a gender-neutral approach. This will offer an understanding into how feminist theories can be used as a gender lens to reexamine some of the critical principles of international relations such as security, power, and the state. Lastly, the paper will assess how the mainstream international relations theorists have made an attempt to engage with feminist theorists and the manner in which they have responded.

Feminist Theory in Relation to International Relations Theory

The application of feminism theories to the field of international relations is a recent phenomenon in comparison to other sections of social sciences. Early feminist theorists explored how gender influenced international relations theory and practice during the end of the 1980s. In a similar approach to the post-positivist critique to international relations theory, feminist thinkers have contended that ideologies such as neo-realism, realism, as well as liberal institutionalism, offer a limited view grounded in the unacknowledged political expectations that do not narrate well the history of international politics. Traditional theories were censured because of failing to effectively explain the failing of the Soviet Union, the volatile security threats experienced during the 1990s, as well as the peaceful and unexpected end of the Cold war era (Hutchings 97-99).

Diverse Approaches within Feminist International Relations

The feminist approach to international relations is not guided by a single unitary theory, but is constituted of a precise discourse that encompasses numerous competing theories. For instance, liberal feminists emphasize on the guarantee of equal rights, access to equitable education, as well as economic participation among women. On the other hand, Marxist feminists strive to transform change oppressive social and economic structures that inherent in capitalist societies. In contrast, standpoint feminists espouse that women’s knowledge is derived from a marginalized perspective that has the ability to provide better insights into the realm of international politics in comparison to traditional theorists (Enloe 1-2). However, postmodern feminists refute the notion that a single theory can offer a comprehensive story about human experiences (Blanchard 1290). Postmodern feminists postulate that no authentic experiences of women or standpoint can be utilized as a template in the comprehension of the world, and hence they chide liberal feminists due to their overemphasis on the enlightenment ideology, their biases associated with the western middle class, as well as their essentialist perceptions of women.

The Significance of Gender in Feminist International Relations

Regardless of the fissiparous nature feminism in the study of international relations, all feminist scholars are brought together by one critical feature, which is great concern they have for gender issues. Gender is described as a social and ideological constructed notion that differences exist between men and women, which are greater than the biological disparities witnessed among males and females. According to Hutchings (98), gender is comprised of and is constituted of inequalities in social structures and power relations, as well as the significant influence of the distinct experiences of men and women. In diverse approaches, feminists strive to explain the function of gender in relation to theory and practice of international relations through the identification of the role of women in international politics, examining how they are influenced by certain structures and conduct within the international system, as well as assessing strategies of reconstructing international relations theory through a gender-neutral perceptive (Enloe 2-3).

The Overlooked Role of Women in International Politics

However, because mainstream international relations theorists are not conventionally concerned about gender, the literature of early feminist theorists strived to unveil the vital yet unaccounted function of women in conventional realms of international politics such as high politics, war, and participation in the global economy. Enloe (4) tends to emphasize in her work the daily experiences of women through the illustration of their significance to the sustainability and maintenance of the state system in their roles as plantation workers, wives to diplomats, consumers, as well as prostitutes who surrounded military bases. According to Enloe, the omission of women from international relation theories predisposes the field to an analysis that is not sufficient and naïve (Enloe 5).

Reconstruction of International Relations - The State, Power, and Security

Liberal feminists such as Enloe are content to highlight the roles and works of women in relation to their inclusion in public life. Nonetheless, post-positivists and standpoint feminist take a notch further by questioning how gender biases and distortions have been widely accepted and ignored in the discipline of international relations (Enloe 7-9). They challenge scholars in international relations to ask critical questions about the normative anchoring of their theories. Early feminist scholars argued that in order to deconstruct such partialities, it is essential to assess the socially constructed linguistics used by mainstream theories, especially realism. They ask that scholars in international relations should take into consideration conventionally utilized dichotomies such as subjectivity and objectivity, culture and nature, national and international, as well as private and public approaches (Hutchings 100-101). In such groupings, the former makes reference to masculine values that are subconsciously judged to be of higher significance in comparison to feminine terminologies. The use of such evaluations to scrutinize critical international relations literature provides more insights with regard to the gendered nature of linguistics and information used by traditional international relations theory, which offers new definitions of well-thumped notions like state, security, and power.

The Gendered Nature of the State, Security, and Power

Feminist theorists identify the arbitrary disparities between private and public lifestyles in political thought held by the Western society as the primary cause that results in the exclusion of women from international politics. In the perspective of influential thinkers such as Hobbes, Aristotle, and Locke, the phrase "citizen" makes reference to males working in the public realm to defend the state in instances of war as soldiers (Blanchard 1291-1293). This description conveniently hides or ignores the services offered by women in other roles such as wives and mothers, which are functions that are critical to the sustained survival of the state. Even though the roles of women are also vital in militarizing citizenship, they are depicted as helpless and in dire need of protection from their male counterparts. Moreover, the state natural possesses a blatant patriarchal and masculine identity. Early theorists in international relations depict paternal states as autonomous and strong entities that have the capacity to protect their citizenry from the chaos and hazards eminent in nature (Carpenter 153-155). From the scope of this gender lens, the notion of control comes to the front through a realist ideology because the masculine state tends to subjugate the feminine nature to sustain its power through anarchy.

Re-evaluating the Concept of Security and Power

These kinds of insights in relation to the gendered nature of the state have certain critical implications in the manner in which the mainstream international relations comprehends the notion of security and power. The overemphasis on control by realism denotes a prescription of various types of power that encourage domination. As a consequence, this leads states to seek security through the use of their military might to deter other nations. According to feminists, this is a partial evaluation guided by a sole masculine ideology. This notion of power is specifically pertinent in addressing the problems of the 21st century where the economic interdependence is vital to stability (Hutchings 102-103). In addition, feminists’ critique of traditional aspects of power and the identity of the nation translate to a re-evaluation of the concept of security. According to feminists, realists place more emphasis on security at the international realm while ignoring the notion of security within the state boundaries.


The contribution of feminist theories to the comprehension of international relations theory is not something easy to assess. It is evident that liberal feminists have made and continue to make a tremendous contribution to the manner in which international relations are practiced, which has resulted in significant changes in both the national and international policies. Moreover, it is clear that the feminists’ assessment can transform the manner in which international relations scholars comprehend the core concepts like security, state, and power, which moves theory close in touch with reality by shifting the society’s interest to interdependence, soft power, as well as individual human rights for women in society. Nonetheless, the debate between liberal feminists, post-positivist, and standpoint feminists imply that there is an inherent conflict between the need to place women’s interests at the international level and their objective of deconstructing gender disparities. Similarly, the feminist approach is difficult and diffuse to identify since it is not clear if women would like to reconstruct the primary aspects of international relations or refute the mainstream literature that exists in the field. This has helped feminist’s theories from parodying the existing literature since post-modern feminists have taken critical steps to check and balance the trends, especially with regard to tendency in relation to the standpoint of feminists who purport speak for those who are oppressed.

Works Cited

Blanchard, Eric M. “Gender, international relations, and the development of feminist security theory.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28.4 (2003): 1289-1312. Print.

Carpenter, R. Charli. “Gender theory in world politics: Contributions of a non-feminist standpoint?.” International Studies Review 4.3 (2002): 153-165. Print.

Enloe, Cynthia. Bananas, Beaches and Bases: making feminist sense of international politics. London: University of California, 2014. Print.

Hutchings, Kimberly. “1988 and 1998: Contrast and continuity in feminist international relations.” Millennium 37.1 (2008): 97-105. Print.

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