Feminist Theory


Feminist Theory Essay, Research Paper

Feminists rely chiefly on the contention that the traditional analysis of world politics is fundamentally gendered. Gender-sensitive analysis begins with the premise that societal institutions are made by humans and are therefore changeable by humans. Feminists systematically deconstruct the notions traditionally held by realists and taken for granted as how the world works.

Gender-sensitive analysis takes many factors into consideration that the realist does not. As history dictates, the world, both in the domestic and international scenes, has been predominantly ruled by men. Women have historically been almost entirely excluded from policy-making positions throughout the world. Until recently there have been almost no women with significant power, relevant to the number of men in similar positions. In the limited instances of a woman gaining any high degree of power within a country, her success has typically been due to the marginalization of those characteristics traditionally gendered as feminine. Additionally consider the fact that, at least until recently, the overwhelming majority of written contributions to the fields of international relations theory and world politics have been from a male perspective. Then we can begin to see that the feminist assumption that the traditional analysis of world politics has been and still remains inherently gendered may not be an unrealistic conclusion.

Consider the Hobbesian notion that, in a state of nature, human beings (man) acts entirely in an anarchic manner. This premise carries over into traditional international relations theory when the relationships he involves himself in are solely for the purpose of self-help and self-preservation (True, 234). Feminist theories begin with the assumption that “striving for attachment and community is as much a part of human nature as the desire for independence” (Tickner, 132). Through gendered analysis, i.e. without taking into consideration those qualities we have come to categorize as ‘feminine’, traditional realist theory has ignored what may well be a fundamental aspect of human nature.

Feminist theory questions the traditional Waltzian levels of analysis. They contend that the individual, the state and the international system are arbitrarily determined and are not discrete levels of analysis. They hold that they are, in fact, “mutually reinforcing constructs, each based on behaviors associated with hegemonic masculinity” (Tickner, 131).

Feminists attack what some have termed “economic man” and “political man”. These figures, constructed out of masculine characteristics, have been defined by autonomy, independence, power-over relations, and an instrumental notion of reality (Tickner, 131). These constructs have become an integral part of the traditional analysis of world politics. Feminists attempt to deconstruct these (traditionally) highly valued notions by contending that there are other human characteristics, such as the desire for community, interdependence, and cooperation that define human nature as much as the traditional.

Some feminists argue that male-dominated foreign policy making marginalizes the importance of individuals and their families “in the name of an abstract conception of the ‘national interest’” (True, 121). Christine Sylvester specifically attacks the traditional realist notions of rationality and the sovereign state as being undeniably gendered. She maintains that, “if man is rational-rationality is equated with men’s behavior-and the social institutions he creates are also rational, then the state itself bears a male-masculine identity” (True, 229).

Traditional Waltzian analysis has defined security through the utilization of power-over relationships, where the war and the use of force become essential to maintaining a secure state. Feminists theorize that the world could be a much better place if, instead of using the threat of force and war to satisfy national interests, policy-makers would pursue more peaceful means of achieving the same goals. To do this, they contend that we must first deconstruct political and social hierarchies. The next step would be to engage in such activities as mediation, a process completely divergent from the notion of war. Mediation requires characteristics that have become more congruent with traditional notions of feminity, such as trust building and attempting to understand others views through empathy.

In an unusual cross-cultural study, Geert Hofstede used gender as one of the categories of his analysis examining the role of values in state decision-making and development strategies. “In all the societies examined in the study, women were perceived as caring for people and the quality of life. In societies that Hofstede labeled masculine, men tended to see their roles as maximally different from those of women. In societies labeled as feminine, considerable overlap in gender roles was evident; men were less assertive and more oriented toward caring” (Tickner, 140). He noted that the Scandinavian countries, overwhelmingly, asserted more of these ‘feminine’ characteristics. History shows us that some of these countries (Sweden, etc.) have developed a more non-violent, non-confrontational policy toward the rest of the world than other nations have.

I submit to you that, if Hofstede’s findings are true, and I do believe that they are, this could be a great boost to the credibility of feminist theory and moreover that feminist perspectives could provide valuable insights into ways to improve our world and promote a more peaceful existence.

According to Scott Burchill, theorizing “is the process by which we give meaning to an allegedly objectified world ‘out there’” (True, 225). If this is true, how can we possibly hope to assemble a workable theory that is both relevant and objective without taking into consideration the perspectives and attitudes of over half of the population “out there”?

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