The term intersectionality was introduced in the late 1980s by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a U.S. legal scholar critiquing single-axis approaches (i.e., race only or gender only) to oppression that often obscure those residing at the intersection of multiple marginalities and preclude them from justice. Since then, intersectionality has become a burgeoning field of study aimed at exploring and addressing the complexity of multiple and intersecting dimensions of power and oppression. While scholars across a range of disciplines have engaged intersectionality and incorporated intersectional analysis into their work, its explicit application and study in international relations (IR) has been somewhat limited. While intersectionality, named as such, may be less common in IR, postcolonial, Third World, transnational, Islamic, and queer feminist scholars and activists have long sought to complicate traditional understandings of power. Identifying and tracing the genealogical strands of their intersectional thinking and interventions help demonstrate the relevance and potential of intersectionality for the study of IR.
Genealogies of Intersectionality in International Relations
Celeste Montoya and Kimberly Killen
Women as Objects and Commodities
The engagement between the discipline of international relations (IR) and feminist theory has led to an explosion of concerns about the inherent gendered dimension of a supposedly gender-blind field, and has given rise to a rich and complex array of analyses that attempt to capture the varied aspects of women’s invisibility, marginalization, and objectification within the discipline. The first feminist engagements within IR have pointed not only to the manner in which women are rendered invisible within the field, but also to IR’s inherent masculinity, which masks itself as a neutral and universally valid mode of investigation of world politics. Thus, the initial feminist incursions into IR’s discourse took the form of a conscious attempt both to bridge the gap between IR and feminist theory and to bring gender into IR, or, in other words, to make the field aware that “women are relevant to policy.” In the 1990s, feminist literature undertook incisive analyses of women’s objectification and commodification within the global economy. By the end of the 1990s and into the first decade of the 21st century, the focus turned to an accounting for the agency of diverse women as they are located within complex sociopolitical contexts. The core concern of this inquiry lay with the diversification of feminist methodologies, especially as it related to the experience of women in non-Western societies.
Advances in Feminist Geography
Nicole Laliberte, Kate Driscoll Derickson, and Lorraine Dowler
Geography and international studies are both deeply rooted in masculinist, imperialist, and patriarchal ways of viewing the world. However, over the past 20 years, the increase in the number of women within these fields has planted the seeds for the introduction of feminist intervention. Feminist geography is primarily concerned with the real experiences of individuals and groups in their own localities. It can be viewed as the study of "situated knowledges derived from the lives and experiences of women in different social and geographic locations." Feminist geographers consistently seek out techniques which are in line with their feminist philosophies. Although much of the work will be categorized as qualitative, such as ethnographic fieldwork, feminist geographers recognize the need for feminist approaches in quantitative analysis, and techniques alone do not render the project feminist. Rather, feminists in geography argue that all types of data collection must recognize the power relationship between the researcher and the researched. Feminist geography also operates at the local scale and crosses to the global. This is illustrated by geographers who not only study the daily lives of women in a refugee camp but also construct theoretical arguments focused on global forces such as climate change or war in relation to the international migration of women.
Gender Violence, Colonialism, and Coloniality
Natália Maria Félix de Souza and Lara Martim Rodrigues Selis
Feminist perspectives on gender, colonialism, and coloniality have provided important contributions to the discipline of international relations, particularly by producing dislocations on the established political imaginary. By critically engaging issues of embodiment, violence, and resistance, these perspectives have been able to subvert epistemological positions that objectify subaltern experiences, particularly those of colonized and racialized women. Furthermore, feminism’s ability to account for non-Western experiences of colonialism and coloniality has demanded a fundamental commitment to re-signifying gender violence in ways that markedly challenge its mainstream connotations. In that sense, distinct Latin American and Afrocentric critical approaches have opened different avenues to politicize gender without ignoring the experiences and knowledges of colonized, racialized, and sexualized populations. Their differing perspectives on embodiment emerge from the voices, practices, and struggles of women who refuse liberal diagnoses and solutions to their multiple, long-standing oppressions and experiences of violence. In this regard, it is important to highlight the centrality of popular, communitarian, and indigenous feminists whose actions and reflections have been sustaining revolutionary debates on bodies, states, territories, capitalism, and so forth. A reconstructive feminist narrative must seriously engage with existing practices of resistance to understand the ways in which they have already been reconstructing political imaginaries and grammars. In following this path, a critical feminist approach to international relations can abandon its modern academicist ambitions for universal solutions to recover the plural narratives, memories, knowledges, and interpretations of people as opportunities for experiencing another discipline and, hopefully, another world.
Global Masculinities, Femininities, and Sexualities
Celeste Montoya, Sarah McCullar, and Marjon Kamrani
Feminist international relations (IR) scholars have worked to expand understandings of the global processes through studies of gender. There are multiple forms of feminist scholars and scholarship, with each epistemology having its own understanding of gender and its role in influencing international relations. These include feminist empiricism, feminist standpoint, poststructuralist feminist approaches, and postcolonial feminism. Some of the early feminist IR scholarship placed most of their emphasis on critiquing patriarchy, sometimes resulting to a narrow and essentialist construction of masculinity. These early works note the absence of women and the denigration of the feminine, as well as the predominance of masculine subject matter and masculine partiality in IR. This began to change with the recognition of different types of masculinities, offering a broader conceptualization of gender and masculinities beyond attachment to sex. Beyond recognizing the relational differences between masculinity and femininity, feminist scholars have also pointed out the differential value accorded to each, thus emphasizing the problematic hierarchical nature of such binaries. Another goal of feminist scholars has been to uncover the feminine roles rendered invisible, to challenge the masculine nature of IR as a discipline as well as deal with descriptive and substantive representational issues within the field and practice of IR. Meanwhile, the study of sexualities focuses on power dynamics and the hierarchies associated with sexual identity in its many forms. The predominant themes in this study include sexuality in relation to the study of war and nation; sexuality as a commodity; and studies of hetero- and homonormativity.
Feminism and Gender Studies in International Relations Theory
Feminist theories of international relations have thrived over the past decade as evidenced by the many and varied feminist contributions to the international relations field. At the same time, international relations feminists have had rich theoretical debates among themselves over critical questions about epistemology, ontology, methodology, and ethics. Feminist theories of international relations are distinguished by their ethical commitments to inclusivity and self-reflexivity, and attentiveness to relationships and power in relationships. These norms implicitly guide feminists to put into practice their own critical theories, epistemologies, and explicit normative commitments. Thus, rather than a source of division, the contestations among international relations feminisms about the epistemological grounds for feminist knowledge, the ontology of gender, and the appropriate ethical stance in a globalizing albeit grossly unequal world are a source of their strength. With a shared normative commitment to global social change, feminist scholarship and social movements can appreciate and even celebrate internal diversities and multidimensional identities. In this respect, feminist international relations can be described as a movement that shows what is to come and that offers innovative methods to get there. In the context of current United Nations reform, feminist movements have cited the need for a global institutional powerhouse to promote the rights of women and girls worldwide, rather than a system where everyone is responsible for integrating gender perspectives.
Gender in the Classroom
Although the study of women and gender flourished at intersection of comparative politics (CP) and international relations (IR), mostly international political economy (IPE) and Development Studies, much of IR itself was resistant at its core. Explicitly feminist analysis challenged the core with several decades of research that instructors can incorporate into their classes. The incorporation/transformation challenge can be daunting, however, as publication outlets for research on women, gender, and feminism often remained separate from mainstream journals, with some promising exceptions. These separate tracks are now changing, but instructors still need to check multiple places to prepare for courses and identify good assignments. And although IR feminists seek interaction with the IR core, the core IR theorists are wedded to frameworks associated with realism, liberalism, Marxism, and others, or to positivist, quantitative methodologies that may rely on flawed and male-centric databases rather than grounded field research. A major challenge in the next 40 years involves growing the interactions among bordered subfields; analyzing the intersections of gender, race/ethnicity, class, and nationality; and engaging with southern voices outside the US and Western-centric IR field. In this vein, the classroom is a major arena in which critical thinking, contestation, new research, and action agendas emerge.
Global Governance and Feminist Activism
Competing narratives exist in feminist scholarship about the successes and challenges of women’s activism in a globalized world. Some scholars view globalization as merely another form of imperialism, whereby a particular tradition—white, Eurocentric, and Western—has sought to establish itself as the only legitimate tradition; (re)colonization of the Third World; and/or the continuation of “a process of corporate global economic, ideological, and cultural marginalization across nation-states.” On the other hand, proponents of globalization see opportunity in “the proliferation of transnational spaces for political engagement” and promise in “the related surge in the number and impact of social movements and nongovernmental organizations. Feminist involvement in global governance can be understood by appreciating the context and origins of the chosen for advancing feminist interests in governance, which have changed over time. First wave feminism, describing a long period of feminist activity during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, developed vibrant networks seeking to develop strong coalitions, generate broad public consensus, and improve the status of women in society. Second wave feminist concerns dominated the many international conferences of the 1990s, influencing the dominant agenda, the problems identified and discussed, the advocacy tactics employed, and the controversies generated. Third wave feminism focused more on consciousness raising and coalition building across causes and identities.
Women National Leaders
The number of women in national elective leadership positions has grown since 1960 when the first woman became prime minister. As the number of women in high elective office has grown, feminist scholars have worked to fill the “gender gap” in the study of national leadership in the disciplines of history, political science, and international relations. Feminist scholars, for instance, have investigated several gender-based assumptions about what the policy priorities of women leaders will be. The first assumption is that a woman leader will promote social programs and expenditures over military defense; this assumption is based on women’s traditional gender role as caretaker. The second assumption is that a woman leader will be likely to eschew the use of military force in foreign policy. The third is that she will introduce or endorse policies that promote gender equality, that is, that she will pursue a feminist agenda. Thus, the general policy questions scholars approach the study of women leaders with are: Is she a socialist? Is she a pacifist? Is she a feminist? Feminist scholars also consider public perceptions about women’s ability to serve as national leader as well as performance, or women’s style of leadership and effectiveness as leaders. Do women lead in a hierarchical, “top-down” command style or do they tend to be more cooperative, collegial, and collaborative than their male counterparts?
“Feminist” Theoretical Inquiries and “IR”
Anna M. Agathangelou and Heather M. Turcotte
Feminist international relations (IR) theories have long provided interventions and insights into the embedded asymmetrical gender relations of global politics, particularly in areas such as security, state-nationalism, rights–citizenship, and global political economies. Yet despite the histories of struggle to increase attention to gender analysis, and women in particular, within world politics, IR knowledge and practice continues to segregate gendered and feminist analyses as if they are outside its own formation. IR as a field, discipline, and site of contestation of power has been one of the last fields to open up to gender and feminist analyses. One reason for this is the link between social science and international institutions like the United Nations, and its dominant role in the formation of foreign policy. Raising the inferior status of feminism within IR, that is, making possible the mainstreaming of gender and feminism, will require multiple centers of power and multiple marginalities. However, these institutional struggles for recognition through exclusion may themselves perpetuate similar exploitative relationships of drawing boundaries around legitimate academic and other institutional orders. In engaging, listening and writing these struggles, it is important to recognize that feminisms, feminist IR, and IR are intimately linked through disciplinary struggles and larger geopolitical struggles of world affairs and thus necessitate knowledge terrains attentive to intersectional and oppositional gendered struggles (i.e., race, sexuality, nation, class, religion, and gender itself).
Gender, Religion, and International Relations
Amanda E. Donahoe
Gender, religion, and politics are closely intertwined, and both have a significant impact on international relations (IR). There is a large body of literature dedicated to the intersections between gender, religion, and IR, and they can be categorized into matters regarding female subordination, human rights and equality, and feminism and agency. Religion has been historically, traditionally, and androcentrically gendered both in practice and ideology. A good portion of the literature on the linkages between gender and religion in the IR context discusses the ways in which women have been subordinated within Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Their religious subordination can be linked to legal equality, and the different forms of subordinating women implicitly and often explicitly lead to the inequality of women. Scholars who address this issue vary widely between being critical of the religions that perpetuate inequality and a dearth of women’s rights, to arguing in support of religion but in critique of its application and cultural practice. In addition, as women’s rights are but one element of the international engagements of various forms of feminism, scholars also engage in a range of discussions on political agency and the critical analysis of gender from both within and without religious and secular feminisms.
Nationalism, Citizenship, and Gender
Joyce P. Kaufman and Kristen P. Williams
Nationalism and the nation-state are both intimately connected to citizenship. Citizenship and nationalism are also linked to gender, as all three concepts play a key role in the process of state-building and state-maintenance as well as in the interaction between states, whether overtly or covertly. Yet women do not figure in the analysis of nationalism and citizenship in the mainstream literature, a gap that feminists have been trying to fill. By interrogating gender, along with the notions of masculinity and femininity, feminist international relations (IR) scholars shed light into the ways that gender is socially constructed. They also investigate the historical process of state formation and show where women are located in nationalist movements. Furthermore, by unpacking the sovereign state, feminist scholars have argued that while mainstream IR views the state as a rational, unitary actor, states are actually gendered entities. Two kinds of feminist literature in IR in regards to the state can be identified: women and the state (how women are excluded in terms of the public–private divide, and through citizenship), and gender and the state (gendered states). In general, feminist scholarship has led to a more complete understanding of the gender-citizenship-nationalism nexus. Nevertheless, some avenues for future research deserve consideration, such as the political and cultural exclusions of women and others in society, the inequalities that exist within states, whether there is such a thing as a “Comparative Politics of Gender,” and the concept of “global citizenship.”
Women as Agents of Violence
Caron E. Gentry
The public/private divide assumes that men are the (public sphere) actors gendered toward the possibility of violent action, specifically as soldiers, combatants, guerrillas, or revolutionaries, whereas “proper” women within the private sphere are gendered to be non-violent or peaceful actors. Women who engage in the political sphere are condemned for deviating from the private, and more so when they are involved in violence. Indeed, women who operate as agents of political violence are accused of transgressing both gender norms and the normative conceptualization of a state’s monopoly on violence. Feminists have challenged the veracity of this public/private circumscription through their evaluation of women as agents of political violence. Earlier feminist work dehumanizes politically violent women, making their violence more damaging and mental health more damaged than men who commit the same violence. Feminists later moved away from this dehumanization and instead portrayed women as helpmates to the politically violent organization and its male members. Some or most mainstream approaches refer to women involved in sub-state political violence as “terrorists,” and women terrorists are socially constructed as doubly illegitimate actors. Instead of focusing on what must be wrong with the women who engage in political violence, research should identify the reasons behind their actions, such as perceived injustices against them, their community, and/or political and civil rights.
Women, Gender, and Contemporary Armed Conflict
More than twenty years ago, feminist scholars began challenging conventional approaches to the study of war that they accused of being gender blind and excluding women’s involvement and experience of conflict. This feminist critique was articulated by Cynthia Enloe in her question “Where are the women?” in reference to the study of conflicts. Since then, numerous scholars have produced works that not only include women in existing accounts of war but also offer radical alternative approaches to the study of war. This body of feminist scholarship has sought to deconstruct and challenge three foundations of mainstream scholarship on armed conflict: equating gender with women or women’s issues; conflating women and children together as victims of war; and narrowly defining war as a masculine, public activity with a clear time frame. Feminist scholars such as Judith Butler theorized the concepts of gender and sex in order to complicate feminism beyond “women’s studies.” Despite these inroads into the way conflict is conceptualized and researched, mainstream approaches to the study of war in the past decade remain resistant to systematic and comprehensive considerations of gender. Recent scholarship presents a broader picture of women’s relationship to international conflicts. Feminist scholars demonstrate women’s multiple roles within, and impacts on, war; disrupt stereotypes and gendered norms associated with “women’s place” during war; and highlight some of the many different ways that women—as soldiers, rebels, and as perpetrators of violence—perform in, and influence war.
Institutions and Gender
Elisabeth Prügl and Hayley Anna Thompson
Feminism seeks to establish educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to such opportunities for men. Until now, women face serious inequalities based on social institutions such as norms, cultural traditions, and informal family laws. Scholars argue that this aspect has so far been neglected in international policy debates, and that there needs to be further discussion about the economic status of women (labor force participation); women’s access to resources, such as education (literacy) or heath (life expectancy); and the political empowerment of women (women in ministerial positions). In some instances, social norms such as female genital mutilation or any other type of violence against women–within or outside of the household–not only violate women’s basic human rights, but seriously impair their health status and future chances in a professional career. Gender stereotypes are also frequently brought up as one disadvantage to women during the hiring process, and as one explanation of the lack of women in key organizational positions. Liberal feminist theory states that due to these systemic factors of oppression and discrimination, women are often deprived of equal work experiences because they are not provided equal opportunities on the basis of legal rights. Liberal feminists further propose that an end needs to be put to gender discrimination through legal means, leading to equality and major economic redistributions.
The Politics of (In)Visibility: Geopolitics and Subaltern Bodies
Francine Rossone de Paula
The materiality of (living, dead, and surviving) bodies has been highlighted as a productive element of resistance against intersectional violence and oppression in Latin America. While acknowledging the potential of feminist solidarities and embodied resistance to reinscribe meaning on political spaces by cutting across these spaces and opening new territories for recognition and social justice, it remains important to acknowledge the precarity of certain bodies’ geopolitical positions. Processes through which some bodies are simultaneously concealed and exposed, and whose movements are continuously perceived as excessive to the status quo, may be revealing of these bodies’ inherent potential for disruption and politicization as both a symbolic and physical presence. However, when visibility is itself a symptom of their “displacement” from dominant representations sustaining the ordering of space, these bodies’ visibility is rarely translated into audibility or legibility. In other words, they exceed the “map,” and their visibility is revealing of their condition of being “out of place.” Historic and contemporary feminist movements in Latin America show that when recognition is conditioned by the perception of presence as displacement, this may prevent subaltern bodies not only to speak to the political but also mainly to be heard. A closer look at their positionings and potentialities reveal the conditions for gendered and racist geographies of visibility, recognition, and agency and calls for a radicalization of the geo in geo-politics (with a hyphen) toward the de-normalization of violence as the everyday of international politics.
Feminism, Activism, and Scholarship in Global Context
Nancy A. Naples and Nikki McGary
The histories of women’s studies and feminist scholarship reveal the lack of distinction between feminist activism and feminist scholarship. The term “feminism” consists of multiple theories and agendas depending on regional, historical, and individual contexts. Broadly speaking, feminism includes theoretical and practical challenges to gender inequality and multiple forms of systemic oppression. However, the political projects that make women their objects are not always feminist; and political projects that address women’s issues are not always framed around the concept of feminism. Women activists and organizations do not always explicitly identify as feminist, although they might be participants in struggles aligned with broad feminist goals, including women’s empowerment, autonomy, human rights, and economic justice. A major theme that runs through feminist scholarship on women’s activism relates to the question of what difference women’s participation and feminist analyses make for progressive struggles. Feminist philosopher Nancy Fraser argues that there are “gender dimensions” to all struggles for social justice, and “feminists better be in these struggles and bring out those dimensions because certainly nobody else will.” Feminist scholars have also long debated what counts as a women’s movement. Revisioning women’s movements to include the diversity of women’s political analyses and strategies requires rethinking the labels used to categorize feminisms more generally.
Gender and the State
Natalie Florea Hudson
One of the main arguments advanced by feminists is that we must move beyond adding women to existing structures and institutions, and focus more on the theoretical, cognitive, and even moral commitments that emphasize the very creation and ongoing reproduction of such political bodies. Central to this concern are the feminist debates about the state and the gendered reproduction of the state in discourses ranging from security and violence to development and globalization. Feminist theorists have raised various approaches and critiques against the state. Some have shown how the state is deeply and fundamentally embedded to patriarchy, while others have described the state as a terrain that can be deconstructed and reconstructed in a manner that moves away from systems of domination, gendered hierarchy, and power over towards arenas that foster inclusion and emancipation. In response to mainstream international relations (IR) theory, feminists have argued that the state and its related notions of citizenship and sovereignty are gendered social constructs. They continue to challenge the primacy of the state in mainstream IR, while also engaging the state as an important political actor in the feminist quest for emancipation, equality, and justice. One strategy employed by some feminist organizations and women’s movements in an attempt to go beyond gender balancing and the rather basic goals of liberal feminism, but to still find ways to engage the state and state actors in meaningful ways, is gender mainstreaming.
Globalization and Human Rights
Tony Evans and Alex Kirkup
The literature on the relationship between globalization and human rights has laid out three responses to the economic, political, and social transformations of globalization within the human rights. First, some scholars consider globalization as complementary to the progressive realization of universal human rights on a global scale. They cite the extension and deepening of the formal human rights regime through international institutions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the emergence of new private, corporate forms of authority. Second, others perceive of globalization as creating substantial challenges for the realization of universal human rights on a global scale. Such scholars are engaged in criticism of the existing institutional arrangements of the formal human rights regime. They highlight the way in which human rights act as a form of power over people, especially where different ways of life are brought into contact and conflict through transformations associated with globalization. Furthermore, they reject the idea of the progressive realization of human rights as some form of an inevitable unfolding of history or as a singularly desired end point, and instead acknowledge conflicting conceptions of rights as expressions of social struggle A third group of scholars are engaged in the critique of the conception and function of human rights within globalization. From this viewpoint, globalization reveals that ideas of universal and indivisible human rights, along with their progressive realization, are flawed and need to be replaced by more substantive concepts. The critiques stem from the perspectives of neo-Marxism, postpositivism, feminism, and cultural relativism.
Feminist Contributions and Challenges to Peace Studies
Catia Cecilia Confortini
Many women across the world have addressed issues of peace and war since antiquity, from Christine de Pizan and Jane Addams to Betty Reardon and Elise Boulding. Although a few feminist scholars in the social sciences consider themselves “peace studies” (PS) scholars, other feminists contribute to PS by tackling peace and violence issues. PS comprises peace research, peace education, and peace activism. Feminists improve on and challenge these fields by insisting on expanded definitions of peace that suggest continuity between different forms of violence; highlighting the diverse roles played by women and other marginalized groups in violent conflicts and in peace processes; complicating our understanding of peace and violence while foregrounding gender as a social and symbolic construct involving relations of power; and proposing transformative ways of conceptualizing peace, war, and postconflict transitions. By seeing all forms of violence along a continuum, feminists transform PS’ understandings of peace. Furthermore, feminism brings women to the center of PS by making them visible as actors in both peace and conflict. Finally, feminism envisions a peaceful future that take into consideration women, other marginalized people, and gender. A number of themes continue to emerge from feminist engagement with PS, such as forgiveness, reconciliation, and transitional justice—themes situated at the intersection of peace/violence and religion.