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The beginning of the 1980s was marked by Hedley Bull’s The Anarchical Society (1977) and Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Politics (1979). The books held two very different theoretical claims yet both proved to be pioneering pieces of scholarly literature on anarchy, statism and structural politics. The decade came to a closure which caused many to abruptly distance themselves from the sound theories of mainstream IR with Cynthia Enloe’s Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Relations (Enloe 1989), which revealed the otherwise unexplored life of women within politics.
The main aim of IR feminists is to ask a series of questions about the position of women in IR. For example, feminists question not only the role of women in the international arena but also what women have missed out it. It seeks to reveal how women have been excluding from decision-making and why whilst also attempting to explain events from a feminist perspective. The main objective is to demonstrate that we will never able to see the full picture of IR as we continue to ignore some of the key actors: women.
One of the major attributions to feminist theory is the realisation that international relations theory has de facto removed people, particularly women, as political entities. Cynthia Enloe recognised that, in a world which revolved around the actions of soldiers and male diplomats, ‘only men, not women of children, have been imagined capable of the public decisiveness international politics is presumed to require’ (Enloe 1989, 4). Feminist theory became, henceforth, a reaction to the inherent masculinity of International Relations theory and a movement which seeks to restore feminist issues once again on the political agenda and present their relevance on a global scale through gender equality. Gender - which refers to the social constructions that define our perception of masculinity and femininity - has become a fundamental variable in IR theory which distributes political leverage disproportionately between men and women, excluding the latter from the international arena.
The extent of marginalisation of feminist theory can be seen culturally by observing IR theories such as liberalism and realism, which portray themselves as gender neutral. Both theories conceptualise ideas of the state, war, peace, international organisations, and security and call upon actors and people instead of just men. In fact, until the 1980s, international relations was primarily the study of states, conflicts and power. Theoretical debates were centred on ‘peopleless states, abstract societies, static ordering principles’ (Sylvester 2002, 3). Yet this use of neutral terms is tarnished by their association with typical masculine characteristics. The result is that the majority of women who have held positions of authority in nations have acquired ‘masculine’ features to draw away from the typical image of weak and fragile women.
We can therefore assume that our perception of women in politics has been widely shaped by cultural variables of a patriarchal world in which men dominate. Despite this, it would be wrong to agree, as radical feminists tend to, that patriarchy manifests itself uniformly in a cross-continental manner. Indeed, Marxist feminists, for example, assert that patriarchy is created by capitalism, hierarchy and colonialism whereas liberal feminists tend to indicate cultural and historical explanatory causes to patriarchy. Also, it is imperative to appear inquisitive when discussing patriarchy by considering the necessary mechanisms to implement change and by acknowledging the inability to provide fast, liable solutions as a reaction against the patriarchal system.
The exclusion of women in IR had led to a void in international and national laws which seek to protect women. It is true that the UN resolution 1325 (S/RES/1325 2000) on women and peace and security calls for all actors to increase the participation of women and integrate gender perspectives in all UN peace and security efforts. It is also true that women, like men, have the right to freedom of expression and the right to a family. Despite this, we recognise that in many nations these laws are not abided by. Women do not have the freedom to express their opinions or they are forced into an arranged marriage in a multitude of nations worldwide. What feminist theory will continue to reiterate is that legally women lack specific legislation protecting their human rights, such as the right to pregnancy or the right to a safe pregnancy. Feminism is not about women becoming more powerful than men, rather it is a fight for equality and recognising women as key actors in the international area.