Feminist Theory

[Excerpt below is from Chapter 1 of War and Gender]

For information about this book, and a discussion forum, click below:
War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System
      and Vice Versa

Joshua S. Goldstein
(Cambridge University Press, September 2001)

Poster, Women of Britain
British poster, World War I

Feminist scholarship on war Given so many men’s low interest level, most political science studies of gender roles in war come from a feminist perspective and most are written by women. In the International Studies Association, women scholars are seven times more likely than men to belong to the gender studies section, and this disparity is greater at the leadership level, even though the section welcomes men and has done organized outreach to them. The authors and editors of 25 international relations books that address war and peace from explicitly feminist perspectives consist of 21 women and one man (see Table 1.3). Nearly all the individual contributors to the edited volumes on this list are also female. Of course, many women scholars are not feminists, and a few male scholars do study gender. Yet, as Ann Tickner puts it, “there is something about this field [international relations] that renders it particularly inhospitable and unattractive to women.” Many recent signs suggest change in the discipline, and gender articles now appear occasionally in mainstream journals, but gender is still segregated conceptually from the subjects that most scholars of war study.61

Table 1.3 Major works of feminist political science scholarship on war, 1982–98

Judith Hicks Stiehm, ed. Women and Men’s Wars. [1982 journal issue] 1983.
Cynthia Enloe. Does Khaki Become You? The Militarization of Women’s Lives. 1983.
Betty Reardon. Sexism and the War System. 1985.
Birgit Brock–Utne. Educating for Peace: A Feminist Perspective. 1985.
Jean Bethke Elshtain. Women and War. 1987.
Ruth Roach Pierson, ed. Women and Peace: Theoretical, Historical and Practical Perspectives. 1987.
Cynthia Enloe. Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. 1989.
Judith Hicks Stiehm. Arms and the Enlisted Woman. 1989.
Adrienne Harris and Ynestra King, eds. Rocking the Ship of State: Toward a Feminist Peace Politics. 1989.
Birgit Brock–Utne. Feminist Perspective on Peace and Peace Education. 1989.
Sara Ruddick. Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace. 1989.
Jean Bethke Elshtain and Sheila Tobias, eds. Women, Militarism, and War: Essays in History, Politics, and Social Theory. 1990.
Rebecca Grant and Kathleen Newland, eds. Gender and International Relations. [1989 journal issue] 1991.
V. Spike Peterson, ed. Gendered States: Feminist (Re) Visions of International Relations Theory. 1992.
Ann Tickner. Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security. 1992.
Cynthia Enloe. The Morning After: Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War. 1993.
V. Spike Peterson and Anne Sisson Runyan. Global Gender Issues: Dilemma in World Politics. 1993.
Betty Reardon. Women and Peace: Feminist Visions of Global Security. 1993.
Christine Sylvester. Feminist Theory and International Relations in a Postmodern Era. 1994.
Sandra Whitworth. Feminism and International Relations. 1994.
Peter Beckman and Francine D’Amico, eds. Women, Gender, and World Politics. 1994.
Francine D’Amico and Peter Beckman, eds. Women in World Politics. 1995.
Jan Pettman. Worlding Women: A Feminist International Politics. 1996.
Judith Hicks Stiehm, ed. It’s Our Military, Too! 1996.
Jill Steans. Gender and International Relations: An Introduction. 1998.
Lois Ann Lorentzen and Jennifer Turpin, eds. The Women and War Reader. 1998.

Feminist scholarship on war, building on a long tradition, has grown rapidly since the late 1980s. As in other fields, feminist research often tries to bring out the role of gender, and of women, in social relationships. In doing so, however, feminist theorists follow several schools of thought, with different and sometimes incompatible assumptions and analyses about war. I will try – within the limits of this cursory review – to give a sense of how feminist theorists of different schools think about war and peace.

Strands of feminist theory “The feminist theory” of war does not exist. Rather, a number of feminist arguments provide sometimes contradictory explanations and prescriptions. Feminist political theorist Jean Elshtain describes a “polyphonic chorus of female voices… At the moment [1987], feminists are not only at war with war but with one another.” This chorus is not simple to categorize, and to cover a range of approaches I will need to oversimplify.62

Most feminist approaches share a belief that gender matters in understanding war. They also share a concern with changing “masculinism” in both scholarship and political–military practice, where masculinism is defined as an ideology justifying male domination. They see women as a disadvantaged class, unjustly dominated and exploited by men. (According to 1981 data, women worldwide are half the population and a third of the paid labor force. They work two–thirds of the hours, but receive only a tenth of the income and own a hundredth of the property.)63

Beyond these points of agreement, different feminist schools diverge. Various authors describe feminist theories in terms of three perspectives or schools of thought. (Similar categorizations of theories into three schools have been applied to economics, history, and international relations.) I sort feminist theories of war into three main strands, though most feminists combine elements of these approaches in various ways. They explain gendered war roles in different ways.64

Liberal feminism: sexist discrimination – women can be capable warriors.

Difference feminism: deep–rooted and partly biological gender differences.

Postmodern feminism: arbitrary cultural constructions favoring those men in power.

These strands roughly organize my hypotheses and thus my presentation of empirical evidence. Chapter 2 tests liberal feminism against the record of women’s participation in combat. Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 test difference feminism against evidence from biology and psychology. Chapter 5 and (in part) Chapter 6 test theories about the construction of gendered war roles, against historical and cross–cultural evidence.

61 ISA headquarters, personal communication, June 13, 1997; Sylvester 1994; Pettman 1996a; Peterson 1997b; Alexandre 1989; Grant and Newland 1991; Sylvester ed. 1993; Murphy 1996; Stiehm 1982; Steans 1998; Steuernagel and Quinn 1986; Elshtain 1985; Tickner 1991, something 28; Whitworth 1994a, ix–1; Meyer and Prügl eds. 1999; Kelson and Hall 1998; Kelson 1999; cf. Ehrenreich 1997b, 21; signs: Keohane 1989; Tickner 1997; Keohane 1998; Marchand 1998; Tickner 1998; Murphy 1998, 93.

62 Elshtain 1987, 232–33; Flax 1990, 188; Cock 1991, 188.

63 Masculinism: Brittan 1989, 4; data: Tickner 1992, 75.

64 Harding 1986; Sylvester 1994; Whitworth 1994a, 11–23; Whitworth 1994b, 75–86; Burguieres 1990, 3, 9; Goldstein 2001, 124–39; variants: Carroll and Hall 1993; Pettman 1994; Jaggar 1983; economics: Ward 1979; history: Nelson and Olin 1979; international: Doyle 1997; Viotti and Kauppi eds. 1999; Goldstein 2001, 8–9.

To book website:
War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System
      and Vice Versa

Joshua S. Goldstein
(Cambridge University Press, September 2001)