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Discourses of Standpoint Feminism in International Relations

Shipra Shukla M.Phil Student Subject: Advanced International Relations Theories Department of Political Science University of Delhi


1. 1 Introduction Feminism can be simply defined as the study of and movement for women not as subjects but as subjects of knowledge. During the 1980s, feminism and the role of gender have gained entry in the study of international relations. Prior to this feminism was greatly ignored. However, over the last decade, feminism has emerged as a key critical perspective within the study of international relations. The initial thrust of this critique was to challenge the fundamental biases of the discipline and to highlight the ways in which women were excluded from analyses of the state, international political economy, and international security. According to O'Callaghan (2002) feminism in international relations can be framed in two main domains. The first wave of feminist scholarship in the 1980s is now called feminist empiricism; in which international relations scholars have sought to reclaim women’s hidden voices and to expose the multiplicity of roles that women play in sustaining global economic forces and state interactions. For example, women’s participation and involvement facilitate tourism, colonialism, and economically powerful states’ domination of weak states. The maintenance of the international political economy depends upon stable political and military relations among states. O'Callaghan’s discussion on feminism clearly explicates how the creation of stable diplomatic and military communities has often been the responsibility of women (as wives, girl friends, and prostitutes). Feminist empiricism, according to O'Callaghan, exposes the role of women and demonstrates their importance in a wide variety of arenas. A second focus of feminist research has been directed at deconstructing major discipline-defining texts and uncovering gender biases in the paradigmatic debates that have dominated the field since its inception in 1919. Sometimes referred to as standpoint feminism, this type of feminist scholarship argues for the construction of knowledge based on


the material conditions of women’s experiences, which give us a more complete picture of the world since those who are oppressed and discriminated against often have a better understanding of the sources of their oppression than their oppressors. Furthermore, feminist empiricism exposes the role of women in international relations, standpoint feminism alerts us to the ways in which the conventional study of international relations is itself gendered. Gender has been denied salience as an issue in International Relations because the discipline has been seen as continued by a system of states, which relate to one another in a context of anarchy (Hutchins, 1993). Realists assume that the proper way to understand the international system is through ungendered, objective and rational concepts. International Relations understood through realist lens are seen as neutral. In reality, International Relations discourses in itself is heavily gendered (Peterson, 1992). Realism as a theoretical approach to the study of international relations rests upon three scientific presuppositions. First, there is the mechanistic view of international politics, which views relations among states in terms of balance and equilibrium – balance of power. Second, there is the biological theory associated with Darwin and the infamous struggle for survival. The third theory upon which Realism rests is a psychological one – egoism (D.Boucher, 1998). Realists interestingly view human nature primarily egoistic. For them, human nature contains a permanent core of egoistic passions; that these passions define the central problem of politics; and that diplomacy is dominated by the need to control this side of human nature. The Weberian discussion on Realism clearly explicates that the absence of international government is also a constriction on politics. He explains how Realists believe that within the state, human nature can be curb and controlled by the political authority and rule. Realism, as an International Relations theory, according to Weber, suggests that states are always finding ways to gain power and will do anything to keep that power. Furthermore, states will always engage in conflicts and they will continue to challenge one another. Weber explicates: “as a


mitigating factor, diplomacy is established. Realism accepts three fundamental assumptions about international anarchy. First, that the world is composed of sovereign nation-states; second, that there is no world government; and third, that the absence of world government means that international politics is anarchical” (Weber, 2005). Many theories of International Relations such as Realism ignore women and their impact on international relations and believe that international relations are gender neutral. The study of international relations has been silent on gender issues. Even the academic reserve is compounded by the fact that the domain of international practice is an especially male-dominated reserve. In conventional ideology, women are not suited for such responsibilities and cannot be relied on matters of security and crisis. There is also a wide assumption among scholars and theorists of separation between the spheres of gender and international relations. There is an conjecture that relations between states can be studied without reference to questions of gender. By neglecting the dimension of gender, international relations implicitly supports the thesis that international processes themselves are gender neutral – that they do not have any effect on the position and role of women in society, and on the relative placement of women and men. The language of international politics suggests a strong conventional masculine and often homophobic content with its emphasis of power and competition. Historically, states that are considered ‘virile’ conquer the ‘weak’ or ‘less virile’ states. In classic political theory, and language, the masculine virtues are held up as those most desired in international relations. Machiavelli for example emphasized on the quality of virtue of the male (virtu) in contrast with the fickleness of its female counterpart (Fortuna) (Halliday, 1994).


1.2 Standpoint Feminism Standpoint Feminism, the variant field branch of feminism in International Relations theory developed out of “Radical” feminism. Standpoint Feminism persistently claims that men and their ideas have dominated the world. Accordingly, radical feminist proposed that the experiences of women had been ignored, except where they have unfavorably compared to male experience. The aim then is to redescribe reality according to a female view. In the works of Sandra Harding, this approach is developed into standpoint feminism, which is an attempt to develop a female version of reality. Since knowledge to date has been male knowledge, the result has been only a partial understanding of the world. The Australian feminist G. Lloyd in her book “The Man of Reason: “Male” and “Female” in Western Philosophy” also tries explore the alleged maleness of the Man of Reason where her main concern throughout has been to give an apparent account of the western philosophical traditions where she claimed how “Reason” has been associated with “male”. Lloyd has tried to examine the position that what could be true or reasonable for men might not be same for women. Starting from the Greek philosophical traditions, Lloyd has offered an historical treatment to the process of exclusion of women from Reason that was the obstacle to the fostering of female. Lloyd further explicated how female gender is material, passive, corporeal, sense perceptible, while the male is active, rational, incorporeal and more akin to mind, and thought (p 27). Augustine acknowledged the natural subordination of women in terms of the assignment of role as a helpmate to the man and her “natural” subordination to man represents rational control, the subjection of flesh to spirit in the right order of things (p33). Lloyd discussed the male bias in these two chapters referring to the past philosophical thought about Reason and even in the subsequent chapters, the process of exclusion partly forms the content of femininity. Lloyd has drawn our attention to the fact that Hume also made distinction between the public and private passion in terms


of “public” interest and “private” interest. It is the male head of the household, who controls and curbs the private passion on behalf of women. Standpoint feminists want to improve on that understanding by incorporating female perspectives (Tickner, 1988) leans to expose the canonic “Six Principles of Political Realism” developed by the prominent figure of Realism, Hans Morganthau. In each of the principles Tickner argued that, what appeared to be “objective” was in reality reflecting the male values and definitions of reality, rather than the female ones. Acknowledging Morganthau’s ideas, Tickner argues that he lead us to believe that it is “possible to develop a rational theory of international politics based on objective laws that have roots in human nature (Tickner, 1988). Tickner claims that this objectivity is related with masculinity, which is thought to be rational and unemotional. Tickner, however, in common with most of other feminists commentators did not limit herself with just presenting a critique rather she aimed at giving a new theoretical approach which would be less limited. The main message, which emerged from her work, was that a woman’s standpoint necessarily affects the meaning of concepts, methods of research and development in International Studies. Standpoint Feminism argued reformulation of concepts and the understanding of state, power, interest and security in ways that were neither trapped into hierarchical binary divisions nor assumed to be objective. International realm was considered to be operating based on logic of anarchy presented by Realists and that affected inter-state and intra-state politics. This position was undermined by Cynthia Enloe’ works which traced the ways in which gendered relations of power enabled military, states, diplomacy, international political economy to work the way they do (Enloe, 1989). For instance, the role of Diplomat wives, prostitutes in the military base camps, Sri Lankan or Filipina women working as house cleaners in Gulf or Middle East do shape international politics and economy, goes unnoticed. The female vantage point from which the world would be entirely


a different thing to understand, is needed which can address the problems , issues, concerns in a different which has female angle to it (Enloe, 1989). Theorists such as Tickner and Sylvester sought to take the argument further by explicitly redefining the concepts such as power and security from gendered perspective. 1.3 Conceptualizing the Theory There are various branches in feminist theory of international relations such as Liberal Feminism, Marxist Feminism, Postmodern Feminism and Standpoint Feminism. There are various ways in which all these theories are justified and fit in the time and circumstances feminist view as important to address and the best possible way to challenge the patriarchal notions of the international politics. Standpoint feminism despite being labeled as a controversial move in feminism in the mainstream international politics. It appears to be a more appropriate theory to counter the Realist paradigm and Non-Realist theories, which seem to be ignore the issues of gender involved in their understanding how the world works. The theory of standpoint feminism offers ways in which the world must be viewed through feminist lens as it is very important to understand concepts of security, war, peace and conflicts, which have proved to be more disastrous than to women than men are. Taking the incidents from the Intifada in Palestine, Nahla Abdo (2002) explained the impact of war and peace on lives of women. It is very surprising to note that women from Palestine and Israel coming same geographical location , share entirely different views on the way war affects their lives, their children, their families. Their views on how they look at certain issues are very important because women decided neither Jewish Occupation nor the Intifida. They are either mere actors used to support to movement, justify occupation and use of violence. The problems have always been understood from the male perspective, whether it is Zionist enterprise, or Palestinian nationalist movement. Who decides nation and on what basis is a


matter of concern as until only men have been deciding what problems and issues are and how these issues are to be tackled. (Abdo, 2002) Concepts of human security also stem from the patriarchal understanding of dealing with security through militarization, and arms race, nuclear technology. They have proved not important in solving the conflicts rather more incidents of human rights violation are witnessed. As Reardon writes, “mobilization against the arms race, military spending and nuclear testing is among the evidence of their long held view that military security is not synonymous with human security and is in fact detrimental to it” (Reardon, 1999). Women have argued in favor of issues like poverty, development, low wages, effect of IMF, World Bank, Structural Adjustment Plans affect their lives in more serious manner. Violence has done no good to the women trapped under military influence because they suffer double violence: inside and outside their homes. Cynthia Cockburn, a feminist researcher mentions, “If women have a distinctive understanding angle on peace, it is not due to women being ‘nurturing’. It seems more to do with knowing oppression when we see it.” (Cockburn, 1999). Standpoint feminist have faced many criticisms from the mainstream IR theorists that this branch of feminism seems to put women in a superior position than men and deliberate that women are more peaceful than men are. Even critics have supported such challenge by referring to Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, and Golda Meir as equally having militaristic ambitions as men to which Tickner replied through her work “You Just Don’t Understand” (Tickner p.163). Francis Fukuyama argued that women are in fact very peaceful and that is the reason that men have to deal with matters involving force and aggression in the current world scenario. Standpoint feminist have argued that this not the natural reality that women are peaceful. The situations in the world around are created by men, which are often aggressive and destructive. The women who cannot decide for their own have to resort to methods of peace to solve the unending


problems, which have no lasting solution (Tickner, 1997). Ruddick (1983) and Reardon (1985) argued that women are the Athenian memory that we are peacefully inclined and concerned to avoid activities of statecraft in which “we” are in a competitive death struggle with “them”. 1.4 Conclusion The present paper finds the theory of Standpoint feminism very essential and significant in understanding and solving many issues and problems the current world is dealing with. The paper strongly lays emphasis on “Realism” in international relations, where it perceives the important actors are states, which in turn represent the whole concept of human nature synonyms with the male nature, where women are excluded in terms of understanding the nation. It discusses two essential dimensions of the feminist theory and explicates how feminism is deeply although covertly correlated with international relations. Taking the case of Half-widows in Kashmir, it is very important not only for the Indian state but also for the groups fighting for self-determination to understand how not taking what women think and want in to consideration, would never solve such conflicts. The vantage point from which women look at conflicts is very important, as always the same perspectives used to address all issues do not help in long run. However, this theory is not free from flaws and does invite serious criticism from various angles. The diversity of women’s experience and feminist interpretations of that experience complicates the effort to define a feminist standpoint in the context of the first IR debate. As Carr (1962) clearly warns that, we do not want to commit the same mistake of ignoring “what was” in contemplation of “what should be” (Carr 1962). This theory also runs into risk of conceptualizing and fixing the views and nature of women, by saying that this is how women see the world.


Works Cited Abdo, N. (2002). Women, War and Peace: Reflections from Intifada. Women's Studies International Forum , 585-593. Cockburn, C. (1999). Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence. World Bank . D.Boucher. (1998). Political Theories of International Relations: From Thucydides to the Present. Oxford: OUP. Enloe, C. (1989). Banana Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. Pandora. Fukuyama, F. (1988). Women and the Evolution of World Politics. Foreign Affairs , 24-40. Halliday, F. (1994). Rethinking International Relations. Vancouver: University of British Columbia. Hutchins, K. (1993). The Personal is International: Feminist Epistemology and the Case of International Realtions. London: Routledge. Lloyd, G. (1989). The Man of Reason: “Male” and “Female” in Western Philosophy . Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press. O'Callaghan, M. G. (2002). International Relations: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge. Peterson, V. (1992). Gendered States: Feminist (Re)Visions of International Relations Theory. Boulder, Co. Reardon, B. (1999). Women or Weapons: Sexist Symbiosis . In I. B. al. Tickner, J. (1988). 'Hans Morganthau' Principles of poltical Realism: A Feminist Reformulation. Gender and International Relations . Tickner, J. (1997). You Just Dont Understand: Troubled Engagements between Feminists and IR theorists. International Studies Quaterly , 611-632. Weber, C. (2005). International Relations Theory: A Critical Introduction. Routledge: London.

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