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Effect of Gender Studies on Understanding International Relations

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: International Relations
Wordcount: 2535 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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“Gender makes the world go round” according to Cynthia Enloe (1989). While illustrating your views on Enloe’s statement, explain the extent to which gender studies have changed our understanding of international relations.

In the first part of my essay, I will provide my viewpoint on Enloe’s famous statement “Gender makes the world go round,” and then I will present two publications I think have changed our understanding of International Relations (IR).

“Feminism generally employs bottom-up, rather than top-down, analysis; starting its investigations from the perspectives of individuals and groups, it asks how the state and the international structures in which it is embedded impact people’s lives (Tickner 2014).” Feminists work diligently to investigate the links between the local and the global.

In “Gender makes the world go round,” Enloe inspires the readers to be curious about how the world works and stay motivated asking question “where are the women?” In her work, Enloe supplements her views with female involvements in the past – League of Nations secretaries and librarians systematically archiving and compiling documents, Brazilian Hollywood actress Carmen Miranda used cleverly to strengthen diplomatic ties between the United States and Latin America within the 1930s and sex workers at military bases. Elite men in the office often overlooked their female secretaries and treated them no more than a piece of furniture. Without women’s contribution in the past, the world might have been in a different situation as it is now. Enloe asks readers to look for where women are in our everyday life. As Jacqui True (2005) points out, “it is not that women have not been present or their experiences relevant to international relations. Rather, as Cynthia Enloe’s (1989, 1994, 2000) scholarship demonstrates, women are and have always been part of international relations – if we choose to see them there.”

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Beginning with the women’s suffrage movement back in the eighteenth century, women wanted their voices to be heard, a century later, they started to form their groups across the Internet and through collaborations. Enloe also indicates that even when women start to form transnational organizations conducting analyses, their contribution is still often ignored – they are not given credit. In other words, they are still not being taken seriously. The implication of Enlow’s work is that there is gender inequality.

In IR & in global politics

“One argument is that Western philosophy as practice has been monopolized by elite males; as subject matter it has constructed ‘men’s nature’ as human nature and focused on ‘men’s public-sphere concerns (politics, justice, universal truth); and as an institution it has reproduced the authority and legitimation of patriarchal experience and world view (Peterson 1992, p.12).’’ IR has been “excessively focused on conflict and anarchy and a way of practising statecraft and formulating strategy that is excessively focused in competition and fear (True cited Grant and Newland 1991, 2005). In addition to IR had been a male-dominated discipline, women were – or even now are – underrepresented in global policy-making (Sjoberg and Tickner 2011), which, in my view, is somewhat irrational. Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggests in her work (2014) that the higher you go, the fewer women there are. Taking words from Aristotle, Peterson (1992, p.11) claims, “women’s work” in the domestic sphere is not peripheral to but a necessary condition of “men’s work” in the public sphere. Have scholars and politicians long been forgetful how they achieve where they are – would they be there in the classrooms teaching or in congress hall or parliament making decisions without the support from their mothers or wives taking care of the chores and children so that he could stand there? Or even would they achieve where they are now if their mothers did not give birth to them in the first place?

Tickner draws ideas from Jane Flax and suggests (2001, p.16) that, “while feminism is about recovering women’s activities, it must also be aware of how these activities are situated. Therefore, gender is not just about women: it is also about men and masculinity.” Gender is socially constructed (Butler 1999; Peterson 1999). Judith Butler (1999) draws ideas from her “ One is not born a woman, but, rather becomes one, ” Beauvoir also claims gender is constructed. Starting from knowing the sex of a child in the womb, one picks out what color for the child’s bedroom – blue for boys and pink for girls – to gifting the newborns – boys play toy cars and Legos and girls play Barbie dolls and playhouse set, a series set of stereotypes come in. Before being born, one’s destiny is manipulated by stereotype generated by society; after being born, the situation only worsens – it branches out to one’s occupations and sexual preferences. Of course, there are exceptions throughout history, for example, Mrs Margaret Thatcher being the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 1970s to 1990s. However, during her term, she had to lower her pitch when speaking in public so that she could be taken seriously.

Gender inequality results from two reasons – patriarchy and language.


“The types of women that our society has produced in the past, the roles they have played or failed to play, sprang from the dictates and expectations of men. Women have been largely man-made, and even today numerous psychological studies have revealed that women and girls are still more dependent on social approval than men (Fige 1986, p.15).” Figes goes on and suggests that man has been required to live up to an image, made for him by his father, of fitting what you want into his own desire; on the other hand, a woman is taught to fit whatever her father and all men find desirable in a woman. That is, not what she is, but she ought to be. Moreover, chivalry shapes the idea that women need to be protected by men. But in fact, what women need are support and respect.


The other culprit is language itself. Having long been accused of some kind of danger – a witch, demoness, scarlet woman, schemer, women are oppressed for a long time (Figes 1986). “Feminists influenced by constructivist theories of the rules of discourse within language tend to see gender as a hegemonic discourse of difference that is reproduced through institutionalized norms and identities rather than material structures” (True 2008). Long before the gender stereotype is shaped, as Bowden and Mummery (2009, p.34) put it, “it is clear that language encodes what is important to people and provides the means for them to articulate their understanding of what is significant.” Thus, feminists started an attack on words; there was a movement “the great he/she battle ” in the 1990s. Led by American literary theorist Jane Hedley, the aim of the battle is for equal opportunity between two sexes.

By establishing a new and equal discourse, women would be better understood and better expressed. Australian scholar Dale Spender delves into the sexism in language, she suggests in her work Man Made Language (1980), “the English language has been literarily man-made and that it is still primarily under man control (Bowden and Mummery 2009 cited Spender 1980). ” Tickner also points out that, “since it is language that transmits knowledge, the use of language and its claims of objectivity must continually be questioned (2014, p.6). ”

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Linguist Deborah Tannen (1991) studies how women and men tend to think and how they converse in everyday life, inside and outside households and how they react to different events. She suggests that to reach gender equality it should start at home. “Patriarchy is the structural and ideological system that perpetuates the privileging of masculinity (Enloe 2004).” Enloe (2017) highlights that globalized patriarchy may be responsible for the wage gap between females and males for similar work. Often we can see it on news that which Hollywood actor is paid how many times more than a Hollywood actress starring in the same film. If I could wipe out human history and rewrite it all over, I would start it with a new language system and get rid of all the linguistic labelings.

What changed our understanding of IR?

Although Jones contends that It seems to me that it is J. Ann Tickner’s Hans Morgenthau’s Principles of Political Realism (1988) and Cynthia Enloe’s Bananas, Beaches, and Bases (1989) that changed how people had viewed IR. Christine Sylvester (2002) speaks highly of Jean Bethke Elshtain, Cynthia Enloe and Ann Tickner among many other influential feminists in her Feminist International Relations and carefully analyzes their works – Women and War by Elshtain, Bananas, Beaches, and Bases by Enloe, and Gendering in International Relations by Tickner – respectively in the introduction.

J. Ann Tickner

In Sylvester’s words, she suggests that (2002, p.13), “Tickner is a specialist in IR who recognizes its shortcomings and wants to infuse the field with feminist sensitivity”

Tickner (2014) identifies and criticizes why IR is perceived as a masculine field is greatly under the influence of Hans Morgenthau’s six political principles of realism. In spite of recognizing Morgenthau is not incorrect in his view in presenting his work, Tickner believes the piece is merely a description based on assumptions about human nature and morality associated with masculinity.

Cynthia Enloe.

As Peterson claims (1992, p.11), “what counts as knowledge must be grounded on experience. Human experience differs according to the kinds of activities and social relations in which humans engage. Not only feminists but theorists of other marginalized groups-e.g., colonized populations, racial and ethnic minorities, the underclass- argue that knowledge claims about humans that are based upon only the partial experiences of elites are simply inaccurate: they, in fact, distort our understanding of actual social relations.” First published in the 1990s, Enloe’s Bananas, Beaches, and Bases looks into women experiences in all walks of lives – from diplomat’s wives to Carmen Miranda to base women to sex workers. Speaking from an empirical feminist, Enloe cleverly weaves women’s experiences into sophisticated politics and analyzes it through the feminist lens in an easy-to-understand language so that readers can grasp and easily understand what she tries to convey – women are actually there. Sylvester summarizes Enloe’s work as followed (1992), “Enloe offers glimpses of women engaged in liberal exchanges and reciprocities that should figure into realist theories of international relations, but do not.”

If Tickner changes how we perceive IR in theory, then Enloe changes it in practice. As a scholar, a feminist, an activist, a world-traveler, Enloe has been encouraging readers of her publications to stay curious in spite of taking a lot of energy and to keep on investigating and asking questions. She has traveled around the world to search for where the women are and she brings those experiences she witnesses into her scholarship. Her publications continuously echo her famous “Gender makes the world go round.”

In We Should All Be Feminists (2014), the writer argues that humankind has evolved, but our understanding of gender has not. Tickner highlights (2001), “working for gender inequality is deemed impossible by many feminists because, definitionally, gender signifies relationships of inequality. Rather, feminists should work toward making gender visible in order to move beyond its oppressive dynamics.”


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