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Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security.

The demise of the Soviet Union and the end of bipolarity have brought into sharper relief the need for a broadening of the theoretical debate in international relations as well as a reassessment of the foreign policies it informs. Adding to the challenge offered by world events is the fact that international relations scholarship has remained virtually unaffected by the contemporary critiques of traditional methods of scholarship that have swept across the other social sciences. J. Ann Tickner's Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security admirably contributes to the task of opening the debate in intemational relations; she raises questions about why international politics has largely been the purview of men and how this has affected both the development of the field and the prescriptions it offers for achieving security. While the format and brevity of the book only allow for a first analysis of much larger and deeper issues, Tickner provides a clear argument for the importance of considering the role of gender in international relations. The far-reaching implications of her thesis and her persuasive questioning of the widely held belief that gender is irrelevant to the subject matter of international politics make her book required reading for all students of international relations, even though her argument will be disputed by many.

The strength of Tickner's account is that she succeeds in initiating a lively discourse between two literatures, feminism and international relations, that have previously been quite separate.(1) Her analysis is built on a survey of the development of the discipline of international relations and its dominant approaches, centering on the rise of realist and neorealist theories in the post-1945 era and on alternatives to realism such as liberal interdependence and Marxist approaches. In subsequent chapters, she reviews these approaches as they are applied to national security, the international political economy and the environment. Drawing on feminist theory, Tickner argues that these approaches are not gender-neutral, as is largely assumed in political science. She contends that the dominant theories tend to represent men's experiences of the world; they are based on a series of assumptions that give primacy to characteristics and values historically considered to be masculine, devaluing those associated with femininity. She argues that the theories risk replicating and reinforcing gender inequalities in international politics and security. The policy consequence of this male bias is the inability to achieve a multidimensional and multilevel security for the entire population - including children, women and men - because the underlying theories offer only a partial view of reality.

For example, Tickner asserts that characteristics stereotyped by society as male - such as toughness, courage, power, independence and the readiness to use force - are images frequently found in international politics. In this arena, "the characteristics associated with hegemonic masculinity are projected onto the behavior of states whose success as international actors is measured in terms of their power capabilities and capacity for self-help and autonomy." State characteristics that are defined by international relations scholars as necessary match those considered by society to be masculine, and thus highly valued. In turn, this characterization of appropriate state behavior results in a hierarchy of values in international relations that falls along gender lines.

Tickner takes issue with this privileging of masculine characteristics in both society and international relations, arguing that the dichotomy used to divide the world into male or female characteristics - "public versus private, objective versus subjective, self versus other, reason versus emotion, autonomy versus relatedness and culture versus nature" - are culturally determined, not natural or fixed. Tickner then raises the question of whether the male characteristics that form the basis for prescriptions of statecraft in most international relations theory are the only appropriate ones for the achievement of global peace and prosperity. Indeed, she argues that this narrow view of state behavior may exclude other conceptions and policy prescriptions for security. She traces the exclusion of non-masculine values both to the very small number of women writing about and practicing international relations and to the broader gender inequalities in society at large.

In a chapter examining more specific national security theories, Tickner focuses on realist theories of security to illustrate the way in which gender inequalities are theoretically expressed. Some of her critiques of realism are not new. They draw from the same base as non-feminist critiques that argue that traditional realism ignores the fact that states are composed of social and historical institutions and cannot be seen simply as rational, unitary actors. However, Tickner's gender-based analysis goes beyond such critiques to offer some suggestions of what a gender-neutral theory of international security would encompass.

For example, Tickner uses women's experiences to dispute the claim of realist scholars that the international and domestic spheres can be readily distinguished by anarchy and order respectively. Tickner cites statistics illustrating the widespread occurrence of domestic violence against women and points out that such violence has often been treated as beyond the reach of state law because it occurs in the private, family sphere. The author argues that such violence occurs in a context similar to the realist conception of the international system, one where might makes right without any recourse to law. Tickner in turn questions whether the distinction between international anarchy and domestic order is so stark. Instead, she argues for a more nuanced theory - one that recognizes that anarchy and order occur both within and among nations.

Subsequent chapters review theories of international political economy and approaches to environmental politics in terms of gender questions. In the chapter on the international political economy, Tickner takes issue with the reliance of theories of economic liberalism on a model of decision making that is based on an idealized, rational economic man. She argues that this model rests on a very narrow view of instrumental rationality, one that excludes the important role that social norms, values and expectations play in shaping human activity. While this view echoes other, non-feminist critiques that view the market as embedded in a larger social system, Tickner again extends her argument. She points out that because the view of rationality embraced by liberal economic theory devalues non-market production such as the traditionally female tasks of child rearing and homemaking, it also reinforces gender inequalities. Consequently, "prescriptions generated by such a model cannot be assumed to be as beneficial to women's economic security as they are to men's."

Tickner's chapter on the politics of the global environment is perhaps the most provocative, because the ecology has only recently become the subject of study in international relations. According to Tickner, previous neglect of environmental issues and the limited role of women and traditionally feminine concerns in international relations may not be mere coincidence: As a global issue that defies national boundaries and calls for collective action, caring for the environment does not fit in with the power-seeking, instrumental behavior of states" described by mainstream, gender-biased theorists.

Tickner points out, however, that fen-dnism and environmental politics can be a problematic mix for many feminists who have concerns about the tendency to equate nature with femaleness because of women's biological role. She argues that the view of different social characteristics as biologically predetermined will not contribute to more gender equality. Rather, this view will reinforce inequality by artificially dividing all characteristics into feminine and masculine, instead of seeing them as prevalent in all human beings. For instance, although men and women have been socialized to see nurturing as a feminine trait and dominance of nature as masculine, both attributes can in fact be inherent in every person. Tickner argues that care for the global environment should be viewed as a common human value and that men as well as women have the potential to respect and protect nature. She also argues that environmental security goals cannot be accomplished as long as scholars and policy makers continue to divide the world according to gender stereotypes, and to elevate those characteristics culturally defined as masculine.

To illustrate her point, Tickner traces the relationship between a scientific tradition that views nature as something to be conquered and subjugated, and the view that rationality is a masculine trait and emotionalism is a feminine characteristic. She argues that the exploitation of the earth's resources without regard to the global ramifications is in part a function of this narrow view of the relationship of science and nature. She asserts that a new view of the global environment must incorporate a more holistic understanding of the workings of ecosystems and the nature of environmental security as universal, not confined by state borders.

The feminist critique that Tickner offers has much in common with that of post-positivist scholars, who question the validity of realist claims that certain universal laws predict the behavior of nation-states.(2) As Tickner acknowledges, "like many contemporary feminists, these scholars argue that all knowledge is socially constructed and is grounded in the time, place, and social context of the investigator." It may be, therefore, those who are critical of positivist "scientific" methods that will be most convinced by her discussion of the links between the elevation of rationalist thinking and gender inequality.

The book does have its shortfalls. Tickner's critiques are mostly theoretical, although she attempts to illustrate the policy consequences of gender bias in international politics. She should, however, spell out more clearly how an international relations theory that includes the experiences of both women and men would be constructed. For example, how would a broadened view of rationality that incorporates traditionally feminine values inform theories about state action?

The strong embrace of the scientific method in international relations, and the belief that the discipline is inherently objective in its outlook, also make the general international relations audience a difficult one for Tickner. The priority placed on rigor over richness in international relations scholarship makes it unlikely that her emphasis on the role of social norms and values in policy formulation will take hold in the near future. Furthermore, the book's wide-ranging purview means that her case may not be strong enough to convince those who are opposed to the idea of gender as a basis for analysis. Because Tickner writes less in her own voice and draws more on the insights of other scholars, the book provides a helpful overview of feminist and international relations theory and acts as a sourcebook for further reading. However, it also leaves the reader wishing for a more narrowly defined but deeper assessment of the role of gender in international relations.

The greatest resistance to Tickner's arguments may come from realist scholars and practitioners who maintain that replacing traditional realpolitik values with alternative conceptions of security may be a desirable goal, but one that cannot be achieved by only one state. This is because the world at large will still be operating according to traditional balance-of-power theory. The possibility of repeating the error of appeasement made in the 1930s has strongly influenced the development of international relations, and must still be overcome by scholars and policy makers seeking to find alternative solutions to security questions. Tickner charts a course for international politics to move beyond gender-biased perspectives and include women's experiences and feminine values in both theory and policy. Such a move will make it easier to increase the number of women seeking and attaining policy-making positions in international and military affairs. Tickner does not, however, directly address the concerns of those who feel that any perceived softening of foreign policy will result in diminished security during the transition to gender-neutral international politics. Although her argument implicitly addresses this point by showing that current conceptions of security are already inadequate in protecting human life, she risks the rejection by some readers of her thesis in its entirety because of her failure to address directly this practical concern.

Nonetheless, Tickner's arguments are more likely to be heard now than at any other time in recent history, as the discipline of international relations faces a changed world environment. It would be imprudent at this point to ignore feminist critiques, for, as Tickner writes, an explicit focus on women points to a large body of human experience that has the potential for increasing the range of options and opening up new ways of thinking about interstate practices. Theoretical perspectives that depend on a broader range of human experience are important for women and men alike, as we seek new ways of thinking about our contemporary dilemmas. The discipline of international relations, and the policies informed by it, can only be the better for such a debate.

(1.) There have been a few recent efforts, most notably Rebecca Grant and Kathleen Newland, eds., Gender and International Relations (Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1991) and Cynthia Enloe, Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990), both of which Tickner draws upon. (2.) See, for instance, Friedrich Kratochwil and John Gerard Ruggie, "International Organization: A State of the Art on an Art of the State," International Organization, 40, no. 4 (Autumn 1986) pp. 753-75; and Alexander Wendt, "Anarchy is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics," International Organization, 46, no. 2 (Spring 1992) pp. 391426.
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Author:McNamara, Kathleen R.
Publication:Journal of International Affairs
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:2194
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