Feminist International Relations Kritik Essay


The Feminist International Relations kritik (“Fem IR”) argues that aspects of the affirmative advocacy operate in a way that oppresses women and that we instead need to challenge those ideas. The kritik draws on literature that seeks to exposes the way both the academic discipline of international relations and the modern international system works against the interests of women, though there are many topic-specific applications.

The Links

There are many distinct yet related links to the argument.

Military power. Military power leads to the direct domination of women (death, sexual violence) and investments in the military often come at the expense of resources needed to improve the lives of women.

Others add that assuming that women need to be “protected” by an ordinarily male military reifies gender oppression. Anti-terror discourse is especially prone to this problem.

Security. Modern drives to security focus on military security (see the topic) and not security against the loss of basic human needs (food, medicine, etc).

“International Relations.”  This is a broad link that focuses on the way the international system (dominance by powerful countries, exclusion of women, reliance on Western values) operates to the exclusion of women.

State-centered politics. State-centered politics assume the state is the center of conflict and that resolution of conflicts between states will solve problems.  Feminist IR scholars argue that the focus needs to be on women.

Trade. Trade and its policies often protect the interests of men against women.

Democracy.  Democratic governments are usually patriarchal institutions dominated by men.

The Impacts

The most common impact is the claim that patriarchy will lead to war.

Betty A. Reardon, Director of the Peace Education Program at Teacher’s College Columbia University, 1993, Women and Peace: Feminist Visions of Global Security, p. 30-2

In an article entitled “Naming the Cultural Forces That Push Us toward War” (1983), Charlene Spretnak focused on some of the fundamental cultural factors that deeply influence ways of thinking about security. She argues that patriarchy encourages militarist tendencies. Since a major war now could easily bring on massive annihilation of almost unthinkable proportions, why are discussions in our national forums addressing the madness of the nuclear arms race limited to matters of hardware and statistics? A more comprehensive analysis is badly needed . . . A clearly visible element in the escalating tensions among militarized nations is the macho posturing and the patriarchal ideal of dominance, not parity, which motivates defense ministers and government leaders to “strut their stuff” as we watch with increasing horror. Most men in our patriarchal culture are still acting out old patterns that are radically inappropriate for the nuclear age. To prove dominance and control, to distance one’s character from that of women, to survive the toughest violent initiation, to shed the sacred blood of the hero, to collaborate with death in order to hold it at bay—all of these patriarchal pressures on men have traditionally reached resolution in ritual fashion on the battlefield. But there is no longer any battlefield. Does anyone seriously believe that if a nuclear power were losing a crucial, large-scale conventional war it would refrain from using its multiple-warhead nuclear missiles because of some diplomatic agreement? The military theater of a nuclear exchange today would extend, instantly or eventually, to all living things, all the air, all the soil, all the water. If we believe that war is a “necessary evil,” that patriarchal assumptions are simply “human nature,” then we are locked into a lie, paralyzed. The ultimate result of unchecked terminal patriarchy will be nuclear holocaust. The causes of recurrent warfare are not biological. Neither are they solely economic. They are also a result of patriarchal ways of thinking, which historically have generated considerable pressure for standing armies to be used. (Spretnak 1983) These cultural tendencies have produced our current crisis of a highly militarized, violent world that in spite of the decline of the cold war and the slowing of the military race between the superpowers is still staring into the abyss of nuclear disaster, as described by a leading feminist in an address to the Community Aid Abroad State Convention, Melbourne, Australia: These then are the outward signs of militarism across the world today: weapons-building and trading in them; spheres of influence derived from their supply; intervention—both overt and covert; torture; training of military personnel, and supply of hardware to, and training of police; the positioning of military bases on foreign soil; the despoilation of the planet; ‘intelligence’ networks; the rise in the number of national security states; more and more countries coming under direct military rule; 13 the militarization of diplomacy, and the interlocking and the international nature of the military order which even defines the major rifts in world politics. (Shelly 1983)

The Alternative

The most common alternative is a version of adopting a feminist methodology.

Tickner professor in the School of International Relations at USC-LA 2001 J. Ann Gendering World Politics: Issues and Approaches in the Post-Cold War Era page 47

Yet imagining security divested of its statist connotations is problematic; the institutions of state power are not withering away. As R. B. J. Walker has claimed, the state is a political category in a way that the world or humanity is not. 44 The security of states dominates our understanding of what security can be because other forms of political community have been rendered unthinkable. Yet, as Walker goes on to say, given the dangers of nuclear weapons, we are no longer able to survive in a world predicated on an extreme logic of state sovereignty, nor one where war is an option for system change. Therefore, we must revise our understanding of the relationship between universality and particularity upon which a statist concept of security has been constructed. Security must be analyzed in terms of how contemporary insecurities are being created and by a sensitivity to the way in which people are responding to insecurities by reworking their understanding of how their own predicament fits into broader structures of violence and oppression. 45 Feminists—with their “bottom-up” approach to security, an ontology of social relations, and an emancipatory agenda—are beginning to undertake such reanalyses.

The Answers

The perm. There is always a basic “do both” perm that tries to argue that the affirmative plan can be supported while reconceptualizing the IR system along a feminist lense.  Since the kritik is a basic challenge to the approach, this is a tough argument to win.

Realism good. Realism is a theory of international relations that argues that countries will always look out for their own self-interests. It also functions as a challenge to social constructivists theories that argue that we need to change the way we conceive of things and that our voluntary choices regarding these conceptualizations are responsible for outcomes. Feminist IR fits within this category. “Realism good” is certainly a viable argument, but it is difficult to defeat a team this way because the 2NC/1NR will overwhelm this argument with a lot of criticisms of realism.

Essentialism. A strong criticism of gender-related work is that it works to essentialize women as all having unique needs and wants.

Gender binaries. Related but distinct from essentialism, the “gender binaries” argument claims that there are no essential differences between men and women and that it is wrong to pretend there are.

Reification. The kritik, by expressing its essentialist assumptions and reinforcing gender binaries, is likely to result in more discrimination against women.

War turns the K. The argument is simple: War has horrible consequences for women and pragmatic action must be taken to prevent it.  Deterrence is needed to prevent war.

Practical solutions. There is strong evidence that the only way for women to make progress is to engage the state and the international system.

War impact answer. There is good evidence that gender discrimination (or any single causal factor) is not the root cause of war.

Colonialism. Efforts to adopt more radical notions of general equality are arguably colonialist.

CISgender. The kritik ignores the role of transpeople in society.

Gender is not a social construct. Gender is also biologically determined (or maybe entirely biologically determined).

Alternative Fails – There are many practical problems, including the building a movement, transforming the system, and implementing the theory.