Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Why I hate difference feminism

Our discussion of feminism today focused, as I've come to expect, on difference feminism. As might be noted from my response in class, I hate difference feminism. This might be because I'm enough of a postmodern feminist to challenge the language used by difference feminists, or it might be because I feel personally oppressed by the roles it constructs. I suspect it's the latter, but it's probably a nice mix.

Difference feminism maintains that women and men are fundamentally different, and that if more women held positions of power in IR, the world would fundamentally change. First of all, I strongly disagree with this because I think many if not all of these differences are socially constructed. For example, while girls are generally encouraged to show their feelings, boys are generally told that crying is unacceptable. I babysit for two children who are equally whiny, but when the boy started to cry last Friday, the girl informed him that "he looked like a girl" and that he needed to be more manly. (These kids are 8 and 10 years old.) There are different pressures on the two genders that might account for the differences in the final product.

By the same token, if these different pressures don't exist, there may be fewer differences. A girl who is raised by her father while her mom works might have more of what are typically considered masculine traits than her peers, while a boy raised by his mother might have more typically feminine traits. Social expectations are changing, as evidenced by the emerging stereotype of the aggressive female, making it acceptable for women to break out of the molds that have previously existed.

Let me get to my point. Difference feminism primarily values the change that would be evoked in international relations if more women were in charge. However, this approach emphasizes the worth of women who think in a traditionally "female" sense. As I touched on in my other entry on feminism, this conception of "female" and "male" behavior is less relevant than it has been in the past, as women like Rice and Thatcher come to the forefront; this has led to a debate over whether these women are more masculine because of social pressures to adopt masculine worldviews in order to be taken seriously. Personally, I doubt it, and I would ask why we're more comfortable assuming that women like these make a conscious choice to go against their natures than that this happens to be in their nature. However, to get back to the point, difference feminism has no place for these women; it is focused on the change that greater inclusion of women would produce, and its proponents wouldn't be too happy if it turned out that a greater inclusion of women... pretty much leaves the system the way it was. Additionally, I worry that greater acceptance of difference feminism would lead to undervaluing those women who happen to have masculine traits, because they are less relevant to effecting change in IR.

In conclusion, difference feminism discusses male and female roles in society without fully examining the social construction of those roles, and then seeks to use those roles to change IR; however, the stereotype of the "gentler," less warlike woman, even if it leads to more women being included, is just that - a stereotype. Rarely do stereotypes do any good.

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