10 Recommended Books on Feminism and International Relations

Wondering where to start learning gender perspectives on world affairs? Here is a top list of recommended books for you.

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Women and War (1991) 

I always recommend this book to my feminist theory workshop students. It is an essential reading to easily understand the power dynamics and gendered connections between public and private lives, men and women relationships in times of peace and war. Under this symbolic view of Beautiful Souls and Just Warriors, Jean Bethke Elshtain analyses how throughout Ancient Greece and contemporary times,  gender stereotypes allowed society to function and gave reason for men to go to war and women to “serve a purpose”. Definitely top choice!

Gender in International Relations (1992) 

J. Ann Tickner is the author of an introductory book that seeks to explain how the world’s political and economic systems have rewarded men and treated women differently. Tickner is known for a deconstructive approach to the structural understanding of International Relations theory and in this work she provides a necessary conversation of traditionalist views on the role of women, democratization, war and peace. If you want to explore further I invite you to check one of her newest books “Gendering World Politics” (2001) which updates the topics on the previous one but adds new feminist perspectives on IR, human rights and globalization since then.

Gender and International Relations (2013)

Don’t let the title confuse you. Though similar wording to J. Ann Tickner’s, the work of Jill Steans covers a compendium of feminist research done in key issues: Nature of the State, Citizenship, Conflict, Peace and Security, Human Rights, Development and even Representational Practices in International Politics. In here you will find an introduction to feminist perspectives on world affairs but also an understanding on recent phenomenons like the Arab Spring, the 2008 financial crisis, the Global War on Terror and more.

Man, The State and War (2001) 

Known for being one of the founders of neorrealism, here Kenneth Waltz explores how classic and contemporary philosophers view the nature of a man, the origins and behaviors of a state and what causes both to engage in a war. Though it is not a feminist theory book it is an essential to understand how the conception of International Relations political science field predominantly focused on a specific type/image of men and the inclusion or consideration of women, femininity and other expressions of gender and power dynamics were often disregarded (even when talking about peace!).

Manly States: Masculinities, International Relations and Gender Politics (2001)

Charlotte Hooper’s book began as a Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Bristol titled Manly States: Multiple Masculinities and their relevance to World Politics. Therefore, the research builds upon Sociologist Raewyn Connell’s concept of hegemonic masculinity and subordinate feminized masculinities, Male States vs. Feminine States kind of thing, and how gender biases shape behavior in the international relations arena.

Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (1990)

This is a staple in your reading essentials of feminist theory in International Relations. What makes this book iconic is Enloe’s research on several case studies in Asia and the Persian Gulf during the 1960s – 1980s which explain how unpaid domestic work and women’s role behind the scenes are so crucial in shaping international relations. Though they often are not mentioned in international analysis, Enloe talks about how the world economic and political system as well as the food, tourism and war industries would not function properly if females were not playing their part in holding everything together. This book is not for everybody, it is not an easy read and for some it could be quite tedious but the connection between news events makes this a fascinating read.

Gendering Global Conflict: Toward a Feminist Theory of War (2013) 

Laura Sjoberg has done extensive academic work on the relationship between gender and war and decision-making. In this book she gives us a wide spectrum analysis on the the nature of Conflict, People and Power and how mainstream perceptions of each have an impact in what we see today in the International Relations field. This is one of many of her fantastic work which I also recommend: Beyond Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Thinking about Women’s Violence in Global Politics (2015) and Women as Wartime Rapists: Beyond Sensation and Stereotyping (2016). 

Sex and World Peace (2014)

Editors Valerie Hudson, Bonnie Ballif, Mary Capiolli et al. have published this masterpiece to understand how gender violence intertwines in micro and macro state levels and the nature of inequalities and aggression towards women’s citizenship, rights and body autonomy. With various authors offering a wide range of perspectives one of the biggest contributions of this work is showing us with data, case studies and analysis just how systemic women’s violence really is in your country and…around the world.

The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide (2020)

So this is a book for all those who want to “Smash the patriarchy”. Written by Valerie Hudson (yes, the editor of Sex and World Peace), Donna Lee Bowen and Perpetua Lynne Nielsen this book goes to the historic root of social organization and how was it possible for men and women’s relationship to shape how world politics worked. It is not an easy read for it seeks to deconstruct economic and human security perspectives with gendered lens but definitely worth adding it to your reading list.

Revisiting Gendered States: Feminist Imaginings of the State in International Relations (2018)

One of the main research topics of Feminist Theory in International Relations is the conception of the State and how it stemmed from an hegemonic masculinity viewpoint. In this recent volume, several academics worked on the identities and interests of so-called “gendered states” and how these shape other terms like citizenship, security and power. With postcolonial, constructivist and feminist approaches it seeks to address the recent political/social/economic changes in countries like Russia, India, Sri Lanka and regions like the Middle East and Asia. It is a full body of research on how can we reimagine a state’s perception, responsibility, security and governance.

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