Tag: jean elshtain

A Reply to the Reply: Jean Elshtain, Gender, and IR (Part III)

Part 3 (of 3) …

In concluding, Elshtain characterizes my essay as “overreach,” “hyper-theorizing,” and “prosaic,” arguing that (like “the entire post-structural arsenal”), “when you get down to the nitty-gritty, things slip through your fingers.”

Its true that my essay discusses more than it could ever back up – because the essay is not a research essay or an original work, so much as it is an accounting for, and asking for recognition for, hundreds of books and thousands of articles that provide evidence for the points mentioned in it which are categorically ignored in Elshtain’s discussion of Waltz’s levels of analysis, to which they are crucially relevant, especially insomuch as Elshtain is(/claims to be) talking about gender.

This is evident in Elshtain’s discussion of the positive contributions of “women scholars” (which I was unaware was a theoretically significant category) in history and anthropology (presumably as opposed to political science/international relations), because those scholars “spend time researching questions, reading vast amounts, trying to sort out how things really worked – whatever the big theories said about them.” Again, this can only be argued by someone who hasn’t been reading feminist IR – in addition to the AMAZING empirical books that I read in graduate school (Kathy Moon’s, Charlotte Hooper’s, Lisa Prugl’s, Jacqui True’s, Brooke Ackerly’s, Lisa Prugl’s, and Christine Chin’s, I believe, all dissertation books), I have had the opportunity not only to do, but to read, hard-nosed, ethnographic research based on years of field work. Reading books for the Oxford Series in Gender and International Relations, the great majority of feminist books in Political Science/IR are deeply empirical, highly sophisticated, and highly complex – things that my article-length summary of twenty years of contributions necessarily could not be.

But Elshtain could see this if her argument were more than a careless, disengaged polemic.

Elshtain’s polemic ends by urging feminists to focus on “what women actually did – the roles they really played” and critiquing them for relying “too heavily on male theorists.” This is over-simple, and just silly, not least because (at least my) feminism does not care what sex organs people have (or where they like to put them, for that matter) in reading their gender analysis (or critiquing their failure to think about gender critically).

In one sentence, Elshtain accuses feminists of not having “kept up with rapidly changing social categories” ….three sentences after having cast a wholly inaccurate picture of feminist scholarship’s engagements with said social categories. The ONLY THING I was arguing in my article is that you have to understand gender studies and/or feminism to critique them, and Elshtain clearly does not. She urges me to “get past defensive claims about feminists having done this or that, to the truth,” but the WHOLE REASON defensive claims about what feminists have done were necessary is because Elshtain manages to silence and do discursive violence to decades worth of rich, empirical research on “the truth” about gender in global politics through cynical, partial assumptions about what feminist work is(/was 25 years ago). That’s assuming, of course, that most feminists are wrong that the idea of “truth” is itself gendered. If Elshtain wants to know either if gender is transformational of “man, the state, and war” (the question in her original article) or “about the lives women are living and how ‘gendered categories’ may or may not be definitive or determinative in particular situations,” it might behoove her (work) to acknowledge the research program asking particularly those questions.

Is that such a radical argument?


A Reply to the Reply: Jean Elshtain, Gender, and IR (Part II)

Elshtain, before characterizing my article as a “massive shopping list” of “feminists argue,” “feminists claim,” etc. (i.e., as the critical literature review that it is and she forgot to do before writing her initial article), “engages” my questions about her approach to each of Waltz’s three images, and her finding that gender would not change how we think of any of them.Though she characterizes my work as failing “to grapple in a theoretically sophisticated way with the Waltzian inheritance,” doing that inheritance justice requires it engage with ideas that have evolved in the last 50 years (which other authors in the special issue do very well). Arguing that feminism in 1959 (or in 1970) is all that can be used to evaluate gender’s significance to Waltz’s levels of analysis would be on face ridiculous in any other argument (would one evaluate the claim that the earth was flat without the aid of Galileo?).

Not only are Elshtain’s arguments about gender and the first, second, and third images poorly argued (and poorly defended), contemporary feminists are right and Elshtain is wrong on their substance. I won’t be able to fully make those arguments in limited space, but I’ll outline the contours here.

In her discussion of the “first image,” Elshtain (correctly) points out that perspectives other than feminism have pointed out that the “international system” is “interdependent with its most vulnerable members.” She first asks if there is a “feminist analogue of this developed body of theoretical and conceptual argumentation,” particularly, that coming from the Catholic Church. Why yes, it turns out that there is, though, by definition, it cannot be “over a century” old (though I find it to be an odd position for someone once very engaged with the cutting edge of feminist scholarship that older is better). Writers like Cynthia Enloe, Kathy Moon, Lisa Prugl, Jacqui True, Cindy Weber, and even Caron Gentry and I have made sophisticated theoretical arguments that looking to the “margins” is important in part because marginal bodies are gendered, which changes how we think about vulnerability. Among those writers, I certainly have a problem with the ways in which the Catholic Church’s positions on women’s issues (particularly birth control) reverberate at the cites of vulnerability the church is so concerned with.

Elshtain then notes that Ann Tickner has acknowledged her as a “pioneer” in the study of “feminist IR,” an acknowledgment that I was perhaps late in making, but made in part I of this post. That, of course, makes her current position all the more confounding to me, but is neither here nor there. Elshtain notes, however, that she and Tickner disagree on the question of objectivity, because she “fears” that “linking ‘objectivity’ to ‘masculinity’ put feminists” (who she inaccurately describes as ‘women scholars’ with ‘feminist concerns’) “in a bind” because they won’t be taken seriously, and urges them, should they reject objectivity, to assure that feminist scholarship has standards for good research that are accessible and distinguish “strong truth claims based on solid work” from “mere opinion or ideology.” THAT’S WHAT FEMINISTS HAVE BEEN DOING FOR THE PAST TWENTY YEARS – working on standards, on methodology, on epistemologies, and on what it means to do feminist work and to do it well – standards that do not just describe how ‘we do’ what ‘we do,’ but also that should guide taking account of gender across the field of IR. Elshtain mistakenly conflates ‘political’ and ‘ideological,’ and (wrongly) implies that it is possible to know apolitically.

Elshtain concludes her rebuttal of my use of feminist work to argue that gender does fundamentally affect the first image by letting us know that “seeing women as relational is nothing new – that has been the dominant view of women and it has often worked to women’s detriment.” That is, of course, why I didn’t argue that women are relational; I argued that human autonomy (men’s, women’s, and people who are/identify as neither men nor women) is relational, which is a VERY DIFFERENT claim that has been central to the feminist literature over the last twenty years (see, for example, the work of Christine Sylvester). When Elshtain “fears” that “calling women’s natures ‘hybrid’ or ‘relational’ in and of themselves tells us very little,” I agree, in fact, I think it tells us nothing, and is theoretically regressive. Reading my argument correctly will tell you that I argued (like Nancy Hirschmann did, back enough ago that perhaps Elshtain saw it) that looking at women’s lives shows humans as relationally autonomous (that is, relational BUT autonomous), a complex understanding of agency gleaned from a feminist critique of social contract theory. That is why, though I respect Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s feminism, I would argue that there is no such thing as ‘the solitude of self,’ though self is an important (actual and analytical) unit.

Elshtain then turns to my discussion of her assertion that gender does not fundamentally and basically change our analysis of Waltz’s second image, the state. Elshtain is right that she did not actually use the words “evil” or “nihilistic” to refer to radical or postmodern feminism, but I am right that she used the worst examples and cast them in the worst light. She does so again when she argues that calling different states “patriarchal social orders” is problematic because “it compels one to force nasty analogies” like comparing Nazi Germany and Great Britain and deciding that, since both are patriarchal, United States foreign policy should have been the same to each since “there was no substantial difference between the two systems.” This is reductive, and silly. Great Britain and Nazi Germany had things in common, of course – that they were states, and that they were states with patriarchal social orders, but neither of these (or any other similarity) merited similar moral value or similar foreign policies. One can recognize characteristics of social orders as complex and multidimensional, and not calling either of those states patriarchal would only accomplish one thing – blindness to their (very different brands of) patriarchy.

Elshtain then takes issue with my discussion of the gendered public/private dichotomy, on which she wrote a(n excellent) book, Public Man, Private Woman (1981). While matters are “considerably more complicated” than I suggest, and, as Elshtain notes, the public/private dichotomy “got cemented at a particular historical moment,” it remains that they are read into, performed in, and enforced on the lives of people associated with masculinity and femininity throughout the world, and while it “fell apart” for particular women at a particular moment in time, its discursive salience remains high, particularly in war discourses.

In her reply, Elshtain next writes that “it is rather late in the day – is it not? – to repeat, yet again, the ‘assertiveness, coarseness, toughness, rationality’ of men and the ‘warmth, gentleness, sensitivity, emotion’ of women as attributed characteristics with some basis in reality, at least according to most feminists.” I guess I just have to ask if she read what I wrote, and, if not, if she might read how I defined gender, and then re-read what I wrote. I, of course, listed “characteristics associated with masculinities” (which do not map one-to-one onto ‘men,’ perceptively or empirically) and “characteristics associated with femininities’ (which do not map one-to-one onto ‘women,’ perceptively or empirically).

Elshtain concludes her discussion of my use of the feminist literature to argue that calling the state ‘gendered’ is not only worthwhile but conceptually and empirically essential by contending that I misunderstand the state “as a juridical entity” and accusing me of holding “the ‘state’ as synonymous with ‘society.’” Implying that if I truly understood the state, I would recognize that calling the “state ‘gendered’ does not do any real conceptual heavy-lifting.” Elshtain may be right that I am not careful with the idea of the state – it is not the focus of my work, and I certainly haven’t given Gifford Lectures on it. That said, I am certain that feminists who have really worked on, looked at, and looked into the state do not make the same conceptual errors I do(/might), and that the careful work of scholars like Spike Peterson, Christine Sylvester, Sandy Whitworth, Rebecca Grant, Anne Sisson Runyan, and Cynthia Weber that argues that states are gendered actually does think of the state seriously and complexly. My argument was that Elshtain needed to engage that work, not mine, on the gendered nature of the state. Likewise, while my short review essay does not “demonstrate compellingly the extent to which, for example, nationalism is gendered and how this spurs conflict,” the work of Anne McClintock, Nira Yuval-Davis, Floya Anthias, Sita Ranchod-Nillson, Miranda Alison, and others does provide that evidence which Elshtain is content to ignore, and accuse me of not repeating. Using (a strawman of) Palestinian women, Elshtain argues that gender’s impact on the state is culturally contingent when it exists. The state of the art in feminist work on the state takes account of this, and looks at the constant/consistent mechanisms through which that contextual and contingent influence is performed and instituted.

Elshtain’s (somewhat muddled) response to my argument that gender fundamentally changes how we think about the third image (a subject addressed at length in my forthcoming book) by arguing that she’d discussed women and war in her book, Women and War, and asserting that it includes some “quite chilling moments” where women tried to shame men into fighting war(s). For “quite chilling moments,” see also Caron Gentry and my Mothers, Monsters, Whores (about women’s violence in global politics), and my in-the-works Raping Ourselves (about women genocidal rapists in wars) … of course, this is not the point, both because I was not writing about “women and wars” but about “gender and wars” at a Waltzian, third-image level. Elshtain’s reply then goes into a somewhat lengthy discussion of gender and just war theorizing, the punchline of which is that feminist work on the protection racket is not a contribution to just war theory. While I will defend my (and Iris Marion Young’s, and others’) work on gender in war ethics in some other more appropriate space, it is neither here nor there for the majority of my argument about gender and war in the article.

Elshtain’s argument with my assertion that gender fundamentally changes how we think about the third level of analysis concludes with the contention that “it is a rather worn-out claim by not to say things like ‘gender stereotypes that justify war also persuade people (mostly men) to fight those wars.’” Following that, Elshtain instructs me that “feminists …[are] lamenting the femininity/masculinity divide even as they reincode it, repairing to ‘femininity’ as the presumably ‘good’ thing that bad masculinism is set to oppose.”

It must be a comfortable position to be in to be able to “argue” with someone without really having any idea who they are or what they research. Of course, the whole argument of the Mothers, Monsters, Whores book (and the feminist research program on women’s violence in global politics that it is engendering) is a feminist corrective to the feminist assumption that women are men’s equals without their flaws. I have no desire to attach normative value either to femininity or to masculinity, and I do not do so in the article Elshtain is replying to. I argue that gender stereotypes of masculinities and femininities are used by both ‘men’ and ‘women’ to encourage fighting for (gendered) protection, (gendered) chivalry, and (gendered) honor. Empirically, however, I feel compelled to let Elshtain know that, even in the “All Volunteer Force” the overwhelming majority of fighters are men (and women indeed remain banned from some combat positions), and that the “All Volunteer Force” in the United States is one of literally hundreds of militaries in the world, the great majority of which are even more sex-imbalanced than the United States military. So is conceptualizing militaries as gendered passé? Anything but. And if you don’t believe me, Cynthia Enloe’s new book (with extensive empirical documentation of the Iraq War) does a very good job of making the argument.

Of course, none of these discussions actually address the ‘newest’ argument my article makes – using the gendered organizations literature (which has a very similar conception of structure to Waltz’s) to conceptualize the international structure as a gender hierarchy (as opposed to, or even in addition to, Waltz’s conception of structure as “invisible” and (therefore) “anarchical”). This is the part of Waltz with which I am the most familiar, and the part of the discussion of gender and the levels of analysis with which I am most intimately involved.  So, in answer to the question of how gender might “alter in significant ways” third-image thinking, I argue that “understanding gender hierarchy as international structure has two comparative advantages over the Waltzian conception of structure as (merely) anarchy: it could account for both war generally (as a permissive cause) and wars specifically (as a direct cause), and it could account for changes in the frequency and severity of war over time. For this, Elshtain has no answer.

I’ll discuss Elshtain’s conclusion, and mine, in Part III, to wrap up the “reply to the reply.”


A Reply to the Reply: Jean Elshtain, Gender, and IR (Part I)

Some of you might have seen the summer 2009 issue of International Relations; a retrospective on Man, the State, and War, by Kenneth Waltz, and its fiftieth anniversary. Among those essays was one by Jean Elsthain, entitled “Women, the State, and War,” where Elshtain asks whether gender as a category of analysis or as a central feature of a logic of explanation alters in significant ways Waltz’s levels of analysis, and answers in the negative. My (empirical and theoretical) response to her article is published in the March 2010 issue of the same journal, which published Elshtain’s reply following my article.

Of course, there’s a limit to the amount of this conversation the journal can publish, and I have a “reply to the reply” and a hope that the conversation can be continued, not least because I think that Elshtain fundamentally misunderstands both my argument and (what I see as) feminist IR. In the spirit of exploring these issues, I’ve decided to blog my reply to Elshtain’s reply.

I’d like to start out by giving credit to Elshtain’s foundational work studying sex and gender in global politics, particularly the book that she mentions in her reply, Women and War (1987), which was certainly foundational to my beginning to think about my research as a college student, and I know has played a similar role for many in their field. I do not mean to be disrespectful of Elshtain’s good work, or of her influence on the field. That said, I think that it is the very high level of esteem in which I hold her work that compels me to question the positions she took in her original article in the Waltz special issue, and in her response to my article.

The punchline (expanded below and in subsequent posts) is this: Eshtain’s argument is incorrect (intellectually), wrong (normatively), and it is made badly. I cannot stop journals from publishing it anyway or even get them to require it to be made well (frankly, I’m on the losing side of the relative power in the field “academically” and personally). As an Assistant Professor, I cannot even hope to “win” an argument with some who is apparently above peer review. But I can decide not to greet it with silent complicity, and I have.

I will talk about her reply’s overview in this post, and then the address the “images” in Part II.

To start out her response, Elshtain mentions that she does “not need to be instructed on the ‘sex’/’gender’ distinction” and mentions that she devoted an entire book to the “complicated construction of gender,” particularly to the question of “how have men’s and women’s identities been structured historically in relation to war?” Three things come to mind. First, as a younger scholar and student of people of Elshtain’s generation, where is that Jean Elshtain? A leader of the feminist movement in hard times? Why is she writing normatively ridiculous things like Just War Against Terror, rather than work that expands on, institutionalizes, and deepens Women and War? Why is she going out of her way to harm the feminist cause in the field, rather than to build it up? That aside, since it is irrelevant to the argument, two theoretical observations are important. First, the sentence Elshtain writes implying that the question of “men’s and women’s identities” maps onto gender shows that she does indeed need the lesson I give on the sex/gender distinction. Elshtain calls on science to argue that “there are, in fact, standard differences between males and females,” but ignores the science that argues that there are people that are neither male nor female, and that male and female are indeed not distinct categories even in terms of biological sex. Most feminists are not (and I as a feminist am not) arguing for ignoring sex(es), embodiment, or physicality in IR; in fact, there’s some great work out there now on the body (like that of Lauren Wilcox) and on sense/sensuality in war (like that of Christine Sylvester). Elshtain’s reading of feminism as severing sex and gender just demonstrates that Elshtain doesn’t read current feminist work, which references much of the “creative research” in the cutting edge of biology, which talks about sex and gender as co-constituted (and thus both dynamic categories). Second, as I implied in the last sentence, Elshtain’s interpretation of feminism is based on an outdated and partial reading of the feminist literature, which I will discuss next.

Elshtain then replies to my argument that her examples of what counts as feminism were anomalous, and her interpretation of feminist theory is outdated (and therefore inaccurate). She contends that her examples are “not at all anomalous; they were dominant and central at the time that they were adumbrated,” and that she’s “not sure exactly what chronology has to do with it if the issue is ‘human nature.’”

On the “chronology” issue first … it is, of course, not about chronology, but about theoretical development. From her reply, Elshtain clearly reads (if selectively) current work on gender in the biological sciences and neurology. What would be so hard about reading the current work in gender and war (to write an essay about gender and war), just to see if there was a good idea that one had not thought of? The question in Elshtain’s article is whether or not gender would fundamentally change Waltz’s levels of analysis. I’ll admit that I’m relatively new in the field. I was eight when Women and War was published, and still in primary school when the newest citation in “Women, the State, and War” was published. But that’s my point, I guess. Feminist IR was new then, and the arguments have developed substantially since Elshtain (apparently) stopped reading in it. Elshtain’s article has a number of arguments feminists used to make about how gender might matter to Waltz’s levels of analysis. Those arguments have changed, become more nuanced, and frankly, gotten better. Why use generation-old arguments as a strawman when the new ones could be argued with more skillfully and more persuasively? I may not have been in the field as long as Elshtain has, but I know that not reading and engaging the relevant literature to one’s assertions is poor scholarly practice. My pointing out that Elshtain’s references are outdated, then, is not about “chronology” for something as age-old as “human nature,” it is, instead, about omitting (or deliberatively ignoring) the best feminist arguments about “human nature” (and the other levels of analysis) by reading selectively (and in an outdated way) in the feminist literature. Frankly, I do not see how this is even controversial. It would never be okay to ask a question like “is democracy relevant to war?” without citing the democratic peace literature, even if just to disagree with it, because it has discussed the issue at length. It is likewise not okay to ask “is gender relevant to Waltz’s levels of analysis in IR?” without citing the feminist IR literature, even if just to disagree with it, because it has discussed the issue at length. Relatedly, I would argue that Elshtain’s examples of feminism(s) were indeed anomalous, even at the time, and that the fact that they have been largely repudiated/moved on from by contemporary feminism is not irrelevant to the argument. Due to space limitations, I will not talk about them specifically, but am willing to discuss in the comments, should anyone be interested.

Elshtain then points out that my argument that the “epistemology of feminist work” that “acknowledges its political content” is “noted matter-of-factly” but “begs many questions.” While space limitations in the journal took out a lot of my elaboration of this contention, it is not “muddled as stated” and has been addressed in much more sophisticated ways in the feminist literature (particularly, in Ackerly, Stern, and True’s Feminist Methodology in International Relations, but also in my Introduction to the special issue of Security Studies), which I would suggest Elshtain refer to in asking her questions about the nature of feminist epistemology. Elshtain suggests I am assigning feminist work a particular, singular epistemology; that’s not true, and if what I wrote could be construed that way, then I miswrote. What I was arguing, of course, which Elshtain repeats, is that “feminist work is work with an explicit political agenda in mind” – that is, that multiple feminist epistemologies have a politics in common.

Several times in her reply, Elstain criticizes me for saying that “feminists have argued x,” rather than making the argument myself, asking “how does that make the claim stick?”  It is true that I didn’t recount hundreds of books and thousands of articles, or redo their work, in a 10,000 word article, to create a “digest” guide for Elshtain so she actually doesn’t have to do the reading and engage with the work.  MY work in this article is not the stuff that “makes the claim stick,” others’ work that I cite does that.  MY argument was that, in order to say that “gender is not causal” (as she does in her article), she needed to read, and engage with, the work that argues that it is, and points out specific paths to proving causality. Her very questions about this show her ignorance of this literature …she notes that, “in the area of globalization, one would have to ask how ‘patriarchal social organization’ somehow ‘causes’ international finance flows, or other central features of the global economy.” Of course, feminist work by a number of amazing scholars HAS asked these questions and HAS backed up these claims with meticulous research (including but not limited to foundational books by Spike Peterson, J. K. Gibson-Graham, Sandra Whitworth, Shirin Rai, and Lordes Beneria; as well as the work of Suzanne Bergeron). So, Jean, to answer your question, “does the claim about ‘principal cause’ precede any research, yes; decades worth of labor of hundreds of scholars. It would behoove you to, say, google it, if not read it.

It is not that the argument that gender doesn’t change Waltz’s levels of analysis couldn’t be made well. I would still disagree, and present evidence to the contrary, but the argument could be made carefully, and with intellectual integrity. Then, maybe, my response wouldn’t have to be all over the place, at once pointing to the silliness of the argument as made and trying to argue against the argument were it made well and with reference to the relevant literatures. More in Part II.


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