Realism, liberalism and constructivism may be the three most prominent theories of international relations, but they are by no means the only ones or the most important. Feminist scholars look at international relations through the prism of gender relations, noting that for much of human history, women have been relegated to a sideline role in politics and government. This isn’t wise: More than half the people in the world are women. Nonetheless, males have dominated both the study and practice of international relations, but feminist scholars note that women’s roles as wives, mothers and workers have made all of that possible. Also, a female perspective on foreign policy might be different. Feminist theory sometimes argues that having more women in positions of power could change things, as women may be more likely to believe peace through international cooperation is possible.
Feminist international relations theory has variants, of course. Liberal feminism wants to ensure that women have the same opportunities in society as do men, so that means liberal in the broader sense of general support for democratic capitalism. Critical feminism, on the other hand, sees capitalism as the source of women’s oppression, and seeks to create new structures for society. Cultural or essentialist feminism stresses the differences in how women view and think about the world. It argues that women’s approach to the world would be more likely to bring peace and avoid conflict.
As usual, there’s probably some kernel of truth in all of these ideas, and places where we could find cases that contradict these notions. Clearly, for example, women tend to be less involved in violent crime, and women in some parts of the world are being sold into slavery and prostitution, where their lives are largely controlled by men. On the other hand, it was a female politician, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who marshaled her country’s military to go to war with Argentina and reclaim the Falkland Islands in 1982. But while history is full of valiant female warriors and strong leaders—from the Trung sisters and Trieu Thi Trinh of Vietnam, to Joan of Arc, and Queen Elizabeth I—they are much less common than are men famous for their conquering exploits. And the women warriors, generally, are famous for having defended their homelands as opposed to conquering somebody else’s. While some men have felt threatened by the rise of feminism in the last 60 years, it really is an opportunity to look at the world in a slightly different way, perhaps shedding some light on why things happen the way they do.