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date: 19 March 2018

Gender, Identity, and the Security State

Summary and Keywords

Much of what goes on in the production of a security state is the over-zealous articulation of the other, which has the effect of reinforcing the myth of an essentialized, unambiguous collective identity called the nation-state. Indeed, the focus on securing a state (or any group) often suggests the need to define more explicitly those who do not belong, suggesting, not only those who do, but where and how they belong and under what conditions. Feminists are concerned with how highly political gender identities often defined by masculinism are implicated in marking these inclusions and exclusions, but also how gender identities get produced through the very practices of the security state. Feminists in the early years critiqued the inadequacy of realist, state-centric notions of security and made arguments for more reformative security perspectives, including those of human security or other nonstate-centric approaches. At the same time, feminist research moved to examine more rigorously the processes of militarism, war, and other security practices of the state and its reliance on specific ideas about women and men, femininity and masculinity. Feminist contributions from the mid-1990s through the first decade of the millennium reveal much about the relationships between gender identities, militarism, and the state. By paying attention to gendered relationships of power, they expose the nuances in the co-constitution of gender identities and the security state.

Keywords: feminism, identity politics, security state, militarized state security, gender identities, relationships of power

Identity politics have been a central concern for feminists in international relations (IR) since the 1980s. Feminists have been keen to observe who and what is considered relevant and important to the practices of security, how that relevance and importance come to exist in the first place, as well as the consequences of such privileging. They have been intent on locating and revealing the politics of who has voice and who does not, who is allowed to fight wars, lead states, negotiate treaties, make foreign policy, work as diplomats and theorize, and who is left to watch unnoticed on the sidelines (Zalewski and Enloe 1995:281). Gender has been a central focus of such analysis. Although there is no one theory of gender identity formation or even a consensus on how identity should be theorized among feminists (Hooper 2001:19–38), there is general agreement that gender identities shape and are shaped by a host of international, national, and local practices, including those security practices of the state. Who you are matters; what your identity is matters. Indeed, given the structural inequalities of war, poverty, healthcare, and the environment, feminists have demonstrated that gender identity could even be a matter of life or death (Zalewski and Enloe 1995).

In this essay I review feminist insights about the relationship between gender identities, power, and the practices of the security state. The first section examines the feminist literature on the meaning of identity and how gender identities matter. The second section examines the early years of feminist IR (1980s and early 1990s), noting four observations about the state and militarized national security that emerge from taking gender identity seriously. The third section builds on the second, but mostly covers the literature on feminine and masculine gender identities, militarism and war, and the politics of difference/exclusion from the mid-1990s through the first decade of the millennium. In the fourth section I draw on recent insights about performativity to discuss the identity-producing practices of the security state and what an awareness of the workings of gender and identity can add to understanding the processes of othering on which the state depends. The final section looks forward to possible places for disruption in dominant state security narratives that could lead to an unhinging of essentialized gender identities and the destabilization of hierarchies of power.

Identity Matters

Simply put, identity is a marker that humans use to define themselves in relation to others – either as individuals or as collectivities (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 2006:91). In Western thought, identities are created oppositionally, in relation to what they are not. It is inconceivable to think about whom one is (the self), without some notion of difference, without constructing an other. Identity relates to subjectivity, self-formation, agency, and choice, but also to social processes, institutions, discourses, and classificatory systems. That is, identity includes answers to the questions: “Who am I? Who do I want to be? […Who are we? Who do we want to be? But also …] who do others think I am and want me to be [… and …] who decides the answers to these questions, and on what basis?” (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 2006:91). As Zalewski and Enloe (1995:2) state: “identity is not just a question of self-identification. Identities are constructed by others who have a stake in making up certain social categories and in trying to make people conform to them. Therefore we need to be sensitive to the operation of power in the ascription of identities.”

Feminists long have claimed that gender is central to the construction and ascription of identities and that gender identity cannot be responsibly ignored in the study of security (e.g., Blanchard 2003; Hoogensen and Stuvoy 2006; Sjoberg 2009) or the state (e.g., Peterson 1992; Nayak and Suchland 2006; Kantola 2007). They have shown how classifying systems based on perceived gender differences among humans are powerful ways of maintaining certain social and political orders, marking inclusions and exclusions, and assigning status and privilege (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 2006:95; Krause 1996; Peterson and Runyan 1999; Peterson 2007). Indeed, feminists understand gender as a code for power that is central to understanding how social hierarchies persist with direct links to the security of individuals and humanity at large.

To illustrate: when IR feminists examine the social world they see one informed by masculinism – a world that justifies a hierarchically organized gender binary by naturalizing the privileging of that which gets associated with masculinity over that which gets associated with femininity. These naturalized messages of gender are mapped onto modernist/positivist binaries that inform Western thought – binaries like active/passive, production/reproduction, abstract/concrete, mind/body, order/anarchy, protector/protected, autonomy/dependence, fact/value, subject/object, and theory/practice, where the first word in each pairing is associated with masculinity and is privileged over the second which is associated with femininity (Peterson and Runyon 1999:38).

Embedded within language and culture, this system of masculine/feminine-differentiated and hierarchically organized binaries “constitutes […] a governing code […] systematically shaping not only who we are but how we think and what we do” (Peterson 2007:13). As Peterson (2007:12) argues, “identities (subjectivity, self-formation), meaning systems (concepts, discourse, ideologies), and social practices/institutions (actions, social structures)” are intertwined and inseparable, working together to construct the world we live in. Additionally, “thought and action are equally inextricable from identification processes and their politics” (2007:12). Thus, the normalization of the modernist/positivist binaries listed above naturalizes masculine privilege while stigmatizing the feminine and does so in such a way to differently value and shape feminine and masculine identities, but also feminine-and masculine-identified “concepts, desires, tastes, styles [and] ways of knowing” (Peterson 2007:14).

This systemic “devalorization” of the feminine matters because not only does it have implications for the position of women (and men) in any social order, but also for other marginalized groups (Peterson 2007). The gender binary often intersects and is constructed along with hierarchies of race, class, sexuality, nationality, and so on, working together to legitimate all forms of domination. That is, the subordination of individuals or groups by race, class, and sexuality often becomes depoliticized because that subordination is also naturalized through feminization. Examples include “lazy migrants,” “primitive natives,” and “effeminate gays” (Peterson 2007:13).

The discussion above foretells this metatheoretical point: almost all IR feminists are postpositivists; that is, they conceive of identities (and states) as slippery, alterable, and in a constant state of becoming. Identities are constructed through a variety of practices – practices of corporeality/embodiment, as well as through institutions, social processes, and discursive practices (Hooper 2001:19–38) and in a number of socially, economically, politically, historically, and culturally contingent contexts. IR feminists may be able to empirically find “women” and states in the world, but they almost always see these “women” and states as at least minimally socially constructed, if not productively enacted through discursive practices (compare Peterson 1992 and Kantola 2007). This contrasts with the positivist idea that there may be some sort of fixed, cemented, foundational notion of identity (or the state). As feminists make clear, taking identities – or any subjects – as pre-given and uniform does not allow for understanding the political practices and conflicts that take specific forms, such as war, because of the gender politics of identity, nor does it allow an appreciation of how such practices, policies, and conflicts are implicated in the construction of gender identities themselves (Peterson 1999; Hooper 2001).

In the next section, I trace how these insights about gender and identity formed a basis of critique for IR.

Gender, Identity, and Connections to the Security State: The Early Years (1980s–early 1990s)

Although security studies have been central to the field of IR, the definition of security is a highly contested one and open for interpretation (Steans 1998:106). Disagreement occurs on the most important locus of security (i.e., should security be focused on the individual, the community, the state, the globe, and/or the environment?) as well as its ontology (is security a state of being or is it a process embedded in social relations or is it something else?). Thus, it is not surprising that debates have raged on about what should legitimately and usefully constitute discussions of security, who should decide this, and when (for various discussions on how IR has ignored feminist contributions on this issue see Tickner 2004; Hoogensen and Stuvoy 2006; Sjoberg 2006, 2009; Sylvester 2007).

When feminists arrived on the scene of IR, however, they met with a security studies scholarship that focused almost exclusively on military capabilities, military use, and threat of war, emphasizing and privileging the nation-state as the most important locus of security and identity. Derived from the work of theorists like Hobbes, Machiavelli, Morgenthau, and Waltz, this notion of security is based on assumptions about how competitive political collectivities are apt to behave in an anarchical world. In this view, the nation-state is viewed as an autonomous and purposive actor in which the security of individual humans is irrevocably linked to national security and the privileging of the territorial and conceptual boundaries of the nation-state. Because the state was seen as a purposive and autonomous actor, it became an irreducible component of political identity.

The hegemony of militarized, state-centric notions of security began to falter in the 1980s, however, as nonmilitary and transnational issues like environmental degradation, migration, the AIDS epidemic, human rights abuses, poverty, and illicit drug-related activities gained prominence. The state remained a major focus of the field, but scholars began to think beyond militarized national security, focusing on the security of transnational regions and individuals as well as issues of global social and economic justice (e.g., Buzan 1983). Feminists and other critical thinkers supported this expansion in the definition of security largely because the myopic focus on militarized state security from a realist perspective is too reductionist and does not translate into the lived realities of millions of people (Steans 1998:104–29). Feminists developed their critique of the field in this context, drawing from a “cross-ideological, trans-epistemological, multivoiced conversational debate among multiple feminisms, including liberal, empiricist, modified standpoint, and qualified postmodern perspectives among others” (Blanchard 2003:1295), offering nonfeminist IR and the security literature more specifically, more complexity and nuance.

Judith Hicks Stiehm (1982) and Jean Bethke Elshtain (1983), for example, both provided critical insights into the operation of the security state that feminist scholars have since built upon and complicated (e.g., Young 2003; Sjoberg and Peet 2011). They both warned about the gender identities constructed about women and men that legitimate and sustain violence, war, and other security practices. Stiehm (1982) demonstrated how the identities of men as “protectors” and women as “protected” provide women and men differing access to power and decision-making in the state. As constructed historically, the state's primary purpose has been the protection of the population from “foreign” threats, a task that only men can carry out as protectors through the rules of designated military service. Women, she demonstrates, become second-class citizens, and are expected to be loyal, obedient, and grateful to their protectors. Stiehm exposed these claims of protection from international threats as a myth, demonstrating how the protector/protected identities shore up the state as a protection racket – as creating the threat for which it seeks to defend itself (cf. Peterson 1992:50–1). Not only do each state's protectors/men see the others as potential threats to their protected/women, but because what it means to be a man is so closely tied with the protector role, the protectors often are compelled to control their protected, sometimes through violence. In the case of local sexualized violence against women, Jan Jindy Pettman (1996:105) noted with irony that “men are constructed as soldier-protectors of the very people they endanger.” Women, therefore, are the potential targets of other state's protectors as well as their own.

Elshtain (1983, 1987) famously problematized the essentialist way that men and women get stereotyped in our war stories, how the romanticized ideas about the “just warrior” and “beautiful soul” work to cement men as protectors and combatants and women as helpless, virtuous, peaceful, and in need of protection (cf. Cooke and Woollacott 1993). Writing from the standpoint of a mother and scholar, she recounted her own fascination with war as a child and tried to retire any notion that women and girls could not be warriors – that there was no inherent connection between people we call men and war. Speaking about peaceful men and violent women, Elshtain not only showed that these identities are social constructions, but that essentializing men as violent and women as peaceful is inaccurate. She warns that such depictions function in a way to reify masculinism because men's violence thus is seen as institutional, justified, and legitimate while women's becomes an abnormality (cf. Moser and Clark 2001; Sjoberg and Gentry 2007). Elshtain's dissatisfaction with some essentialized treatments and understandings of male and female identities was an important first step in complicating and destabilizing the dominant stories of war and other state security practices.

While Stiehm and Elshtain pointed out how men and women become positioned asymmetrically in relationship to the security state and some of the gender-subordinating effects of such positioning, Cynthia Enloe (1989) challenged the historical lack of women in the “high politics” of national security, asking the question: “Where are the women?” She made women visible and relevant by pointing out women in both familiar and unfamiliar security locations – as soldiers, chambermaids, garment workers, nannies, prostitutes, and domestic workers. She revealed the hidden gendered power at work that supports the more expected tasks of international politics, such as a male diplomat's socially gracious wife making dinner so hospitable as to facilitate productive interstate discussions. Enloe “sees” the work of diplomat wives in the work of international politics. Katharine H.S. Moon (1997) also has elaborated on how the personal lives of people not usually considered in the workings of national security are not only relevant, but also salient to maintaining security orders. For example, Moon demonstrated how sex workers outside US military bases in South Korea were essential to US–South Korea talks about maintaining a US security presence in the 1970s. She showed how the everyday lives of individual sex workers and their sexual practices with male US soldiers were intimately connected to national security policies.

Grant and Newland's (1991) edited volume Gender and International Relations also called out the field for its blindness to how gender identities matter in its knowledge-making. They problematized its androcentric basis and highlighted dominant IR paradigms as partial, artificial and full of gender bias. They explained that women have been excluded because “international relations theory has, overwhelmingly, been constructed by men working with mental models of human activity and society seen through a male eye and apprehended through a male sensibility” (1991:1). J. Ann Tickner's (1991) contribution to this volume famously critiques Hans J. Morgenthau's “Six Principles of Political Realism.” She questions his claims to objective human nature, especially one that emphasizes competition, autonomy, domination, hyperrationality, abstraction, and unbridled pursuits of power. She wonders where cooperation, morality, and justice are in such a formulation and insists that a reformulation of security must begin with those concepts in mind. As Tickner (1992:127) later writes: “traditional notions of national security are becoming dysfunctional,” not only because of its androcentricism, but because it cannot adequately address structural violences like poverty or environmental issues.

Also noting dysfunction, Carol Cohn (1987) demonstrates how masculinist-informed “techno-strategic” discourses have implications for how we think and act in the world, to potentially dire ends. Cohn found that learning the language of defense intellectuals was a transformative process. This language, which deals in gender euphemisms (e.g., nuclear virginity) and abstract, decontextualized rationality, shaped her ability to express herself so that the “logic” of the discourse functioned to make it possible to discuss the unthinkable, the nuclear dismissal of human life. When she tried to talk outside the techno-strategic language, to speak plainly of the lives lost, she lost credibility – she was feminized. One of the key lessons of Cohn's piece is that men and women are constituted through security discourses that not only privilege masculinity and androcentrism, but do so in a way that is dangerous to humanity.

In summary:

  • By focusing on women, IR feminists undermined a central assumption informing realism by challenging the idea that women are actually protected by state security practices, whether in peace or war.

  • Focusing on gender identities revealed how extraordinarily essentialist our war stories are about women and men. Feminists demonstrated how war and state security depend on constructions of women as subordinate, peacexful, “beautiful souls” at odds with the public, “just warrior” world of men and the workings of the state.

  • By “seeing” women, feminists were able to question the invisibility and supposed irrelevance of women to national security politics by noting their everyday presence instead of their assumed exclusion, recognizing and recovering their contributions and agency.

  • Starting from the standpoint of “women's lives,” IR feminists demonstrated how taking women's experiences seriously was fundamentally transformative for the discipline, challenging the definition of realist-inspired national security and requiring its broadening. Feminists revealed how relationships between people were made invisible through commitments to abstract rationality, autonomy, and competition and in doing so, exposed the presumption of a generic mythical man underlying much of the knowledge claims in the field.

Militarized State Security, Gender Identities, and Relationships of Power (mid-1990s–2011)

Feminists in the early years critiqued the inadequacy of realist, state-centric notions of security and made arguments for more reformative security perspectives, including those of human security or other nonstate-centric approaches (e.g., Tickner 1992, 2001, 2004; Hutchings 1999; Hoogensen and Stuvoy 2006; Steans 2006:73–7). At the same time, feminist research moved to examine more rigorously the processes of militarism, war, and other security practices of the state and its reliance on specific ideas about women and men, femininity and masculinity (e.g., Enloe 1993, 2000, 2007; Goldstein 2001; Hansen 2001; Tickner 2002; Young 2003; Hunt and Rygiel 2006; Kinsella 2006; Sjoberg 2007; Wilcox 2009; Sjoberg and Peet 2011). This section focuses on the latter, surveying feminist contributions from the mid-1990s through the first decade of the millennium about the relationships between gender identities, militarism, and the state. By paying attention to gendered relationships of power, the purpose of this section is to expose the nuances in the coconstitution of gender identities and the security state.

Early in feminist attempts to “see” women in international relations, concerns were raised regarding the use of universal statements about women and the erasures of difference that such statements allowed. It became clear that security concerns, specific effects of militarism and war, and state practices affected and constituted women in different ways, and that some women's concerns were more visible than others. This had important implications for the theorizing of identity and the security state, as postmodern, postcolonial, and critical race theorists demonstrated the danger of universalizing the experiences, knowledge, and concerns of women by pointing out how much feminist politics and theorizing in North America and Western Europe used as their representational figure an unmarked, but assumed, white, middle-class, heterosexual woman. As a result, the voices of minority women in the West, as well as most other women's perspectives from across the globe, were marginalized (Spivak 1985; Mohanty, Russo, and Torress 1991; Chowdhry and Nair 2004; Mohanty 2003; Hawkesworth 2006). As Chowdhry and Nair (2004:10) put it: “a discernable First World feminist voice has emerged in the IR literature, one that glosses over or elides the concerns and engagement of postcolonial feminists.”

The intersectionality of race, class, sexuality, and nationality is implicated in the construction of feminine identities (Steans 1998:26–7; Peterson and Runyan 1999:175–6), rendering some women more vulnerable to the costs of militarism, empire, and war. Indeed, many postcolonial feminists pointed out that European colonialism and its legacy are held up, in part, by hierarchically constructed divisions among women – for example, the depiction of white women as the epitome of moral order and lust-free virtue contrasted with the depiction of African-Caribbean female slaves as uncivilized with raging sexual appetites (cf. Eisenstein 2004:85–91). As Kempadoo (1999:5) described it: “racialized, colonial masculine power rested in part on the ideological constructions of black slave women in the Caribbean as sexually promiscuous and immoral and on notions that they were by nature ‘hot constitution'd’ and sensuous in an animal-like way, lacking all the qualities that defined ‘decent’ womanhood or women of ‘purity of blood.’” In the end, taking seriously observations such as these “generated new visions of security that are sensitive to questions of race, ethnic identity, political status, class and […] to problems of poverty, inequality, development and the denial of human rights” (Steans 2006:73).

These insights regarding difference began to be applied more fully to IR feminists' understandings of men and masculinity beginning in the late 1990s (Hooper 1998, 2001; Zalewski and Parpart 1998; Parpart and Zalewski 2008), despite it being noted early on that understanding men and masculinity was an important research area in need of exploration (e.g., Elshtain 1981, 1987; Enloe 1989; Tickner 1992). Feminists reasoned that if gender is fundamentally about power, and if the workings of masculinism make invisible a gender hierarchy, then deconstructing masculinity is important to the feminist project (Hooper 1998, 2001; Zalewski and Parpart 1998; Carver 2008; Parpart and Zalewski 2008). However, it should be noted that some feminists are skeptical of focusing too much on men and masculinities when women have been made invisible in the field for so long; likewise, examining masculinities does not, in itself, necessarily have to work toward unhinging gender hierarchy or the heterosexual gender binary (cf. Carver 2008). Yet as Parpart and Zalewski (2008:2) argue, “asking the ‘man’ question was (and is) always about attempting to dislocate the ‘male-orderedness’ of enquiries about gender and crucially about interrupting the stability of the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ as a way to loosen the hold gender has on meaning and life.” Because international politics has been a field so dominated by men, because men disproportionately are involved in traditional security professions as soldiers, diplomats, and heads of state and therefore tend to control the means of violence and war-making (Zalewski and Parpart 1998; Hooper 2001), deconstructing “man” seems like a particularly important task. Thus, below I review the literature on masculinities and the relationships of power among femininity and masculinity, women and men, in order to reveal how military state orders are constructed and sustained.

The many historical and cross-cultural studies on men and masculinity demonstrate that, like femininities, there are multiple masculinities that are dynamic and fluid constructions that operate in hierarchical fashion across time and context (cf. Carrigan et al. 1985; Connell 1987, 1995). Those masculinities that are hegemonic are most usefully thought of as dominant, society-wide ideal types that do not necessarily have to represent any one person or even the majority of men, but are nonetheless powerful “reference points” in the construction of masculine identities (Tickner 1992; Hooper 2001; both citing Connell 1987). As relational constructs, hegemonic masculinities are not identifiable as such unless there are femininities and less-privileged masculinities that are widely constructed as less desirable forms (Hooper 1998:34–5).

These observations about hegemonic masculinities are key to understanding how militarized state security orders operate in any given context (e.g., Enloe 2000; Goldstein 2001). For example, autonomy, toughness, competition, aggressiveness, and courage are tied to the socialization of boys and men, and militaries depend on such notions for success. Relatedly, militaries also depend on a male soldier's ability to suppress emotion in the face of danger, to battle in the face of fear (Goldstein 2001). As Goldstein (2001:267) says of “manly” soldiers: “If a man is to carry out manly deeds, he cannot be slowed down by taking the time to psychologically heal himself after the terrible things he has witnessed and endured. He must strap down his armor and press on, willing debilitating emotions out of his mind.” The suppression of emotion as a manly feature is reinforced in a number of ways, not least for the threat of emasculation and the accusation of “acting like a woman.” Speaking of the gendered work of humiliation and torture by US forces at the Abu Ghraib prison, Sjoberg (2007:95) writes: “Nothing feminizes masculinity like being beat by a girl, as the old play-ground adage explains. The images of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib silently tell a story of the ultimate humiliation of Iraqi masculinity because Iraqi men were deprived of their manliness by American women.”

Indeed, militarism often depends on women for “manly” reinforcement. Women in many cultures and historical contexts have shamed men into being successful warriors. During World War I in Great Britain and the United States, for example, some “women organized a large-scale campaign to hand out white feathers to able-bodied men found in the streets, to shame the men for failing to serve in combat” (Goldstein 2001:272). In another historical example, Apache women would meet successful warriors with songs and celebration, but unsuccessful ones with “jeers and insults” (Goldstein 2001:272). Thus, feminization and threats of feminization are central to holding up hegemonic masculinities (Peterson 2007).

Hegemonic masculinities, however, also are constructed alongside other, more subordinate masculinities. For example, Craig Murphy (1998) identifies six masculine roles in world politics, some of which are more hegemonic than others: the good soldier, the civilian strategist, the military son, the good comrade, the fashionable pacifist, and the Sisyphean Peacemaker. Murphy demonstrates how they all derive meaning from each other and function to support a hierarchical logic of masculinities that ultimately supports the good-soldier role. Of course, the hegemonic masculine identity of the good soldier also demands a corollary feminine identity like the beautiful soul that justifies “his” position as a protector in the first place. Thinking in terms of multiple and hegemonic masculinities allows one to account for the multiplicity of masculinities operating without losing sight of the axes of power in which they circulate. That is, it allows one to explain some men's differential access to power while keeping in mind gender hierarchy – that overall, hegemonic masculine identities are privileged over feminine identities and subordinate masculine identities (Hooper 1998:33–8; 2001:39–76).

Hegemonic masculinities are not static, however, and rivalries among different identity groups can occur. These rivalries in IR, whether between theorists (Ashworth and Swatuk 1998), states, national groups, or whatever, often are based on competing definitions of what it means to be properly masculine and often are implicated in providing a rationale for war (Tickner 1992; Hooper 2001). Of the utmost importance to feminists are that these differing views of the world suggest different policy prescriptions. Feminists have a stake in the assumptions that inform actions on the world stage because not all “models of man” (Tickner 1992) are created equally – some are much more harmful to women than others, although all ignore and denigrate the feminine in some form (e.g., Tickner 1992; Sylvester 1994; Steans 1998; Hooper 2001:103–15).

Given that hegemonic masculinities can change what they privilege given the necessities of time and context, it is essential for feminists to pay attention to what each requires of women. Steve Niva (1998), for example, traces the changes of hegemonic masculinity in the United States from the post-Vietnam era to the 1990 Gulf War. Building on the work of Susan Jeffords (1989), Niva demonstrates how the United States “loss” in Vietnam coupled with the demands of civil rights and women's rights movements of the time resulted in a crisis of hegemonic masculinity and notions of (white, heterosexual) “American manhood.” What followed was the “remasculinization” of US popular culture and politics in the 1980s, exemplified by a reactionary hypermilitarized masculinity represented in the likes of Rambo, the Delta Forces, and the Reagan administration and a “backlash” against women's rights. By 1990, with the Cold War over, the United States not only emerged as the sole global hegemon, but with the use of overwhelming force during the Gulf War demonstrated that the US military was back and the Vietnam syndrome “kicked once and for all” (Niva 1998:109). Afterwards hegemonic masculinity transitioned from the militarized kind of the 1980s to a “new world order” masculinity of the post-Cold War world, one that is both “tough and tender.” This new masculinity was sensitive enough, however, to work alongside renewed feminist activism in the early 1990s. Thus, Niva illustrated how the “content” or those “ingredients” associated with hegemonic masculinity can increase in prominence and fall from favor – only slightly altering the “mix” of hegemonic masculinity (Hooper 2001:66–70). This case also provides evidence of how some “models of man” are more hospitable to women's quest for equality.

While militarism, war, and state security processes have been closely tied to and constitutive of hegemonic masculinities in many cases (e.g., Enloe 2000), hegemonic masculinity does not have a natural or inevitable stranglehold on these processes. For example, Daniel Conway (2008) traces a case in 1980s apartheid South Africa in which militarism's hold on hegemonic masculinity was challenged because white men increasingly objected to compulsory conscription, forming an anti-war and anti-apartheid “End Conscription Campaign.” This move not only challenged the state's militarized project, but its racialized one as well. This had destabilizing potential by opening up the possibilities for alternative, if not competing, masculinities. Demonstrating the lengths that “the state” would go to ensure militarism's hold on masculinity, it used “homophobia and misogyny to stigmatize objectors” (Conway 2008:139) and marginalize them. Conway's piece provides two lessons: (1) hegemonic masculinity's hold on militarism is vulnerable; and (2) processes of feminization are powerful tools to delegitimize actors. To succeed, actors must take up the challenge of making respectable those feminized identities associated with women and same-sex sexualities.

Relatedly, other scholars have warned against taking for granted hegemonic masculinity's assumed link to heterosexuality. Jamie Munn (2008) demonstrates how looking at Kosovar national narratives of war and manhood exposes a complicated construction of masculinity partially at odds with dominant discourses of militant manhood. For example, one of Munn's interviewees, Florin, equated being able to publicly embrace his same-sex sexuality with a new and emerging Kosovo national identity that he contrasted with the old aggressive homophobic type: “when Kosovo is a real country and in [the] EU I can be gay. I will get a boyfriend and people can't touch us then” (quoted in Munn 2008:148). This quote reveals that there is no inevitable link between emerging nationalisms and heterosexual masculinity, as so often has been assumed. Florin equates acceptance, safety, and being able to be open about his sexual identity as part of the emerging Kosovo national identity. Dibyesh Anand (2008) complicates the easy link between heterosexual masculinity and nationalism as well, but does so by demonstrating the need to recognize how notions of heterosexualities are implicated in national identities. Anand demonstrates how Hindu nationalists define hegemonic masculinity in terms of a virility born from heterosexual asceticism. This contrasts with the “hyper-sexed” heterosexual construction of Muslims, complicating the politics of what counts as “hegemonic” in the heterosexual.

These cases demonstrate that while the security state's hold on hegemonic masculinity is vulnerable to disruption, it is also deeply entrenched. This observation likewise applies to the security state's hold on femininities and feminine identities. For example, Laura Sjoberg and Caron Gentry (2007) examine narratives about women who commit proscribed violence – Chechen Black Widows, Rwandan and Bosnian genocidaires, and Middle Eastern suicide bombers. Instead of recognizing these women's agency to commit violence and thus destabilize gendered notions that help constitute the state, these women get constructed as aberrations and explained away as mothers, monsters, or whores. The effect of the mother, monster, and whore narratives is that they reify what proper women are supposed to be: innocent, peaceful, and nonviolent, and who they are not: rationally acting, agential men. By refusing to acknowledge women's agency in violence, the mother, monster, and whore stereotypes hold up protector/protected identities on which wars and security states depend. They also do not disrupt idealized masculinity. Indeed, Megan Mackenzie (2009) demonstrates how post-conflict programs and integration efforts in Sierra Leone also reinforce gender protector/protected identities by focusing on the reintegration or securitization of male combatants while constructing female combatants as campfollowers, dependents, and victims in need of social services. Of course, these gender frames have “real” life consequences; Mackenzie argues that reintegration efforts are not as effective because of gendered assumptions. Similarly, Sandra McEvoy (2009) demonstrates that if Loyalist women paramilitaries were invited to the negotiating table during the four cross-border agreements between 1974 and 2007, those agreements would have been more likely to succeed. But again, because of assumptions and expectations of “womanly” behavior (as nonviolent and thus not relevant to conflict or its resolution), these women were ignored. These examples show how refusing to see women's violence or agency produces women as the “beautiful souls” that Elshtain talks about – innocent and the cause of war (cf. Moser and Clark 2001).

The militarized security state depends on women in many locations and in relationship to men (Enloe 2000): as the nurse (to provide comfort and care), the wife (to be the object of protection), the mother (to show pride in her soldier), the prostitute (to ensure virility), the laundress (to provide domestic service), the peace activist (to call unpatriotic), and even a certain notion of the feminist (to fight for women's presence in the military when there are manpower shortages). Even when women have to fight as soldiers, their difference and inferiority are marked by constructions of “idealized militarized femininity.” As seen in the frenzy of media coverage over Jessica Lynch, the young US soldier “rescued” from an Iraqi hospital in 2003, idealized militarized femininity is constructed in relation to idealized hegemonic masculinity by combining the required toughness and courage of soldiering with the preservation of femininity as a marker of vulnerability and difference (Sjoberg 2007).

Thus, studying gender identities in the context of militarism and war provides several insights about the relationships of power commonly needed to sustain the gendered order of the security state:

  • Femininities and masculinities are relational constructs – such notions do not have meaning independent of the other. They are fluid notions that can change over time and context given the requirements of power.

  • There are multiple femininities and masculinities operating in any given context. The intersectionalities of gender, race, class, sexuality, nationality, age, ability, and so on inform feminine and masculine identities.

  • Gender hierarchy works to privilege that which is associated with masculinity over that which is associated with femininity. Processes of feminization are read as devalorization.

  • Some masculinities are hegemonic, others are not. In the context of gender hierarchy, all corollary femininities are subordinate to, sometimes derived from, but usually in support of hegemonic masculinities.

  • Femininities, especially those imbued with privileged notions of race, class, sexuality, nation, and so on, can be privileged over subordinate masculinities.

  • Notions of proper femininity are context dependent and disciplinary, working to marginalize women who do not fit ideal types and often shoring up hegemonic masculinity.

  • Hegemonic masculinities are dynamic in character, and specific articulations can rise and fall from the graces of power – that is, the “stuff” of any given hegemonic masculinity can change. Challenges to hegemonic masculinity are possible.

  • Given the power differentials associated with masculinities, rivalries among the different types appear. Rival interpretations, interests, and positions in politics often represent rival models of masculinity and femininity, womanhood and manhood.

  • Masculinism prevents seeing women's violence as anything other than aberrant, reifying women's association with peace and a marker of difference with men.

Identity Politics and the Security State

In this section, I introduce Judith Butler's (1990) notion of performativity as it recently has been applied to understanding the practices of the security state (e.g., Campbell 1998; Weber 1998; Shepherd 2006a, 2007; Kantola 2007). Performativity provides a way to examine another level of politics in the production of identities and states, offering a glimpse at how identities and states are the effects of power and demonstrating that anything presented as “normal,” “common-sensical,” or “fixed” is actually produced through “discursive and structural processes” (Kantola 2007:272). Following Foucault, power here “is exercised rather than possessed” (Kantola 2007:278). Performativity refers to “the ways that identities are constructed iteratively through complex citational practices” (quoted in Weber 1998:79, citing Butler). According to this view, subjects, whether individual humans or states, have “no ontological status apart from the various acts that constitute its reality” (quoted in Campbell 1998:9, citing Butler). In the case of the security state, this means that foreign policy pronouncements, congressional hearings, presidential speeches and directives, and any number of other security discourses and state practices have a performativity that works to constitute that which it names to serve – the security state itself. Gender, here, “is not taken as the first premise but as something to be deconstructed. There is no a priori assumption of gender difference but rather a focus on both the gendered and gendering character of the state” (Kantola 2007:271). These performative moments also are produced along with race, class, sexuality, and nationality, which together “secures, disciplines and maintains the boundaries of public and private, community, nation and state” (Nayak 2006:47). The identities created through state security practices are many, varied, context dependent, and case specific. They, of course, can include more than state identities themselves, but also protector/protected identities, national identities, religious identities, enemy identities, sexual identities, identities of proper and improper citizenship, but also gender identities like “woman” and “man,” among many others. To illustrate this, I examine below two cases of security practices and discourses that are implicated in the construction of gender identities – wartime rape in the former Yugoslavia and US narratives of 9/11.

Wartime rape can be viewed as a security practice that has a performativity, a productive power to shape and produce gender, national, and sexual identities. This point has become a powerful and popular one for IR feminists, especially for those studying ethnic conflict, gender and nationalism, and women and war. Perhaps the most studied incidences of wartime rape and its identity-producing dynamics have been those associated with the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. To many feminists, the systematic rapes of women were not just acts of misogyny, but acts intimately implicated in the construction of the ethnic identities of Serbs, Bosnian Muslims, and Croats themselves. Each group shared a gendered nationalist discourse built on the dualisms of protector/protected, man/woman. According to this gendered narrative of war, women were constructed as symbols of the homeland, as mothers – the reproducers of the nation both biologically and culturally (Yuval-Davis 1997). Thus, the rape of a woman of a rival ethnic group had the effect not only of reproducing the gendered identity of women as victims, but also of emasculating those male rivals for their inability to protect their women and therefore their nation. When the Serbs began their ethnic cleansing campaign (of which systematic rape was a part) in Bosnia, as they searched for an ethnically pure “Greater Serbia,” their actions inscribed gender and national hierarchies on the various players. As Hansen (2001:60) suggests, “Bosnian rapes have separated ‘women’ from ‘men,’ and ‘Bosnians’ from ‘Serbs,’ and have attributed superior/inferior gendered and national identities to these subjects.”

Sexuality was also produced along with the gender–nation matrix and ultimately reinforced heterosexuality as hegemonic. For example, Zarkov (2001) showed how the Croatian media's reporting of wartime rape of men during the ethnic wars of the former Yugoslavia helped produce not only gender–ethnic hierarchies, but sexual hierarchies as well. Zarkov, noting the silence surrounding sexual violence against men, was surprised to find reference to such in the United Nations Commission of Experts' Final Report. The assaults noted in the Final Report included male combatants “beating men across the genitals and forcing them to undress; rape and assault by foreign objects; castration and the severing of testicles” (Zarkov 2001:71). A handful of stories to this effect were published in Croatian newspapers. Interestingly, the Croatian media almost always constructed Muslim men (and women) as victims of sexual violence and Serbs as the perpetrators, despite the fact that some men from all ethnicities experienced sexual violence. Croats virtually disappear from the conversation about incidences of male sexual violence. Zarkov (2001:80) notes the significance of Croat invisibility:

Their invisibility points to the significance of positioning a heterosexual masculine power at the core of the definition of the ethnic Self in the Croatian media. The raped or the castrated Croat man – in the context where rape and castration were associated with homosexuality and emasculation – would undermine construction of the Croat nation as virile and powerful. And that construction is what the media representations in the Croatian daily are all about – defining the Croat Self as different from Serb and Muslim Other, both in terms of masculinity and in terms of ethnicity.

Thus, the Croat state defines itself as embodying a heterosexual and virile masculinity superior to that of (1) the “Serb perverts and primitives” who most visibly (through both witnessed and published accounts) participated in one way or another in sexual torture and (2) the Bosnian Muslim men – the most visible victims. As such, the “Croat Self” was produced in contrast to those who did not display proper masculinity – the emasculated and sometimes homosexualized Bosnian Muslims and the barbaric Serb other (Zarkov 2001:79–80). This example demonstrates the performative nature of militarized security practices and their identity-producing proclivities in the context of ethnic warfare.

More recently, the attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have provided feminists with an opportunity to further articulate the identity-producing practices of the security state using the United States as an example (Tickner 2002; Young 2003; Agathangelou and Ling 2004; Nayak 2006; Shepherd 2006a; Peterson 2007). Noting again that foreign policy discourses have a productivity and performativity to construct identities, an important effect of post-9/11 US policy pronouncements was to produce a certain masculine American identity through the perceived threat of another attack on the US national security state (Nayak 2006). The United States drew on discourses that invoked protector/protected identities and cultural narratives of Orientalism and hypermasculinity to recover a state identity deemed threatened (Agathangelou and Ling 2004; Nayak 2006). As a result, Americanness was defined in opposition to a particularly hostile Arab/Muslim enemy other, with the United States discursively identified as rational, chivalrous, righteous, moral, and innocent – the embodiment of civilization itself, while the Arab/Muslim other was constructed as irrational, dominating, aggressive, backward, barbaric, and hyperviolent (Agathangelou and Ling 2004; Nayak 2006; Peterson 2007).

The US chivalrous identity and the Arab enemy identity were held up in part by infantilizing the women of Afghanistan. Afghani women were discursively produced as passive, helpless, and bullied – victims in need of protection from their own purported protectors. Shepherd (2006a) calls it the “Helpless Victim” identity, complementing the protector role of the US state. As Shepherd (2006a:528) notes: “Contemporary media outlets like National Geographic have popularized an image of the Muslim woman as a half-veiled, muted waif, eyeing the white-male world beseechingly and remotely.” Such images reinforce Gayatri Spivak's classic argument about asymmetrical gender and racial orders in the world where there are “white men saving brown women from brown men” and doing so through militarization.

The production of fear of the Arab/Muslim other did more than direct dangers outward, however. Additional identity productions caught up in this gendered “logic of masculinist protection” (Young 2003) produced notions of proper citizenship, deviance, and “men” and “women.” In the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush told Americans what to do – that to be properly American, citizens must help the masculine protectors to fulfill their proper roles. Indeed, Agathangelou and Ling (2004:524) list eight guidelines that Bush asked citizens to follow, including “comply with those who seek to protect you” and “help the economy by spending money.” Shepherd (2006a) describes two performances of masculinity and a corollary femininity at work in constructing gender identities within the United States during this time: “Ordinary Decent Citizen” and “Figure of Authority,” with the corollary feminine position of the “Happy Shopper.” The “Ordinary Decent Citizens” were constructed as “manly men” and “working-class heroes” who are action-oriented, get-things-done, stable guys. These were the valorized masculinities like firefighters and police officers. She contrasts this with the “Figure of Authority,” the masculinity who is the brains of the operation with decisions to make, like the president and high-ranking military officers. Shepherd (2006a:24) describes the corollary femininity in the United States as the “Happy Shopper,” noting: “‘woman’ was discursively permitted to mother, care, shop and support, all behaviors associated with a very traditionalist model of gender; ‘she’ became visible as a ‘Happy Shopper,’ contrasted to the ‘Helpless Victim’ of Afghanistan.” The “Happy Shopper” was not victimized and bullied (like the “Helpless Victim” might be), but she distanced herself from decision-making and deferred to those who were called to protect her.

In contrast to the “Happy Shopper” femininity expressed above is the improper femininity that refuses or is refused a masculine protector. Through the guise of protecting the nation from another attack, “un-American” behavior was constructed not only as a security threat, but unpatriotic as well. In a security state dissent is discouraged; citizens are not supposed to complain when civil liberties are reduced or when “minority groups are pitted against one another as the state curries favor from one, say African Americans, about racial profiling on another, Arab Americans” (Agathangelou and Ling 2004:525). Additionally, some feminists were even coopted by the US protector's supposed concern about violence against women and supported a war marketed as respect for women's rights. The production of gender within the logic of masculinist protection naturalizes the protector's claims, with the result that conversations are shut down and complexities silenced (Agathangelou and Ling 2004; Peterson 2007).

Of course, those who are produced as deviant, dispossessed, or marginal inside the state are often connected through strategies of feminization to the extent that feminists, ethnic minorities, and others were linked together as threats to the moral fabric of America. Indeed, it is not coincidental that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, two Christian Fundamentalists, “blamed 9/11 on the ACLU, homosexuals, and feminists because they ‘made God mad’” (Tickner 2002:335). Such strategies of feminization through misogyny, racism, and homophobia are explicitly tied to the practice of marginal identification in a security state and have been seen before. During the Cold War, feminists, those with same-sex sexualities, communists, ethnic minorities, and others were linked together as threats to the moral fabric of America as well. Explicit examples of this feminization include the “appellation ‘pink’ (and sometimes ‘lavender’) to represent liberal, socialist or communist thought” (Campbell 1998:157). Indeed, the derogatory designation “pinko” is often associated with communism and male same-sex sexuality (Hooper 2001:86).

Thus, drawing on the examples above, one concludes that feminist IR teaches a number of things about the identity-producing practices of a security state:

  • Hierarchically ordered gender ideologies and identities often are produced through state security practices.

  • The production of inequalities or relationships of super-and sub-ordination are made invisible through gender coding and the naturalization of gender/sex binaries.

  • Concerns about masculine identity or threats of emasculation inform security practices.

  • Othering requires valorizing the self through masculinization (e.g., self is civilized/moral) and subordinating the other through feminization (e.g., other is barbaric/irrational); othering requires gender identity investments (Peterson 2007).

  • Gender ideologies and identities are boundary makers that naturalize processes of inclusion and exclusion, create an inside from outside, an “us” from “them,” and divide the public from private and domestic from international.

  • Gendered and gendering processes of othering, threat construction, and fear identification police the boundaries of state identity.

  • Violence, marginalization, and subordination often are legitimated through feminization and produced through protector and protected identities.

  • Citizen dissent is discouraged and constructed as unpatriotic through processes of feminization.

  • Notions of proper and improper citizenship, manhood, and womanhood are produced through state security practices.

Looking Forward

As the previous section demonstrated, much of what goes on in the production of a security state is the over-zealous articulation of the other, which has the effect of reinforcing the myth of an essentialized, unambiguous collective identity called the nation–state. Indeed, the focus on securing a state (or any group) often suggests the need to define more explicitly those who do not belong, suggesting, not only those who do, but where and how they belong and under what conditions. Feminists are concerned with how highly political gender identities often defined by masculinism are implicated in marking these inclusions and exclusions, but also how gender identities get produced through the very practices of the security state.

One of the biggest challenges for feminists is to disrupt the dominant and “common sense” narratives about gender identities that buttress the boundary making that justifies violence, state-making, and othering (Shepherd 2006a; Wibben 2011). Recent research has demonstrated how important this is (Shepherd 2006a:34):

Finding a purchase for engagement with constructions of identity that are presented as natural and thereby unproblematic is vital to the understanding of the ways in which international politics is performed with significant impact on the lives of individuals worldwide. Gendering this analysis is particularly vital, to draw attention to the various ways in which gender as a relational identity becomes visible in specific locations at specific times with differential impacts, and to offer alternatives to the dominant narratives.

As Shepherd (2006b:401) notes: “The value in telling a different story is in the telling, in illustrating the ways in which these stories are constructed and could be constructed differently.” What the dominant narratives of security states do not allow to be displayed is that in every war or security situation, “women perform a multiplicity of other identities, and gender is performed in a host of other ways” (Shepherd 2006b:396). Revealing those other identities and gender performances seems central to destabilizing relationships of power that continually produce violent social orders. To this end, Wibben (2011) critiques the dominant US narratives about 9/11, like the ones seen in the previous section, by sharing interviews with African-American women about 9/11 and their reactions to it. Even though dominant US narratives produce 9/11 as a defining event, even marking time as before/after 9/11, an important finding of these interviews was that so many African-American women saw nothing new or remarkable in it because “they knew how to live with fear in a racially charged environment” (Wibben 2011:42). Their narratives of 9/11 made her question: “What if the breach that constituted an event as notable is not considered an exception because the vision of normality from which it deviates is that of only a privileged few?” (Wibben 2011:1). “How would listening to other people's narratives impact the response of the US? How might it challenge the way we imagine and study security?” (Wibben 2011:4). Wibben argues for the necessity of more than one narrative, that specificity and context are salient in reimagining security. At stake, of course, is the “capacity of people to articulate fears and insecurities and present new visions” of state security (Steans 2006:68).


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Zarkov, D. (2001) The Body of the Other Man: Sexual Violence and the Construction of Masculinity, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Croatian Media. In C. Moser and F. Clark (eds.) Victims, Perpetrators or Actors? Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence. London: Zed Books, pp. 69–82.Find this resource:

“A Summons to Comradeship” World War I and II Posters and Postcards. At, accessed October 6, 2011. This links to an archive of over 5,000 digitized examples of posters and postcards from World War I, World War II, and the interwar years. The collection includes posters and postcards produced by governmental, charitable, and commercial organizations that address a variety of themes. Items are useful for introducing students to critical visual analysis and for discussion of the production of the gender identities of humans, nations, and states.

The Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights. At, accessed October 6, 2011. Housed at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, the consortium focuses on research, education, and action in order to “help end armed conflicts and build sustainable peace.” A member of the UN NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, the site has an impressive set of links to internet materials on gender and security, as well as a significant set of working papers.

Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia: Presidential Speech Archive. At, accessed October 6, 2011. This links to an archive of selected speeches by US presidents. All of the speeches are transcribed. Some are available in audio and there are video examples for all presidents starting with Kennedy. Many feminists find the discourses circulated by state leaders as instructive of the gendered politics at play in constructing various social and political orders, including notions of proper citizenship and state identity.

NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. At, accessed October 6, 2011. The NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security works to fully include women in all decision-making at the United Nations in order to help encourage peace and prevent violent conflict. The group is working toward full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325, the Beijing Platform for Action and CEDAW. The site has links to SCR 1325 and publications of their reports. It is a fruitful site for the discussion of the intersections of gender, identity, and security.

Powers of Persuasion. At, accessed October 6, 2011. This links to the US National Archives exhibit of poster art from World War II. Posters allow students the opportunity to discuss the politics of representation, especially as it relates to the social construction of masculinity and femininity, national identity, patriotism, and the “enemy.” The site includes audio files of presidential speeches and war songs from the period.

War Poster Collection. At, accessed October 6, 2011. This site is a digital archive of 79 war posters from Germany, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States spanning the two world wars. The posters are the visual representation of gendered war narratives and provide students an opportunity to identify the construction of gender, race, class, and national identities from a variety of state perspectives.


I would like to thank Laura Sjoberg and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. Of course, all oversights are my own.