Magazine article The Brown Journal of World Affairs

Rethinking International Security: Masculinity in World Politics

Magazine article The Brown Journal of World Affairs

Rethinking International Security: Masculinity in World Politics

Article excerpt

FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS, feminist international relations (IR) scholarship has demonstrated the ways in which world politics is gendered-that is, "fueled by informal and official presumptions about femininity and masculinity."1 IR feminists and other gender scholars have shown the impact of gender in the once rarified realm of national security, from the role of gendered discourse in mobilizing support for particular national security measures to the constitutive effects of gendered logic on our very constructions of academic IR and realworld foreign policy. Feminists argue that the gendering of security discourse " degrades our ability to think well and fully about" national security as it "shapes and limits the possible outcomes of our deliberations."2

In the course of leveling a powerful disciplinary critique of academic IR as a masculinist construct, gender scholars have also put the study of men as gendered-rather than universal or assumed male-human beings on the agenda of international studies.3 While much of the pioneering work exploring gender and international security has stressed women and femininities-particularly through building theories of wo rid politics by starting from women's experiences- feminist contributions to IR have emphasized from the 1980s onwards that both masculinities and femininities hold the key to understanding how gender works in world politics. Yet, the hard-won successes of academic IR feminists, having raised the profile of gender in the policymaking sector and to a lesser extent in the mainstream of the discipline, have not translated into a general recognition of the study of men and masculinity. This essay attempts to further the conversation between policymakers, IR scholars, and gender specialists by analyzing masculinity through the levels of analysis, an intellectual framework used to understand international security and world politics since the 1950s. It is motivated not only by the conviction that the study of masculinities should concern all students of world affairs but also the idea that masculinity scholars may benefit from a consideration of a more complete range of dynamics at various levels of wo rid politics and a more thorough engagement with academic IR.

To study gender and make men and masculinity visible is to foreground a set of sources of power and privilege obscured in many accounts of world politics. When IR feminists speak of gender, " they are not generally referring to biological differences between males and females, but to a set of culturally shaped and defined characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity" that "can and do vary across time and place."4 Critical investigations of masculinity- the socially constructed, culturally and historically bounded practices, processes, and relations associated with manhood and being a man-challenge conventional perspectives that take masculinity for granted or accept it as an implicit, normative standard. Many feminist and gender IR studies that deal seriously with masculinity draw extensively from the work of sociologists such as R W. Connell, who was among the first to recognize the existence of a multiplicity of masculinities, related hierarchically in historically variable and contestable constellations.5 Connell and other masculinity scholars differentiated this new field of research from " men's studies" and the mythopoetic men's movement, the spiritual, essentialist self-help groups of the 1980s that often presented " a defensive reaction to women's studies rather than a building on [feminism's] original insights about gender."6

THE STUDY OF MASCULINITIES

This essay provides one possible roadmap for understanding how masculinity influences international security, a contested enterprise that can be interpreted to apply to a range of concerns that include the well-being of the global environment, the military and economic security of nation-states, and the safety of individual humans. …

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