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date: 28 June 2022

Introduction: Gender and Politics: A Gendered World, a Gendered Discipline

Abstract and Keywords

This article discusses the gendered nature of politics (as practice) and political science (as an academic discipline). It studies the sex-typing characteristic of most institutions in the modern world and describes how gender shapes the ways people organize, think, and know about the world. The article then identifies the changes that have occurred in politics and political science over the last hundred years and examines the politics and gender scholarship. Finally, it presents an understanding of the evolution of the gender and politics subfield as well as some of the challenges that remain.

Keywords: gendered nature, politics, political science, sex typing, gender

Politics as a real-world phenomenon and political science as an academic discipline are gendered. This introduction and this volume aim to explain what this means and why it is important. People all over the world find that the basic conditions of their lives—their safety, health, education, work, as well as access to markets, public space, and free expression—are fundamentally shaped by their identification as belonging to particular sex or gender groups. Individual bodies may be typed as male or female, masculine or feminine, heterosexual or homosexual, transgendered or nongendered in a dizzying variety of ways across cultures and over time. However, these social practices of gender often appear natural and unproblematic, even biological and therefore impossible to change, in the social contexts in which they occur. But a cursory review of the literature on the biological basis of sex, taking into account the wide variety of the number and content of gender categories across social contexts, reveals a world far more (p. 2) complex than this simplistic male–female dichotomy would suggest (Butler 1990; Dreger 1998; Fausto-Sterling 2000). Gender is never just about sex but varies by race, ethnicity, nation, class, and a variety of other dimensions of social life.

Indeed, the persistent, dichotomous sex-typing characteristic of many institutions of the modern world would be a matter of intellectual curiosity if the consequences of being identified with a particular sex were not so dire. Across the globe, gender determines who goes hungry and who gets adequate nutrition and water, who can vote, run for office, marry, or have rights to children, who commands authority and respect and who is denigrated and dismissed, and who is most vulnerable to violence and abuse in their own homes and intimate relationships (see, e.g., World Health Organization and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 2010; Htun 2003; Htun and Weldon 2011). These norms shape more than personal and family relationships or career paths, though they certainly shape those: they shape religious practice and the structure of markets and processes of governance (Charrad 2010; Brettell and Sargeant 2001; Lamphere 2001).

Let’s examine a few concrete examples. If we look at some of the key issues that constitute the partisan divide between political parties in the United States—whether it is reproductive rights or same-sex marriage—we can see that many of the “culture wars” issues are fundamentally questions about which sexual and intimate behaviors of men and women should be accepted and supported by the society at large (Wolbrecht 2000; Inglehart and Norris 2003; but see also Sanbonmatsu 2002). In the Philippines, income from domestic worker care work is the number one export and the largest source of foreign currency, while Lim (1998) estimates that income from sex work comprises between 2 and 11 percent of the gross domestic product of Thailand. And, finally, since 2008 the global economic crisis has had a very differentiated impact in terms of the resulting spending cuts and austerity programs. It is clear that some groups are affected far more adversely than others, and many women—who make up a large proportion of state and public sector employees and the majority of single parents and the poor—have been particularly hard hit and affected in different ways from men (Waylen 2012). Perhaps most profoundly, gender influences the very ways we organize and think about the world and our way of knowing about the world.

In such a context, it is hardly surprising that political science as a discipline is also gendered and fundamentally shaped by these social norms about sex and sexuality. The canonical definitions of politics that have delineated the boundaries of the discipline have been read to exclude many of the topics covered in this handbook. As we will see, the study of politics has now broadened beyond the narrow focus on those holding formal office and the politics of distribution. It now encompasses many new groups espousing “gender trouble” as well as new ideas about masculinity and femininity across a range of contexts, from house and home to the houses of Parliament. Yet, despite the vibrancy of the gender and politics scholarship shown in this handbook and a long history of gender activism, gender is still ignored in much academic political science.

(p. 3) In contrast to this omission, this handbook makes gender the point of departure for thinking about political science, taking it, in the words of bell hooks (1984), from margin to center. In doing so, it attempts a number of things. First, it challenges existing political science in terms of its concepts, subject matter, and even its methods. Second, it demonstrates the diversity of the gender and politics scholarship, embracing interdisciplinarity and a plurality of methods and approaches in ways that are unusual in political science. And finally, it shows that much of the gender and politics scholarship has close links with the practice of politics, and feminism in particular, which again is unusual within most political science. As a result, although the categories of analysis overlap with other handbooks to some degree (with chapters on institutions, social movements, interest groups, and multiculturalism), there are also categories such as sexual violence, reproductive rights, or sexuality and the body more generally not found (or less salient) in the other handbooks,. More importantly, the organization of the chapters, and the priority given to these topics, is different from the handbooks that overlook gender.

In this introduction, we map some of the changes that form the backdrop to this handbook, and we locate the gender and politics scholarship by delineating its relationship to the discipline of political science as it is conventionally understood and to politics as a practice. We cannot do full justice to the complexity and sophistication of the wealth of gender and politics scholarship that now exists, as what we can present here is limited and inevitably involves some oversimplification. But we argue that gender is centrally important to politics and that inequalities are embedded in both the study and practice of politics. We also show that many scholars, influenced by feminism in its various different forms, see their work as challenging these inequalities and use standard methods and approaches as well as those that are more experimental or innovative.

As such, we do not discuss the different chapters but give you instead some context within which to locate them and an understanding of the development of the gender and politics subfield. We end by outlining some of the challenges that remain before giving a very brief outline of the handbook. For in-depth analyses of key concepts such as gender, intersectionality, reproductive rights, and ones more familiar to political scientists such as citizenship, the state, and representation—all central to the gender and politics scholarship—we direct readers to the individual chapters.

An “Incomplete Revolution”?

Our starting point is to recognize the big changes that have taken place both in politics as practice and political science as a discipline over the last century. We (p. 4) do not adhere to a standard metanarrative, often seen in political science and other disciplines, of a uniformly patriarchal world that began to be transformed when feminism (depicted as originating in the West in the 1960s) spread to the rest of the world. However, it is remarkable that in 1950 the vast majority of the world’s legislators were male and that family law in most places had come to privilege men in areas from property rights (including inheritance rights and rights to children) to sexual rights (Interparliamentary Union (IPU); Htun and Weldon 2011): Male dominance in formal, decision-making positions had come to seem natural and uncontestable, and male authority in the family was seen as a biological necessity and mark of civilization since colonial times.

Feminist activists and scholars have, of course, contextualized and questioned these patterns of male domination, pointing out that male domination is neither natural nor desirable. Anthropologists have documented the wide variety of family forms and modes of social organization around the world, defying any effort to theorize a universal public–private split or form of male dominance (Lamphere 2001). For example, in Indonesia, trading in the market was seen as the domain of women (Brenner 2001). And the Oneida (a First Nations group) in North America traditionally saw formal politics (making collective decisions) as women’s domain (Sunseri 2011). So women’s exclusion from the public sphere (defined as positions of leadership in community decision-making and economic affairs) cannot be seen as continuous throughout history or as universal.

Research similarly shows the bankruptcy of the notion of the supposedly universal patriarchal family form. Historical and current family forms range widely from polyandry (one wife, many husbands) to polygyny (one husband, many wives) and includes matrifocal and matrilineal structures (where inheritance and kinship structures pass through women) (Menon 2001). None of these modes of organization necessarily preclude male dominance, but they caution us against universalizing stories of public and private and common gender roles. So the idea that the world was characterized by a uniform, patriarchal structure until the 1970s does not comport with the anthropological or historical record (Brettell and Sargeant 2001; Jolly and Macintyre 1989).

Nor is it correct to see feminism as a Western invention or recent idea. As Jayawardena (1986, 2) notes, “Debates on women’s rights and education were held in 18th-century China, and there were movements for women’s social emancipation in early 19th-century India;…feminist struggles originated between 60–80 years ago in many countries of Asia…the fact that such movements flourished in several non-European countries during this period has been ‘hidden from history.’” Even in the West, feminism did not begin in the 1960s. Enlightenment thinkers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill were writing in favor of women’s emancipation, with Wollstonecraft writing A Vindication of the Rights of Women as early as 1792 and Mill The Subjection of Women in 1789.

However, as a result of women’s activism over the last century, in every region of the world we have seen dramatic changes in attitudes about sexuality (p. 5) and gender as well as a transformation of laws and policies on a wide range of issues from violence against women, family law, women’s access to political power and work, the criminalization of homosexuality, and maternity and parental leave (though these changes have by no means been uniform or uncontested) (Weldon 2002a; Htun 2003; Krook 2009; Charrad 2010; Htun and Weldon 2011). Women have organized to demand their rights in virtually every country in the world, though with varying degrees of success (Htun and Weldon 2012). Feminist activists have used a wide array of tactics, from street theater to petitions and lobbying, to demand these rights.

The numbers of women who are prominent politicians and heads of state and international bodies in Europe, Africa, and Latin America have increased. Since 1980, more than 30 national leaders have been women. In this decade alone, Hillary Clinton has been the U.S. secretary of state (the third woman to hold the position in the last three administrations), and Michele Bachelet, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and Dilma Roussef were elected as presidents in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, respectively. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia, and Christine Lagarde became the first female director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2011. The parity cabinet (2004–2008) of Zapatero’s socialist government in Spain contained equal numbers of male and female ministers and outraged the defense establishment with the appointment of a visibly pregnant woman as defense minister (Waylen 2012, 25). And in November 2011, the lower houses of government in Rwanda and Andorra were composed of at least 50 percent women.

The discipline of political science has also been transformed. There are now more women involved in the academic study of politics. By 2002, 35 percent of assistant professors in the United States were women (APSA 2004). There have also been some very distinguished and influential women political scientists (in 2009 the political scientist Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to win the Nobel prize for economics). And the academy as a whole has recently made some concerted efforts to create more of a level playing field with regard to women. So it would be impossible to deny that there have been significant efforts and achievements, both in terms of increasing women’s political representation and improving the opportunities for women scholars in the academy in general (Waylen 2012, 25).

But both the world and the disciplines are still male dominated even today. The global average for women in the lower house of legislatures was still only 20 percent in November 2011, a figure that conceals some big variations ranging from an average of 42.3 percent in the Nordic Countries to 12.9 percent in the Pacific region (Inter-Parliamentary Union). At the United Nations, only 6 of 37 under-secretary generals (16 percent) were women. And international business remains perhaps the most male-dominated of these spheres of power; women comprise only 1.4 percent of chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies. On a day-to-day basis, women still struggle to improve the conditions of their lives. A woman dies in childbirth every minute, and 99 percent (p. 6) of these maternal deaths take place in the third world. Women make up a majority of the world’s poor and are disproportionately illiterate. The revolution in academia is similarly unfinished, with only 22 percent of academic political scientists in United States and United Kingdom in 2002 and even fewer women at the highest ranks and the most prestigious research universities (APSA 2004).

Gender and politics scholars argue that the roots of this enduring male domination in both politics and the political science academy are complex and profound. Challenging this deep-seated domination is more than simply a problem of adding women or increasing the “sheer numbers” in public office (Beckwith and Cowell-Meyers 2003). While important, it is not enough in itself. More significant change is needed both to politics as a practice and to political science as a discipline to make them gender equitable. To facilitate this, we need to understand what is it about politics as an academic discipline and politics as a practice and the ways the two interact that results in this overrepresentation of men and a profound gender blindness.

If we first think about the nature of politics and political science as an academic discipline, several interconnected factors jump out. First, as Virginia Sapiro (1981) suggests, part of the reason for the discipline’s gender blindness lies in the low numbers of women in the discipline. For her, the structural position of women reproduces the androcentric biases of the discipline. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the discipline’s categories and methods were developed by privileged men to consider those issues of concern to them. This domination is reflected in the very narrow and ideological definitions of what counts as politics on which the Anglo-American disciplines have traditionally been based. Politics, narrowly construed, is the activity of government or governing. Indeed, the word politics in the original Greek was used by Aristotle to connote those questions that pertained to the operation of the polis, the political community. The distinctive feature of politics is its public or general nature, the way it affects the community as a whole as distinct from private matters (Arendt 1958; Wolin 1960). Politics is also seen as the study of power, and sometimes by extension the study of the powerful. But some broader definitions of politics have also had a long provenance in political science: Dahl (1984, 9–10) defined politics as relating to power and political systems as “any persistent pattern of human relationships that involves, to a significant extent, control, influence, power or authority.” Others connect politics fundamentally to distributions, as in “who gets what, where, when and how” or the authoritative allocation of value (Easton 1953).

The traditional focus on politics as the study of the machinery of government and electoral politics or on political elites and formal institutions rendered women and gender invisible in spite of their foundational importance for building the welfare state and for constructing postcolonial nations, for the conduct of war and terrorism, and for maintaining social and economic privilege more generally. The roots of these core assumptions about what constitutes politics in (p. 7) the Anglo-American tradition can be traced to the work of political theorists like John Locke, who based many of their ideas on the analytical separation of the public and the private spheres. The Anglo-American disciplines took up this widely accepted (if mistaken) view of the transcultural and transhistorical universality of the public–private split, namely, that citizens or heads of household (for which one should read men) were the ones who were active (and who should be active) in the public sphere. This subsumed women (and also children) into the household or family within a private sphere where “every man’s home is his castle” and in which he can do as he pleases free from the interference of the state (Pateman 1983). This analytical exclusion of women from the public sphere created politics as a male sphere from which women were legitimately excluded as political subjects. In turn, at least when it came to women, the private sphere was seen as lying outside the political arena and therefore did not form part of the legitimate subject matter of the discipline. But regulation of women’s access to abortion, sexuality, and male violence against female relatives in the family was then, as now, seen as a legitimate area of action for governments, revealing the inconsistency and gender bias that undergirds the ideology of separate spheres.

The notion of a separation of the public and private spheres persists today. Its reflection (even if it remains partial and contested) in many legal systems around the world is remarkable given the range of family and societal forms that characterize the world’s cultures. In many places, assumptions about women and men and their respective roles in the public and private spheres still affect issues, from who governs to who decides intimate matters such as sexuality and childbearing. It affects the ways economies are structured and economic value—seen as created in the productive public sphere and not in the reproductive private sphere—is calculated. It also continues to affect what counts as politics and the political, still predominantly high politics in the public sphere; who is seen as a suitable person to be involved in politics; and what are appropriate issues—often narrowly defined—that exclude certain activities and actors and embody particular notions of masculinity and femininity. These ideas have again affected what has been deemed suitable subject matter for the academic discipline of politics.

Even though some of the conventional definitions of politics would seem to allow for the study of a broader range of phenomena, it was feminists who pushed for a definition of politics that encompassed the personal and the private. Indeed, a rallying cry for many feminists has been that the personal is the political. In Sexual Politics, Kate Millett (1968, 23) defines politics as “power structured relationships, arrangements whereby one group of persons is controlled by another.” Enloe (1996) points out that study of power must include not only those perceived as the “powerful” but also all those involved in the realization of power and influence for those at the top. The powerful (whether bureaucratically, economically, or socially powerful) depend on the everyday, regularized activities of others to make their decisions (or nondecisions) realities. And (p. 8) Young (1990) critiques these analytic approaches that focus on distributions, arguing that they obscure the power dynamics that produce these distributions, thereby depoliticizing them. So feminists brought the personal and the private into the study of the political, and they have also drawn attention to the politics of knowledge production (and structures of production and reproduction more generally), meaning, and identity.

Feminists have highlighted how the discipline has been gendered in its approach to the valuation of knowledge. Political scientists have often assumed researchers to be disembodied and objective. Today, many political scientists (including some feminists) consider themselves positivists, often meaning that they use statistical methods (not actually seen as feature of positivism in most accounts of the term—see Deising 1992) or avoid “normative” or value-laden analysis, sticking only to “the facts.” Some feminist scholars have joined critical theorists and postmodernists in challenging this so-called positivist approach, forcing a wider awareness of epistemological issues and a better acquaintance with philosophy of science more generally. Feminists have called for greater epistemological sophistication and nuance, introducing political scientists to a range of epistemological approaches from pragmatism and postmodernism to standpoint epistemology and hermeneutics. This diversity of approaches and methods is a strength of feminist scholarship and a model for the field.

More generally, feminist methodology reveals how gender fundamentally structures science, shaping more than the choice of methods (or tools) or methodology (approach to the use of such tools) in that it determines the questions that scholars ask and the areas of inquiry (Harding 1987). Feminists have also shown that seemingly neutral research tools produce different results when used by female social scientists or social scientists of color. Survey respondents give different responses to interlocutors of different identities; participant observation produces different opportunities and results for men and women. Some feminist scholars have revealed how social power structures knowledge so that the way we define and value knowledge reinforces patterns of class, race, and gender inequality.

The legacy of these assumptions—the artificial analytical separation of the public and private, the privileging of high politics, and the adoption of certain models of the individual researcher and the research process—remains a source of resistance to efforts to change the discipline and make it more inclusive and equitable. And if we turn to politics as practice, we see that these underlying assumptions have also impacted how politics is practiced. For example, Lovenduski and Norris’s (1995) ground-breaking research documented how in the mid-1990s British Conservative party candidate selection committees unashamedly looked askance at women aspiring to be candidates—accusing them of neglecting their homes and husbands. Similarly, in many countries domestic violence has been considered something with which the police should not interfere, lying outside state jurisdiction in the realm of the private.

(p. 9) The Gender and Politics Scholarship

Feminism as a form of theory and practice has remained important to scholars and to the research carried out in the field of gender and politics. For many gender scholars, therefore, the “personal is political”—their academic interests have been inseparable from their political commitment. Their endeavor is therefore one of “critical scholarship” with an explicitly normative dimension. And from the late 1960s, women academics also began to organize inside the discipline. The women’s caucus of the American Political Science Association was established in 1969, the International Political Science Association created a Study Group on Sex Roles and Politics in 1976, and in 1986 the Standing Group on Women and Politics was created within the European Consortium for Political Research. Debates about separate gender sections and panels on women and politics—seen by some as separatist—linked to broader questions about women’s political participation, such as whether women should organize within established structures (political parties, trade unions) or autonomously (Dahlerup 2010). Scholars pressing alternative sexualities pushed further, sometimes arguing for a destabilization of analytic as well as social categories (e.g., Butler 1990). The development of much academic work on gender and politics was shaped by this broader context of feminist and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) activism.

Thus, the burgeoning gender and politics scholarship has looked at a range of themes using a diversity of approaches. Much has focused on women—first on including women in the current categories and analyses of political science—thereby gendering the classic “units of analysis” such as citizens, voters, legislators, parties, legislatures, states, and nations. A second strand on women has examined political activities in arenas traditionally seen as outside political science. A third strand has looked at gender as a structure of social organization. Finally, mirroring struggles within the broader feminist movement, women of color (women of marginalized races and ethnicities), women in the developing world, postcolonial feminists, and LGBTQ scholars pressed for a place in the study of gender politics, sometimes finding a degree of accommodation and sometimes, frustrated with resistance, founding their own scholarly institutions and threads of research. We briefly describe these developments next.

The Inclusion Project: The Difference Women Make (or Not)

The inclusion project, as Squires (1999) named it, aims to expose the absence of women, to reveal the degree to which that leads to partial, shallow, and biased knowledge, and to integrate women into the theories, institutions, and practices from which they had been excluded (Sapiro 1994; Zerilli 2006, 106–107). It examines (p. 10) women and politics in a more traditional sense, for example, electoral institutions, political parties, and political behavior, showing where women fit and what their impact is (Lovenduski 1981; Randall 1982; Lovenduski and Norris 1995). It seeks to uncover sameness and difference between women and men—without seeing women as somehow a deviant version of the male norm—and to assess whether “gender-blind” theories also apply to women, in different ways or not at all.

Scholars challenged the widely held stereotypes about women’s political activity and behavior in the conventional political arena (Bourque and Grossholtz 1974). The classic early gender work on voting behavior, for example, demonstrated that when education, age, and background are controlled for, men and women vote at same rates, thereby disproving earlier beliefs that women’s rate was lower than men’s (Duverger 1995). Similarly, work in the United States finds that when women run they are just as likely as men to get elected and just as able as men to raise money. However, scholars also showed that women and men do often exhibit differences in their political attitudes and behavior, but not necessarily in the ways that had been assumed (e.g., it was long thought that women were inherently more right wing than men). Men and women do tend to line up on issues in different ways—but not necessarily on a straightforward left–right split (such as on law and order). In 2011, while 52 percent of British men initially supported bombing of Libya, only 35 percent of British women did (Waylen 2012, 28). This gender gap is often found in voting behavior. At the last U.K. general election, the Conservatives had an 18 percent lead among 25–34-year-old men, whereas the Labour Party had an 11 percent lead among women of the same age (Waylen 2012, 28.

As part of the “inclusion project,” gender scholars have studied women’s presence in parties and governments, focusing on the differing numerical levels of their representation (descriptive representation), particularly in legislatures. They have argued for more women in politics and have discussed strategies, such as party and electoral quotas, to increase numbers of women in legislatures (Dahlerup 2006; Krook 2009). More recently, in part reflecting real-world changes, women in executives have been analyzed both comparatively and in single case studies (Jalazai 2008; Annesley and Gains 2010; Franceschet and Thomas 2011).

Interest in descriptive representation was partly due to a concern with its links to substantive representation: do women represent women’s interests and change political style and culture? The question of if and how women legislators enhance women’s substantive representation—“do more women make a difference?”—is an important one. Those advocating a politics of presence claimed that women’s experiences generate knowledge about women’s problems and their solutions and that women prioritize such issues (Phillips 1995). And some studies confirmed that the presence of women did change decision-making and policies (Wängnerud 2000; Swers 2002; Celis 2006; Kittilson 2008; Schwindt-Bayer 2011).

However, studies also highlight obstacles on the route from descriptive to substantive representation. Not all women legislators want to represent women (p. 11) (at least not in a feminist fashion), and not all women representatives who might want to can do so because of the parties they belong to, their institutional context, and the districts they are elected in, namely, “presence without empowerment” (Swers 2002; Celis 2008; Htun and Piscopo 2010). Related to this, the so-called critical mass debate explored whether a certain minimum proportion of women is needed to change the institutions and enable women to act for women (Dahlerup 1988). But empirical research has found little support for the critical mass thesis (Childs and Krook 2006). These critiques demonstrate the limits of descriptive representation as a mechanism for political transformation (with implications for the relationship between quotas and women’s substantive representation) (Franceschet and Piscopo 2008; Franceschet et al. 2012; Weldon 2002, 2011). Some now argue that scholars interested in women’s substantive representation should inductively investigate “critical actors” for women and how different actors in various political sites define and construct women’s issues and interests (Celis et al. 2008; Childs and Krook 2006; Reingold and Swers 2011).

However, some feminist scholars have also criticized the “add women and stir” scholarship that seeks to include women in political science by asking traditional questions and using traditional methods. How far it can radically alter the discipline is disputed. Its advocates argue that it destabilizes and challenges existing categories. Goertz and Mazur (2008, 7) claim that “the ‘add women and stir’ metaphor suggests that the result of the addition of gender is only minor. However, the key issue is what happens to the mix after stirring: if the mixture blows up, then the addition of gender is of importance.” Pamela Paxton (2008), for example, demonstrates that adding women’s suffrage as a variable to the categorization of democratic systems drastically changes regime classifications. But critics argue that problems including women in political science will remain because, as we have seen, many mainstream theories, categories, concepts, and practices are based on initial exclusion of women (Zerilli 2006, 107). Hence, it is based on narrow notions of how discrimination and structural inequalities work and cannot theorize the broader societal processes behind gender inequalities. Moreover, the narrow focus on women and sex differences often reflects an unexamined assumption that women constitute a unified category who are stable and coherent subjects with identifiable, shared interests. Only recently, for example, has research on the impact of quotas also looked at the impact on ethnic minority women (Hughes 2011). The inclusion project therefore remains unfinished and the discipline still has a great deal to learn about women in conventional politics.

The Study of Women on Their Own Terms

Taking a different point of departure, other gender scholars have examined women in politics on their own terms. They are less concerned with (p. 12) sameness and difference between women and men within traditional political institutions and analyze women’s political activities and legal reform, institutions, and policy of concern to women as women, thereby bringing new areas of study into the discipline. One important body of work examines the diverse activities and ideas that are often thought of as feminist but has also studied women’s movements and organizations broadly construed. It demonstrates how feminist movements put important issues on to the political agenda and documents the diverse forms women’s organizations take and the wide range of issues they engage with (Katzenstein and Mueller 1987; Ferree and Martin 1995). This includes women’s organizing in developing countries (Basu 1994; Waylen 1996) as well as in Europe (Lovenduski and Randall 1993; Gelb 1996; Kaplan 1992). Examples of such research includes analyses of organizations like the National Organization of Women (NOW), which operated nationally throughout the United States to campaign for women’s equality from 1966 onward (Barakso 2004) or studies of the way gender, race, and class worked together to structure the civil rights movement (Simien 2011).

This strand of research goes beyond the study of feminist movements, however, also covering women in racist (Blee 1991, 2002) and conservative movements (Schreiber 2008). The research looks at movements that were more specifically focused around certain issues such as the women’s peace movement, epitomized, for example, by the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common, which was attempting to prevent the United States from siting cruise missiles at one of its airbases in the United Kingdom in the 1980s, and also at the widespread campaigns around abortion and reproductive choice and pornography.

There is also a wealth of research on the political impact of these activities, from changing identities and culture to changing policy (Weldon 2002; Banaszak, Beckwith, and Rucht 2005). Feminists have launched highly successful campaigns to get reform in areas from violence against women to quotas to maternity leave and family law and have demanded institutional reforms such as the creation of women’s commissions and women’s policy agencies (McBride Stetson and Mazur 1995; Elman 1996; Mazur 2002). Autonomous organizations also provided important services such as women’s refuges and rape crisis centers (Ferree and Martin 1995).

Women’s organizing has also been important for processes of democratization. Although initially ignored by democratization scholars, women’s movements played an important part in the breakdown of some nondemocratic regimes—often bringing about the “end of fear” (Alvarez 1990, Waylen 1994). Some of these women were the first protestors on the streets; perhaps the best known are human rights protesters such as the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, who, at great personal risk, demonstrated publicly to demand the return of their missing children (and in some cases grandchildren) who had been ‘disappeared’ by the repressive military regime. These movements also included feminist organizations. Feminists in Chile, for example, held one of (p. 13) the first demonstrations against the Pinochet regime to celebrate international women’s day in 1983 and campaigned using the slogan “democracy in the home and in the country” (Jaquette 1994).

In addition to their important role in the broader opposition movements against dictatorship, organized women also tried to ensure that the outcomes of some transitions would bring positive change for women, such as increased political representation and the provision of greater rights in the post transition period (Waylen 2007). In both the Chilean and South African transitions women organized in an attempt to influence the developing political processes but with varying results (Hassim 2005; Waylen 2010). And in 2011 we have seen some similar efforts in Tunisia and Egypt as part of the Arab Spring. Egyptian women organized after only one women was appointed as part of the transitional government and a clause was inserted in the draft constitution that appeared to preclude women from becoming president.

Although not successful everywhere, women’s movements have changed international norms—enabling on a global level the recognition of women’s rights as human rights and anti-violence against women measures (Friedman 1995, 2009; Weldon 2006). A raft of equality measures has been introduced. Electoral quotas are now widespread (adopted in roughly half the world’s parliaments); though they are controversial, if they are well designed, actually implemented, and enforced (unlike in France and Brazil), they are one of the most effective ways to “fast track” increases in women’s representation (Dahlerup 2006; Krook 2009). Equality legislation, gender mainstreaming, and women’s policy agencies (WPAs) have also been established in most of the world and endorsed by international and regional bodies like the European Union and the United Nations (Squires 2007; Kantola 2010). Gender equality policies and policies of importance to women are defined not only by feminism, women’s movement organizations, and women’s policy agencies but also by issues; the extent that women’s organizations are included in policy-making processes has shown to be highly issue specific (Krizsán et al. 2010; McBride and Mazur 2010; Verloo 2011, 7). Htun and Weldon (2010) showed that feminist policy change depends on whether issues are doctrinal; about the status of women predominantly; or also strongly about class. As a consequence of this research, then, we now know a lot about women’s movements and the impact of women activists in a wide array of political arenas.

The Study of Gender Regimes, Gendered States, and Institutions

Another strand of research focuses on broader societal patterns, examining regimes rather than specific policies and studying the state rather than particular laws. A distinct literature examines how particular institutional structures (p. 14) shape family, society, and polity. MacKinnon (1989, 161) perhaps most famously argued that “the state is male in the feminist sense: It sees and treats women the way men see and treat women.” Some argued the state was a “male protection racket” (Rubin 2004), whereas others argued that finding the man in the state was more complex than identifying dominant men (Brown 1995), necessitating examination of bureaucratic structures and broader processes of knowledge production (Kantola 2006).

The strength of this research has been to move beyond specific women and men to look at the bigger picture, examining historical legacies and how policies and activities combine to create larger effects. In welfare state studies, this examination of the state structure has generated a wide variety of typologies on regimes, gender contracts, and worlds of welfare (Duncan 1995, 1996; Connell 2002). The literature on gender regimes generated typologies of nations according to whether they promoted male breadwinners or dual-income families (Lewis 1993) and later developed models on what might follow the demise of male breadwinner regimes: the universal breadwinner, the caregiver parity, and the universal caregiver models (Fraser 1997). Comparative studies of, for example, the social and employment policies of different countries on the basis of these models generated insights into the ways these social structures either challenged or reproduced gender inequalities. The study of welfare states and of the ways that institutional structures undergird social organization is an important and continuing field of research. Sylvia Walby’s (2009) system theory explaining change in inequality, in turn, takes multiple equality regimes (gender, class, and race/ethnicity) and domains (the economy, the polity, civil society, and violence) into account and explains how regimes and domains impact each other in a nonpredictable way, thus defining the evolution of inequality.

Gender Trouble: Intersectionality, Sexuality, and Poststructuralism

A persistent critique of the universalizing approach of feminist scholarship has cut across all these areas, culminating in a fundamental critique of the concept of gender from a variety of quarters. From 1980 onward, important moves were made to deconstruct the category of gender (Butler 1990; Scott 1999). Using the feminist strategy of displacement in relation to politics—namely, destabilizing existing categories, binaries, and oppositions—scholars argued that as the gendered categories and concepts legitimated the exclusion of women, they had to be radically rethought, examining, for example, how gendered power relationships construct citizenship and the nation, the state, and bureaucracy (Lister 1997; Yuval-Davis 1997; Squires 1999; Kantola 2006). The focus shifts from women’s presence in and exclusion from different institutions to understanding gendered structures of those institutions and how to transform them. Institutions and structures are not just gendered but also gendering: they produce the very (p. 15) gendered subjects of politics. Power here is understood as productive, not just repressive (Foucault 1980), and this kind of power is most effective when it lures us to fulfill the standards of normative femininities and masculinities.

Gender has multiple meanings and analyses that include the production of sexuality, masculinities, and femininities that had hitherto been downplayed in the gender and politics scholarship. The increasing fragmentation of feminism has resulted in feminisms in the plural and the problematization of women as a coherent and unified category, which adds greater analytical complexity particularly once race, class, and sexuality are fully analyzed. This work also posed important challenges to concepts such as objective knowledge and the role of researcher and researched. It has required self-reflexivity about feminism’s hegemonic discourses and exclusions. Feminists who are of color, working class, postcolonial, and lesbian, argue that failure to consider the distinctive and sometimes conflicting interests among women has created a bias toward the experience of white middle-class women (hooks 1984; Lorde 1984; Collins 1990; Smooth 2011). Queer theorists and lesbian feminists also have critiqued what they call the heteronormativity (taking heterosexuality for granted) of much of the feminist work on gender.

Scholars of gender and race in the United States have critiqued the examination of gender and race apart from one other; these two concepts are not separable like pop-beads on a necklace (Spelman 1988). Harris (1990) argues that conceptualizing women of color as having “more of” the problems of white women and black men is an inadequate way to analyze the experience of women of color. Crenshaw (1993) shows how critical dimensions of women of color’s experience of violence are missed when we fail to examine their distinctive sources of vulnerability: women of minority ethnicity have been excluded from the already scarce spaces in women’s shelters in the United States because they do not speak English; women of color have been unable to get action on violence in their own communities because of sensitivities about criticizing one’s own group (Richie and Kahuna 2000). These arguments have prompted feminists of color to develop the concept of intersectionality to get at the complex interrelationship between gender and race (Hancock 2007; Smooth 2011). For example, disaggregating the gender gap in voting in the United States by race reveals that the gender gap emerged earlier among African Americans and is today larger there.

Remaining Challenges and Future Directions

Big challenges remain within politics as it is both practiced and studied. Contestation has increased around issues associated with gender equality, (p. 16) demonstrating its political character and the ways practices surrounding it are embedded in broader societal and political processes. Neoliberalism, the financial crisis, and various processes of de-democratization (Verloo 2011) are fundamentally shaping the political context and the austerity measures are having a very differentiated impact by gender (as well as by race, class, and disability). On one hand, women’s and feminist movements and organizations are also embedded in these changes. According to Fraser (2009), the once emancipatory feminist critiques of the economy, androcentrism, and the state have been redirected to serve to legitimate neoliberal capitalism. On the other hand, an increasingly sexualized culture, with issues of violence, rape, street harassment, and pornography, may also be impacting a popularly vaunted decline in feminism. Interest in feminism has resurged, particularly among younger women, using new forms of activism, such as blogs, demonstrations, and technologies such as social media (Banyard 2010). SlutWalks, which began in Toronto and later spread all over the world to cities as far apart as London, Singapore, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and New York in summer 2011 following remarks made by a senior police officer to Canadian law students, are further evidence of this.

In this context, a number of important challenges remain for gender scholarship. First, as many have argued, too little attention is still given to issues of intersectionality (Collins 1990; Hancock 2007; Weldon 2008). As we have seen, much of the pioneering gender scholarship was primarily focused on the issues and concerns of white middle-class women. Scholars were then forced to pay more attention to race, class, sexuality, and disability by vocal black, working-class, lesbian, and postcolonial feminists. Gender and politics scholars are now increasingly exploring what Kimberlé Crenshaw (1993) termed political intersectionality, (i.e., how intersectionality is relevant to political strategies and policies) and are examining how political institutions and practices, such as laws and equality institutions, produce intersectionality policies and either aid or hamper feminist goals (Ferree 2009; Kantola and Nousiainen 2009; Krizsan, Skjeie, and Squires 2012). Others are exploring how identity groups can be constituted within—rather than prior to—inequality policies (Cooper 2004, 49–51). Intersectionality can therefore appear to have disciplinary functions as a governmental discourse that produces more identities (Grabham 2009, 199).

Intersectionality will undoubtedly bring fundamental changes to the conceptual, methodological, and normative paradigm of the gender and politics scholarship. It requires sophisticated methods and research designs able to deal with complexity without particularism. Most importantly, intersectionality also challenges existing theories and begs for new normative standards. For instance, the radical acknowledgment that change “for women” can have multiple desirable directions depending on the groups of women taken into account and that key values like feminism and gender equality are defined in multiple and possibly even conflicting ways cannot help but cause major shifts in the scholarship, which until now has predominantly used a singular version of such values.

(p. 17) More generally, having established the multidimensionality of gender, scholars need to continue to theorize the nature of and relationship between these distinct dimensions. For example, theorists of gender have delineated dimensions of nation, heteronormativity, hierarchies of power, and divisions of labor as dimensions of gender (Young 2005; see also Connell 2002). Turning to the analysis of law and policy making, some have suggested a distinction between market or class-related or redistributive policies and those that are focused on status or rights (Htun and Weldon 2010; Blofield and Haas 2005). More work theorizing and analyzing these distinctive dimensions is needed.

Second, and again this is not a new insight, it is recognized that more attention needs to be given to men and masculinities, although this lack is understandable given the early focus on “putting women back in.” Building on the pioneering work that has already been undertaken, men and masculinities need to be problematized more in gender and politics (Hooper 2001; Connell 2002; Bjarnegard 2010). This exhortation provokes an anxiety among some feminists that having finally developed a context in which we can study women, we will be back to studying men and their concerns again. Nevertheless, the study of men and masculinity is critical to moving the field of gender politics forward. Third, the gender scholarship has sometimes been too narrowly focused on the formulation of gender equality policies and the workings of gender equality bodies (Waylen 2012). This is not to deny the excellent work that has been done on women’s policy agencies and equality measures, but this has sometimes been at the expense of examining how wider policies and institutions are gendered and the implications of this.

Last, we need to continue to develop theoretical accounts of politics that better link structure, action, and ideas. Early work was overly focused on actors. No one would deny that actors, and certain actors in particular, are hugely important in both the conventional and nonconventional political arenas. But sometimes the research has been overly concerned with counting the numbers of women (“descriptive representation”) first in legislatures and now in some of the recent work on women in executives. In common with much social science, there has been an “institutional turn” in gender and politics. Feminist institutionalists are developing a wider understanding of institutions as gendered structures and an improved understanding of how they operate in gendered ways (Mackay and Waylen 2009; Krook and Mackay 2011). Underlying this development is a belief that if we understand institutions as rules, norms, and practices, then we need to know how formal and informal rules, norms, and practices are gendered (Chappell and Waylen 2013). And in particular one of the key questions for all institutionalists, including feminists, is how to explain institutional change. How and why does change occur (or not occur)? And linked to that, how is it that institutions can remain the same? We need to explain institutional continuity or more accurately institutional reproduction. How do institutions actually sustain and reproduce themselves (Waylen 2012)? This can help us to understand why attempts to change institutions do not have (p. 18) the desired results or why the creation of new institutions do not always fulfill the hopes of their designers.

There is also a need for more research that focuses on discourses and ideas as well as actors and structures, examining, for example, the role that discourses and ideas about gender and sexuality play in constituting political actors and structures in the global economy (Bedford 2009; Lind 2010), violence (Kantola, Norocel, and Repo 2011), and gender equality policies (Lombardo and Forest 2012). Recent research looks not only at how and why gender inequality occurs or persists but also how and why gender difference is constructed and gender inequality reproduced through institutions and policies (Prügl 2007). Particular notions of politics reproduce particular kinds of gendered subject positions and agents and result in particular performances of gender (cf. Butler 1990). Reflecting this insight, emphasis has shifted from studying women’s substantive representation to “the constitutive representation of gender”—the ways that women and men as political subjects, their femininities and masculinities as well as their “interests”, are produced as part of the representative process (Saward 2010; Childs and Webb 2012). More robust analyses of structural change and feminist and women’s agency require that we need to integrate accounts of regimes, institutions, and other structural dimensions of gender and politics on one hand with issues such as identity, self-understanding, and other subjective, micro-level phenomena on the other hand.

The Structure of the Handbook

This handbook takes up many of these themes and issues in its seven substantive sections. It recognizes the complexity and multidimensionality of gender. As demonstrated already, gender is not just about sexuality, the body, work, motherhood, or violence, as some scholars have claimed. Rather gender operates along many, interrelated dimensions, including sex and sexuality, family, race and nation, work, and institutionalized relations of power and violence. We have organized these chapters to highlight the political nature of these phenomena and also to show they structure nations, states, markets, and civil society. These latter concepts are more traditional categories of political analysis that nonetheless are also critical for the study of politics and gender.

We hope that this handbook will be accessible to all starting and established political and social scientists, so we begin in the first section by explaining some key concepts and how they relate to each other and also by explaining the variety of and contributions to method and methodology in the field. The chapters cover two families of concepts: (1) sex, gender, feminism, and intersectionality; and (2) power, politics, domination, and oppression. We then turn to examine (p. 19) various dimensions of gender politics and the ways they condition state, market, and civil society. In the second section, we begin with body politics—the political importance of the body, sexuality, reproduction, and violence—overcoming the public–private distinction and showing how power relations shape not only the “public” sphere but also the “private” sphere that then becomes “political.” In the next section on political economy, the focus widens to look at the politics of social reproduction, the family and the household, and how the gendered individual and the family or household interacts with the wider economy and markets at the national and global levels. In the next section we investigate various forms and contexts of gendered organizing by women and men—including feminist, nonfeminist, antifeminist, and transnational movements by women and men as well as civil society as a realm of gendered political action more generally.

The subsequent two sections consider the relationship between gender and a range of more traditional political institutions, systems, and structures. First, we look at gendered praxes of participation and representation in various political systems, political parties, electoral systems, judicial politics, and courts. The next section focuses on the gendered nature of the state, governance, and policy making, and the actors and processes involved. The final section focuses on the debates and the puzzles surrounding equality, citizenship, identity, multiculturalism, nations, and security. As a whole, this handbook aims to illustrate the evolution, establishment, and institutionalization of the field of gender and politics. Its chapters also show the diversity and pluralism of this field and illustrate some of the clear lines of agreement and disagreement in the field of politics and gender. Each section has its own introduction highlighting the developments, the old and new debates, and future challenges for the key themes within that section as well as linking it to the rest of the handbook and discipline.

The Oxford Handbook on Gender and Politics is therefore premised on the belief that it is vitally important that we improve our understanding of how both politics as a practice and political science as a discipline are gendered; this will help us to change both the practice and the discipline of politics for the better.


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