Gender and International Relations: “friends or foes”? The topic of gender is one of the most contested subjects in current IR studies and, when applied to IR’s most hotly debated topics, there is no consensus among scholars, not least feminist scholars, about what gender actually is, how it should be applied and politicised/securitised. Undoubtedly, the literature on the topic is growing fast and may cause a great deal of confusion among students of IR, mainly for its incomprehensiveness.
The disagreement over what gender actually is or may be, and theoretical and practical discontent on how to apply gender when it comes to IR is reflected in Steans’ book entitled: Gender and International Relations: Theory, Practice, Policy. Clearly, the author does not attempt to clarify the study of gender but rather provides a clear overview of the existing concepts and alternative thoughts on a wide spectrum of International Relations and Security Studies issues.
The two opening chapters provide a theoretical account of gender and Feminist International Relations in a clear, and simultaneously, a very comprehensive manner, with an essential literature guide for further reading, not only highlighting the core feminist academic publications, but also critiques of these by non-feminist scholars. For a student of International Relations, these two chapters are enough to paint a vivid picture as to what gender may mean at various times and spaces of the blurred and disappearing lines between personal, political and international arenas.
After the theoretical introduction, special topics, such as the state, nations and citizenship; human rights and sexuality; peace and violence; peacekeeping and global governance are reviewed and explained. Undoubtedly, Steans succeeds in providing a clear and accessible gendered view on such topics, although these sometimes lack coherence and the reader might find her/himself lost in the divide between problem-solving and a critical theories as well as in the relevance of the empirical data provided.
The theoretical strength of the book is clearly visible in Chapter 7, called ‘Telling Stories,’ where the author introduces the concepts of critical theory, constructivism, and the method of deconstruction in a perfectly comprehensive, yet easily understandable manner; “friendly” even to students often previously confused about those theoretical concepts. Her account of gender archetypes, warrior heroes and monstrous tales, together with the politics of the visual, is truly eye-opening and force the reader to revisit everyday media and popular culture “discourse” on gender relations and realities.
Overall, Steans provides both students and scholars with a very helpful tool for understanding gender in the study field of International Relations. Not only is she able to easily explain the core concepts of the theoretical gender debate, she also provides case studies, some notoriously known, others quite novel, to demonstrate the importance of the study of the gender “problem” for students of IR. Also, she offers excellent reader`s guide and is surely welcomed by academics and students alike, new pedagogical tools and features in her suggestions of seminar activity provided at the end of each chapter. Despite that the book may at times seem too shallow for more advanced readers of gender, its accessibility and comprehensive coverage of the most basic concepts, and above all, theoretical clarity, should be regarded as its true value-added.