Marxism Versus Feminism Discussion

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Qn: Discuss the following types of theories of international relations citing at least two relevant theorists; Feminism and Marxism

1.1. Feminism

Feminism as an international relations theory has many strands, some with complement each other whilst others contradict each other. Some of the theories developed by feminist scholars are, but not limited to Liberal feminism, Black feminism, Marxist feminist, Post-colonial feminism, Critical feminism and Eco-feminism (Lee-Koo, 2017).

1.1.1. Liberal feminism

Their primary concern is the equality between men’s and women’s rights. It is largely derived from the political theory of liberalism. John Stuart Mill in his book The subjection of women states that the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes—the legal subordination of one sex to the other—is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other. Liberal feminism rejects unjustified interference of the liberty of individuals whether by government or private persons. feminist Mary Wollstonecraft was among the first liberal feminist in Britain. Liberal feminist’s views on gender equality were the prime movers of the 1981 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination.

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A key point to note is that liberal feminists are primarily concerned with women in the public sphere, not the sphere itself. They are also supporters of the state as an agent to remove the legal hurdles that deny women equal rights as men since it is the maker of the law. Ruth Bader Ginsberg at Rutgers University, before becoming a judge of the US Supreme Court, was an advocate of the argument that the law sometimes treats women and men differently when it should treat them the same way, and treats them the same way when it should treat them differently.

Critiques of Liberal feminism Subjectivity of Liberal Feminism

Propounders of liberal feminism claim that this theory is objective and universal. This is misguided and untrue owing to the various socio-economic, ethical, racial and religious differences. Most of the interests being addressed and petitioned mostly for women from the western countries, primarily of the Caucasian race. Individualistic in nature

Liberal feminists seek to address women’s issues on the international platform but are complacent to the status quo of the international platform itself. An example is the implementation of John Rawls’ principles of justice thus the inclusion of women in public offices but they fail to address the actual problems that face the public office they seek to have women in. They have adopted a ‘bottom-line’ approach which is ignorant of other, more severe and pertinent, issues.

1.1.2. Critical and Postmodern feminisms

There are two types of postmodernist feminists; ludic postmodernists and radical postmodernist feminists. Resistance postmodernism views the relation between word and world, language and social reality or, in short, difference, not as the result of sexuality but as the effect of social struggle (Ebert, 1991). Meanwhile, ludic postmodern feminists seek to drive a wedge between the word and signified meaning and thus vacate the established relations between language and the world.

One of the features of these types of feminists is that they reject the idea that a woman is a universal concept. They acknowledge the fact that women exist differently. Postmodern feminists promote the idea of multiplicity, plurality and difference. They acknowledge the differences and to an extent they acknowledge them. I essence, they base their argument on subjectivism; they advocate that each identity of women ought to decide and advance their agenda as they deem fit. For instance, Muslim women on their customs such as wearing a Hijab or the Nandi and Kipsigis women’s take on their husband’s beating them as a show of affection. One of the leading postmodern legal feminist was Mary Joe Freung who agreed with the aforementioned argument stating that the term feminine is not based on a masculine understanding rather it is based on the cultural language that is ascribed to it which definitely varies from culture to culture.

Another feature of Critical and postmodern feminists is that they agreed with constructivism. They agree that gendered constructions influence both the individuals but also public institutions and politics. Gender construction can be illustrated clearly through Hans Morgenthau who referred to ‘statesmen’ in his book Politics among Nations clearly excluding women in his index. They believe that the concepts that define international relations are primarily masculine in nature. Furthermore, they argue that institutions like military and most of the attributions of International Relations are constructed in a manner that shows a power dynamic between masculine and feminine beliefs.

Anne Tickner proposes that decisions in the international platform are shaped by gender. She seeks to address the role of women in the international platform and their contribution. Further, she advocates an evaluation of the construction of the world and moves beyond the stereotypes and assumptions and look into how they fit in the global relations. In her work in Gender in International Relations she encourages that feminists ought to not only be viewed as to what they have contributed to the international relations but also to draw from the postmodern feminists views in defining and understanding those key concepts in which constitute the international relations. One of the illustrations of this argument can be seen even in International institutions such as the International Court of Justice. Out of the 205 lawyers who appeared before the Court, 23 were women. These 23 female lawyers accounted for 7.4 per cent of the total speaking time for all oral arguments from 1999 through 2012. The results of this study provide strong empirical support for the general impression that oral proceedings at the ICJ are predominated by a small group of individuals, mainly comprised of men from developed states .

1.1.3. Radical feminism

They feel that women are oppressed because of patriarchy- dominance of the male figures in the society. This stems from the traditional gender roles prescribed to women based on their biological inequality and roles such as child rearing. This in turn hinders their appointment to public offices but are left to the mercies of the private sectors which are still predominantly male dominated.

Men have defined women. The main difference between men and women is power. Men have power and women are subject to power. One of the propounders of radical feminism is Catherine MacKinnon. She argued that women are mistaken in fighting for equality, which is a liberal ideal. Equality means sameness, and yet men and women are different. In order to gain equality women would have to be the same or similar to men. This confirms domination. Instead Mackinnon urges that women to abandon the male ideal of equality and shift their attention to the real but neglected issue of subjugation of women. This is called the dominance approach. The dominance approach calls on feminists to focus on rape, sexual assault of children, which is endemic in a patriarchal family, the battery of women in a quarter to one-third of homes, prostitution, pornography, which exploit women for profit. On the latter point, liberal feminists disagree with MacKinnon since censorship gives the state the power to define what acceptable sex is for women.

Other minor feminism theories include: Black feminism- examines the relationship between gender and race based discrimination. Cultural and maternal feminism- believe that women’s peaceful nature can contribute to global security and diplomacy/ peace.

2.1. Marxism

2.1.1. Introduction to the concept of Marxism

Karl Heindrich Marx was born in 1801 and passed on in 1883. He was born to a Jewish family in Germany. It is important to acknowledge that most of Marxism was done in collaboration with Fredrich Eingles. Among his first works on the society was in The German Ideology that was written in 1845 but was published in 1932.

Marx rejected religion calling it ‘the opium of the people’. He produced an elaborate theory on how the world progresses from its tribal roots, to the feudalism then to a commercial world. The mean of production determines the nature of society. Marx held that the development of commercial worlds lead to division of labour which in turn leads to the oppression of some parties by the economically stronger. He knew that commercial power would be concentrated among a small group, the bourgeoisie at the expense of the proletariat who actually work to make production possible. Those with the power form the superstructure which includes commercial giants and the powerful statesmen while the proletariat form the base; the base gives rise to the superstructure which in turn protects the base. Changes in the superstructure affect how the base operates. The emergence of industrial society and capital is the consequence of contradictions within feudal society. Equally, the end of capitalist society is also inevitable. The concentration of capital in an ever diminishing class would worsen the condition of the proletariat to a point at which they would rise and revolt, overthrow the capitalist state and establish a dictatorship of the workers. The dictatorship would be only a transitory phase, a means to an end. It would abolish capitalism and class divisions and bring about a communist society in which the means of production and distribution would be commonly owned. Since there would be no classes or class conflict and no private property to protect the state would be lose its reverence and wither away.

Some key features of Marx’s theoretical framework included

  • Recognition of Industrial modernity’s emancipation.
  • A critique of capitalism for generating unequal social relation relations which lead to exploitation.
  • Critique of liberalism as an ideology that legitimizes capitalism.

2.1.2. Marxism at an International level

Marxism sees relations between states as similar as those by the class struggle with the more powerful dominating the less powerful and in turn the poorer struggling to topple over the richer states. Essentially, the domestic economic factors also shape a country’s foreign policy. Marx and Fredrich Engels argued that the main source of instability in the international system is capitalist globalisation. In this light they agree with Structural Realists that the world is defined in a state of anarchy. Thus we can say that Marxism is a structural theory just as Neo-Realism only that it takes up the economic view while the latter is mainly concern with the military and political stance.

The primary principle has to do with the control and distribution of wealth . Although developed initially for address matters within states it was adopted as a framework of understanding relationships across states. This unequal distribution of wealth and power gave rise to the dependency theory. This is an economic trade concept whereby the undeveloped states produce raw materials and sell them to the market and the developed countries purchase their products securing revenue for the undeveloped state although not a very valuable consideration. Thus dependency on their very oppressors such as Africans depending on the UK their colonisers. This is the dependency theory. An example of an uprising that was influenced by Marxism was China under Mao Tsetung who led a peasant rebellion to overthrow the existing order. Under Karl Marx’s theory, the bourgeoisie are not limited to state actors but also non-state actors such as Multinational Corporations (MNC). The fact is that some MNCs command assets worth more than the national income of their host countries. And there is evidence that some MNCs have paid bribes to government officials in order to get around socio-economic obstacles erected against profitable operations of their enterprises. At the theoretical level, in discussing national state-society relations Gramsci argued that ‘the complex contradictory and discordant ensemble of the superstructures is the reflection of the ensemble of the social relations of production’. Internationalising this argument emphasises that war and the inter-state system on the one hand and the global economy on the other are interdependent aspects of a contradictory totality rather than a duality subject to separate logics.


  1. Ebert, T. L. (1991). The ‘Difference’ of Postmodern Feminism. College English , 887.
  2. Kumar, S. P., & Rose, C. (2014, August). A Study of Lawyers Appearing before the International Court of Justice, 1999–2012. European Journal of International Law , pp. 893-917.
  3. Lee-Koo, K. (2017). An Introduction to International Relations. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Mill, J. S. (1869). The subjection of women. London: SAVILL, EDWARDS AND CO., PRINTERS.
  5. Morgenthau, H. (1954). Politics Among Nations; The Struggle for Power and Peace. New York: Knopf.
  6. Narain, S. (2014). Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives of J. Ann Tickner. Indian Journal of Gender Studies , 179–197.
  7. Walker, B. J. (1998). 13 INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AS POLITICAL THEORY. In S. sim, POST MARXISM: A READER (p. 192). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  8. Wollstonecraft, M. (1792). A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. London: J. Johnson.


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