The best books on feminist international relations

Valerie M. Hudson Author Of The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide
By Valerie M. Hudson

Who am I?

Valerie M. Hudson is a University Distinguished Professor and holds the George H.W. Bush Chair in the Department of International Affairs at The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, where she directs the Program on Women, Peace, and Security. Hudson was named to the list of Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, and was recognized as Distinguished Scholar of Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA/ISA) and awarded an inaugural Andrew Carnegie Fellowship as well as an inaugural Fulbright Distinguished Chair in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Australian National University. She has been selected as the Distinguished Scholar Award recipient for 2022 by the Political Demography and Geography Section (PDG/ISA) of the International Studies Association. 


I wrote...

The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide

By Valerie M. Hudson, Donna Lee Bowen, Perpetua Lynne Nielsen

Book cover of The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide

What is my book about?

Incorporating research findings spanning a variety of social science disciplines and comprehensive empirical data detailing the status of women around the globe, the book shows that female subordination functions almost as a curse upon nations. A society’s choice to subjugate women has significant negative consequences: worse governance, worse conflict, worse stability, worse economic performance, worse food security, worse health, worse demographic problems, worse environmental protection, and worse social progress. Yet despite the pervasive power of social and political structures that subordinate women, history―and the data―reveal possibilities for progress.

The First Political Order shows that when steps are taken to reduce the hold of inequitable laws, customs, and practices, outcomes for all improve. It offers a new paradigm for understanding insecurity, instability, autocracy, and violence, explaining what the international community can do now to promote more equitable relations between men and women and, thereby, security and peace. 

The books I picked & why

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Parity of the Sexes

By Sylviane Agacinski, Lisa Walsh (translator),

Book cover of Parity of the Sexes

Why this book?

This slim volume by the French philosopher is one I have read many times; nearly every sentence is underlined. Though not strictly about international affairs, it was Agacinski that first sparked in me the sight of the far horizon: diarchy as the political system that should obtain between men and women. Once you understand that the face of humanity is dual, not single, everything changes. Agacinski was one of the crucial voices that led to the adoption of party candidate parity as the law of the land in France.


Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics

By Cynthia Enloe,

Book cover of Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics

Why this book?

Enloe’s book, to my mind, started Feminist International Relations. Published in 1989, written during the waning years of the Cold War, Enloe exploded our minds by asking questions we had never heard in our IR classes before, like how do women feel about nuclear-tipped cruise missiles being emplaced in their country?  How do they feel about NATO bases and American soldiers in their city? In other words, Enloe pressed us to ask whether “security” from a male perspective is the same as “security” from a female perspective. And if those conceptions differ, as Enloe argues, then is it possible that “security” as defined from a male perspective actually makes us all less secure?


Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security

By J. Ann Tickner,

Book cover of Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security

Why this book?

If Enloe’s book set the stage, Tickner’s 1992 book was the first to openly challenge the then-conventional verities of IR Theory in a systematic way. In her book, Tickner takes on the two major subdivisions of IR thought—Security/Conflict Studies and International Political Economy, and mounts a devastating critique of the major approaches in each. She lambasts how gendered our understandings of, say, deterrence are, and how the state is viewed in IR theory as a “masculine” entity, and how this has warped our understandings and even the very questions we ask in IR. Tickner does the same with the clearly male-focused world of microeconomic theory with its womanless world of rational utility maximizers. This book set IR back on its collective heels. 


Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth

By Marilyn Waring,

Book cover of Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth

Why this book?

Waring, a former MP for New Zealand, wrote what I consider the foundational book in feminist political economy. Removing the scales from our eyes in this book, she questions how it is that when an oil tanker spills, that event adds to the GDP of a nation, but when a woman gives birth to a baby, that event adds nothing to the GDP. She was the first to note that the “production boundary” stipulated by the male-created GDP indicator completely invisibilizes—even erases—the enormous contribution of women, simply because it is unpaid and performed for members of the same household. Waring then goes further and asks how this gendered approach to understanding economic success actually destroys our goal of sustainable, functional societies.


Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace

By Sara Ruddick,

Book cover of Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace

Why this book?

Ruddick was a pioneer in her advocacy that feminist IR not only must deconstruct masculinist notions of security and peace, but it must build new paradigms on which healthy societies must be built. She argued that the sturdiest foundation for that rebuilding would be the practicalist reasoning that arises from the discipline of caregiving. Indeed, this would cede an intellectual advantage to women, who are often tasked with just such endeavors. One of the best dimensions of her work is her attempt to build a new language these practitioners could use to remain authentic to their vision while still permitting non-caregivers to understand and appreciate it. 


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