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. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Parity of the Sexes

By Sylviane Agacinski, Lisa Walsh (translator),

Book cover of Parity of the Sexes

Why did I love 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.

By Sylviane Agacinski, Lisa Walsh (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Parity of the Sexes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sylviane Agacinski has never shied away from controversy. Vilified by some-including many feminists-and celebrated by others as a pioneer of gender equality, she has galvanized the French political scene. Her articulation of the theory of "parity" helped inspire a law that went into effect in May 2000 requiring the country's political parties to fill 50 percent of the candidacies in every race with women. Sylviane Agacinski, according to The New Yorker, "is sometimes credited with making parite respectable." Agacinski begins with the notion that sexual difference should be affirmed rather than denied. Sex, Agacinski points out, is not a social,…

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

Why did I love 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?

By Cynthia Enloe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bananas, Beaches and Bases as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this brand new radical analysis of globalization, Cynthia Enloe examines recent events - Bangladeshi garment factory deaths, domestic workers in the Persian Gulf, Chinese global tourists, and the UN gender politics of guns - to reveal the crucial role of women in international politics today. With all new and updated chapters, Enloe describes how many women's seemingly personal strategies - in their marriages, in their housework, in their coping with ideals of beauty - are, in reality, the stuff of global politics. Enloe offers a feminist gender analysis of the global politics of both masculinities and femininities, dismantles an…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By J. Ann Tickner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gender in International Relations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a book on the role of gender in international relations.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Marilyn Waring,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Counting for Nothing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Safe drinking water counts for nothing. A pollution-free environment counts for nothing. Even some people - namely women - count for nothing. This is the case, at least, according to the United Nations System of National Accounts. Author Marilyn Waring, former New Zealand M.P., now professor, development consultant, writer, and goat farmer, isolates the gender bias that exists in the current system of calculating national wealth.As Waring observes, in this accounting system women are considered 'non-producers' and as such they cannot expect to gain from the distribution of benefits that flow from production. Issues like nuclear warfare, environmental conservation, and…

Book cover of Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace

Why did I love 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. 

By Sara Ruddick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Maternal Thinking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1989

Philosopher, mother, and feminist Sara Ruddick examines the discipline of mothering, showing for the first time how the day-to-day work of raising children gives rise to distinctive ways of thinking.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in international relations, the economy, and gender studies?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about international relations, the economy, and gender studies.

International Relations Explore 245 books about international relations
The Economy Explore 185 books about the economy
Gender Studies Explore 12 books about gender studies