Issues of Identity Influence Inequalities in Politics and International Relations

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It is no secret that society is not equal whether that be on a global level or a national one. The way in which we are identified or identify others, have huge political implications. Identity marks the belonging or not belonging to collective groups. Identity politics politicises areas of life that were not previously thought of to be political because politics of identity highlights the disparities between the rights of these groups. The dominant identity groups are those who fit the hegemonic standard. These groups are privileged and have better access to resources such as education which creates more opportunities such as employment and status that in turn allow the privileged identity groups to control these same resources they benefitted from.

This creates a cycle where the dominant identity groups become the people with the power to set the agenda and reinforce the hegemonic groups values and needs. This leaves the subordinate identity groups marginalised and restricted in terms of access to resources but also silenced as their needs and values are not recognised. One identity group that faces inequality in politics and international relations is women. The proportion of women in national parliaments in 2000 was 13.2% and although this figure has since risen to 23.7% in 2017 (inter-parliamentary union 2017 & international business report, 2015), there is still a large gap in parliamentary representation which highlights the power imbalance between men, the dominant gender and the subordinate women.

Gender inequality is widely thought to be caused and reinforced by the system of patriarchy that dominates most societies. In the system of patriarchy, the males take the dominant economic role as the ‘bread winners’ of the family group. While the females take a more subordinate role as mothers and care givers. In a capitalist society a person’s value and therefore status is often directly linked to their economic status. This meant that before the feminist social movement achieved legal and political rights for women, women were completely dependent on their fathers then husbands economically and therefore their status was that of the man they were dependent on (Lorber, 2010). This system was justified as the natural and fair division of responsibility because it was based on the innate biological differences between men and women.

That due to the roles each sex plays in the reproduction, women are naturally more suited to raising children and taking on a domestic role. This idea went seemingly unchallenged until the second wave of feminism. In the second sex Simone de Beauvouir theorises that men, being the dominant sex set the standard in terms of values which women must adhere to. Beauvoiur argues that the imbalance in power between men and women is not a biological necessity but rather a socially constructed norm. “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman …; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature … which is described as feminine” (Simone de Beauvouir 1953,267). Gender is a social construct, but the gender identity given to the sexes determines one’s perceived place in the world, the opportunities one has and the social norms they must conform to.

Even in the modern era we live in where most households consist of both a working male and a working female there is still an expectation for the women to be care givers. On average women do three times more domestic work and unpaid care than men (Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals, 2017). This extra responsibility often limits a woman’s economic potential and success in a professional environment, therefore leadership roles are more commonly filled by men. This creates a gender imbalance in the influential positions of society thus creating a power imbalance. This is problematic because those at the top set the social standard and push their own agenda. Without equal representation for women there will not be equal consideration of women’s needs and values.

Gender identity as a socially constructed concept is made up of norms and values that are reinforced with the help of gender stereotypes. The classic gender stereotypes of the caring, submissive woman and the tough, assertive man influence the way in which people are treated in all levels of society. A common stereotype that is particularly damaging is the misconception that women are uncomfortable with power or do not possess the natural assertive leaderships skills required to be in a position of power. The discrepancies between behaviour between men and women is not due to gender but rather differences in power (Brown and Levison, 1986). Due to the stereotype that women and power do not go together allows society to exclude women from fully participating in its politics. Language reflects and contributes to the survival of the stereotype, “language defines the boundaries of imagination” (Cohen, 1987: 174).

The English language has specific negative terms used to describe women who seek power, for example ‘shrew’ and ‘bitch’ are commonly used for describing women in charge, however, there are no equivalent male terms. These negative attitudes towards women in power help to encourage men to dismiss assertive women and discourage women from being assertive. Denying expressive power to women is a political act (Lakoff, 2003). Language used in politics and international relations used to describe women is also often related to the assumed submissive stereotype. For example, when Greet Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party spoke on the dangers of Muslim refugees, he said it “makes our people and our women unsafe.” The separation between ‘women’ and ‘people’ implies that women are delicate and vulnerable and need to special protection from threats. This rhetoric is commonly used when referring to dangerous situations in which women are placed into the same category as children for example when there is an emergency evacuation often women and children are prioritised first. This implies that women are helpless in the same way that children are and do not possess the skills necessary to take care of themselves in dangerous situations.

As well as language encouraging the passive stereotype of women so too does the organisation of conversation. When thinking about the way in which conversations take place not only in the private social environment but also in professional environments; women are usually thought of as being the ones who talk the most and about nothing important. This assumption reflects the imbalance in power between the genders. Holding the floor and topic control are important parts of the conversation dyad that are associated with power (Lakoff,2003). Although women are thought to be the ones who converse more, Dale Spender (1980) found that men hold the floor 80% of the time and when male participation in the conversation dips below 70%, the assumption from both men and women is that the women dominated the conversation. As well as this Helena Leet-Pellegrini (1980) found that men tend to get positive responses to conversation topics whereas women’s attempts are usually ignored by both women and men. The negative stereotypes of women in power combined with common disregard of female voices in social situations is damaging for a woman’s self-identity as it implies that her opinions and knowledge is not valued in the same way as that of her male counter parts. It sets the standard that allows women to be dominated.

However, it is also important to recognise that while these standards and stereotypes negatively impact women it also influences men too. Men are expected to take the dominant role and if they are not comfortable with power, they are not considered masculine. Gender stereotyping and the toxic masculinity that goes along with it negatively affect both women and men. The gender stereotype of women being less important in conversations means that female voices are not heard because women feel they cannot contribute and even if they do, they are not listened to. This effects politics and international relations because it creates a male-dominated political system where women are unable to gain access to and do not feel encouraged to take part in. On a grass roots level if women’s voices are ignored then it makes it hard for women’s voices to reach a national or even international political level. Although there are more women in politics now, there was once a time when women were not allowed to partake in politics. In many developing countries this is still the case which creates a global imbalance where women’s voices are still not as loud as that of men.

Gender inequality is also reflected in politics and international relations on a systematic level. Gillian Youngs argues that there is a distinct gap between feminist and mainstream international relations (Youngs,2004). Youngs also theorises that feminist international relations have recognised that ‘malestream’ international relations theory is one of the discourses that help to spread the one-sided and skewed view that reflects the unequal power and influence men have, rather than social reality of the lives of men, women and children alike. This is due to three phenomena that feminist analysis has highlighted. The first being that the state and market are gendered by masculinist structures and assumptions. The second is that the lack of attention given to the analytical category of gender obscures the interconnected social construction of male and female roles and identities.

The third is that the conceptualisation of political and economic autonomy in terms of male dominancy overlooks the realities women face and their contributions to economic and political life (Youngs, 2004). This indicates that while feminism has come far to gain political and more recently, social and sexual rights for women, mainstream politics and international relations is yet to fully recognise the importance of gender and gender differences. By not recognising or ignoring the importance of feminist international relations, mainstream politics and international relations is unable to have a whole scale understanding of the world and its institutions. This influences global politics which effects the way in which states are governed and what policy is made. An inability to understand or account for the needs of an identity group is to fail in serving to provide support for said group.

This issue is highlighted by Cynthia Enloe in “‘Gender’ is not enough: the need for a feminist consciousness.” Enloe when talking about the issue of gender and identity in relation to official UN meetings, argues that it is consistently difficult to get attention devoted to women and girls because even when gender and masculinities get brought into the political and analytical forefront, men and boys still get most of the attention. Enloe uses an example given to her by Carol Cohn, whom is responsible for investigating the political dynamics that are shaping the relationships between feminist NGOs and agencies of the UN responsible for peacekeeping and post-war reconstruction. Cohn attended an international meeting concerned with negotiating ceasefires and peace agreements in which the appropriate name given to those whose needs needed to be considered during these delicate and tense negotiations. Cohn argues that the word chosen, ‘combatants’ is problematic as it presents connotations of a militarized person with a gun.

However, many of the women that joined or were abducted into militaries are not used for weapon carrying but rather cooks or ‘forced wives.’ Therefore, these women are made invisible as their political needs are ignored if the discourse is only referring to ‘combatants.’ This shows that even in a seemingly small and insignificant way the female agenda is pushed aside due to malestream politics and international relations. The men in this situation are thought of before the women and their realities are accounted for, which in turn leaves them not only unrepresented but also misrepresented as ‘combatants’ when they are largely passive in these militaries.

This related to Cynthia Enloe’s idea of women sharing a ‘Politics of invisibility’ (Enloe, 2000) where women and their specific needs are forgotten about to the point that they become invisible. Enloe also questions why so many academic international relations practitioners find it so hard to take feminist analysis seriously. She theorises that it could be due to fear that if they are male then to take feminist analysis seriously then they must be mindful about their own relationship to masculinity and how that is affecting what they deem to be serious topic. As well as this they may fear that if they take seriously the feminist analytics in their works then it will be judged by their colleagues as being too feminised and disregard its seriousness. This indicates in politics and international relations even if feminist analysis is recognised it is still not considered to be as serious as malestream politics and international relations. It seems that there in an unwillingness among academics to break free from the male dominated discourse and therefore feminist politics and IR is confined into its own subcategory of the field rather than considered equally important or intrinsic part of it.

Gender identity influences inequality in politics and international relations because women are stereotyped as weaker and more submissive which effects the way they are treated in social and professional environments. Patrichary is the cause of inequality between the sexes as it is the hegemonic family setup that promotes the division of labour which requires women to be passive caregivers. This idea goes beyond the home environment as it creates the damaging stereotype that women are not capable of the same thing’s men are which is then ingrained into society on a systematic level. Thus, inequalities in politics and international relations are created because women are not able to participate in politics which effects representation and therefore policy. Feminist theory is put aside and thought of as women’s issues rather than recognised as an important part of political discourse that helps to give a more holistic view of society and its people. Overall, the issue of gender identity effects politics and international relations because there in an expectation placed on both genders that determines how one must act and how one is treated which ultimately is unequal.


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  2. Brown, Penelope & Levinson, Stephen C. (1987) ‘Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage.’ Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Cohen, Stanley. (1972) ‘Folk Devils and Moral Panics.’ London, McGibbon and Knee. Pp 174
  4. Cohn, Carol. (1987) ‘Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defence Intellectuals, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society’ 12, no. 4.
  5. Enloe, Cynthia. (2000) ‘Bananas, Beaches and Bases; making feminist sense of international politics’ second edition. USA: University of California Press.
  6. Enloe, Cynthia. (2004). III “‘Gender’ is not enough: the need for a feminist consciousness. International Affairs.” 80. 95 – 97.
  7. Inter-parliamentary union 2017 & international business report, 2015
  8. Lakoff, Robin. (2008) ‘Language, Gender, and Politics: Putting “Women” and “Power” in the Same Sentence’ Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  9. Leet-Pellegrini, Helena M. (1980) ‘Conversational dominance as a function of gender and expertise’ Judge Baker Guidance Center, Boston
  10. Lorber, J. (2010) ‘Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics.’ Fourth edition. New York; Oxford, Oxford University press
  11. Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals, 2017
  12. Spender, Dale (1980) ‘Man Made Language.’ London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  13. Youngs, Gillian. (2004) ‘Feminist International Relations: a contradiction in terms? Or: why women and gender are essential to understanding the world ‘we’ live in.’ International Affairs, Volume 80, Issue 1, Pages 75–87. Oxford University Press

Cite this paper

Issues of Identity Influence Inequalities in Politics and International Relations. (2020, Nov 13). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/issues-of-identity-influence-inequalities-in-politics-and-international-relations/

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