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Gender Politics and the International Political Economy

Written by: Shawn Monaghan (critical on

February 14, 1995

Gender is a relevant concept in analysis of the global political economy just as class and
ethnicity are considered relevant as concepts for analysis. Class is considered relevant in that
members of different classes are affected differently by the political economic system. For
example opponents of liberalism often oppose liberalist ideals on the basis that the capital class
is "rewarded disproportionately to labour in the world economy", and to extend ourselves beyond
the realm of class differentiation to the realm of gender differentiation:
... then men are being rewarded disproportionately to women; a 1981 Report to the UN
Committee on the Status of Women states that although women represent one-half of the global
population and one third of the paid labor force, and are responsible for two-thirds of all working
hours, they receive only one-tenth of world income and own less than one percent of world
property. Although much of women's work is performed outside the formal economy, even when
they enter the market economy these data suggest that women are not being rewarded to the
same extent as men; earning lower wages and owning an insignificant proportion i
of the world's
capital puts women at an enormous disadvantage in terms of power and wealth.

So in Tickner's conceptualization not only is class an important distinction for understanding the
workings of the political economy, gender is also important. Just as class is considered relevant
because of the different experiences and positions of various classes within our political
economy, gender should be considered relevant because of the different experiences and
positions of men and women within our global political economy. In this particular situation one
might think it is better to dispose of concepts of gender and just subsume women's differing
experiences within class distinction. In keeping with class distinctions along the boundaries of
differing experiences and opportunities the class of 'women' could be included within the
hierarchy of classes like so: Upper classes (capital owners), middle class (wage labourers with
somewhat less capital accumulation), lower or working class (wage labourers with little or no
capital accumulation), and finally, the lower working class or women (wage labourers with lower
wages for equal work and even less capital accumulation). Clearly this conceptualization does
not work very well.
Instead of simply including women on the bottom rung of the class hierarchy gender theorists
chose to deal with women as a differentiated group among the many classes because it is not
strictly accurate, nor analogically appropriate, to group all women in a class below all men.
Some women work for very high wages and accumulate a great deal of capital stock, while
others could be considered middle class, still others could be considered working class, finally
others could be considered sub-working class. Women as individuals transcend the boundaries of
class making it impossible to include them within the list of a class hierarchy as a separate group.
What then of the above quotation listing women as a group with less than 1 percent of world
property and one-tenth of world income? This becomes complex, women as individuals
transcend class boundaries but it would seem as a group are at the bottom rung of the class
hierarchy. Perhaps if we were to look at another group of peoples without gender distinctions
things will become clearer: members of developing countries represent larger than half the
population of the world and represent less than half of world income and property. The above
condition of 'third-wold countries' has led to a relatively new class of political studies called
development theories. It is recognized that as a group developing countries are
disproportionately poor in comparison to developed countries, and this group is treated as a class
of people whose anomalous position in our world requires study and explanation.
Why then would it not be reasonable to study women as a group with a demonstrably
differentiated position within the international political economy, just as developing peoples are
considered a differentiated group? The problem seems to stem from the fact of gender. The
question has been asked; why should women be treated differently from men in our political
economy? The only answer to this question could be: because women have a different
experience within our political economy. Women are relegated to low paying, low status
positions as a group world-wide, while men enjoy greater access to high-paying, high-prestige,
elitist positions.
The differences in access and opportunity of men and women presumably do not derive from
different abilities or biological inheritances, Western society has not discovered any genetic links
between men and maleness and women and femaleness. Attributes of masculinity and femininity
are relegated to men and women through culture and socialization and not biology. If the abilities
of women and men cannot be shown to be differentiated in any other way than through
socialization, and we can recognize a difference of condition (standard of living, wealth) of men
and women within our society, we must accept that this difference of condition stems from
culture and not from some natural state of being. This is where the critical theory of feminism
takes its standpoint.
A critical theory as represented by Cox involves focusing on changing the world as a primary
goal. Part of the process of establishing a critical theory is to look at the present order of
dominant paradigms and attempting to understand
how they came about understanding and
revealing any fundamental assumptions. Gender theory, as represented by Feminist critical
theory does just this with current dominant paradigms and assumptions. Tickner (quoted above)
analyses several dominant political-economic paradigms like liberalism and argues that though
the proponents of these theories claim gender-neutrality they clearly are biased in favour of the
dominant male gender.
As mentioned above Tickner claims that Liberalism is "biased toward a masculine
representation", she also claims that Marxism is biased similarly:
For classical Marxists, procreation was seen as a natural female process fixed by human biology.
Therefore a division of labor, whereby women are primarily responsible for the rearing of
children, was also seen as relatively fixed. Because Marxism assumed that women's roles as
caretakers of children was natural, an assumption questioned by many feminists, classical
Marxism omitted women's roles in the family from its analysis. Feminists argue that ignoring
women in their reproductive and childrearing roles, an omission common to all approaches to
political economy, leaves all the unpaid labor that women perform in the family outside of
economic analysis. By ignoring women in their domestic roles, Marxists and non-Marxists alike
neglect certain issues that are peculiar to women regardless of their class position. In most cases,
when married women move into the labor force, they continue to be responsible for most of the
housework and childrearing. Besides the lack of respect for unpaid housework and the
dependence of full-time housewives on the income of their husbands, women, including those in
the workforce, usually suffer a severe decline in income should their marriage end in divorce.
Economiciiidependence may force women to stay in marriages in spite of violent and abusive

In fact Tickner claims that by not including the domestic sphere of childrearing and
housekeeping as a part of our economic analysis we are unfairly ignoring women's contribution
to the international political economy (IPE), and by so doing we are inflicting gender-specific
hardships on women. This then is the meat of the matter. Because of the relegation of the
domestic sphere as economically irrelevant we are relegating 'women's work' to the economically
irrelevant sphere. This is clearly a gender bias within the world economy that should not
In this world of economic and political aide, we are constantly searching for a way to understand
the political and economic process of development. Development is measured among other ways
as a product of GNP, low GNP in one sector shows the area of the developing economy that
should be boosted with investment, but what of this entire sector of hidden GNP? Perhaps this
sector of the economy is holding back the growth of the rest of the economy.
Questions of how and why the Western world developed, along with questions about the
aberration of Third World development are at the centre of political-economic debate these days.
Why do not Third World countries develop at the pace we expect? How do we get the Third
World to develop as quickly and painlessly as possible? Perhaps some of our problems stem
from the fact that we ignore the 'domestic' industry and consider this entire sector of all societies
as irrelevant. Perhaps by ignoring the female sector of developing countries we are ignoring
viable roads toward development. Consider the development potential if aid packages included
loans to women for establishing simple daycare business services for the sectors of society that
are labour intensive. Women, who could not work before such an aid package would be enabled
to work by the relief of labour intensive childcare during the day with the increased benefit of a
new business trade and improved monetary circulation.
Alternatively, consider the position of many families of Western Africa. For a relatively large
group of families the man's role has become that of migratory seasonal labourer, while the
women remain home and struggle to keep the family fed between pay-cheques. A few well
placed loans with these women could greatly enhance trade as well as their ability to subsist as a
family unit. This type of situation is by no means rare and yet men have been the primary group
of Africans to receive loans, often even in cultural groups where women are the primary actors in
the public sector. Although a specific citation escapes me at this point (can't find it anywhere) I
have read of a case in which an African society was egalitarian before aid organizations
attempted to 'develop' it. The result was the complete shift of societal power from the shoulders
of both men and women to the shoulders of the men alone. This so-called development actually
turned out to be a complete reversal of anything approaching progress from the standpoint of the
women of that African society, and also from current standards of progress.
But why does this gender bias continue despite at least 40 years of feminist theory within the
Western world? The problem appears to derive from the complicated nature of gender as a
concept and as a political and social force.
Gender can be defined as the socially and culturally defined roles thativ
affect the way people are
perceived and expected to behave within a specific social structure. Attempts by feminist
theorists over the years to question and redefine gender have been met by much political and
social criticism and backlash. The political is personal -- as the old cliche goes. Discussions of
gender-bias within our society and attempts to change gender conceptualizations has generated
what many call; the War of the Sexes.
The process of changing gender roles has unfortunately been focused on the female gender
structure while the male gender conceptualization is ignored with little attempt to change it. The
result is a feeling by many men that women are attacking them and trying to take away their
social and political power:

The lady writer on the TV felt free to say that 'men are pretty useless'... When she explained that
she was not speaking personally but was referring to men in general, her interrogation ceased.
No further explanation was necessary or called for. It was perfectly okay for her to be running
down a gender of humanity so vlong as she wasn't taking a dig at her own man nor, by
implication, yours (his italics).

It seems that women sometimes feel that it is perfectly fine to call all men (2.5 billion human
beings) "useless". In situations like the above it seems perfectly reasonable for men to feel
feminists are attacking them personally. Unfortunately the tendency to lump all feminists into a
group of 'anti-men activists' is a poor assumption and a blatant generalization. However, what
often goes unsaid in gender discussions is that men also suffer from gender roles being inflicted
on their personalities and political life. A good understanding of the impact gender roles have on
our society requires understanding of both the male and the female gender roles.
Contributing to the complexity of understanding gender roles in the global political economy is
the fact that they are derived from culture, and each culture has its own power structures. Enriche
Cardosa's (proponent of 'sophisticated' dependency theory) criticism of dependency theories is
that they tend to generalize the conditions and structures within developing countries to the point
that their theories are counterproductive and false. According to Cardosa dependency theories
must take into account the huge differences between developingvi
countries in order to achieve any
degree of truth when using a theory that includes them all. By the same token, to apply gender
theories to the IPE, an understanding of all of the gender roles within the many individual
cultures would be required in order to attain accuracy. A broad theory of gender within the
global political economy could not possibly approach accuracy, because as we know gender
construction is designed by culture, vastly different cultures must surely have vastly different
gender constructions. Women are not a unified force across the world, but one thing that does
unite all women and men in the IPE is that they must everyday deal with and live with the gender
constructions of their society. If we wish to understand the IPE we must accept this fact and
make allowances for the institutions of gender construction just as we must deal with other
political institutions within our global system (such as ethnicity and class). How can there be
only one feminist gender analysis theory with so many different cultures to deal with?
Terry Winant deals with this problem by introducing a distinction between a feminist
philosophical stance and a feminist standpoint, arguing that there is one of the former and many
of the latter. She defines "standpoints" as locations in the political and cultural world that carry
with them specific commitments to projects for political and cultural transformation.
these will vary from feminist to feminist according to her specific location.

The important distinction to make here is that Western feminists should not be the primary
theorists for developing countries, as they bring their own cultural baggage with their specific
standpoints to the theory. For example a central issue for women in North America has been
abortion, while for women in Central America it would seem the issue is by no means central, in
fact many women in refugee viii
camps who have lost their children will likely want more not less
making abortion a non-issue. Thus gender theory is something that a great many people should
be involved in, allowing theorists greater influence in their local theory and focusing on the
importance of a multiplicity viewpoints.
Another problem with using gender as a variable is the complexity of individuality. Some
critiques of gender analysis claim that so-called 'Iron-Maidens', like Margaret Thatcher who
served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for a number of years, prove gender
construction theory to be false. The problem is that women like Margaret Thatcher do not fit into
what is considered to be the gender construction of women. Women are supposed to be more
cooperative, emotional, irrational, and empathic than men, yet women who have attained power
(like Margaret Thatcher) seem to have all of the masculine traits that gender construction should
have disallowed.
This is not really a problem with gender analysis per se, but a problem with our
conceptualization of gender. Instead of seeing gender construction as male and female it should
be seen as masculine and feminine. Not all women are the embodiment of femininity nor are all
men the embodiment of masculinity, in fact we are all composites of the two polaric gender
Gender identity is one way of representing ourselves. By labelling myself a "man" or a "woman"
I am also conjuring up a range of possibilities presented to me in my culture and language. If I
stay within conventional bounds I will create a self on the basis of what is offered me. If I am
more adventurous, I will push beyond conventional bounds, thus adding to my culture or
language new possibilities of what a man or woman could be. Caring about the significance
my life as a whole means creating self and world interpretations that work for me.

So when one says women are more cooperative then men, and the result of greater female
participation in the IPE would be unprecedented cooperation and nurturing within the political
sphere, what is really being suggested is that women generally have a better conceptualization of
the other than men. As a means of forming their self-identity women must more often conceive
of themselves as the other within our society in order to deal with the roles relegated to them by
gender constructs.
In the classic conceptualization of 'us and them' the 'self and the other' the masculine approach is
often to have a strong sense of the self and to rarely embrace the other. Now this does not to
mean that all women are more cooperative than men, what is suggested is that many women
have a better idea of what it means to be in the role of the 'other' and they therefore have a certain
empathy that enables greater understanding of different viewpoints.
The feminine self-strategy is based in connectedness... She must always be connected to an other
who informs her, giving her her meaning and her function by xdemanding that she play the role of
other. She reflects back to {a} self the image it desires to see.

The masculine self-strategy is based on opposition. The self who maintains

himself with a
masculine self-strategy must always oppose himself to those around him.
I have delineated these two self-strategies as extremes approaching the limits set by the two
poles. A self that used only the feminine self-strategy would be so pliable, so dependent on
others to determine her form for her, that she would take on absolutely any form some other in
her vicinity desired of her,... A self that used only the masculine self-strategy would so rigidly
adhere to his own fixed conception of himself that he could xii
never change but had to repeat
continually, with no variation, the same self/other pattern.

The use of gender specific pronouns in the above quotations are misleading, out of context, as
men and women must use both the feminine and the masculine self-strategies on a daily basis.
The continuum of masculine and feminine is not merely that of the two poles, as suggested by
Lorraine, for the two extreme positions would only be exhibited in very unstable individuals.
This suggests that each person is actually somewhere along the continuum between the
masculine and the feminine poles, most men and women being slightly closer to their respective
masculine and feminine poles.
Cases of people like Margaret Thatcher seeming very 'masculine' can be seen as exceptions that
prove the rule rather than exceptions that deny the rule. Female self-identity seems to require a
greater degree of flexibility in self-perception and so it seems not unreasonable that a woman can
bend into the dominant role of masculinity as a matter of course when it is required of her.
It seems more likely that this sort of 'masculinization' will be the most popular among women for
many years to come in the political arena,xiiias our society consistently marginalizes any positive
view of traditional feminine self-identity. If any change is likely to happen in the near future
Lorraine's position implies that perhaps with a wider range of femalexiv
public figures in the
political arena our choices of self-conception will be diversified. Perhaps we will see a shift of
our societal norms along the continuum toward the middle-ground between the masculine and
the feminine poles, shifting from right of centre (ie. masculine dominant) to something more
central (ie. masculine-feminine balanced). (However, the increased 'masculinization' of female
public figures at first will likely make the shift a very slow process.) Certainly this seems to be
the ultimate goal of gender analysis, for the larger the number of people who are represented in
societal norms and paradigms the greater the chance of achieving social, economic, and political
cognizance and through our improved understanding and knowledge of the global system --

iFrom J. Ann Tickner's "On the Fringes of the World Economy: A Feminist Perspective" p.195
iiParaphrasing from class lectures on January 24th/1995.
iiiTickner. p.200-201
ivDefinition derived from class notes January 26/1995.
vNeil Lyndon, No More Sex War (Sinclair-Stevenson, Great Britain, London, 1992) p20 & 23
viClass lectures on Gender January 26/1995
viiTamsin E. Lorraine, Gender, Identity, and the Production of Meaning (Westview Press, San
Francisco, 1990) p.21
viiiMiranda Davies ed. Third World - Second Sex Volume 2 (Zed books Ltd., London, 1987)
ixLorraine p.17
xLorraine p.185
xiLorraine p.186
xiiLorraine p187
xiiiLorraine p.203. "Feminine self-strategies in various forms obtain for roughly one half of the
population, and yet, according to the dominant discourse, they are still considered "marginal"."
xivLorraine p.196. Greater understanding of the two main self-strategies can lead to improved
connections and rapport amongst the members of our complex society.