Female Experience Matters in Security Studies


by Aleksandra Gasztold

 The basic goal of scholarship within the heterogeneous feminist movement is the advancement of a theory based on the female experiences and using the language of women. Moreover, the purpose is to ask questions that were previously ignored or avoided. In doing so, the emotional involvement of the researcher is permitted, in contrast to the artificiality of male objectivity and distance. In this conception, the research process is intended to shape the consciousness of both the object of research and the researcher. They are meant to reflect practical knowledge, which, among other things, is conditioned by their experiences in everyday life. The research  in field of security studies should take into account women’s experiences. However, it is questionable whether awareness-raising features in scholarship are actually desired. Consequently, qualitative research is favoured, especially participant observation and analysis of experiences and case studies. While the practical nature of feminism imposes such an approach, social sciences and humanities cannot always come to terms with it. To the contrary, the feminist works are based on a critical analysis of traditional theories and concepts, paradigms and language. Furthermore, they entail a feminist conceptual grid, as well as premises and explanations that are useful for both theory and practice. Feminism recognises that traditional theories of political science marginalise the importance of women, as well as the role of gender as a category in social and political life. The main aim of feminism is to raise awareness and thereby universalise this approach. This also marginalises the role of quantitative research, which is perceived as a patriarchal tool enclosing science within the confines of male vision. Feminism perceives itself as a new body of knowledge about existing problems. In this view, an analysis of the involvement of women in the security sphere, particularly in relation to political violence, does not serve to set women against men, but to broaden our knowledge of human nature and of political activity.

The basic goal of feminism in security studies seeks to introduce the category of gender as a constant variable that conditions reality and to improve our knowledge of women’s experiences. This is based on the conviction that by exposing unequal gender relations and looking at them from a woman’s point of view, it is possible to establish the sort of comprehensive definition of security that modern critical thinking has been aspiring to develop. Due to the traditional understanding of internal and external functions of the state in ensuring security the roles of women have been marginalised and even omitted. This stems from the long-lasting associations of masculinity with militarism, which lies on the foundation of  maintaining security.

Violence is an intrinsic part of security musings. Violence against women, especially sexual violence, cannot in any way be compared to the experience of this sort of violence against men. It is believed to be greater in militarised societies and endorsed in patriarchal systems (e.g., through legislation, controlling women’s right to their own body or image and other customary practices). The dominant institution perpetuating this status quo and reflecting society on a micro-scale is the family. Male supremacy is not based on physical strength but rather on the acceptance of a certain system of values. A significant role is played by socialisation and universally accepted preconceptions about the supremacy of men, which consolidate their superior position. The patriarchal communities have a tendency to combine cruelty with sexuality as an expression not so much of evil but of power, where sadism is tied with ‘the masculine role’ and the experience of being a victim with ‘the feminine role’ [Millett, 2005, p. 48].

Supporters of the feminist perspective have noted that the gender aspect is critical to the comprehension of multiple determinants and political processes (within security). Gender is a social construct, and it therefore creates and impacts not only the individual but also all of society. Feminist theory can be used to analyse various security phenomena, including armed conflict, terrorism, revolution and other actions related to political violence because it focuses on research at the level of the individual, both men and women. Gender difference as a variable that makes up social reality is crucial in the understanding of political behaviour and in security studies. It permits scholars to broaden the scope of analysis and to show that particular phenomena have broad cultural, social and even biological roots that mould their genesis, structure, functioning and efficacy. The feminist approach enables a more complete analysis of women’s motives in undertaking political activity and their methodology thus making it possible to demonstrate the specificity of security-related behaviour.


Further reading:

Gasztold A (2017). „A Feminist Approach to Security Studies„, Przegląd Politologiczny 3/2017.
Light M., Halliday F. (1994), Gender and International Relations, in: Contemporary International Relations: A Guide to Theory
, eds. A. J. R. Groom, M. Light, Pinter Publishers.
Millett K. (2005), Theory of Sexual Politics , in: Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology , eds. A. E. Cudd, R. O. Andreasen Blackwell Publishing.