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Feminism as a revolutionary theory

This article discusses the issue of feminist theory. The novelty of the work lies in the analysis of this theory, taking into account the similarity of signs of its appearance in the theory of international relations with signs of a revolution according to the definitions of political science. Nowadays feminism theory is becoming conventional, and it is currently investigated and discussed widely in both social and political contexts. As a theory of international relations (IR), feminism criticizes traditional international relations theories, especially the world system made by realists. Unlike other theories that occurred as a response to realism, feminism can be distinguished with its «silence» for a long time. It is different from other theories in that it speaks for a half of the population, emerged «suddenly» and covered almost all aspects of life. Starting with struggle for basic human rights, feminism has expanded the range of issues covered both in political and social life. It cannot be denied that due to the limits to be involved in politics, women lived in the framework of regulations made by men. Surely, all IR theories do not agree with each other, especially in a number of issues such as driving forces of domestic and foreign policies states and other actors in international realm. However, all IR theories were made by men despite of the fact that about half of population of any state are women. Women had lived with the laws made by another half of population (men) for a long time, and they started to be involved in IR when limits in social life were mitigated or removed. There is one more phenomenon in politics, the emergence and development of which are similar to the revolution, the struggle of which usually appears when the victims get tired of the oppression of governors and authorities. In this article we consider the feminism theory as a revolution in IR and try to define their similarities with the help of analysis of revolution theories and historical stages of feminism.


The concept of world system and international relations can be understood in various ways, consequently, there a number of IR theories exists. They differ from each other in explaining the driving force of people's actions in politics, the role of security and power, actors of IR and so on. They can be distinguished in values and paradigms of supporters of the given theories. In this article there will be discussed one of them - the feminism theory, which claims the significance of gender equality. In a general sense, feminism is understood as the pursuit of equality between women and men in all spheres of society. The main substantive components of this concept are: 1) philosophical theory, which considers the nature of women, their place and role in society, the nature of the global oppression of them; 2) socio-political theory, analyzing the inequality of women and men, as well as ways to overcome discrimination against women; 3) social movement aimed at achieving equality between the sexes, primarily through the empowerment of women in all spheres of life; 4) ideology, expressing the interests of women and opposing various anti-feminism theories and practices; 5) research methodology, articulating women's view of the world and the system of their values [1].

Socio-philosophical analysis of existing methodological approaches in gender studies discovers so large diversity of historically theories that some scientists come to the conclusion about the logical incompatibility of generally accepted in present concepts explaining inequality based on gender:

  1. external factors, which are reduced to the division of labor and class struggle (Marxist, socialist feminism);
  2. internal factors - sexual roles, enshrined in moral customs (stereotypes of expectations) or relations of power (structural feminism);
  3. intersubjective discourse, the needs of everyday social interaction that confronts men and women everyday problems of choosing the nature and means of gender behavior, achieving the goals of interpersonal relations, satisfying individual interests, combining them with public interests [2; 251].

The first concept rests mainly on the Marxist theory of society, the second on the paradigm of structural functionalism, and the third on the phenomenological methodology. However, each of these areas in the philosophy and methodology of gender studies has its own capabilities and limitations in their analysis, sincenone of the factors mentioned above unequivocally determines the type of gender relations and only their complex study opens up opportunities for understanding the conditions and ways of solving gender problems [3; 357].

«The definition of feminism as a movement for social equality with men», notes Black American Hooks, «has led to an emphasis on problems of relationships with the opposite sex, discrimination in legal reforms. Feminism as a movement to end oppression on sexism directs our attention to the systems of domination and their relationship with sexual, racial and class oppression» [4; 91].

Feminism tries to change the definition of a world system given by traditional theories. The main reason is claimed to be its absence in the process of making it. Being excluded from science and basic human rights, females could not make contributions to making the world system theory. As a consequence, having reached basic human rights, currently, women are getting active in politics, and try to reorganize the world system and IR theories with the consideration of standpoints of «other half» of the population.


In the process of research, the methods as comparative analysis and historical analysis were used. The information about the historical stages of development of feminism, explanations for the occurrence of revolutions was searched and gathered. Further, gathered information was compared in order to see the similarities of the occurrence of revolution in a state with the emergence of feminism in IR. Surely, in the first stage of investigation, information about the history of feminism and its waves was gathered and analyzed carefully being focused on its distinct features, prerequisites of its emergence and the development of feminism demands. Next stage involved the analysis of revolution theories, which was aimed to find the similarities between two above mentioned phenomena. After that, they were compared and resemblances of feminism and revolution were determined.


The stages of feminism and revolution theories are discussed. Primarily, some information about feminism and its history should be given. Discrimination against women originated in the conditions of formation of social inequality, the division of labor, in a Patriarchal society. The main principles of the Patriarchal philosophical tradition were formulated by representatives of ancient philosophy in 5–4 centuries BC. For a long, historical period dominated by the installation, called misogyny – the exclusion of women from the rational philosophical thinking and the organization of social life. The position of belittling women was further developed in medieval philosophy, and later in the works of I. Kant, A. Schopenhauer, F. Nietzsche, E. Durkheim, Z. Freud, etc., who put forward the ideas of female limitation, dependence on men, a secondary role in society, due to biological differences between the sexes. The history of feminism begins in the age of Enlightenment, which created a new picture of the world, in which the principles of equality and human freedom have an important place, as well as the belief in the implementation of various rational social projects [5; 170-200]. The development of capitalism in Europe, the industrial revolution that led to the involvement of women in social production, and the establishment of liberal democratic ideology were the most important prerequisites for the formation of feminism. The idea of equality put forward by the French Enlightenment, Voltaire, D. Diderot, Montesquieu, J.J. Rousseau [6; 635].

In the history of the feminist movement there are three stages, which are also called three «waves», there can be emphasized the similarity of the stages with the waves of the ocean, where «each subsequent wave comes after its predecessor and takes its place, without diminishing the value of the previous one» [7; 47]. The first wave of feminism is on XIX – first half XX centuries. The main content of this stage is to struggle to achieve legal equality. During this period, a major role was played by suffrage – the struggle of women for the civil right to vote. Having arisen in England, suffrage later became widespread in the United States, Germany, France and other countries. Women in New Zealand, Australia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Russia were the first to get the right to vote. The second wave of feminism begins in the 60-ies of the XX century [8; 36]. It was the struggle for de facto equality of women and men. Theorists and practitioners of the second wave criticized the idea that women can realize themselves only in the sphere of household and child-caring, drew attention to the fact that daily violence and suppression of women occurs not only in politics but also in the sphere of home relations, at work, in the sphere of culture and leisure. Feminists of the second wave raised the problem of the need for deep cultural transformations, emphasizing the issue of a free, autonomous female personality [9; 34]. The general requirement of feminism is the struggle for the right not only to elect but to enter into power structures [10; 184]. In the second half of the 70-iesof XX century in the West and especially in the United States the feminist movement has acquired a mass character, carried out numerous actions in defense of women's rights, created organizations and many small groups of an informal character. In the second phase, feminism studies introduce the concept of gender as an analytical tool, which means a set of social and cultural norms prescribed by society to people according to their biological sex. «Sex is not only a component, an isolated part, or a minor variation of the universal. It is not a random characteristic of social and political status, such as eye color: it is an essential component of the subject's social and political status [11; 664] It has the deepest influence and significance for the subject,... because sex is manifested in every action, biological, social, cultural, if not in a particular action, then definitely in its significance» [12; 89]. Feminism undertook to prove that sex is not limited to primary and secondary sexual characteristics, it permeates all spheres of social and cultural life. The gender approach argues that it is not so much the biological or physical differences between men and women that are important, but the social and cultural importance that society attaches to these differences. The basis of gender studies is not just a description of the difference in status, roles and other aspects of a life of men and women, but the analysis of power and dominance approved in society through gender roles and relationships [13; 303]. Researcher Estela Friedman, comparing the first and second «waves» of feminism, says that the «first wave» focused on the struggle for equal voting rights for women, while the «second wave» focused on all aspects of legal and social equality and the elimination of discrimination against women as such [14]. The emergence of the «third wave» feminism refers to the beginning of the 90s of the twentieth century. The feminist movement has become more diverse. Many countries have women's governmental and non-governmental organizations, women's transnational networks and the differentiation and specialization of the women's movement. The political activism of feminists focuses on issues such as equal pay for equal work, maternity leave, childbearing rights, domestic violence, sexual harassment, discrimination and sexual violence [15; 11] Topics covered by feminism include discrimination, stereotyping, objectification, oppression and patriarchy. The basis of feminism ideology is that rights, privileges and position in society should not be determined by gender. Currently new trends in feminism are emerging, such as constructivist and postmodern feminism, color feminism, cultural feminism [16].

Modern feminism draws attention to three problems. First, invisibility, insufficient moral and material encouragement of the social potential of women, even in situations where their contribution to the functioning and development of society is undoubtedly significant (motherhood, education, health care). Secondly, an explanation of the reasons why the role of women in society is still non-priority, subordinate. Third, how we can change and improve the social world to make it more equitable for women and for all people [17; 102-106].

Feminism in IR as a revolution in the world of states

E. Giddens, author who is famous in the Western world textbook sociology, distinguishing «revolution» («political changes») and «social movement», calls a number of conditions allow us to consider certain political changes revolution: 1) in the revolution there is a «mass social movement»; 2) the revolution leads to «large-scale reforms or changes» and 3) «the revolution involves the threat of violence or its use by the participants of the mass movement» [18].

First of all, the theories should be given, which describe a revolution from different perspectives, giving the reasons for its occurrence. So, four theories of revolution are considered basic:

  • behavioral;
  • psychological;
  • structural;
  • political.

In the presence of particular shortcomings inherent in only one of the theories, they are not able to answer several general questions, for example, how political organizations are formed and what determines the behavior of the army during the revolution [19; 68].

Behavioral theory

Behavioral theory of revolution calls the source of people's revolutionary behavior, their basic needs and instincts. A quick transition to radical actions caused by prolonged suppression of human needs such as hunger, safety, possessiveness, competitiveness, creativity [20; 76]. The immediate reasons are the sharp increase in the restrictions of these basic instincts in the majority of the population and the simultaneous inability of the authorities to effectively suppress the emerging riots.

The behavioral theory of Pitirim Sorokin, created in 1925, historically became the first modern theory of revolution [21; 57]. Women had the view of the world and politics, however, their viewpoints were not considered, and women were not allowed to take a part in state governing issues. As the historical stages have shown, women had not had even basic human rights listed above. For instance, women used to suffer more than men during wars, conflicts among nations and even in peaceful period. People of rival countries used to take away women in order to use them as slaves. Women had no right to ownership, to work, to go in for sports, and used to be restricted to study [22; 89].

Feminism thought developed similarly in three waves, however the «first wave» of feminism is considered to be a wave of protests against the status of women in society and a wave of struggle to change the current situation improving the social status of women. The main task of the «first wave» was the struggle for political and economic rights of women — the ability to elect and be elected to republican authorities, property rights in marriage (at that time a married woman in America and England did not have formal rights not only to her dowry, but to and on her personal money earned), equality in marriage, educational opportunities and choice of profession [23; 56]. It can be assumed that limits listed above led to the appearance of feminists. The prerequisites of revolution, given from the perspective of behavioral theory, shows, that feminists are revolutionaries. Furthermore, the theory itself can be considered as a revolution in IR system due to the fact that females were limited in constructing theories and suggestions about politics. So, it emerged as the critical theory towards traditional ones.

Psychological theory

The psychological theory of the revolution, unlike the behaviorist, put in the head, not the base instincts, and complex motivational system. The reason for the revolution is called the awareness of the masses of the injustice of their position. Revolution does not occur if even the poorest existence of society is perceived as natural. Awareness of injustice may arise from the emergence of new ideologies that characterize the current situation as unacceptable; from the fall in living standards while maintaining the same level of expectations; when the first two factors are combined.

Psychological theories are criticized for not taking into account the inequality in society associated with the distribution of power and money. The most significant of the psychological theories is the theory of relative deprivation proposed by James Davis and Ted Garr [21; 61]. Psychological theories also can prove the fact that feminism theory is a revolution in the world of IR.

Looking back at history of the emergence of the first wave of feminist movement, it can be seen that it was a liberal trend, the main idea of which was that «since women are the same rational beings as men, they should have the same legal and political rights». Liberal feminists demanded the cessation of legal, economic, social dependence of women, reforms in the field of property rights, education, divorce, as well as granting women equal political rights to men. Feminists demanded the suppression of domestic violence, the protection of motherhood, the right to engage in trade and business.

A sharp jump in industry demanded much more hands than male workers could offer, so attracting women became necessary. Mass female labor in social production gradually turned into a fact of social life, changing the traditional status of a woman as a continuer of the race, and, accordingly, changing the basis of marriage, family, etc. This process had both positive and negative sides. On the one hand, mass female labor contributed to the growth of self-awareness of women as an autonomous social group, created an opportunity to destroy the traditional hierarchy of the sexes, «build a division of labor between men and women not on the principle of complementarity, but on the principle of interchangeability» [24; 145]. On the other hand, women were forced to go to work at industrial enterprises, where they became men's competitors, which aggravated relations between the sexes. Massive female labor also led to over-exploitation of the woman, as she continued to fulfill her duties as a mother, wife, and mistress of the house. At the same time, the working day was too great, and the woman's wages were lower than those of a man who did the same at the same enterprise. The employers justified this by saying that a woman did not need to support her family. The progress of industry was also accompanied by an increase in prostitution, an increase in the number of foundlings, abortions and infant mortality. In addition, women were not admitted to trade unions that protected the rights of employees. All these factors gave grounds for collective actions of women, for the creation of women's organizations defending the interests and rights of women.

In the initial phase of the movement, both in Europe and in the USA, questions about voting rights were not central, the main problems were legislative reforms concerning the status of women (who did not have property rights at that time, the right to their own earnings, child custody in cases of divorce), and especially the issue of women's access to higher education (in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, where therewere few literate women, the issue of women's education was raised by men; for example, in Egypt, male reformers and for the education of women in the household, with the end of polygamy and increasing the age of marriage) [25; 15]. Also, the first feminists demanded equal opportunities for work and raised problems concerning virtually all existing institutions: legislation, politics, economics, family, sexuality, religion, education, and even the definition of femininity. Feminists protested against the accepted style of clothing; lifestyle dictated by religion; a double standard of sexual behavior (the majority was against the promiscuity that was common among men, some supported the ideas of free love); inequality in marriage; stereotype «real lady». Activists of the struggle for women's equality in the middle of the XIX century, they relied on the idea of inequality as a result of a certain mistake, legislative imperfection, and considered it necessary to draw public attention to this problem. Everywhere, women fought against double standards for gender, for reforms in the area of property rights, divorce, and the opportunity to work [26; 86].

Turning to the theory itself, it can be stated that states and world do not belong to only men. However, states used to be governed only by men. Obviously, their decisions had impact on every citizen of this or that country, and every human being in general. Being aware of data, which showed the absence of women in both science of politics and governing positions, they found it unfair. So, it led them to start to give own interpretation of international relations.

Structural theory

Structural theories highlight class and group relations in society, denying psychological aspects. At the same time, tension in society can arise both from internal contradictions and due to external, international pressure. The revolution develops with the involvement of the broad masses of the peasantry and workers in the process and becomes successful after the complete dismantling of the old and the establishment of a new state system. The leading contemporary adherent of the structural theory is Ted Skocpol.

It can be concluded that structural theory makes an emphasis on classes, i.e. material status of people. Having no right to work and earn, definitely, women used to lack money and be dependent on males. Consequently, they had to endure all pressures and domestic violence from men. It cannot be denied that feminism theory covers all classes. There are types of feminism which deals with issues of middle-class women and black women.

Political theory

Political theories, in comparison with structural ones, further narrow the field of causes of the revolution, reducing them exclusively to the struggle for power within the state. In this case, the revolution is seen as a normal political process, taking extreme forms. A prerequisite for the revolution is the concentration of the opposition sufficient resources to effectively combat the current government that is when several participants appear in the political process. After the consolidation of new forces, the revolution stops, the new uniform power is formed [27; 14].

The feminism theory in IR certainly pursuits the power, not absolute maybe, but it seeks the opportunity to be heard, and desires to change the realist viewpoints of states.

Revolution as a type of social movements has a number of reasons explaining its emergence. A contemporary American political analyst, Jim Goldstone, proposed five basic conditions, the combination of which leads to revolution:

  1. he crisis of power, in which the state is perceived by the elite and the masses as ineffective and unfair.
  2. The crisis in the relationship between the elites, leading first to their alienation, then to separation and, finally, to a sharp polarization into separate factions, each of which has the opposite view of the ways of further transformations.
  3. The crisis of national welfare, in which the urban and / or rural segments of the population hardly maintain their standards of living with the help of the usual means.
  4. The emergence of a coalition of elites and the masses in their attack on state power.
  5. The existence of one or another opposition ideology, which connects the elites and the masses in their struggle against power, justifies this struggle and suggests an alternative introduction of the future order [28; 31].

All five conditions coincide rarely, moreover, they are difficult to recognize in periods of imaginary stability. All the given features are also can be found in feminism.


The analysis of the feminism theory and revolution theory showed that the feminism could be considered as a «revolution» in the «world of states». In this arena, males can be equated with the government, who makes laws and manages the politics of the state, while females are like the lower class of people, whose rights are restricted, and are kept away from policy-making and governing the states. Being oppressed of restrictions in almost all spheres of life: politics, education, freedom of speech, etc., the lowers start to fight for their rights. The emergence of feminist idea easily can be explained by revolution theories. Another aspect that should be mentioned is that the critics of feminism towards traditional IR theories, especially realism. Realism can be considered as the laws that were made without the participation of lower class, so now, having reached basic human rights and equality in various spheres, feminists are showing their disagreement with the values indicated by realists. However, in this case, they are not identical. There is a number of theories, which explain the world system and IR relying on various aspects, and none of them is not considered to be dominant, as soon as any of them is free from limitations. So, feminists can give their perspective of the world, but it cannot dominate and cover politics totally.

However, there are several things that can be borrowed from feminism and be used in maintaining IR, or foreign and domestic policy. For instance, radical feminism seeks the cores of the inequality problem in the role of genders in a family. It believes that it can only be solved starting from the individual level, only then covering the issues in state level as education, freedom, etc. This idea is good to be used in arranging a foreign and domestic policy. Realism being concentrated on power and security issues, tries to indicate the importance of armed forces and power among the states, while the issue of security can be started to develop from individual level. Many developing states and third world states are weak in education, health and equality issues, they are not focused on investing in the main wealth of the state – people. A dominance of uneducated, unemployed and full of hatred towards the state, the military power cannot secure the state for a long time. As radical feminists claim, the problem must be solved from little units towards bigger ones. Power and security must be reached by developing the internal conditions of the state. Feminists are revolutionaries. Revolutionaries always have something to say as soon as they have seen the kitchen sink. Critics should be considered to develop the IR system and the states in general.



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