Feminism provides an alternative lens - gender - through which to view world politics and offers insight on the often overlooked political, social and economic roles that women play  international relations.

Feminist scholars focus on gender as a category of analysis or factor in order to highlight an overlooked perspective on socio-political, and economic issues. Much of contemporary feminism is committed to progressive goals, particularly achieving equality for women through the elimination of discrimination and unequal gender relations. Gender, which embodies relationships of power inequality, is understandably the starting point. Feminists who define gender as a set of socially and culturally constructed characteristics share an affinity with the social constructivists. Masculinity is stereotypically associated with power, a rationality often cold to human concerns, self-empowered autonomy, and assumption of leadership in public roles.

Conversely, socially constructed feminine characteristics include less assertive or less aggressive behavior, willful dependence on or interdependence in nurturing relationships with others, sensitivity to emotional aspects of issues, and a focus on the private realm. The two gender categories are dependent upon one another for their meaning. Indeed, society reinforces the idea that to be a “real man” means not to display “feminine” characteristics.

Hence, the emphasis on gender is not just about women, but men and masculinity as well. From the feminist perspective, gender is particularly important as a primary way to signify relationships of power, not only in the home, but also in the world of foreign policy and international relations. By privileging masculinity, women can be socially and also legally cast into a subordinate status. Feminist theorists claim that as gender permeates social life, it has profound and largely unnoticed effects on the actions of states, international organizations, and transnational actors. These scholars seek to develop a research agenda and associated concepts to trace and explain these effects.

In recent years feminism has cast its net much more widely, examining the interplay of gender with race and class. What connects all three is a concern for the nature of power relationships and points of both convergence and divergence in relation to the study of international relations and world politics. Since feminism as an approach to international relations first began to appear in the international relations literature in the 1980s, scholars with a feminist perspective have been critical of “masculinist” approaches to conflict that tend to emphasize coercive diplomacy, unilateralism, and the use of force. From this perspective, conduct in international relations seems similar to schoolyard conflicts, particularly among boys, in which the strong do what they will and the weak do what they must.

By contrast, feminist approaches to conflict tend to look for common ground—a search for positive gains for all parties. However we react to this mode of thinking, feminist writers have made us more aware of how gender—both feminine and masculine constructions—affect not only the way we understand and conduct relationships in daily life, but also in international relations and world politics.