Gender Politics

In recent years, the field of political science has turned its attention to gender politics. As a political science major, you may have given thought to this, but you may not understand why it is important or when it entered the field as an area of study.

In the 1970s, feminists and other social scientists argued that an observer’s position is never truly neutral; therefore, data collected and analyzed, patterns discerned, and conclusions drawn are necessarily shaded to some degree by the scientist’s unique perspective. Feminist, black, and Native American students and political scientists further pointed out that since an extremely high degree of research and analysis at that time was conducted by white males, the data would contain blind spots regarding issues of importance to other identities.

Gender politics is more than simply considering issues of sex. Gender is broader and concerns the behaviors, beliefs, and expectations that are culturally expected and that children learn in the process of socialization. In other words, the concept of “gender politics” is socially bound, can vary from social group to social group and from historical perspective to historical perspective, and is self-perpetuating only to the degree that those who follow it permit.

When factories were left shorthanded during World War II, the media glorified American women as strong, intelligent, and capable. This position shifted after the war ended and returning male veterans needed work. Suddenly, women were again expected to be adoring housewives who took care of the home and children while their husbands handled the difficult work world. In the same way, regions of the world that were previously communist or socialist have experienced a shift in perspective.

Gender politics seeks to identify the characteristics that are stereotypically assigned to men and women. Identifying these characteristics is necessary in order to truly be able to understand the political negotiations and shifting power in any situation. For example, American masculine characteristics stereotypically include being ambitious, assertive or even aggressive, logical, firm, determined, and tough. Stereotypical feminine characteristics, on the other hand, include being passive, emotional, gentle, cooperative, weak, and caring. While there is no question that these stereotypes are broad and that, in actuality, men can possess a feminine side and women can display masculine qualities, the cultural stereotype does persist.

When the study of politics prioritizes a white male perspective without giving consideration to gender, race, or other social and cultural identities, it not only creates blind spots in research, but also places a white male perspective in a privileged position of superiority.

Gender politics has had a far-reaching affect on the field of political science, not just in terms of what the field studies, but also in how it studies. Previously, political science looked almost exclusively at public institutions and their governments. Relationships between individuals or groups weren’t seen as “political” and weren’t, therefore, considered as research- or study-worthy. Little or no interest was shown in introducing nonpublic politics, such as the ways in which family members exert or give up power, or in how the elderly are treated in nonpublic arenas. Gender studies rapidly developed an interest in the politics of personal or private relationships— the politics of domesticity.

Gender and Politics: The State of the Art

Far from Ideal - The Gender Politics of Political Science

Last Updated: 05/22/2014

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