Apply and Critically Evaluate Feminist Theory for Explaining ‘Terrorism

Apply and Critically Evaluate Feminist Theory for Explaining ‘Terrorism’


Feminism is the theory that suggests both sexes should be uniform in all areas, that is politically, economically, and socially. Feminists reckon that women should be given an equal share of society’s opportunities as men. Estelle Freedman, an American historian, defined feminism by stating that most societies believe that men, as a group, are more advantageous than women are even though both are inherent of equal worth. As a result, social movements should be formed to accomplish political impartiality between both genders; with the comprehension, that gender often crosses with another social ranking (Ferber & Nelson, 1993). The feminist theory grew out of the campaign whose main aim was empowering women worldwide (Lord, Greiter & Tursunovic, 2013).

The US, for a very long time, has influenced the International Relations (IR) field. The field has therefore been modeled by the US strategic and global interests and attention. Feminists have had international campaigns against gender violence. The UN Decade for Women and International Conferences held in the 1990s gave a platform to international organizations fighting for women’s rights to talk up about these issues. These conferences made violence against women been seen internationally as a problem (Laqueur, 1999). There was a demand to concentrate on gender and war. In 2000, the Security Council and Resolution emphasized the fact that it was very important that women take part in peace negotiations and reconstruction, at all stages (Charlesworth & Chinkin, 2002). Therefore, after 9/11, there were many feminists’ opinions about terrorism and war. The fight against war and terrorism has focused on men. When the topic of terrorism is being discussed, feminists, including those with expertise in the IR field, are rarely asked to voice their opinion. It has been thought that militarism appears to be an unlikely site for feminist examination, but on the contrary, feminists have a lot to say about this (Pettman, 2004). This discussion illustrates the contributions of feminists to the war on terror especially after 9/11. It seeks to understand that feminism plays an important role in the fight against terrorism even though it has not been given the respect it deserves in both theory and practice.

Feminist Theory on Terrorism

It is wrong to assume that gender disappears in case of terrorism or even that women are not present. Women appear alongside men as causalities and relatives of causalities of the terror attacks. Afghan women, for example, were victimized by the lethal Taliban reign. The border guards of the boundaries between Afghan and US-made them (Afghan women) appear as symbols of distinction by highlighting their culture/religion, lack of civilization, backwardness, and unreformed religion. Internationally, the US announced, “our men are setting out to rescue their women from their men.” The myth of protection foists upon men’s responsibilities of soldering and on women the function of being those for whom men must fight, underlining men as agents and women as passive pawns in international politics, regardless of what individual men and women are doing (Enloe, 2002). The discerning of these gendered civic identities also validated the military solution as a compassionate, and obvious continuous involvement. Many feminists argued that this was too simple a detection of fury too sudden a change to the entitlement of Afghan women as “rights of convenience” (Enloe, 2002). In an interesting twist, the plight of Afghan women was highlighted after 9/11 by Laura Bush and Charlie Blair, wives of the primary war leaders, as if was a “women’s issue” or an auxiliary aspect rather than a human rights or human security issue. The question was, why not in other states hostile to women’s rights for example Saudi Arabia. The West became concerned about Afghan women only after 9/11 (Pettman, 2004).

At first, international feminists’ responses to 9/11 were ignored by the mainstream media and political arenas. They, therefore, took to the internet, email, and feminist journals and newsletters. These saw their responses spread very fast. A number of topics and claims came out, which exemplified feminist takes on violence and terrorism while addressing international politics in general. First, there was the refusal of dichotomies. There was a rejection of Bush’s slogan ‘either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ For a long time, dichotomies and binaries had emphasized that feminists’ attention was unnatural and had a limiting vision and options. These dichotomies and binaries further stated that feminists’ attention allowed restricted and imprecise readings of the complexity and a mess of various, reposition identities, and of international power relations in general (Pettman, 2004). Cockburn’s (2000), response to the NATO bombing of Serbia included the observation that another casualty of that war, then, was the willingness to live with ambiguity and contradiction, to say ‘not this (not ethnic cleansing), but not that (bombing) either.’ A sporadic thread through feminist retaliation to 9/11 was ‘not this (terrorism) and not that (the war response) either’ (Pettman, 2004).

Once more, international feminists found themselves examining the war talk, the benefit of the so-called security as understood in statistics’ terms, and the solutions offered by the military. They advocated that fully understood and nuanced accounts trying to explain any international confrontation politically or ethically where needed. Feminist commentaries asked for an established and thorough analysis. Peterson (2002) referred to ‘learning strategies,’ which included studying in context the events, identities, and policies and actions, and include a series of questions to enable these searches and outlined examples of how to study in context the events in relation to 9/11.

IR feminists question things that are not normally covered by the discipline. They also attempt to listen to voices excluded from IR’s evidence and resources. This brings about feminist responses and other dominant aspects, which lack in mainstream international relations and in terrorism studies, by internationalizing the account (Pettman, 2004). As a discipline, IR, for a long time, has been the U.S dominated and therefore shaped by US’ strategic and global interests and attention. IR feminists often draw on networks and affiliation with other international feminists, and pay attention to women’s voices in transnational forums and circuits, recognizing that these are partial, and situated, including for many of us, only communicating in English. There has been a significant expansion of these links through the inception of e-mail and the internet as main instruments in transnational feminist and women’s organizing. The continual acknowledgment of the horror and loss of 9/11 saw it be placed together with other horrible and violent losses that other people in other places had suffered. These responses made the identity of 9/11 be termed as an international affair as opposed to its earlier identity, an American tragedy, which excluded other nationalities among the victims (Pettman, 2004).

Moves like this, meant to confuse, internationalize and make the account gendered, relate to the feminist anxieties assumptions held for a long time about the ‘unitary masculine actor’ issue in IR that ‘makes complex state and set of forces turn into a singular male opponent.’ This personification of enemy states makes it simpler to criticize it. It also aids in America’s interpretation into victim/savior, replicating hurdled state identities that squashed associations across and divisions within the different player states. Such constructions encouraged competitive masculinities, which in turn led to masculinity having an advantage in the influential national/alliance mode (Pettman, 2004). Hypermasculinity was a feature of both sides of the war on terror (Carver, 1998). Feminists repelled to the ways that 9/11 and its aftermath benefited the military solution and placed ‘women’ in the war story to support the process. They supported the binary ‘Them vs. Us’ again by stressing the use of women in culture wars that slinked inside the talk of war. They also showed resistance to the impact of responses that were masculinized which advocated for the removal of women as agents of knowledge. This in turn elicited the continual acknowledgment not in our name,’ in case women’s plight/ danger became the reasons for masculinized movement yet again (Pettman, 2004).

International feminists have long analyzed the cycle and cost of violence, and the substantial honor given to hyper-masculinity and entitlement state after 9/11. Those effects were not only felt by aspects of foreign policy associated with Afghanistan and then Iraq, they went beyond. They included emphasizing surveillance and decreased civil liberties all homeland security and increasing intolerance and division within those homelands. Saying ‘no’ was made even dicier, and hard, especially within the United States, by these forms of suppression (Sontag, 2003).

September 2011 did not change the world of feminists. The terror attacks and their aftermath demonstrate vigorously a new and key feminist insight into international diplomacy and conflict. They have started hurdled and binary across the borders’ identity politics, which have seen women and gender play an important role, in depiction and legitimation. Military action has been sanctioned in ways that typified gendered civic distinctions and responsibilities earlier on. There has been a replay of the constant inseparable alliances of patriotism, conflict, and masculinity and has generated competing masculinities and stigmatized femininities. There has also been disruption and damage of the slow uneven moves towards the incorporation of some feminist concepts into international politics and policymaking. Though the rise of the neo-cons in the United States and of religious-inflected fundamentalisms internationally had already sorely tested these moves, leading southern feminist advocacy network DAWN and other transnational feminists to advise against another international women’s conference, lest the gains of the early-mid-90s, already under severe attack, were further undermined (Slatter, 2001). Characteristics of globalization, which were linked to militarization, were highlighted by the war declared on terror. They presented the comeback of the privileged state, which feminists always termed as a gendered state, as the main focus and went further to militarize features of national security, intelligence, and immigration. It was a reminder that preliminary talk about the death of the state had never been applicable to the high politics that IR had for so long (Peterson, 2002).

Terror attacks have not silenced feminists or transnational women’s examination and movement for a more harmonious world. Feminists’ critiques have disclosed that war is artificial and an avoidable part of interstate relations. International and national identities carrying out these atrocities are also evitable. It also unveils that gender has a very important role to play in the making and replicating of identities and war (Pettman, 2004). Feminism comes with its share of challenges and dangers. It has brought about exhaustion resulting from working constantly against the grain, confronting power relations when gender identities are threatened, and being caught in dilemmas embracing women’s rights and relations among women, which could be probably deadly (Pettman, 2004). While the distinction is much addressed in feminism, in terms of distinctions between men/masculinity and women/femininity and mid-women, it is still eruptive and delicate. Often the hard way, international feminists have gained knowledge on power and identity differences between women too, becoming more accurately aware of issues of location, situation, and privilege (Mohanty, 2003). Before, some IR feminists took race, lifestyle, and colonialism into account. Now feminist post-colonial assessments acknowledge the current intensification of ‘cultural reassertions and reactionary political religion (Ling, 2002). Now feminist post-colonial assessments address the current intensification of ‘cultural reassertion and reactionary political religion (Ling, 2002). These assessments emphasize how threatening culture can be to women, mainly in its recent political mobilizations. Now, the emphasis has been put on culture and religion, which are constantly gendered and symbols of identities. Feminists sometimes have difficulties in drawing the line between appreciating differences in culture and not becoming complicit in culture’s uses of women or turning their back on women who are shrewd for women’s rights against national and international antagonism or neutrality. International feminists attempt to implement and support methods of practice past another false binary: ‘civilization’/ western superiority vs. cultural relativism (Ackerly, 2001).

It still seems especially difficult for feminists to be heard, including in IR. The same characteristics of international conflict, including the politics of gender identified by feminists as supporting militarization and state right, have worked versus feminist voices and gender equity (Pettman, 2004). At a time when wars continue to rampage worldwide, militarism growing, injustice spreading across the globe, and terrorist activities not only heightening the level of insecurity, but also erroneous retaliations, women’s aspects, and their efforts to be acknowledged. Feminist scholars and women’s organizations have a lot to voice pertaining to the cycle of brutality, war, accord, and improvement. Their declarations and campaigns, assessments, and suggested solutions need to be disseminated (Moghadam, 2002).

Critical Evaluation

The 9/11 attack led to a search for the supposed terrorists worldwide. The Americans would justify their reason for striking against Afghanistan and Iraq as setting free the oppressed women. Several researchers argue that the war on terrorism has affected the fight for gender equality in a massive way. It has been seen as a setback (Bergström & Ekselius, 2012). The attacks were seen as more than terrorists’ actions. They amounted to a declaration of war on the American people and the whole western democracy according to the then-American President, George Bush. After 9/11, images of the heroes emerged. Praises were sung of men in police and fireman uniforms, while men in military uniforms attended talk shows on TV and analyzed the forthcoming strikes on Iraq and Afghanistan. This marked the rebirth of gender stereotypes, as women were overshadowed. The war was looked at as a male concern. Masculinity was praised and all the expressions of war were full of old cowboy clichés (Bergström & Ekselius, 2012).

Moghadam (2002) argues that feminists depend on the fact that women will be at the forefront of paving the way for peace, conflict resolving, and human rights, and at the same time, these women will be involved actively in liberations struggles. However, a distinction is to be made between legitimate resistance movements, and terrorist organizations or movements that rely on terrorist activities such as the targeting of innocent civilians. For example, even though some of the stated grievances of Osama bin Laden echoed those of legitimate movements and organizations, the atrocities of 9/11 revealed the man and his network for what they were: violent and criminal. In addition, even though Palestinian aspirations for nationhood and dignity were just as legitimate and the Israeli occupation had been brutal, a feminist perspective cannot condone the killing of Israeli civilians by Palestinian organizations or individuals. Whether carried out by Tamil Tigers or Palestinians, suicide bombings cannot be justified as a political tactic. This being the case, feminists all over the world condemn terrorism.

Terrorism results in loss, and grief; those undertaking it should be punished. It calls for urgent refiguring of international politics. After 9/11, feminists recalled Carol Cohn’s, director of the Boston Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights, critical reflection on strategic security language, including how gender discourse affects the quality of thinking and stops thinking. Feminists have since carefully analyzed the debate around 9/11 and the fight against terrorism (Pettman, 2004). Terrorism and its repercussions appear to be a ‘manly thing’ whether it is in terms of committing crimes, rescuing victims, or protecting civilians, which seems normal. For example, after the 9/11 attack, there was a disappearance of women in the violence. Men (hijackers, rescue teams, security officers, and media analysts) filled the media. Substitute this with women and a different scenario develops. Women were not seen as if they had anything to contribute to this attack (Pettman, 2004).

In war situations, conventional gender patterns are strengthened. Women may have been accepted as soldiers in military organizations worldwide but this has not yet brought any gains for gender equality. Women are used as arguments for legitimizing violence and acts of war (Hammer, 2002). To the West, gender equality is a legit argument for invasion. This has resulted in some places being more resistant to gender equality than before the 9/11 attack making the life of local women activists living in these countries hell (Bergström & Ekselius, 2012). There is insufficient knowledge on what influences the fight against terrorism has on women, men, and sexual minorities. The use of gender stereotypes to influence relationships is also absent. According to Bergström and Ekselius (2012), U.S’ increased military commitment, security work and civil-military collaboration to counteract terrorism have engendered a situation of great vulnerability for women and girls. For instance, a rise in trafficking has been recorded. The U.S government is of the opinion that women’s lack of equal rights threatens national security. At the same time, development assistance for women and girls is becoming a lower priority in the U.S, and financial support for organizations working for women’s rights is being cut back. These organizations are still leading in the fight against violent terrorism in their communities even with all these happenings (Bergström & Ekselius, 2012).

In the past, the United States has supported the Taliban against the Soviets and the Northern Alliance forces that have a similar approach to women’s rights. In the Western discussion on the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan, the West had been mentioned numerously insisting on multi-ethnic participation in the (Taliban) government, as a precondition for establishing democratic rule in Afghanistan, but there was never any mention let alone insistence that women of Afghanistan would constitute part of that political process (Nira, 2002). The 2000 UN Security Council Resolution stressed the importance of including women in peace negotiations, and the Bonn Agreement of Afghanistan appealed for the involvement of women. However, only two women were incorporated in the interim administration. At the same time, a meeting of Afghan women in Brussels issued a Proclamation, which called for gender justice across a full range of issues, beyond those usually labeled women’s (Nira, 2002). In Iraq, the number of women appointed to the post-Saddam interim council was as little as three. It was stressed again on the importance of ethnic and regional diversity as issues of representation, but they largely ignored the most general aspect of democratic participation, that of the presence of women of each ethnic, regional, and political grouping. Meanwhile, the brief Allied governments’ courting of Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), a feminist group strongly advocating for women’s rights in Afghanistan and Pakistan, elapsed when they proved ungrateful, political, and critical of both Taliban and other women’s rights abuses in the region, and of U.S led bombing and invasion (Hunt, 2002).

Feminists may have a point when it comes to fighting for equality but have been criticized for going about it the wrong way. Feminism has been used to commit or aid terrorism. For example, Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) is a violent cult located in the Middle East and headed by a feminist by the name of Maryam Rajavi. It has committed atrocities like killing American citizens and carrying out terrorist attacks in the Middle East. Other names given to it are People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) (Price, 2010). Despite the numerous attacks carried out by this group, Maryam Rajavi has secured support from American organizations not to mention the Feminist Majority Foundation (Price, 2010). Maryam has gained the admiration of American feminists over the years. Feminists have been criticized when it comes to matters pertaining to power and wars as having little or no idea at all to do things the right way. They have been termed as destructive and for this reason, feminism may end up failing in the future (Price, 2010).


As a discipline, IR, for a long time, has been the U.S dominated and therefore shaped by US’ strategic and global interests and attention. There is insufficient knowledge on what influences the fight against terrorism has on women, men, and sexual minorities. The use of gender stereotypes to influence relationships is also absent. Terrorism and its repercussions appear to be associated with men only, which seems normal. However, feminists worldwide condemn terrorism. IR feminists often draw on networks and affiliation with other international feminists, and pay attention to women’s voices in transnational forums and circuits, recognizing that these are partial, and situated, including for many of us, only communicating in English. Feminists in IR attempt to listen to voices excluded from IR’s evidence and resources. This brings about feminist responses and other dominant aspects, which lack in mainstream international relations and in terrorism studies, by internationalizing the account.


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