Detraz, Nicole, Polity Press

By Louise Rigby

Detraz offers a compelling account of gender and security, covering a broad range of security issues through a “gender lens”. It is a comprehensive introduction to feminist security studies that gives a persuasive account of how a gender approach can expand and deepen our understanding of security. Detraz’s work contributes to a burgeoning field of feminist security studies which has built on the work of gender and International Relations scholars such as Spike Peterson, Cohn and Enloe. It is one of a small number of recently published books that seek to establish, introduce and make the case for feminist security studies, which includes Shepherd’s (2012) Gender Matters in Security Studies, and Tickner and Sjoberg’s edited collection Feminism and International Relations. Detraz herself also locates the book within a wider movement of critical security studies which covers a broad range of perspectives that have emerged in the field to challenge traditional accounts of security.

Detraz begins her inquiry with the usual founding question of Gender and International Relations: “Where are the women?” She then expands upon this to show not only how men and women experience security in different ways, but also how assumptions and discourses of masculinity and femininity are used and created in security issues. In doing so she deftly treads the line between considering how masculinity and femininity operate in security, whilst emphasizing the constructed and contingent nature of masculinity and femininity. A key strength in the book is the way Detraz captures the multiple approaches and perspectives within feminist security studies, and how she alerts the reader to the conflicts and controversies therein.

Each chapter then examines a particular security issue through a gender lens: militarization and militarism; peacekeeping and peace building; terrorism; human security; and lastly, environmental security. Whilst these divisions are to some extent artificial – indeed, Detraz notes the similarities and interconnections between the topics –  the structure of the book enables a clear and concise review of contemporary issues in security. All of these topics are linked back to an idea of emancipation, inspired by Booth’s recognition (quoted on page 17) that “security and emancipation are two sides of the same coin”. This link not only provides further structure, but it also enables Detraz to emphasize the normative and feminist commitments that she is encouraging scholars to work towards.

The first chapter is an overview of how militarism is gendered. It summarises the key works on what is a well researched topic, both in terms of the construction of military masculinity and the gendered consequences this has, which include the silencing of non-military voices, rape, misconduct and abuse. This provides a necessary starting point for Detraz to add to and complicate this account in subsequent chapters. In her second chapter, she demonstrates how peace building and peacekeeping also rely upon gender roles, particularly the idea of the masculine protector, and warns us of the potential for discourses and efforts of peacekeeping to enable militarisation in a different form. This chapter ends with an extensive investigation into the United Nations’ approach to peace building and gender mainstreaming, and Detraz draws out both the progress that has been made, as well as the ongoing challenges to gender mainstreaming, given that women are still associated with victimhood. This is typical of her nuanced and even handed assessments. In the third chapter on terrorism, she considers how the female terrorist has been depicted as the exception, asking how gendered constructions within governments and terrorist organizations contribute to this. She then moves on to consider how gender has been used to legitimise the war on terror. She uses the well-worn examples of Abu Ghraib, Lyndie England and the rescue of Jessica Lynch to show how gendered ideas of militarism, and a gendered othering of the enemy, worked in war on terror discourses.

The fourth chapter is distinct from the rest of the book in that it examines a concept of human security which is theoretical, rather than a ‘real world’ security issue. In this chapter, Detraz argues for the use of a gendered concept of human security to shift away from a state centric approach to security studies. This chapter is less of a summary of accounts and more of an argument. Though she recognises the politics of securitizing issues, she makes the case that if human security was taken seriously it would not look like militarism and would contain emancipation as a necessary step to achieving human security.  Her final chapter then returns to a timely issue in security studies, environmental security studies. It is this chapter that is the most novel contribution in the book, because, as Detraz notes, there has been little work done that links the environment with security and gender. She argues that a feminist contribution to environmental security need not be based in an identity politics that associates women with nature, but instead that looking at environmental security through a gender lens can alert us to differently experienced vulnerabilities, as well as the chance to address silences in the climate change debate that has so far excluded women.

The book draws together feminist security studies to give a clear account of how and why gender is important to security studies. However, despite Detraz’s call for security studies to be less state centric, there is still a focus on the high politics of states and international politics. She also uses many of the problematic conventions of security studies, such as referring to states as single actors. I would have liked to see a greater focus upon the feminized and marginalised areas of security studies, the micro level, the interpersonal and the everyday to accompany the more traditional objects of security studies she engages in. Detraz (page 17) clearly states that her aim is to change policy: “I want to show that this broadened sphere of analysis offers a more holistic understanding of security that reflects a reflexive scholarship and benefits the process of policy making.” This approach is again state centric and misses the power to challenge and change security from the bottom up. In the words of Enloe (1996: 186), “It is the micro level acts, decisions and actors that contribute to the world of international relations and that hold the power to create, destabilise and challenge policy”.

Furthermore, although Detraz stresses the difference between men and women as sexed bodies, and gender as a construction, there is sometimes a slippage into associating a curiosity about gender with a consideration of women. This is particularly noticeable in the chapters on terrorism, where it is women terrorists who become the main area of study. It is also apparent in the chapter on environmental security where a gendered approach is about recognising the impacts on men and women, and particularly about including women’s voices in the debate.

These limitations, though, are born out of the academic context of this book. Detraz firmly locates herself within security studies, and for this reason, she takes on many of the field’s conventions, and focuses upon areas that are prioritised within security studies at the moment. The objects of security studies have long been states and governments and so Detraz has to engage in topics in these terms. What is more, the emphasis on women is an inevitable first step in an academic field where they have been so marginalised.

This book is not only useful to students of security studies, but has something to offer security studies scholars and gender scholars more widely .In fact, it should be a key text for students of security studies so that they understand that gender is not a variable that can be added in to security studies, but instead that a gender lens can help to understand security issues more fully. The book also puts forward a challenge to security studies researchers to question key concepts in security studies, and to explore new research agendas that can move us towards emancipation. Finally, it is a powerful introduction for gender scholars to understand how security discourses not only use, but also create, particular constructions of gender.

Enloe, C. 1996. Margins, silences and bottom rungs: how to overcome the underestimation of power in the study of international relations. International Theory: Positivism and Beyond, pp.186-202.

Shepherd, L. J. (2010). Gender matters in global politics: a feminist introduction to international relations. Taylor & Francis: London.

Tickner, J. A., & Sjoberg, L. (Eds.). (2011). Feminism and International Relations: Conversations about the Past, Present and Future. Routledge: London and New York.

Louise Rigby is an ESRC funded PhD candidate at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies at Leeds University where I am researching how race, gender and terrorism interact in popular culture. I hold an MA in Gender Research from Leeds University, an MSc in Gender and International Relations from Bristol University and an MA (Cantab) in Social Political Science from Cambridge University.