Laura McLeod

University of Manchester


Jill Steans Gender and International Relations: Theory, Practice, Policy. Third ed. Polity: London, 2013.

I have the first two editions of Jill Steans’ Gender and International Relations. The first (published 1998), I read as an undergraduate student in the early stages of my BA dissertation research; the second (published 2006) as a PhD student. Each I found useful at those respective moments in my academic life. I wondered what the third edition could possibly offer me that would be different from the first two. I was very pleasantly surprised: Steans has captured superbly the growth of gender and International Relations (IR) in this impressive survey text which lays out the history and diversity of debates in relation to women, gender and sexuality in international relations. That gender scholarship within IR has rapidly grown can be seen with a quick glance at the contents page of the first and current edition. The 1998 edition has just seven chapters compared to the current edition’s ten.

Gender and International Relations is primarily an introductory textbook which is affordably priced for advanced undergraduates and postgraduate students. It would be a useful text for IR theory courses, students doing dissertations related to gender and some aspect of IR, and of course, as a key text for gender and IR specialist courses. The individual chapters dealing with the various issues would be ideal starting points for any lecturer or student wishing to quickly grasp the gender dimension of major concerns in IR.

The book opens with three theoretically inclined chapters exploring gender, feminism and the state. The history of gender within the discipline of IR is covered with some discussion of the distinctions between gender, sex and feminism. Taken together, these chapters are ideal for the frequently occurring ‘week on gender’ that forms many IR theory survey courses. The remaining seven chapters cover the main thematic areas of IR – from human rights, to global governance, to peacekeeping – and Steans skilfully outlines and unpacks the contributions made by gender scholars to these areas. Each chapter is accompanied by questions for reflection, suggested seminar activities, further reading and web resources: making this book a valuable resource for teaching staff. The seminar activities are varied and provide sound guidelines for student preparation in advance of the tutorial. Boxes with examples contextualising the academic information are scattered throughout the text and are useful in allowing the student make sense of the material.

As Steans puts it, earlier editions of this book ‘tended to focus on women in IR’, rather than gender (p.1). In this edition, she makes a deliberate (and successful) attempt to include discussion about gender and sexuality as well as women and feminism. For instance, the chapter on human rights not only looks at women-specific human rights documents like CEDAW and the UN conferences such as Beijing 1995, but also at LGBT rights as human rights. These issues are used to outline theoretical positions about universalism and cultural relativism in relation to women’s and LGBT rights. That Steans manages to distill a complex set of issues and debates in an accessible way without loosing that very sense of complexity is impressive.

Thinking about the growth of gender scholarship within IR highlights how IR scholars are thinking much more critically about the place of the gendered body in relation to politics. The body deemed worthy of detailed consideration is no longer simply seen as the oppressed female victim of violence. Rather, there is a broader understanding of different bodies being the targets of gendered injustice. However, as gender scholars have paid attention to different bodies (and therefore thought about gender in different ways), concerns have been raised that not enough attention is being paid to the patriarchal structures that affect the female body. The beauty of this text is that Stean does not directly address these questions. Rather, she enables space for students to reflect and consider these questions through her demonstration of the complexity of the field, and the everyday examples scattered throughout the book.

The field of gender and IR has not only grown in terms of how the gendered body is conceptualized, but also (and relatedly) in terms of how gender is analyzed. Possibly the most significant movement in gender and IR in the past decade has been the increasing attention paid to narrative and representation. To this end, Steans has included a chapter on ‘Telling Stories’ which not only outlines the apparent ‘linguistic turn’ in IR but also how the War on Terror has been scripted in a gendered way alongside visual representations of gender in photographs and popular culture. These considerations are useful in provoking thought about how gender is everywhere, and to reflect upon gender as a set of power relations affecting political processes and practice. Apart from this chapter, there is very little on feminist methodology in this book (and, nor does Steans aim to offer methodological deliberations), and so those wishing to delve into methodological debates are advised to turn to Feminist Methodologies for International Relations (ed. Ackerly, Stern and True. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2006).

I only have one – very small – niggle with this book. It seems that Steans attempted to develop textbox examples throughout called “One Day in November” to contextualize the textual discussion. It would have been nice if this idea had been further developed – with more examples throughout the book and some deliberate discussion of this strategy in the introduction. It strikes to me that focusing on “One Day in November” has the possibly of showing both the complexity and everydayness of gender dynamics and gender violence globally.  That said, this book provides an excellent and accessible survey of an increasingly complex field, outlining and contextualizing the debates in a way that is sure to provide students and lecturers with the tools needed for deeper exploration of the issues.


Laura McLeod has worked at the University of Manchester since January 2011. Since August 2012 she has worked as a Research Associate on an ERC-funded project, ‘Understanding Institutional Change: A Gender Perspective. Between January 2011 and July 2012 she worked as Lecturer in International Politics.  She completed her PhD thesis ‘Gender Politics and Security Discourse: Feminist and Women’s Organising in “Post-conflict” Serbia’ at the University of Sheffield in March 2011. Laura is currently co-convener of the School of Social Sciences Gender Research Network (with Dr. Helen Norman: Sociology) and the convener of the British International Studies Association’s Gendering International Relations Working Group (GIRWG). Her teaching interests include gender in politics and international relations, International Relations theory, security studies, human rights, war, peace and post-conflict studies.


Please link to my research project website –