Féminisme Et Droit International : Le « Féminisme De Gouvernance » À L’Épreuve Du « Féminisme Critique » (Feminism and International Law: 'Governance Feminism' Put to the Test of 'Critical Feminism')

30 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2015

See all articles by Frederic Megret

Frederic Megret

McGill University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: July 27, 2015


French Abstract: Ce chapitre fait suive au lancement en 2014 du réseau Olympe sur les approches féministes du droit international et doit paraître dans un ouvrage collectif sur le féminisme et le droit international. Le chapitre tente de dresser un portrait de la sensibilité que l'on pourrait qualifier de "féministe critique" ou "féministe révisionniste" en droit international, laquelle existe principalement en langue anglaise. Il prend pour point de départ l'ambivalence de certaines féministes par rapport au "succès" de la cause des femmes en droit international et souligne plus particulièrement trois grands dangers contre lesquels le féminisme critique met en garde.

La peur est tout d'abord qu'à force d'investissement dans les outils du droit international, les activistes des droits des femmes en viennent à oublier le potentiel critique de la pensée féministe, se condamnant ainsi à une reproduction des catégories. Elle est ensuite que le féminisme libéral passe à côté de ses effets pervers culturels et symboliques et qu'à travers une économie discursive biaisée en aboutisse à une représentation de la femme comme victime passive par excellence, ou enjeux de luttes entre groupes qui la dépassent (par exemple, le viol comme forme de génocide). Elle est enfin que le féminisme se prête, à force de cooptation, à des jeux de récupération et d'instrumentalisation, dans la lignée du féminisme impérial, légitimant profondément certaines institutions (par exemple, le Conseil de sécurité) mais aussi l'usage de la violence ou de l'incarcération.

Le chapitre conclut avec certaines pistes plus radicales que le féminisme critique explore depuis quelques années dont l'attention aux femmes comme "agents" capables de tromper les stéréotypes et d'apporter la contestation au droit international, la complexification du féminisme par une attention à l'ensemble des sujets genrés dont les minorités sexuelles mais aussi les hommes, et enfin le besoin d'une décolonisation du féminisme internationaliste et d'une redécouverte de la manière dont c'est souvent le droit international lui-même qui reproduit la domination masculine.

English Abstract: This chapter (in French) came out of the launch of a francophone network on feminist approaches to international law. It will eventually appear in a collection on feminism and international law. The chapter seeks to chart the rise of a particular current of feminist writings on international law that might be dubbed as "critical" or "revisionist". The focus is on the fairly large anglophone literature, and is imagined as a form of broad introduction to a francophone readership. A fairly extensive abstract in English is included for the benefit of non-francophone readers.

Its starting point is the paradox of a movement that has on one level been very successful yet on another level has persistent qualms about its exercise of power and the tradeoffs involved in engaging with international law, and is critical of what is sometimes described as "governance feminism". The resulting anxieties are traced to international law's capacity for resistance to change, but also theoretical mutations within feminism itself, the move to a "third wave", and the salient critiques of both "black feminism"/TWAIL, and LGBT queer critiques of "global sisterhood". The chapter identifies three principal concerns that are shared by authors writing within that broad sensitivity.

First, critical feminists are concerned with the danger of reproduction and the status quo. The difference between what might be broadly termed "womens' movements" and feminist theory is highlighted in an effort to show that international law's concern for women cannot be easily equated with a recognition of some of the more radical interventions of feminist theory. The suspicion is that in "employing the master's tools to dismantle the master's house," first wave international feminism focused on inclusion and participation forfeited its ability to fundamentally challenge international law. The attendant successes (e.g.: more women in international institutions) must perforce remain limited, because they fail in problematizing what exactly it is that women want to participate in. Categories such as "human rights", "transitional justice" or "peacekeeping" or even "sovereignty" and "international law" are precisely what second generation feminists sought to problematize through notions such as structural bias. Critical feminists are typically wary of the ability to transcend international law's andro-centric character through deconstruction of its biases, because of their attention to the practical and symbolic perils of engagement with the law.

Second, critical feminists are concerned about the danger of mis-representation and reinscription in a context where international law is portrayed as a "mode of knowledge" (in particular, a way of "knowing" women). Where liberal feminists think (not unlike international lawyers in general) in terms of effectivity, critical feminists are much more concerned with a global cultural and symbolic economy of legal representation. The fear is that precisely bringing women out of their "invisibility" will be done in ways which, to be efficient, must concede (or at least always do) some ground to gender stereotypification. The obvious example of this is the idea that women are represented as quintessential victims and, moreover, that the ultimate victims are women of "the South". This sort of work has given rise to significant research on the potential symbolic fallout of focusing on rape in armed conflict, on the criminalization of human trafficking or on the production of an iconography of female suffering in the context of humanitarian intervention or peacekeeping. These then provide the basis for what some feminists have described as a "protection racket" one in which security is provided by men all the more gladly that women are willing to endorse the victim scripts that have been written for them (be it by part of the women's movement). For critical feminists, "positive" portrayal of women (e.g.: women as "natural peace makers"), even if more benign, is a remedy that is worse than the ill to the extent that it reproduces gender essentialization. Finally, the focus on sexual violence as less a symptom of patriarchy than as a tool of between-group aggression ("rape as genocide") is faulted for taking attention away from ordinary rape and for further entrenching some international law's civilizational stereotypes.

Third, critical feminism is concerned with the danger of cooptation and instrumentalization. In order to force reform within international law circles, the women's movement has engaged strongly with international institutions. Yet in many ways this encounter was unforced and in a sense welcomed by the discipline of international law. The chapter evokes international law's long held preoccupation with "women" as part of its imperial constitution, including early feminist movements flirting with the notion of a "white woman's burden". Imperial feminism is thus alive and well in international law today, where it structures, for example, the dominant approach to humanitarian intervention. It is also evident in the increasingly repressive turn in international law, illustrated by the rise of international criminal law, influenced by notions of "carceral feminism". The fear is that feminists will end up reinforcing international law's centre of powers, whether they be the Security Council or the US hegemon, by providing legitimacy to some of their gendered crusades.

The conclusion charts some radical strategies that are currently explored to renew feminism's promise in international law including (i) a greater focus on the agency of women, including in situations where structural feminism would exclude the very possibility of free will, in ways that show the broad spectrum of roles that women can endorse and their ability to challenge rather than simply reinforce the established paternalistic order, (ii) an expansion of feminism's categories of thought beyond "women" to encompass all gendered subjects including men and a resulting problematization of masculinities as the great "unthought" of feminist scholarship, in ways that might precipitate new and productive alliances, and (iii) a thorough self-critique and decolonization of feminism thought and practice through an emphasis on intersectionality, a move away from the at times exclusive critique of the confessional/cultural sphere and a renewed attention to the way in which violence and discrimination against women is a product of international law's dominant categories

Note: Downloadable document is in French.

Suggested Citation

Mégret, Frédéric, Féminisme Et Droit International : Le « Féminisme De Gouvernance » À L’Épreuve Du « Féminisme Critique » (Feminism and International Law: 'Governance Feminism' Put to the Test of 'Critical Feminism') (July 27, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2636364 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2636364

Frédéric Mégret (Contact Author)

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec

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