Feminist Approaches to the Study of Political Leadership

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While women remain underrepresented in actual leadership, both females and femininity remain neglected in our concepts of leadership and the scholarship which examines it. This chapter begins by pointing out the sex (male) of both actual leaders and ideal-typical understandings of leadership in global politics. Despite these gender disparities in actual leadership, this essay does not focus on how to add more women to the ranks of the world’s leadership. It critiques traditional interpretations of who counts as a leader, what counts as leadership, and how leaders make decisions. After defining “gender,” I argue that the characteristics that we value in leaders in global politics privilege masculine values. Current understandings of leadership largely render women unqualified by default because they focus on male gender and masculine characteristics. Further, I argue that the idea of leadership is in itself gendered, because it assumes a reactively autonomous concept of human decision-making. I then explain that these genderings of the concept of leadership are reflected in most approaches to the study of leadership. The chapter concludes by proposing a feminist alternative framework for thinking about and studying leaders and leadership, based on a feminist framework of relational autonomy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Ashgate Research Companion to Political Leadership
EditorsJoseph Masciulli, Mikhail Molchanov, W. Andy Knight
Place of PublicationAldershot
PublisherAshgate Publishing Ltd
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9781315613406
ISBN (Print)9780754671824
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009


  • gender
  • political leadership
  • leadership
  • feminist IR
  • masculinities
  • femininities

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