Governance Feminism

The forthcoming title Governance Feminism: An Introduction by Janet Halley is due for release in March 2018. The book surveys the reach of feminism into social institutions and government. From the Amazon blurb:

Feminists walk the halls of power. Governance Feminism: An Introduction shows how some feminists and feminist ideas—but by no means all—have entered into state and state-like power in recent years. Being a feminist can qualify you for a job in the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Criminal Court, the local prosecutor’s office, or the child welfare bureaucracy. Feminists have built institutions and participate in governance.

The authors argue that governance feminism is institutionally diverse and globally distributed. It emerges from grassroots activism as well as statutes and treaties, as crime control and as immanent bureaucracy. Conflicts among feminists—global North and South; left, center, and right—emerge as struggles over governance. This volume collects examples from the United States, Israel, India, and from transnational human rights law.

Governance feminism poses new challenges for feminists: How shall we assess our successes and failures? What responsibility do we shoulder for the outcomes of our work? For the compromises and strange bedfellows we took on along the way?

Can feminism foster a critique of its own successes? This volume offers a pathway to critical engagement with these pressing and significant questions.

In her previous book Split Decisions: How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism (2008) Halley provided this overview of Governance Feminism:

If you look around the United States, Canada, the European Union, the human rights establishment, even the World Bank, you see plenty of places where feminism, far from operating from underground, is running things. Sex harassment, child sexual abuse, pornography, sexual violence, anti prostitution and anti-trafficking regimes, prosecutable marital rape, rape shield rules: these feminist justice projects have moved off the street and into the state. In family law alone, feminism has scored numerous victories that prefer the wife to the husband and the mother to the father: the presumption that young children must spend substantial time with their mothers, the rise of alimony, the shift in common-law-property states to equitable division of property upon divorce, the replacement of “cruelty” with “domestic violence” as a fault grounds for divorce, the revitalization of intimate torts like alienation of affections, criminal conversation, and seduction as women’s lawsuits.

It would be a mistake to think that governance issues only from that combination of courts, legislatures, and police which constitutes the everyday image of “the state.” Employers, schools, health care institutions, and a whole range of entities, often formally “private,” govern too—and feminism has substantial parts of them under its control. Just think of the tremendous effort that U.S. employers and schools must devote to the regulation of sexual conduct at work, through sexual harassment policies that have produced a sexual harassment bureaucracy with its own cadre of professionals and its own legal character. And many feminist policy campaigns take power in the form of ideological shifts within state and nonstate entities that don’t turn explicitly on m/f. Consider, as a possible example, that one result of feminist rape activism is the elevation of child sexual abuse as a serious enforcement priority complete with “zero tolerance” enforcement attitudes; other kinds of child neglect and abuse, other kinds of adult/adult interpersonal violence, lack the charisma of the sexual offenses. They fall into the background. And this is an effect of governance feminism.

Feminists have learned how to participate in what is often called “the new governance.” Ask any group of U.S. Women’s Studies majors what they intend to do with their degree: many

will say that they intend to “work in an NGO.” Global governance and local governance are often done through informal, opaque, ideologically committed “nongovernmental organizations” that strategize hard—sometimes successfully—to become indispensable when major new fluidities in formal power emerge. A classic example is the highly effective feminist activism aimed at the ad hoc criminal courts formed by the United Nations to prosecute war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia: feminist and legal players have written that this effort substantially changed the rules. By positing themselves as experts on women, sexuality, motherhood, and so on, feminists walk the halls of power.

And feminism exerts itself in the culture wars as a real force to be contended with. It has convinced lots of men that the “new man” must defer to feminism on questions relating to women’s welfare in sex and reproduction. In the United States, the only left-of-center locales where male masculinity is worshiped anymore are gay and male. The Vatican has noticed the cultural diffusion of feminist consciousness and is worried: its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, presided over by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (since installed as Pope Benedict XVI), has issued an important dogmatic letter specifically to refute feminism, complete with a concentrated attack on the ideas that biological sex and cultural gender are distinct and independently variable, and that foundational biological difference between m and f should not be a source of social norms. That is to say, the current pope has devoted a substantial portion of his time to refuting feminism. He takes Butler’s Gender Trouble seriously as a political danger. A battle for hearts and minds is under way, and feminism is one of the contenders.

In some important senses, then, feminism rules. Governance feminism.

Not only that, it wants to rule. It has a will to power. And not only that, it has a will to power—and it has actual power—that extends from the White House and the corporate boardroom through to the minute power dynamics that Foucault included in his theory of the governance of the self. Feminism may face powers greater than its own in its constant involvement with its opponents; but it deals with them in the very terms of power.

For readers not yet familiar with feminism’s long march through the institutions of power this book may come as a surprise, especially on the heels of rhetoric declaring feminism’s ‘lack of voice’ and ‘powerlessness’ in the halls of law, education, government and society. For those readers already familiar with feminism’s reach, this volume will bring you some of the finer details of the movement’s power gains.

See also: Feminism: And The Creation of a Female Aristocracy