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  • Gendering the Nation-State: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives
  • Sara Mitchell
Gendering the Nation-State: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives edited by Yasmeen Abu-Laban. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009, 307 pp. Paper $34.95.

Gendering the Nation-State: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives argues that despite the contributions of feminist scholarship, the role of gender in the nation-state is largely downplayed or ignored, particularly in the discipline of political science. Editor Yasmeen Abu-Laban proposes that the lack of attention given to the place of gender in the nation-state is partly attributable to the presumption that we live in a strictly post-national world. Additionally, it is argued that prevalent discourses in academia and politics assume that equality among citizens is either a reality or an unproblematic goal worth striving for. This is said to contribute to the “invisibilization” of gender in the nation-state proper, as well as in our study of it. The stated aim of the book is to demonstrate, using comparative, multidisciplinary, and interdisciplinary approaches, the importance of applying gender analytics to three key features of the nation-state: the nation, state processes, and citizenship. The book is divided into these three themes and reveals how feminist analysis exposes not only disciplinary and theoretical shortcomings, but how the disregard of gender produces very real consequences for the polity and those who are a part of it. The consequences also extend to the private lives of women. The focus is largely on aspects of Canadian politics, with some concentration on international case studies, as well.

Part One focuses on “gender and nation.” All of the section’s three authors compare the spatial and temporal aspects influencing nation-state formation and nationalism(s). When exploring women’s participation in nation-state formation, Vickers finds that as core Western nation-states formed, women were increasingly excluded from the public realm, whereas in anti/post-colonial regions women (and men) at times achieved citizenship rights by participating in anti-colonial nationalist movements. Eichler studies how a shift to a post-Communist, neoliberal economic order encouraged women to fulfill traditional gender roles, although in reality women were not able to leave the workforce as it was not financially viable to do so. Multiple notions of femininity and masculinity are used to construct the nation, but these are often conflictual, as evidenced by the Chechen wars, where militarized masculinity is contested. The section concludes with an analysis of how the reading material distributed to immigrants in Canada and Sweden presents very specific ideas about gender roles in public and private life (Wilton). The section offers insight into how gender is systematically used by states, each operating within their own contexts, to shape the nation.

Facets of critical feminist policy analysis are presented in Part Two, which examines gender and state processes. Scala investigates how Canadian bureaucratic norms and practices—specifically, the preference for quantitative research and separation of researchers from “neutral” policy advisors—stymied women-centred policy research in the case of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies. Although direct discussions of feminist theories of public policy are absent from the book, the authors consistently engage the theory in order to uphold one main premise of the book— that studying gender and the nation-state through feminist lenses enriches the discipline of political science by deepening our understanding of political phenomena. Trimble’s contribution takes aim at the one-dimensional nature of critical mass and proportion theories. She finds that while women’s representation in legislative assemblies in terms of their numbers is important, substantive representation (i.e., actively representing women’s issues) is also required. Sawer’s comparison of Australia and Canada demonstrates that theories translated to practice can have detrimental effects on feminists and equality-seeking groups. She notes the presence of “market populism” in society, which promotes the idea that feminists and other equality seekers, along with liberal “elites,” use ordinary people and their tax dollars to fund special interest agendas. In the final chapter of the section, Chappell explores [End Page 426] agenda setting in the International Criminal Court. Transnational activists fighting for a women-centred agenda were hindered by other transnational actors pursuing their own...


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pp. 426-427
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