• As per the feminist critique of the state, the political theories are fundamentally male-biased, normative, and androcentric.
  • The relation between politics and gender is contentious, which is further implied in the feminist critique of the state.
  • Feminist view looks at the traditional theories of political philosophy with doubt and distrust.
  • As per the feminist critique of the state, the hegemonic nature of power in a state disempowers and subjugates women in the state, society, culture and politics.
  • In particular, the power centers in a state are institutionally gendered. As a result, the state leads to perpetuate gender inequality and powerlessness of women.
  • “I propose that the state is male in the feminist sense. The law sees and treats women the way men see and treat women.”  – Catherine MacKinnon in her book “Toward a Feminist Theory of the State”, 1989.
  • However, the feminists recognize state as a legitimate entity. Feminists have ambivalent attitude towards the state. On one hand they believe state as an institution of patriarchy, on the other hand, they believe that only state can improve the status of women.
  • There are three main waves of feminism, which are explained in the figure below:


  •  Although earlier writers, including Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Simone de Beauvoir, had offered “a rich description of the variables and locales of sexism,” they had not produced a general theory of state based on sex-based hierarchy.
  • MacKinnon proposes Toward a Feminist Theory of the State as an answer to this perceived problem. MacKinnon takes Marxism as her theory’s central point. She argued that unlike liberal theories, “Marxism confronts organized social and gender dominance in a state.”
  • Perceptions of the state in the feminist discourse have undergone increasing attention since the 1970s along which different waves of feminist movements.
  • The ideological critiques (as a discourse) and changing gender relations and feminist issues have also exerted a greater influence on it.

The concept

  • According to feminist perspective, women constitute a deprived section in all parts of the world. Besides, women often become victims of state violence in many parts of the world. 
  • Feminist perspective is concerned with the two crucial aspects of the nature of the state:
    1. State as an instrument of regulation of the public sphere:
      • State should interfere and check male domination in the private life. The oppression and deprivation begins at home.
      • This continues at the political level. The state has generally been dominated by men.
      • In order to secure justice to woman, the sphere of purely personal relations between man and woman will also have to be regulated by the state.
      • The phrase “the personal is political”, or “The private is political” arose in the second-wave feminism from the late 1960s. It underscored the connections between personal experience and larger social and political structures. 
      • The idea that women being unhappy in their roles as housewives and mothers in homes was seen as a private issue. However, “the personal is political” emphasizes that women’s personal issues (e.g sex, childcare, care providers at home) are all political issues that need political intervention to generate change.
    2. State as an instrument of power:
      • The philosophy of state is power-centric, and the power is often operationalized by the male or his representative structures.
      • With the exclusion of women from power, the state tends to build its strength on military power. It results in mounting tension among nations.
      • Feminists criticize the militarization of nations. They have cited women are peace loving and would have promoted increased cooperation among nations.

Thinkers’ Perspectives

  • Simone de Beauvoir: Beauvoir argued that the state, as a patriarchal institution, perpetuates gender inequality by reinforcing traditional gender roles and norms. She emphasized the need for women’s liberation from these oppressive structures.
  • According to Catherine MacKinnon, ‘Feminism has no theory of the state. It has a theory of power: sexuality is gendered as gender is sexualized.’
    • Feminists study ‘power’. They study ‘patriarchy’ and how patriarchy results into the subordination of woman as well as exploitation. 
    •  “When I look at the state, state appears male to me”.
  • For feminists ‘personal is political’ which shows that state is an instrument of patriarchy. – Kate Millett in ‘Sexual Politics’ (1971). She attempts to redefine politics as “power-structured relationships, arrangements whereby one group of persons is controlled by another.”
  • “Personal is political” –Carole Hanisch
  • Iris Mariam Young has given the concept of differentiated citizenship. It justifies affirmative action by the state in favor of women.
  • Iris Marion Young: Young’s theory of the “politics of difference” highlights the importance of recognizing and valuing diverse experiences and perspectives within the state. She argues that feminist movements should aim for inclusivity and challenge the dominant power structures.
  • Carole Pateman: Pateman’s perspective focuses on the concept of “sexual contract” within the state. She argues that the state’s patriarchal nature is reinforced through the regulation of sexuality and the control of women’s bodies.

Different form of feminism and their view towards state

  • The patriarchal nature of the state is the central theme of feminist critique. It was epochal largely in the second wave feminism, i.e., during the 1970s and continues to come. 
  • There are three basic forms of feminist theories 
    • Liberal feminist theory
    • Social feminist theory
    • Radical feminist theory

Liberal feminist theory

  • It is imbedded in classic liberal theory of the state. 
  • It emphasizes the value of freedom for individuals. Liberal feminists look at the state for this role.
  • They focus mostly to protect equal opportunities for women through legislation.

Socialist feminist theory:

  • It focuses on the economic empowerment of women in a state.
  • It advanced the philosophies of Karl Marx. It became popular in the women’s movement during the 1960s and 1970s.
  • As per socialist feminists, the liberal feminists basically addressed the situation of women of the upper and upper middle classes only. As per them, women are oppressed in all known societies, but the nature of this repression is different because of the different economic realities.
  • Akin to Marxists, socialist feminists viewed capitalism as a major factor in women’s oppression. However, socialist feminists believe that capitalism is only one of the many tangled factors that contribute to women’s oppression. Other factors include male dominance, racism, and imperialism.
  • Socialist feminists accepted the ideologies of radical feminists that gender roles need to be abolished.
  • While they recognize that “biology does play a role in determining personality, anatomy does not limit our capabilities as human beings on an emotional or a physical level”.
    • The concept of gender and sex is different. A Feminists feel gender differentiation is natural but sexual differentiation is artificial and men made.
    • Socialist feminists recommend that patriarchy and capitalism are combined into one system. They consider that we must understand the continuing effects that colonization, imperialism, and racism have on the women of the world.
Emotional labour and the Second shift
  • Arlie Hochschild investigates and portrays the double burden experienced by late-20th-century employed women.
  • Within the workplace, women face challenges of segregation, lower wages, and sexual harassment.
  • At the same time, women provide the emotional labour at home that is ignored and denigrated. Arlie Hochschild calls the it as the “second shift.”  
  • She argues that in the second shift, women give birth, socialize children and care for the sick. They create the area of the home as a retreat for men from the realities of the workplace. 

Radical feminist theory

  • Radical feminists view the state and society is fundamentally patriarchal, in which men dominate and oppress women.
  • Radical feminism calls for a radical reorganisation of society in which male dominance is eliminated in all social and economic contexts.
  • They seek to abolish patriarchy by challenging existing social norms, rather than through a political process. It includes:
    • Challenging the traditional gender roles,
    • Opposing the sexual objectification of women, and
    • Raising public mindfulness about such issues as rape and violence against women.

State feminism

  • It occurs when the state adopts policies that are beneficial to women’s rights and the improvement of women’s lives. – McBride and Mazur 2010.
  • State feminism is a state-supported liberal feminism. The term was coined by Helga Hernes with particular reference to the situation in Norway, which had a tradition of government-supported gender equality policies. – Helga Hernes (1987). “Welfare State and Woman Power: Essays in state feminism”

Applicability or Contemporary relevance

  • The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017: This case study analyzes the amendment to India’s maternity benefit laws, which extended the duration of paid maternity leave. It demonstrates how feminist theory influenced policy changes to address gender disparities in the workplace.
  • The Women’s Reservation Bill: This case study explores the ongoing debate surrounding the Women’s Reservation Bill in India, which seeks to reserve seats for women in legislative bodies. It illustrates the challenges faced in implementing gender quotas and the resistance from patriarchal power structures.
  • Gender-Equal Cabinet: This case study examines Sweden’s achievement of gender parity in its cabinet. It showcases how feminist theory influenced political practices and led to the appointment of an equal number of men and women in ministerial positions.
  • Gender Quotas in Parliament: This case study analyzes Rwanda’s successful implementation of gender quotas, resulting in the highest percentage of women in parliament globally. It demonstrates how feminist theory influenced policy changes to enhance women’s political representation.
  • #MeToo Movement: This case study explores the impact of the #MeToo movement on American politics. It highlights how feminist theory and activism led to a significant shift in public discourse and policy responses to sexual harassment and assault.

Alternative Theories


  • Intersection of Gender and Environment: Eco-feminism explores the interconnectedness of gender and environmental issues. It argues that patriarchal systems contribute to the exploitation and degradation of the environment, as well as the subordination of women. This theory calls for an understanding of the gendered dimensions of environmental problems and the inclusion of women’s perspectives in environmental decision-making.
  • Care Ethics: Eco-feminism emphasizes care ethics, which values interconnectedness, empathy, and responsibility towards nature and other living beings. It challenges the dominant ethic of exploitation and advocates for a more sustainable and nurturing relationship with the environment.
  • Critique of Capitalism: Eco-feminism critiques the capitalist system for its emphasis on profit and growth, which often leads to environmental degradation and social inequalities. It argues for alternative economic models that prioritize sustainability, social justice, and the well-being of both humans and the environment.
  • Women as Environmental Stewards: This theory recognizes the historical and contemporary roles of women as environmental stewards and caretakers. It highlights the knowledge and practices of indigenous and local women in sustainable resource management and calls for their inclusion in environmental decision-making processes.


  • Feminists do not propose any theory of state. Even in the words of its greatest proponents Catherine MacKinnon, ‘Feminism has no theory of the state. It has a theory of power.’
  • Overemphasis on Gender: Critics argue that feminist theory of the state tends to prioritize gender as the primary axis of oppression, neglecting other important factors such as economic inequality or political power dynamics.
  • Essentializing Men: Some critics argue that feminist theory of the state can essentialize men as the oppressors, failing to recognize the ways in which men can also be marginalized or oppressed within patriarchal systems.
  • Lack of Empirical Evidence: Critics argue that feminist theory of the state often relies on anecdotal evidence or personal experiences, rather than rigorous empirical research, which can weaken its claims and generalizability.
  • Overemphasis on the Public Sphere: Some critics argue that feminist theory of the state tends to focus primarily on the public sphere and political institutions, neglecting the importance of private and interpersonal relationships in shaping women’s experiences.
  • Lack of Policy Solutions: Critics argue that feminist theory of the state often falls short in providing concrete policy recommendations or strategies for achieving gender equality, which can limit its practical impact.
  • Lack of Consensus: Some critics argue that feminist theory of the state is fragmented and lacks a unified framework, making it difficult to develop a cohesive and comprehensive understanding of gender and the state.
  • Feminist theory of state does not explain the actual role of state in deprivation of status of women.
  • This theory has descriptions of the state’s treatment of gender difference. However, it has no analysis of the state as gender hierarchy.
  • It is fundamentally based on Marxism and confronts organized social and gender dominance. However, it does not propose any political basis.
  • This theory does not focus on the political aspects. Violence, exploitation, subordination etc. are the central theme of the feminist critic of the state.


  • Although, the feminists do not propose a concrete theory of state, they have presented important components of a modern democratic state. Having foundation upon Marxism, they argue for an egalitarian state for women.
  • Feminist theory is an extension of the general movement to empower women. Feminism can be elaborated as a recognition and critique of male supremacy, which puts efforts to change it.
  • At the same time, the feminists recognize state as a legitimate entity. They believe that only state can improve the status of women.

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