Gender has polarised international politics in recent years. As states and international organisations pay increasing attention to gender mainstreaming, or even adopting ‘feminist foreign policies’, there has been a backlash against feminism, with the rise of incels, the Alt-Right and Men’s Rights Movement. The election of populist leaders promising to return the state to ‘traditional’ values and manage security through increasingly coercive measures has seen a ‘feminist spring’ emerge to defend reproductive rights and gender equality. These developments have also been reflected in popular culture, with the popularity of TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale. We appear to be in a period of what Ulf Mellström calls masculinist political revival.
There are many ways we can try to make sense of recent developments. We can examine the rise of populism, the decline of post-war institutions, and the impact of globalisation. But understanding how gender is built into the structure of the global order is crucial for getting a handle on how it affects politics, economics, culture and society at all levels.