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Free Content Feminist critical friends: dilemmas of feminist engagement with governance and gender reform agendas

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This article advances the concept of ‘feminist critical friends’ as a descriptor for those studying the efforts of ‘insider’ gender justice advocates working to transform governance structures and advance gender reform agendas within political, social, economic and military institutions. In refining the concept of feminist critical friendship, we reject perspectives that overstate the failures and ‘co-option’ that comes with engagement, while also resisting voluntarist versions that cede too much influence to feminist insiders. We pay attention to, and take seriously, the small wins that are achieved against the gendered, institutional and political odds, and recognise that sometimes, though not always, these can align to produce significant shifts in the gendered status quo. The article seeks to unpack the who, what, why and how of feminist critical friendship in order to advance this as a productive standpoint for feminist researchers interested in analysing processes of institutional stasis and change.

    Key messages
  • Feminist critical friends – who are they? What do they do? Read about the ‘entangled’ relationship between feminist academics and gender insiders.

  • We offer a productive standpoint for feminist academics wanting to assess those re-gendering political, economic and social institutions.

  • Engaged feminism and critical feminism do not constitute a dichotomy. ‘Critical friends’ can be engaged and critical.
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Keywords: co-optation and resistance; feminist critical friends; feminist institutionalism; global governance; governance feminism; institutional change

Affiliations: 1: University of New South Wales, Australia 2: University of Edinburgh, UK

Appeared or available online: July 10, 2020

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