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Reader ripostes: Women and the commentariat

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This post is part of the Women and the foreign policy commentariat debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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1 September 2011 13:53


This post is part of the Women and the foreign policy commentariat debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Please check out Security Scholar for their coverage of this debate, and see below for two reader responses, from Tim Dunlop and first, Jocelyn Woodley from the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington:

I'd like to thank Rodger Shanahan for re-introducing a perplexing topic and add my support to Susannah Patton's comments. Go to any seminar on international relations and you're likely to find most of the presenters and questioners will be male. The audience may show a more even male/female split, but it tends to be the male voices that you hear. 

There will be a range of reasons for that and it's a big ask to comment on the behaviour of an entire gender. But two possible reasons for the low profile of women in the international relations commentariat would be lack of time, or the constraint imposed by the type of jobs taken up by women with international relations degrees. 

My impression is that women in the audience at conferences on international relations are likely to be younger or around retirement age, rather than in mid- or senior career levels. I think there's a correlation with those career levels, age and women's responsibilities for looking after children. It's pretty hard keeping up with the literature and developing well-thought-through opinions when one's attention is so divided. 

A lot of younger women are studying international security – classes here often have more women than men. But perhaps they tend to go on to jobs in government, which might be more flexible than academic careers. Working in government restricts your ability to make public comment. Others go on to work in civil society – and in conferences on aid effectiveness, you'll find as many vocal women as men.

But there must be some disincentives at work restricting the likelihood that women will work in international relations departments. A quick glance at my local university international relations school shows fewer than a quarter of the lecturers are women.

Tim Dunlop:

I am a big fan of the site and of Sam's, but I was disappointed in Sam's response to Jen Bennett. I think Sam underestimates terribly the anger and frustration that some women feel when reading pieces like that by Rodger Shanahan. I agree with Sam that some of Jen's criticism was misplaced, but I must admit I had a similar reaction to hers on reading his piece. There is something terribly condescending in the way he presented his concerns and it is the sort of condescension professional women have to deal with too often. 

His representation of women as frightened ('I would welcome public comments from women who are unafraid to be published on the blog'), and his positioning himself as their champion ('Still, in my white, middle-aged male kind of way I will attempt to fulfil this undertaking') is precisely the sort of casual sexism that men too often get away with unchallenged.  I can accept that his comments were probably well-meaning, but his good intentions in that regard do not excuse the unexamined sexism apparent in the way he positioned women commentators and himself in regard to them. 

The fact that Sam was more offended by the angry tone of Jen's response than by the polite condescension in Rodger's piece is unfortunate. Instead of reacting like a scold to Jen's response and making cheap cracks about her 'playing to her Twitter gallery', it might be better to try and understand her anger. 

Let me just say again, I'm a big fan of Sam's and of the site. What's more, I do not have a dog in this fight as I don't know -- beyond what they have written here -- either Jen or Rodger. But I do sympathise with Jen's anger and I think Rodger, despite obvious good intentions, badly misfired in the published piece.

 

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