Rodger Shanahan makes two dubious assertions in his post on the ‘forgotten sex’ in international relations (IR). First, that to be commentating and engaging publicly is to be present in the field of IR, and second, to be visible is to be present in the practice of IR. Both these observations are incorrect.
It is true that, due to the dominance of males in foreign policy and IR, and the gendering of issues such as hard power and violence, women do not appear as prominent. Still, the burden of proof should not fall to women to demonstrate our direct public engagement with the field. A cursory glance at the blogosphere and the Twitterverse should leave no doubt as to the presence of female commentators. Just because our presence is not noted on certain fora, does not mean we are unwilling to engage or, worse still, absent.
There are a number of women who regularly blog, comment, exchange, tweet and debate in IR. Most prominently, these include Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former director of Policy Planning for the US State Department and Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter; Australians bloggers and commenters, Leah Farrell (counter terrorism), Sheryn Lee (Southeast Asian politics), Nina Markovic (national affairs), Trish Jha (politics) and Danielle Chubb (North Korea), to name a few; on TV, Aussie journalists and presenters Leigh Sales, the fiesty Virginia Trioli, and Jenny Brockie; on international screens, the indomitable BBC anchor Zeinab Badawi, and countless others at think tanks, NGOs, academia and in the public service.
However, it is more than not looking in the right places to find women. There is a latent issue of discrimination in IR. My blogosphere colleague, Caitlin Fitzgerald, raises the point that our absence can be explained, in part, by the ‘old boys’ feel of foreign policy circles (also, h/t Matthew Hill) which can either be offputting for women or bar involvement. Particularly, in the subfields of international security and defence, this issue persists, and requires serious redress.
Second is Shanahan’s conceptualisation of female participation in the international relations realm. In Shanahan’s view, events such as the Arab Spring have appeared to be a largely male affair. There were countless numbers of women working to achieve change in Arab states. It’s not about looking for as many Amazonian women as you can wielding AK-47s, rolling around in pickup trucks, getting their rebel-ution on. It’s not about taking up a male image of a ruthless, bloodthirsty autocrat that qualifies women as being present. It’s Shanahan’s narrow conceptualisation of “International Relations Woman” and his parameters of reference that merely serve to highlight his idea of their absence.
The point is, we are out there, we are participating, we are commenting, we are engaging publicly but we aren’t always doing it on Shanahan’s terms. As the field of international relations continues to evolve, so too will the markers of presence and participation. So, next time you have something to say about this, Rodger, come and write on my blog. Not the other way around.