Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 14:21 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 14:21 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Where are the Interpreter women?


Sam Roggeveen


This post is part of the Women in international relations debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

19 May 2009 12:32

This post is part of the Women in international relations debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Sally Wilkinson writes (my thoughts follow):

On the weekend I was reading a few articles on The Interpreter. I was immediately struck by the banner. It has a photo of four men. Granted, the photo depicts very influential 20th century figures. But it also emanates an unfortunate symbolism. Seeing the photo tapped into my ongoing frustration at the fact that the majority of our public policy (and political) discourse is dominated and shaped by men.

So I proceeded to investigate the make-up of Lowy. Only four out of 26 bloggers are women; and one out of twelve board members. There is, unfortunately, nothing particularly unusual in that. I am not suggesting that your organisation is especially 'bad' or unique in this respect. Sadly, it is not. Your organisation is one of thousands to which I could be expressing similar thoughts.
The Lowy Institute purports to generate new policy ideas and dialogue. This in itself is desirable. But yours are (largely) the policy ideas of Anglo-Saxon men. The ideas and views of Anglo-Saxon men need to be debated alongside the views of other social groups. I am focussing here on women. But there are, of course, many others. Don't you think your ideas would be more credible if they stemmed from more diverse sources? Do you think Anglo-Saxon men have the capacity to create policy to effectively serve, appeal to and reflect the priorities of all of society? If you do, I think your organisation is narrow-minded. If you don't, why don't you make an effort to recruit more female bloggers and/or board members? There are hoards of highly intelligent women in business and academia (I could direct you to some absolute gems from my former law school, for starters) who have skills and interests that are entirely relevant to international policy development.
Of course, women have the option to take part in the discussions that your bloggers promote and comment on ideas that they generate. But this isn't enough. Women — lots more of them — need to be planting the seeds of discussion. They need to be part of framing the dialogue. I'm sure that greater female involvement would give rise to better decision-making and public debate. I'm sure most women would agree with me. And probably — hopefully — lots of men as well. We need a structural shift.
Maybe your organisation could think about what I have written. Consider it. Because it is very important. And if you do sweep it aside, you will merely be cementing the imagery in that photo.

First, I would like to have more women writing for The Interpreter, and I make an effort to recruit them; Sally should note that there are more women amoung our guest bloggers. 

Second, in my observation, there's a gender imbalance in the broad international relations field, which skews the field I have to recruit from.

Third, I take personal issue with the 'Anglo-Saxon' characterisation, and I reckon Anthony Bubalo might too!

Fourth (and less tongue in cheek), I think the endless segregation into gender and ethnic groups is a little self-defeating and ultimately illiberal. My preferred approach (and that of the Lowy Institute) is to encourage a diversity of opinion. A fair survey of the output of this blog would surely put paid to any suggestion it is 'narrow minded', whatever the mix of surnames and genders.

Last, I would question the claim that 'greater female involvement would give rise to better decision-making and public debate'. It might, though only if these women were well credentialed to comment on the issues that interest The Interpreter. But in and of itself, being a woman is no more of a qualification for commenting on international affairs than is being a man.