Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 13:06 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 13:06 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Women and the commentariat

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

31 August 2011 15:20

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

Jennifer Bennett writes:

It's hard to explain how I felt when I read Rodger Shanahan's blog post, 'Women and the Commentariat', on Tuesday, but I suppose we will stick with a mixture of exasperation and amusement, with a dash of 'No really good sir, have you been living under a rock?'.

Mr Shanahan has two central points: that there aren't enough women writing about matters of security (he posits a few ideas but appears to conclude it's because we poor delicate dears don't like commenting in public) and that there aren't enough women involved in the Arab Spring to write about.

What an unbelievable load of garbage. Let's start with point one: Where are all the lady security commentators? he asks. Could it be that there are fewer women in the field? Is it because female voices are discriminated against when the media goes to someone for a comment?

Both of these things seem reasonable to me — a female with a masters degree in international security who works in the media — but it seems that Mr Shanahan ditches these in favour of another suggestion: we just don't like speaking up in public! It seems he wrote a blog post on a similar topic last year and because no other women responded to his post with their own, this means we don't like public discussion!

No inequality in the sector, no no, and no imbalance in the voice represented by the media. It's not the recent of involvement of people with two X chromosomes in a world traditionally dominated by those with one that's keeping the discussion on the blokey side. Women are just shy and retiring types who, in Mr Shanahan's own words, prefer 'intimate modes of communication'. Well that's excellent. I shall put down my copy of Pape's The Strategic Logic of Suicide Bombing and start working on my needlepoint depicting the storming of Normandy then.

I'm sorry, is the Lowy Institute blog being posted from the 1890s this week? Or is it that Mr Shanahan only regards a blog post as a legitimate form of commentary? I don't even really understand how he drew the conclusion that a few emails meant that chicks don't like to argue in public. I'm not going to write a blog post on this (although if you like I'll link to it on my Tumblr ooh how 21st century and confrontational of me! That must mean I really mean it!).

If Lowy (or Mr Shanahan) are so worried about the paucity of female voices in their publications and public events, why don't they put out a call for women contributors and speakers? Hey, the next time you want a few snarky hundred words on the Southern Thailand insurgency or Southeast Asian terrorism, give me a call, I've got a degree in it. Why don't you hire more women if you want more. Don't say, oh, 'we wring our hands about in at lunch'. Go hire some.

If you suggest there are none, I shall scream. At the end of June, I completed my Masters of International Security at the University of Sydney. My research supervisor was Dr Sarah Phillips — if you can't contact her right now it's because she's in Yemen. Yes. That Yemen. The one where things go 'boom' a lot. 'She is currently looking at political and security developments in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the Horn of Africa, and the relationship between tribes and militant jihadi networks in fragile states'. That's directly from her bio on the USYD website.

Who else is there at USYD? Oh, well there's Professor Leanne Piggott, who I guess you may have heard of at some point. I believe she knows a bit about the Middle East. Monika Barthwal-Datta is good on food security. Elsina Wainright does statebuilding and fragile states. That's four women at one institution off the top of my head. I find it unlikely that they are the only ones in the country. Claims that there are no women writing about security are lazy and insulting to those who are and there is absolutely no excuse for making them.

Onto Mr Shanahan's second point, which was a little vague, so I thought I'd just quote the offending paragraph in full and go from there:

I am going to write another series of posts about women in international relations. I would like to again concentrate on Middle Eastern issues, but the disturbing lack of any ruthless, bloodthirsty female autocrats trying to hold onto power in the region makes it a somewhat difficult task. Sure, there are examples such as the female Libyan television presenter Hala Misrati, who made an impassioned and fully armed defence of the Qhadhafi regime on live television. But for the most part, stories about the Arab Spring have been male affairs.

This, surely is some sort of absurd joke. Mr Shanahan presumably recognises that the autocrats themselves are only a small part of the Arab Spring story; it is the revolutionaries themselves who are generating most of the stories. If only there were some high profile women involved in some of these countries...oh, like Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian dictator? The one who has fled to London, and was earlier this year the subject of a gushing profile in Vogue? You mean like that?

Or maybe he meant women on the ground who have been involved in the various uprisings? I guess there aren't any. Everyone knows women in the Middle East — particularly Muslim women — are even more shy and retiring than their Western counterparts, and I mean they've got those head scarves and everything so they're seriously oppressed. Yes? I can't think of anyone whose work you could link to or discuss or oops is that Mona Eltahawy I see on the horizon?

Oh no is this a Guardian article about how women have emerged as 'key players' in the Arab Spring (complete with oppressed ladies in niqabs)? Here's a Nation article that says they've been at the forefront of protests! Le Monde: 'Arab Spring: The Female Factor'

Do you know how I found those articles? I googled 'Women Arab Spring'. I am in no way, shape or form a Middle East expert, yet I — unlike Mr Shanahan, whose bio suggests he is — was able to find these things in about five seconds. Mainly because I had already read a few articles along the same lines. I knew they were out there because I had been paying attention.

And so Mr Shanahan ends:

Still, in my white, middle-aged male kind of way I will attempt to fulfil this undertaking. I would welcome public comments from women who are unafraid to be published on the blog as to why women appear to be the forgotten sex when it comes to international relations commentary.

Look at that, I fulfilled it for him with my amazing powers of Google! It is very kind of Mr Shanahan to provide me — a delicate shimmering flower of Australian womanhood who prefers more intimate discussions — with an opportunity to be published on his blog. 'Forgotten sex' is right though. Forgotten by him.