Saturday 28 Mar 2020 | 20:58 | SYDNEY
Saturday 28 Mar 2020 | 20:58 | 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.

7 September 2011 15:19

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

Alison Broinowski writes:

It is interesting to see that, as The Interpreter's debate progresses, it is morphing from 'women in international relations' into 'women in strategic policy'. In Australia the two camps are divided by a glass curtain, with more young women in one nowadays, and more men of all ages, as always, in the other. Human rights, development, peace and culture one one side, wars and intelligence on the other. This also appears in the foreign affairs areas of government, universities, and think tanks. 

A similar apartheid used to apply in politics, the church, the media, medicine, law, science, and business too, and to some extent it still does. Men's clubs don't readily break ranks unless forced to by law or the economic bottom line. They always find reasons not to: such as 'the good women just don't come forward', or 'the hours we work don't suit women', or (if they're honest) 'women would change everything and we like it the way it is'.

Sam asks how to attract women to the blog. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Change your caption pic to something less gender-exclusive.
  • Make it transparently clear how one gets to become a blogger or a guest blogger, as distinct from a reader riposter.
  • Try to look less like an in-house conversation with each other.
  • If you invite women to speak out, don't form defensive ranks around the blokes when they do. They can look after themselves.
  • Be alert for words that sound like anti-female dog-whistle: shrill, strident, hysterical, hostile, humourless, high dudgeon, forgotten sex. There are plenty of non-loaded alternatives to use.
  • For a trial period at least, include as many items in each blog by women as men, even if you have to invite them.

On the more general question raised initially by Rodger Shanahan about the paucity of women as public commentators, may I share my experience? I have written or edited ten books on aspects of international relations, as well as many articles for journals and newspapers, but I find it next to impossible to place an op-ed in a mainstream newspaper now.

Late last year I proposed to the press a series of articles by several authors leading up to Australia's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, a timely topic, and one that much of the media continue to neglect, but without success. It may be me, but if so the question remains: why don't we see articles by plenty of other women whose views on international relations would make a refreshing change from the predictable views of regular columnists?

I can remember a time when women were not allowed to read the radio news because broadcasters thought they didn't sound authoritative. Perhaps something similar lingers on in the international relations/strategic policy dichotomy, a bit like the argument over the role of women in the armed forces. Perhaps the preference in the media for reporting conflict, and their regard for aggression as news, automatically segregates anyone who takes a different approach to international relations. Or perhaps there's a black list of people who are not to be invited and of topics that are not to be touched.