Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 02:59 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 02:59 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Women in international relations


Sam Roggeveen


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

21 May 2009 11:58

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

Susan Harris-Rimmer writes (my response follows):

May I say a hearty 'hear hear' to your riposter. Your first response was hardly designed to encourage women to sign up as a guest blogger. Except the ones that it slightly enraged, such as myself.

You are correct to point out that there is a gender imbalance in the broad international relations field. Some reflection on why that might be the case could be more interesting, rather than the end of the discussion. It especially applies to those areas of international relations at the 'hard' end such as international trade, defence, national security and diplomacy.

Your point on the diversity of opinion being important is well taken and well made, but perhaps taking outside advice on whether the blog does represent such variety would be more convincing than self-congratulation.

We have just been discussing this very issue at the Future Summit, held this year in Melbourne over the last two days. The rather bleak representation of women on panels last year led to a special effort to think more creatively, with good results this year. May I suggest likewise that you consider taking a gentle proactive step — a nicely worded invitation, for example, to the many 'well-credentialed' women writing in the international relations/law/security field, asking them to write something for you?

On the question of gender imbalance in the international relations field, I don't think I did anything to 'end the discussion'. It's just that I happen to have only vaguely formed views on the subject, so decided not to air them. But for what it's worth, I doubt this imbalance has very much to do with sexism or discrimination. My guess is that it has more to do with a combination of divergent interests (relatively few women are interested in what Susan calls 'hard' international relations issues, so they don't enter the field) and family dynamics (many more women than men interrupt their careers to care for children).

'Aha, but don't both those reasons reveal how sexist our society continues to be?', I hear you ask. Well, perhaps. Maybe children's academic interests are socially constructed to keep women in their place. And maybe the societal demand that mothers be the primary carers of children is also a control mechanism to keep men in charge. All I can say is that I instinctively doubt it, but that it's a debate that goes well beyond my area of expertise. I'm open to argument and The Interpreter's readership is too, with the important caveat that this remains a blog about international policy, so I don't want to lurch too far into other fields.

Lastly, a couple of points about Susan's suggestion for a 'nicely worded invitation' to well-credentialed women to write for the blog. I do regularly invite all sorts of experts to comment on issues of the day. When I issue these invitations I do so with what I personally believe to be a complete disregard for gender. I just make a judgment that this person might have something worthwhile to contribute.

I should think that is exactly the way Susan's well-credentialed women would like it. Indeed, they might even be a little offended if, instead, I contacted them on the basis that they happen to carry the right combination of chromosomes.

Susan might also be selling professional women a little short by suggesting they even need a 'nicely worded invitation' to make their views on international relations known. Really, what's stopping them from entering these debates if they want to? Anyone can email their opinions to me and most of the time I will publish it. If that doesn't satisfy, write a book or an op-ed or start a blog.