Sexism in Political Science

9 July 2015, 0822 EDT

There is a discussion on PSR about sexism in political science, with most folks concurring that it is still an issue with some deniers pointing out that support groups for women are exclusive, too.  Um, yeah.  How to address such discussions?  I go to my standard operating procedure: what have I seen over the years?  The answer: a heap of sexism which has not gone away.

First, there is the repeated myth that jobs are gamed for women and minorities, which explains why white men don’t get jobs.  Of course, this defines all women and minorities who do get jobs as less qualified.  The problem with this myth is that it is not true.  I cannot speak for the other subfields, but my work with the TRIP data indicates that IR scholars are mostly white (80*%) and mostly male (70%), and that these numbers have only changed modestly since they started doing TRIP surveys ten years ago.  You would think that if most of the jobs were going to women and minorities, the numbers would have swung.  I also would not have much in the way of male friends in the business that are my age or younger if women were always or mostly beating the men.

In my career, I have lost many job competitions and I cannot think of one where an inferior woman beat me out.  I have mostly lost to males, including some I consider superior to me, some that are my equals and a few that I would consider to have inferior records at the time.   Indeed, most of the job searches I remember, I was competing against other men, including my first and second tenure-track/tenured jobs.

The repetition of this myth helps to foster sexism by allowing the men who share it to consider the women (and minorities) as inferiors who did not earn their jobs.  Indeed, I originally came out on PSR as myself to de-myth a job search my department was running–that we were only looking for females for a particular job search.

Second, while sitting in various departments, I have seen plenty of sexism.  At my first tenure track job:

  • one faculty member was sleeping with multiple female grad students, creating a very hostile work environment for all;  I was told  that one of the perks of the job was “they let you screw the students here.”
  • one faculty member said at a job search meeting that a female candidate did not need the job because her husband had a job;
  • every sexual harassment workshop for the department was trivialized by some of the older males.

At my next job, there was a serial sexual harasser.  I had heard about him before I got there, and then another incident happened.  Because it was all covered in confidentiality, only a few faculty (and all of the grad students at the time) learned of it.  There was a concerted effort to make sure this guy would not serve as adviser to any grad students and especially females.  That effort has apparently dissipated as I recently learned that he is serving as an adviser to female grad students again.  Somewhat less problematic was that we had a speaker series that seemed to invite only males with the occasional token female sprinkled in.  The one year I ran it, I found several female scholars who presented excellent talks and one token male who did great as well.

Third, almost always when I see a list of a person’s favorite books recommended on some blog, it has somewhere between zero and one females.  Which is why I wrote this post a while back which took little time to write since most of my favorite books are by women.  Similarly, we see plenty of panels and workshops that have few, if any, women, such as the most recent Aspen Forum.

Fourth, we actually have some IR scholars lamenting the end of the Old Boy’s Network.  Note Boy’s and not Girls or Kids or whatever.  These folks sit in powerful positions.

Fifth, I also see my female friends be far more burdened by service (there was a recent graph flying around the internet demonstrating that women and minorities do far more service than white men).  Since there are relatively fewer women and minorities who are tenured or Full, they tend to get hit with lots of requests as people want a balance or representation on committees, among letter-writers, whatever.  Good intentions that lead to bad outcomes since service goes unrewarded.

Sixth, I have seen far more attacks at PSR on women for their looks, for their relationships, for daring to beat a man out in a job competition and more.  I don’t think that PSR is representative of the discipline, but it does shape attitudes and perceptions.  I don’t think the profession is as hostile to women as it used to be, but PSR often makes the case that not much has changed (the evidence would be more obvious if the moderators didn’t delete many of the offending posts and threads).

I am sure there is plenty of sexism that I didn’t observe as it did not affect me directly, and I tend to be oblivious.  The reality is that path dependence is a bastard–making it harder to compensate for the sins of the past.  Of course, there are still plenty of sinners still around as I have discovered in my academic travels.  There has been progress, as there are more women who are successful and have gotten tenure, but there are still plenty of impediments and enough men with lousy attitudes/beliefs.  Which is why we need some vigilance when people put forth the old BS.