Author: Laura Sjoberg (Page 1 of 4)

a bear in duck’s clothing: reflections on the end of my blogging career

$T2eC16dHJFwFFZsmK+2lBSPFo)7jSw~~60_35-2Blogging is an exercise of academic freedom, like writing journal articles or books.  Blogging is something that has evolving norms and rules, like writing journal articles or books. However, given its nature, the evolution of the field, and the evolution of technology, the norms of blogging are, for better or worse, unique. It is the question of what those norms are and what they demand of us that has dominated the significant discussion about who is accountable for, and who should hold culpability for, the controversy around Brian Rathbun’s post and departure from the Duck.

The Duck, like most group blogs, has author accountability, but we do not have reviewers, editors, or publishers. Our authors are their own reviewers, their own editors, and their own publishers – we do not edit or censor each other. It is our readers and commenters who hold us responsible for our words – not our editors, reviewers, or publishers. This is not a stubbornness looking not to take responsibility. It is a political, political-economic, and academic freedom decision driven by the media of blogging. It is not only a good norm but one essential to the continued development of blogging in the discipline. That said, sometimes those norms and other political, political-economic, and academic freedom issues collide, as they did here in August. This post reflects, both looking back and looking forward, on those conundrums, and how they relate to the end of my tenure at the Duck.

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The Politics of “Fitting” Feminist Theory in IR

(Note: This post is cross-posted at The Research Centre in International Relations at King’s College, London’s Blog)

Feminist theorists have long made and substantiated the argument that gender “matters” in International Relations (IR) theory and practice, and that it matters in complicated and hybrid ways. Gender analysis has been used (in my view effectively) across a wide spectrum of theoretical approaches, issue areas, and contemporary political events.  I thought about this as I was reading news stories and opinion pieces expressing disappointment that Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Peace  Prize. There are so many gendered dimensions to her story: her activism and agency; the gendered reaction to by the Pakistani Taliban; the gendered reaction to that repression around the world; the gendered narratives surrounding her candidacy for the Nobel Peach Prize; and then the gendered reactions to the Nobel committee’s choice not to select her. All of these gendered framings, reactions, and receptions went on in the context of a gendered conflict between gendered states in what I would argue is a gendered international system. Reading those stories was, to me, another example of how gender “matters” in global politics – an example which could richly inform IR theory.

But what part of IR theory? Where does feminism fit? Is it another “ism” to go along with realisms, liberalisms, and the like? Does it cut across the “isms”? Where does it fit politically? Epistemologically? Methodologically? This question has been tackled again and again by feminist IR theorists like Ann Tickner, Marianne Marchand, Cynthia Weber, Marysia Zalewski, and Jill Steans, as well as by some theorists in mainstream IR interested in the question of feminisms’ fit. In the rest of this short post, I suggest that perhaps fit and positionality are the wrong language to talk about the relationship between feminist work on global politics and the field of IR in which it is (at least partly) situated.

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What’s Wrong with FETs? Thoughts from Gendering Global Conflict

(Note: This post is cross-posted at the Columbia University Press Authors’ Blog

Over the last couple of years, the US military has begun to employ FETs (Female Engagement Teams) in Afghanistan, characterizing their purpose as “to engage the female populace” of the country. The mission of these groups of female soldiers seems to be divided between victim services, trust building, influence seeking, and intelligence gathering. Many feminist scholars (e.g., Keally McBride and Annick T. R. Wibben) have expressed their deep concerns about both the effectiveness of FETs and the ideas about sex, gender, and warfare that their deployments suggest the US military holds.

My recent book, Gendering Global Conflict, is not about FETs specifically, but it does provide insight into this (and hopefully a number of other) problems of sex, gender, and war. It argues that, in order to understand fully how something like an FET became possible, we have to be able to see gender subordination and war-fighing as mutually constituted. Understanding that, it argues, provides insight into a number of other policy choices and theoretical assumptions in the security sector that might initially appear paradoxical when approached from a feminist perspective. The rest of this post discusses that with regard to FETs.

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Words of Mass Destruction in the Syria Debate

Note: This is a guest post by Ty Solomon, Lecturer at the University of Glasgow

Even though the war in Syria has been raging for the past two years, much of the global outrage that we now see has only erupted with the recent reports about Bashar al Assad’s government attacking civilians with chemical weapons.   Arguably, the past two long years of war has not provoked the same level of indignation as we are now seeing from world leaders and publics.  Why is it only now, with the use of chemical weapons – and not the use of “conventional” bombs and guns – have the US and UK governments seriously debated intervening?  The conflict has not necessarily taken a turn for the worse with the recent poison gas revelations.  By some accounts 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict before the chemical weapons attack, which itself is reported to have killed about 1,400 people  While indeed horrific, chemical weapons are not necessarily more deadly than “regular” bombs and guns.

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Big Brother meets Network Analysis?

A story in the New York Times this morning suggests that the National Security Agency has been analyzing our social networks through email and phone call records, apparently accomplishing “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata” of American citizens and foreign citizens alike.  This network analysis uses not only contact data but GPS tracking to understand not only how we relate but how we move in relationship to each other.

From the description in the article, the methods that the NSA uses seem to be very similar to those that political science is using, in Michael Ward, Katherine Stovel, and Audrey Sacks’ words, to locate the “holy grail” of  “effectively analyzing the interdependence and flows of influence among individuals, groups, and institutions,” a sea-change in the field.

I’m not arguing that we as political scientists have culpability in this (these methods did not originate in our field by any stretch of the imagination). But I am interested – if network analysis does the cool things it does for our work, what does it do for the work of those whose job is to watch and monitor us?

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Make Love and War? Sex and Syria …

Among the more famous anti-war slogans in the US is the 1960s’ declaration of “make love, not war.” I found myself thinking about that phrase when a student sent me a link to the Daily Show on Monday – where Jon Stewart made some insightful comments about sex, gender, and the presumably impending military action in Syria.

And yes, I used the words “insightful comments” to describe something Jon Stewart said. Those of you who know me know how hard that was to say. But his description works for me …. and suggests that “make love not war” is actually a false dichotomy.

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A Networking Post Inspired by Networking

So, I ran into Dan Drezner in the trendy-food part of the West Loop in Chicago tonight, as you do when you are at APSA. Dan asked if I was planning to respond to his post on networking, which is critical of my earlier post. Honestly, it was not high on my agenda, but who can resist networking as a motivation to write a post on networking?

In my post, I suggest that networking can have efficiency, career opportunity, and political benefits, with the caveat that it is not easy, does not always come naturally, and can actually be harmful if it goes awry. Dan suggests that neither myself nor Christian Davenport address the pitfalls of bad networking along with the benefits of good networking, and asks me to follow up with particular practical advice (and on my unfortunate description of “ah, the stories I could tell” about networking gone wrong).

While I will resist telling my own horror stories, I will take the bait to provide some skeleton advice that I’ve learned over the years – some from my experience, some from others’; some ‘the easy way,’ some ‘the hard way.’

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The Glass Half Empty: Gendered Problems in Academic Networking

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Sara McLaughlin Mitchell, Professor and Department Chair of Political Science at the University of Iowa. It is Part 1 of a 2-part discussion. 

Many recent posts (e.g., posts here by David Lake, Dan Nexon, and Laura Sjoberg, and elsewhere by Christian Davenport and Steve Saideman) have discussed professional networking in political science.  Given my belief that academic experiences are not universal, a viewpoint articulated by Will Moore (, I add another perspective to this debate.  I focus on several problems female scholars might encounter in male dominated academic environments, especially as they try to become professionally networked into these groups. In so doing, I draw largely on my experiences at conferences I have attended frequently, including APSA, ISA, Peace Science Society, and the Society for Political Methodology. Gendered problems include:

1) Working hard to find people who look like you

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In Defense of Networking

There’s been a lot of discussion, here (1)(2) and elsewhere (3)(4) about the value of networking. Dan Drezner suggests that the best kind of networking is doing good research, and that there is a small professional benefit to networking, but not much. Eric Voten agrees, suggesting that networking is not going to lead to significant professional opportunities. Dan Nexon suggests that one not network at all, but talk to and meet people as an end in itself. While there are a lot of gems of advice in all of these posts (do good research, be professional, have fun, don’t chase around “big names” all star-struck), I think that the punchline of these posts (individually and collectively) misses the mark pretty significantly in a couple of ways. One way, as Will Moore points out, is that both the need to network and the act of networking is very different for (even junior) people positioned differently in the field on a number of axes, including graduate school, mentors, race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, sexual preference, social skills, and competitiveness, to name a few. The need to network, the value of networking, the performance of networking, the reception of attempts to network, and the success of networking all differ across these and other axes. That is crucially important, and something where we should recognize the positions of privilege that we have … Continue reading


Let’s talk about sex

Disclaimer: This is not an official response from the Duck collective, but my reaction. 

For those of you who have spent any time with me at conferences over the last year, I feel like I have been a little bit of a broken record with this as an academic message – let’s talk about sex. By that I mean sex as an act and sexuality as context for that act, and sexualized power. I’ve seen so many discussions of things that cannot possibly be understood without sex (the act) being taken account of nonetheless explained without it. Want to know who controlled what territory when in early modern Europe? Often, it depended on who was having sex with (/marrying) who. The story of the Reformation? Cannot be told without a story of the meeting of sexual desire and power. Military deployments have often relied on (or believed they relied on) the provision of sexual services in “the war zone.” G. H. W. Bush “penetrated Saddam Hussein’s inner sanctum,” and “it was dirty in there” – perhaps (and hopefully) only metaphorically. It is not unreasonable to posit a link between Bill Clinton getting a blow job from Monica Lewinsky and the United States’ bombings in Kenya and Sudan (or at least the timing of them). Who you have sex with (and their sex/gender) can lead to a long laundry list of categorizations, inclusions, and exclusions, socially and legally, in global politics. There is an international politics of fucking, and fucking in international politics that is substantively meaningful. While some queer and feminist work has touched on some of this, often the act of sex remains taboo in studying the politics of global politics.

“Out there” in IR is not the only place that there is a sexual politics. I have argued before that there is a gender politics to the field – by “gender politics” I mean a power politics of masculinities and femininities, masculinization and feminization. Here, I argue that there is a sexual politics to the field, which, while always, cannot be reduced to or held equivalent to gender politics. Sex (the act) substantively impacts the structure, content, and function of the field.
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Marriage Debate in France Strikes at the Heart of the Republican Consensus


 A Guest Post by Michael Bosia, Associate Professor of Political Science, Saint Michael’s College

In a startling juxtaposition, neofascists killed young leftist activist Clément Méric in the first days when city halls across France opened for lesbian and gay couples to marry.  And perhaps the debate on marriage weakened President François Hollande despite his victory.  That is because no one anticipated the revival of a moral intransigence and violence reminiscent of the rightist movements of the 1930s, as the debate intensified divisions within the Gaullist-led coalition essential to the 5th Republic and unsettled laïcité at the core of the Republican consensus.

French laïcité – the principle that religion has no role in government – is rooted in the struggle against legitimists and the Church waged since the Revolution: from the suppression of the Chouannerie uprising, through laws on secular education and the separation of church and state under the Third Republic, to the bloody clashes between legitimists and leftists on the streets of Paris in 1934.  Only after Vichy and the Resistance transformed politics, and the Algerian war provided pretext, would Charles De Gaulle find France ready for a broad republican movement moderating secular left and national right alike.

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The Stupid Things People with a Ph.D. say on Airplanes

“My main job [as an assistant professor at insert-flyover-university-here] is advising presidential policy on public religious life.” I actually heard a Ph.D. tell his neighbor that on an airplane.

I know that there might be more worthwhole topics for my first post in months (I haven’t been a total slacker, I have been doing some programming), but none is more pressing …

I have made back-to-back trips to conferences (first ISA and then MPSA) this week, and have connected through Atlanta each time, providing me with the rare opportunity to ride the airplane with other political scientists who I do not know personally.

In these journeys, I have realized that political scientists are weird animals, and we say dumb things to strangers on airplanes. More examples below the fold.

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2nd Annual International Feminist Journal of Politics Conference

The International Feminist Journal of Politics announces its 2nd Annual IFjP Conference, May 17-19, 2013, University of Sussex, Brighton, England: (Im)possibly Queer International Feminisms

General Keynote: Lisa Duggan, American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, NYU

Queer Film Screening: Circumstance (2011), Introduced by Director Maryam Keshavarzwith Q&A to follow

Conference Theme Keynotes: Jon Binnie, Geography, Manchester Metropolitan University, Vivienne JabriWar Studies, Kings College London; V Spike Peterson, International Relations/Gender Studies, University of Arizona; Rahul RaoPolitics and International Studies, SOAS

Other confirmed speakers:  Rosalind Galt, Film Studies, University of Sussex; Akshay Khanna, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex; Louiza Odysseos, International Relations, University of Sussex; Laura Sjoberg, Political Science, University of Florida

The aim of this conference is to serve as a forum for developing and discussing papers that IFjP hopes to publish.  These can be on the conference theme or on any other feminist IR-related questions.

Apply by January 31!

Call for papers

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The Reading (Half)Year

I read. Really, I do. In fact, I read alot. But most of the reading I do, I’ve figured out, is for one of two particular purposes. First, I read to review. The International Feminist Journal of Politics gets about 100 manuscripts a year, and I read about 30 books between the Oxford Series on Gender and IR and the New York University Press series on Gender and Political Violence. I do about 50 reviews per year for other journals and book publishers. I read stuff that my Ph.D. students are working on to make sure they are appropriately situated in the literature. Reading for reviews is largely great – you get to see the cool stuff in the field early, and help think about its development. But its not methodical, or long-sighted. The other reading I do is to write. When there’s something I’d like to write about, I read the relevant literature, looking to learn what I can learn about what others have thought about it from similar and/or relevant perspectives. This serves as a foundation for what I’d like to write. I don’t think, in those terms, I’m that dissimilar from the pattern many of us fall into.

But there was a time, not that long ago, that I really read. I read a good book, then the good stuff in its bibliography, and then the good stuff in those bibliographies. I once read everything in the almost 2000 footnotes in my most recent book, much of it several times. I find myself shortcutting that lately to manage all of the other work – yet find every time I sit down to read something for some reason other than those two purposes inspiring, and completely worthwhile. So, I have a plan(/resolution): to read rather than write for a prolonged period of time.

The plan is below the fold.
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Liberalism all the way down? …. six hours on a plane with Judith Butler’s Frames of War

On a plane ride a couple of days ago, I picked up Judith Butler’s Frames of War, perhaps a couple of years after I should have. Though there is a lot of the book that I disagreed with, reading it was a transformative experience. It is perhaps particularly relevant to the subject and content of Megan MacKenzie’s latest post, given Butler’s suggestion that “specific lives cannot be apprehended as injured or lost if they are not first apprehended as living” such that “if certain lives do not qualify as lives or are, from the start, not conceivable as lives within certain epistemological frames, then those lives are never lived or lost in the full sense” (p.1).

Butler spends the book carefully considering the relationship between precarity, violence, and war – considerations that made me think a lot, about the book, about gender/violence more generally, and about the role of reading in our lives as scholars. My thoughts about the book are below the fold, and a separate post about reading is forthcoming.

Frames of War is to me a frustrating combination of absolute and piercing brilliance and letdown …

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(Another) Ugly Underside of the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Today, the Human Rights Campaign celebrated the two-year anniversary of President Obama signing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a move that officially allowed lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to serve openly in the United States military. Soon after, I wrote a blog post suggesting that, while the policy was definitely an improvement on a military that forced people to hide their sexual identities, it obscured both the continued dominance of militarized masculinities in the American military and the continued linkage between militarism and full citizenship.

In the afterglow of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” people with expressed homosexual sexual preference now have the right to serve in the US military, and do not have to hide their sexual preference. Many have celebrated the advantages of the new policy, including for recruitment, retention, and morale. Studies quote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as saying that “the military has kind of moved beyond it,” no longer either forcing gay soldiers to hide or discriminating against them.

Even were that true, the jubilation over the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the liberal community has obscured the fact that there are still people who have to hide who they are or risk discharge, who are forced to constantly deny their identities for membership in the military. While the military no longer formally excludes people who aren’t straight, it continues to formally exclude people who aren’t cis-. Continue reading


Occupy APSA? The Queer Rights Version

If you order from Cafe Press on Amazon, tshirts can get delivered by Tuesday – in time to tell APSA that, even if you’re going to the conference, you haven’t forgotten that APSA is wrong on this issue. Sorry for the late announcement – my to-do list got a little backed up …


Where are the Women? Julian Assange Meets Todd Akin

The left (and even the semi-left) has been legitimately stewed in the past week or so about Todd Akin’s remarks about rape. Akin is apparently under the impression that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” thus simplifying the whole ugly and complicated abortion-as-a-result-of-rape debate. Others have showed what an asshole this guy is – I have no need to repeat that here. What I liked about the responses to the now-hopefully-unelectable Akin was that women and womanhood became front and center. I read narratives about women who had become pregnant from rape, who had babies and who had abortions. It made me think and feel for the people involved, and I saw a lot of solidarity around something that is close to a political consensus in the US: rape is not okay.
Right next to articles about Akin, though, are articles about Julian Assange. Assange is attempting to escape extradition from the UK to Sweden on charges of rape, molestation, and abuse by seeking political asylum in Ecuador (or, currently, the Ecuador embassy in the UK). Where are the women there?

Assange is accused of rape. He is accused of having sex with a woman while she was asleep (which a British politician called “bad sexual etiquette,” not rape, apparently because she had consensual sex with him before she fell asleep. This apparently made his penetrating her without her consent simply ‘rude’ rather than rape). It was also apparently only “really bad manners” if Assange had sex with a woman who consented to having sex with him with a condom, sans condom, not telling her. What’s the difference, after all? Pregnancy, disease ….

But Assange’s cause has become a crusade. Those who would defend Assange claim that Sweden would extradite Assange to the United States, which might him on ‘more serious’ charges like espionage (since rape is not that serious, apparently, especially when it is just ‘rude’). While there is some doubt to that story, even assuming it were true, does that mean it is okay not to explore rape charges?

I have a radical idea for Julian Assange: how about not being ‘rude’ and arousing suspicion of rape? How about, if you decide that you’re going to break a lot of US laws exposing the US government, abstaining from behavior that might leave you wanted for rape in a state allied to the US? How about hurting leftist politics more than you help it because of an egocentric decision that put you at risk when you could have easily avoided the risk?

But more than that – if WikiLeaks is all about showing the invisible – where are the women? Even if we were to assume that their charges are false and a product of US government conspiracy (which seems unlikely to me, given that I hope a machine like the US government could make a better conspiracy), the women (and what might have happened to their bodies) are often invisible in the discussion of Assange, who is characterized as a political prisoner. In a number of accounts, women are getting blamed for Assange being wanted for questioning, and a number of groups of ‘women against rape’ have come out, certain the charges against Assange are false, to identify charges against him as political, and the women who levied the charges as liars.

Not deciding whether Assange ‘did it’ or not – none of us have the evidence to know that – I want to know why we’re so sure (and the women are so vilified) when an impressive, rebellious guy is accused of rape. After all, good leftists would never do that, right? Turns out, I think, wrong – but, either way, the blinders to women (potential) victims of this redefinition of rape seem particularly ironic, especially given the commonalities of ignorance it has with Akin’s recent comments.

(Brief aside/conclusion): I’m about the biggest anti-government leftist there is. I firmly believe that the US should apologize for its imperialism, stop screwing with other people around the world, pay reparations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and actively seek a socialist economy. For me, WikiLeaks is a hard thing. Do I like information-uncovering espionage? Definitely. Its the sort of thing that gets my blood boiling. But leftist anti-government action has never really seemed to be what WikiLeaks is about. In fact, I’ve been following WikiLeaks on twitter since its inception, and the content seems to be more about WikiLeaks generally and Julian Assange specifically than it is about intelligence secrets, government interference, and the sort of stuff WikiLeaks said it was about – information. WikiLeaks has, several times, claimed to be holding its best information in the case of its own demise. REALLY? Because I don’t care whether WikiLeaks exists or not if the politics of it were followed through on – and I would say that even if I were a principal in WikiLeaks. But stardom and self-preservation seem to be more important to WikiLeaks than the politics, and I lose respect. Even were Julian Assange a purely political prisoner, I’ve counted literally thousands of tweets about him and Bradley Manning, and very few if any about the nameless political prisoners held longer and for less reason in Gitmo. REALLY? So if this post came off as a little anti-WikiLeaks, …well, fair enough. Even though I’d think of myself as their most likely audience.


“Having it all” and a (non-essentialist) feminist politics

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” has stirred up a fair amount of controversy in the last couple of days. Dozens of my Facebook friends have posted and reposted it, and it has prompted many of them to reflect on their personal experiences with womanhood, femininity, parenting, and/or motherhood. Several students have asked me about the article and my opinions on it, and it seems to be stirring up debate and discussion wherever read. To me, that’s the mark of a good article – that it inspires contemplation and argument. On top of that, Slaughter’s article seems heartfelt and honest, even though the author is aware of the risks and pitfalls of the strategy that she takes. While I don’t agree with everything in the article, there’s a lot of important stuff there, and I think it absolutely needed to be published.

Under a different title, minus the sex essentialism.

An important starting point and an important caveat: as a feminist, politically and academically, it is crucially important to me to recognize that gender inequity remains a fact of life in our society, and that said inequity manifests often in terms of the burdens of child care, the stereotypical assumptions that are made about the relationship between women and motherhood, the work habits and capacity of mothers, and other factors. Sex discrimination/sexism, pregnancy discrimination, heterosexism, and cissexism are very real – and, as Slaughter points out, are constantly present in (women’s) negotiating work/life balance issues. I see the right to reproduce as every bit as important as the right to reproductive control. Intellectually and politically, I believe a society where the joys and burdens of parenthood are enjoyable by all who would like them and not distributed sex-differentially is a crucial part of the feminist vision (and mine). And, like Slaughter, I realize that such a society is complicated, difficult, demanding, and at times almost impossible to imagine. In my view, motherhood is indisputably a key feminist issue, and it is important to realize both how much progress has been made and how far from sex-equal parenting (and sex-equal treatment of parents in the workplace) we really are.

That said, the idea that motherhood is a key feminist issue and the idea that motherhood is a key part of femininity are different, but conflated often, and not only in Slaughter’s article. Certainly, restructuring  society such that women can make the choice to be mothers and not both be expected to bear a disproportionate part of the personal and professional costs and suffer discrimination is crucially important to ending gender subordination. But so is restructuring society to deconstruct the assumed relationship between women and motherhood, where it isn’t assumed women have to have (and succeed at) motherhood to “have it all” …

My personal reaction to Slaughter’s article was different than that of many of my friends who are parents. Many of my friends are parents, and many of them are amazing parents who have sacrificed a significant amount to be there for their children. I respect that as a life choice immensely, and say that with the upmost seriousness. That said, it is a life choice I would never even consider making. I have never had any desire to be a parent, and know myself well enough to know that I never will. I do have a sense of what my life would look like if I “had it all” – but that sense does not include, and will never include, having children or being a good parent. I do experience the impacts of gendered, sexist, and heterosexist assumptions both in life generally and in terms of “work-life balance” (a term I also don’t like), but not in the area of parenting.

This puts me in an odd position vis a vis the traditional association of women and motherhood and the feminist defense of the rights of mothers, personally and professionally. That’s in part because I can’t identify with (and can’t imagine) the struggles many women go through to parent, and therefore have a lot of respect for it. But its in part because there’s this creepy feeling in my stomach every time someone equates “having it all” with parenting, or suggests that “women” need particular things related to parenting or parental leave or parental accommodations. Though I’m supportive of parenting, and especially of removing a disproportionate amount of the burden of parenting from women, statements like that imply that women (should and do) want to parent, and that there’s something wrong with (me as) a “woman” who does not want to parent, and who has different needs and desires.

Many would say that I’m just reading that implication into these statements, which sound but might not be sex essentialist, especially given that many of them are uttered by feminists, and many feminists make the choice to be parents and navigate complicated relationships at home and at work to do so. But I’ve heard the non-implied version of those statements behind closed doors so many times that I’m sure of the implication of the “public consumption” version. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me, in personal and professional contexts, that I will “change my mind,” that my “biological clock” will start “ticking,” that I should “meet a nice gentleman” (a tip I received on my tenure case, oddly enough), that “children are a part of being whole,” and that I “don’t have to sacrifice a family for my career” (by those who incorrectly assume that is what my choice is about). All of those assumptions – that all women want to have children, that it is a natural part of femininity, that children are essential to “having a family,” and that the choice not to have children is about a career (rather than about life, and all of the other things it is about to me) – are commonplace, even among scholars, and even among many feminist scholars.

Those assumptions are every bit as gendered as the assumptions that we traditionally critique as gender-subordinating, and they are linked. Until we disassociate “having it all” as a “woman” and motherhood, women will be expected to do a majority of care work and will be treated differently personally and professionally for it. Some women (and some men, and some people that are neither) can and should be mothers. But I’m not one of them – I don’t identify with parenthood and feel even more distant from the idea of motherhood. My existence personally lets me know that such people exist intellectually – that any association of women and motherhood isn’t fundamental, and that one can be a “woman” without any desire for or interest in “motherhood.”

Under a different title and with a different underlying assumptions, Slaughter’s article is crucially important. After all, as one of my Facebook friends (someone I knew well in high school) notes: “a new parent – it’s hard as hell to juggle a career and my daughter. The pursuit of gender equality should teach us, in my non-professional opinion, that women should be free to pursue a fulfilling life, whether or not children are included. But damn, Laura, there’s a stigma attached to having kids, too. Trust me.”And I’m not denying that – it is inscribed on the daily lives of most, if not all, mothers.

But its not unrelated to the assumption that “having it all” includes having children – in fact, they are one in the same – sexist assumptions about what women are and what women should be. Though they affect “women” who choose very different life paths, the discomfort that my friend feels struggling to juggle a career and child, the discomfort that I feel defending my lack of interest in parenting stem from the same assumption, and the discomfort that Anne-Marie Slaughter describes in making and defending the decision to spend more time with her family stem from the same fundamental problem: that the sense of what women are and should be is tied to a particular notion of motherhood. To the extent that Slaughter’s article, in assuming that “having it all” and parenting are fundamentally linked more generally than for her, entrenches that assumption, it is counterproductive to its own goal of making visible and quelling gender subordination. Were it able to get past that assumption, it would be a crucial part of a non-essentialist feminist politics.

PS – thanks to my fellow Ducks for allowing my return after a year’s sabbatical from blogging …


Feminist IR 101, Post #10, Feminist Scholarly Community

One of my favorite characterization of feminist theorizing is in Sarah Brown’s 1988 Millennium article, where she calls feminist work “fundamentally a political act of commitment to understanding the world from a perspective of the socially subjugated” (p.472). From this and other reading in feminist theory and praxis, I’ve always seen feminism as not just an intellectual interest in gender as a force in global politics, but also as a politics of knowledge, and a politics of scholarship. As a politics of knowledge, to me, it is a commitment to multiple knowledges, perspective, (inter)subjectivity, and changing the power dynamics of science.

As a politics of scholarship, I’ve always thought that there are ways feminist thought suggest scholars treat each other and each other’s research. I’ve articulated it as a research claim before: “I make an ontological, epistemological, and methodological choice that my process of knowledge-acquisition is constructive in nature … in this spirit, I explicitly choose not to emphasize debates between or among feminisms. Instead, … I note where feminisms disagree, but focus on how those disagreements can be seen as contributing to a more complete understanding of political situations rather than as confounding knowledge.” (Gender, Justice, and the Wars in Iraq, p.41).

In theory, this has meant to me that my purpose in feminist theorizing is solidaristic, bridge-building, and pluralistic. In Hayward Alker’s terms, I’ve seen the substance of feminist IR in the debates, discussions, and disagreements. In Christine Sylvester’s terms, I’ve seen it as art. In my terms, I’ve embraced feminist IR theories as multiple.

But I think that feminist research process is more than about how one writes one’s research. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what feminist theory tells one about how to be a professor, a scholar, and a political scientist, but rarely articulated it. When I have, I’ve called it a “pay it forward” idea of how to operate in the academic community. But what does that mean, and how do I see it as explicitly (and necessarily) feminists?

If feminist IR theory is critical of the violent and competitive nature of the international system which selects for dominance, masculinity, and power-over, feminist IR theorists should be critical of the cut-throat and competitive nature of the academic pursuit of international relations, which selects for dominance, masculinity, and power-over. If feminists suggest that, instead of complicity with the competitive international system, feminisms suggest alternative policy strategies – including but not limited to empathy and care, then feminisms might suggest that instead of complicity with the competitive academic system, we should live and experience our careers with empathy and care. If feminisms suggest drawing attention away from the traditional halls of political power (and their necessary narrowness) in studying global politics, feminisms might also suggest drawing attention away from the traditional halls of scholarly power (and their necessary narrowness). If feminisms suggest that they have an inherent political commitment to the margins of global politics, they might also have a commitment to the margins of academia – to people traditionally disempowered, either by theoretical/methodological proclivity (outside the mainstream), institution, location (around the world), or position (graduate student, adjunct faculty, junior faculty, teaching faculty, etc.)

If the feminist political movement has talked about feminisms as a community, working together to show and correct gender subordination; feminist research is a community, working together to show and correct gender subordination in global politics; and being a feminist scholar is being part of a community, working together to show and correct gender subordination in academic political science and international relations.

There are those who will say that their main concern isn’t the academic community – in fact, after years or decades of the community’s mistreatment, masculinism, and exclusivity – who needs it? And the real world needs feminism more, right? At the same time, that logic, however true, can often serve as an excuse for not “practicing what feminist theory preaches” (or some other cliche like that) within the academic community. And perhaps for good reason – it is much easier to write about empathizing with potential enemies in far away lands that it is to empathize with people who treat you poorly in an academic context. It is much easier to talk about sacrificing self-interest for the good of others and/or a community in a distant country than it is to sacrifice self-interest for the good of others and/or a community in our lives and in our careers.

And, certainly (and before I get 1000 comments about it), I haven’t been flawless at practicing what feminisms preach in my career. I’ve tried to take a solidaristic view of feminist theory, to put advancing the needs of the collective over advancing my needs, to work to care for others – but I have been far from perfect at it. But I didn’t write this post to say I was good at it, or to hold myself up as an example. Instead, I wrote it because I truly believe feminist theorizing tells us a lot of good stuff about global politics, but it also tells us, perhaps through that good stuff, a lot of good stuff about how to be scholars of international politics. And perhaps I wanted to remind many – most of all, myself – of that enduring legacy that our intellectual work has in instructing our day-to-day work.

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