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‘Mansplaining’ International Relations?: What Walt Misses

Following the tradition of Saturday Night Live’s Father Sarducci, Steve Walt turned the “Five Minute University” from the 1970s into a lesson for the undergraduate class of 2014 on Foreign Policy yesterday, providing a five-minute lesson as a substitute for a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations. Walt’s lesson included five key concepts: anarchy, balance of power, comparative advantage, misperception/miscalculation, and social constructivism. While Walt acknowledges there is much more to know about the discipline (including deterrence and coercion, institutions, selection effects, democratic peace theory, and international finance), he suggests those might be “graduate level” and that “all you really need to know about the discipline” can be found his five-minute, five-concept lesson.

I’d like to introduce Steve and his audience to a (sixth) concept that comes from outside of International Relations but applies to it: ‘mansplaining.’ A term introduced by Rebecca Solnit in 2008, the idea has gained traction both in popular circles and in academic ones. Though many different ‘definitions’ of ‘mansplaining’ exist, a picture of Steve’s post could be in the dictionary next to mine: it is a short, humorous ‘explanation’ of the discipline of IR, from one of its male/masculine/(masculinist) elite aimed at its feminized/feminine/(female?) margins: new trainees and potential trainees. In that explanation, Walt accounts for a global political arena in which it appears that men and women; sex, gender, and sexualities; masculinities and femininities; masculinizations and feminizations do not exist. This might be where my definition of ‘mansplaining’ differs from others: I think a ‘mansplanation’ is an explanation made in a masculinized tone that endogenizes, makes invisible, or leaves out gender. Walt does this almost artfully: the global political arena that we can learn about from Walt in five minutes is indeed one where it is possible that women do not exist at all. That, among other things, makes it both a ‘mansplanation’, and deeply problematic.

My problems start at what Walt does not talk about, and continues as I read what he does discuss. Let’s start with five ideas that I’d characterize as key to understanding global politics, which Walt leaves out:

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