The Gender Imbalance of Concern about Gender Imbalance in IR

This morning, the Committee on the Status of Women and the Committee on the Status of Representation and Diversity co-hosted a panel on the gender gap in IR citation practices. The panel was organized in response to the collection and publication of data about the underrepresentation of women in citation practices even compared to their publication rates, both to discuss that data and discuss strategies to address the problem. Members of the editorial teams of International Studies Review, International Studies Quarterly, and the Journal of Peace Research were in the room to talk about it. Dan Nexon, lead editor of the flagship journal in the field, talked about strategies for increasing representation of women in the journal and in citations.

As they had that conversation, five people listened. All five of them were women.

On the one hand, one should not jump to the conclusion that no one cares. We all know that ISA puts on too many panels per participants for all panels to be well-attended. We also know that 815 panels are poorly attended for a number of reasons generally unrelated to apathy. At the same time, I think that blaming these exogenous factors would let IR as a discipline and us as members of that discipline off way too easily.

Over the years, I have been on more than a dozen panels studying gender inequality in the field and looking to address its manifestations. Some of them are better attended than others, but none are attend by an audience sex-representative of ISA’s membership. If ISA is 60% men and 40% women (data I heard at the Governing Council meeting on Tuesday) and it is an organization concerned with equality in the field, there should be people who self-identify as men in the audience- including but not limited to the leadership of the organization.

Perhaps if more of the organization’s leadership were at panels like this, its Governing Council would not have had to spend hours on Tuesday addressing the massive underrepresentation of women in committee nominations for its administration. While the (lack of) audience at this citation panel and the (lack of) women in leadership of ISA are passive rather than active acts of discrimination, the apathy is so loud its deafening. And that apathy permits continued silent exclusion –which ironically leads to a question of the utility of this blog post.

At the same time, pretending that we are powerless in the face of being ignored seems as problematic as doing the ignoring. On Tuesday at the Governing Council, women (and male allies, along with people who are uncomfortable choosing between that false dichotomy) with some power in the discipline and in the organization stood up and protested unequal treatment. I don’t have a lot of power, but I have some. As Vice. President-Elect of ISA, I think its important to register not being okay with the apathy I saw this morning, or with the gender balance of service, submission, publication, citation and leadership, in the organization and in the field. Not okay at all.