Over the last week we've had an excellent post by Cynthia Weber on queer theory and the forms of academic disciplining and bullying that take place on the website Political Science Rumors, as well as a interesting (and surprisingly convincing) piece by Steve Saidman on why he participates on the website. At first thought, the question of whether to participate on PLSI rumors or not seems pretty simple to me. In fact, a better question might be, 'why would anyone bother with such a largely negative shit-storm, make-you-feel-bad-about-humanity and the field zone?' However, on second thought, there are a few specific reasons why I avoid the site:
1. I think I know who the average 'user' is, and I don't think I have much to learn from them. With the exception of Steve Saidman and a few other visitors- who have a genuine intention of a positive exchange with others in the field- based on the types of comments I have read, I assume (like others) that the average poster on this site is an unemployed/underemployed graduate student from an elite university who is pissed off that people like me (with my 'terrible pedigree' and my poor choice of feminism as a 'specialization') have jobs and a voice in the field (cue the trash comments). Why would I want to listen to this cohort speculate on job candidates, or my work (or anything else)?
2. It sets low career goals. I know not everyone in political science dreams of contributing to world peace (more on this in a forthcoming post), but surely there is more to our careers than journal rankings and how we 'rate' against others? In the comments sections to Weber's recent post, there is discussion about the damage we might do to students if we are not honest about their career prospects if they choose 'sub-fields' like queer theory. Obviously, most PhD students don't want to end up unemployed, and providing realistic information about the job market is essential- but individuals should be encouraged to choose their research topics because they are interested in answering questions they deem important, or that will make some sort of contribution (the fact that it sounds corny to want to contribute positively to society/our field is depressing).
3. It is not an effective source of information. If you want to know who has been short listed for a job, where to publish an article, which university to go to for particular specializations etc THIS IS NOT THE BEST PLACE TO GET THE INFO.
This is a guest post by Professor Cynthia Weber, Department of International Relations at the University of Sussex
- am currently a MA student looking to move into a PhD program in the next 2 years. I am interested in studying queer IR and was wondering if you can recommend some good programs. I'm more interested in systemic theorizing than individual level (1st image) type of stuff. Thanks.
A Google search for Political Science Rumors describes the site as ‘The forum for Political Scientists to discuss Political Science and rumors in the profession’. Others describe it more harshly: ‘Caffeinated’ describes it as ‘that nest of vipers’ that should not be listened to by anyone ‘unless you are a therapist and then please do!’. The site seems to be directed at ABDs, recent PhDs, and others just starting out in the field who are looking for information about educational programs, conferencing, publishing, and landing a job. But, as Caffeinated points out, it can have a nasty edge to it, which is something an MA student like Michaela would not necessarily know.
Michaela’s post generated four types of responses. One was to query what Queer IR is. A second was to answer her question with concrete suggests for where to study. A third was to warn her that studying Queer IR would never get her a job. A fourth was to be gleefully homophobic in ridiculing queers, Queer IR and specific pieces of Queer IR scholarship as well as OPs (Oppressed Peoples) and ‘our current crop of gender/ethnic/sexual “studies” departments’ that OPs apparently work in and support. A large number of posts – which I will not repeat here – were in this fourth category of responses. The website – which posts comments anonymously and refers to posters through randomly-generated pseudonyms – allows readers to vote ‘Yea’ in favor of posted comments or ‘Nay’ against posted comments. Leaving out comments that were ambiguous, this is how the votes tallied as of April 5, 2014:
- Openly Hostile and/or Overtly Homophobic posts: Yea – 210 Ney – 18
- Supportive/Constructive posts that answered Michaela’s question: Yea – 41 Ney – 3
- Fight-back posts against the Hostility and/or Homophobia: Yea – 9 Ney – 16
- Michaela’s original post asking where to study Queer IR was also voted on: Yea – 4; Ney – 8.
A colleague brought this feed to my attention because the Queer IR scholarship attacked in the feed was authored by me. After nearly three decades of doing poststructuralist, feminist and queer scholarship, such attacks are old news. What is deeply troubling to me about this feed is not what these attacks mean for me personally or for my scholarship but what the gleefully hostile and/or homophobic posts and their endorsements by the site’s community of readers do in and to (those in) the discipline of IR. Among the things they do are:
It's that time of year again. IR freaks, geeks, superstars, and fans flock to the International Studies Association Annual Conference (except those
wimps that avoid the cold Canadian destinations).
Over the next week I'm going to write a few short, fun posts as we countdown to the jet lag, red-eyed check in (red carpet arrival show), the boot camp style pre-ISA workshops (pre-show analysis), and our blogging reception on Thursday (the main event). The topic for today? 5 steps that would change your ISA world for the better...feel free to share your own healing steps!
1. Coffee. I'm serious, there are approximately 3000 academics and the coffee options are one jammed Starbucks, the stale tea-bag coffees in your room, or a snake line from 3 mysteriously placed coffee carafes throughout the hotel. Please ISA exec, I will pay $10 more in my fees if you provide coffee at all 8am panels. Doing so will also mean that people will actually attend the first panels ON TIME and stay awake. Everyone wins (except Starbucks). Oh, and please bring your reusable coffee cups people.
2. This one is going to be more controversial, but I'm going to just throw it out there: we need less panels. I don't think the ISA needs to be exclusive or anything, but I think there is a conference 'tail' of about 20% of panels that are beyond non-cohesive, and/or end up with 3 presenters- or less- or no discussant at the last minute (we've all been on one). Cut the tail off. Are we really doing academics or grad students a favor by reassigning their paper to a panel that has nothing to do with their topic after the original panel dissolves (which happens all the time!)? Or by assigning a discussant a the last minute who has absolutely no expertise or knowledge of the majority of the topics on the panel?
I know it has already been a week, but I'm still thinking about the Oscars. Not the fashion (boring!! predictable!!), or the hostess (boring!! predictable!!) or the winners (boring!! predictable!!), or the speeches (ok you get my point)- but rather a short list of questions I still need help with. Answers welcome.
2. How the hell did Joaquin Phoenix NOT get nominated for 'Her' and how DID Leonardo DiCaprio get nominated for 'WOWS'? Does this tell us anything about hegemonic masculinity....or more about pity for Leo?
3. Why were so many of the best pic nominations fixated on some distorted nostalgia (about slavery, HIV, they 'golden era' of American history/finance) and what does this tell us about our (in)ability to cope with the present?
4. Are strapless peplum dresses and backward necklaces ironic now?
5. If Mathhew Mcconaghey hadn't lost weight, would we care about his performance? Would he have won the Oscar? As Ted Kerr noted in his excellent post 47 Things I Talk about When I talk about the Dallas Buyers Club, "It is interesting how Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto get rewarded for losing weight, and acting sick, while people living with HIV have to fight to be well, appear well and be recognized. #everydaysurvival"
Despite numerous calls to ‘Let Women Fight’, internal reviews of the policy, and growing evidence of women’s contributions to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the January 2013 announcement that the combat exclusion would be removed was not entirely expected. For years leading up to the announcement, Congress and the Department of Defense had justified the exclusion as essential to national security. Moreover, less than 12 months before the decision to remove the exclusion, then–Pentagon press secretary George Little announced that although 14,000 new combat related jobs would be opened to women, infantry and direct combat roles would remain off limits.
- So what did the 'policy change' mean and why was it initiated?
Rather than speculate on the rationale and motivations behind the policy about-face, it is more important to understand that by the time it was announced that the combat exclusion would be removed, it no longer existed.
In fact, the announcement to 'let women fight' should be seen as a PR stunt rather than a policy change. Here's why...
For the last few years in particular, there has been a marked increase in the number of sessional, casual, teaching-only, adjunct, fixed term, temporary job 'opportunities' listed and circulated in the usual IR job venues. These various titles and categories point to one reality: precarious labor is a permanent reality within academia. The trend has been quantified and well documented: in US in the last 30 years the percentage of positions held by tenured or tenure-track faculty members fell from 56.8% to 35.1%. In an excellent post in the Chronicle, Peter Conn declares "Full-time tenured and tenure-track jobs in the humanities are endangered by half a dozen trends, most of them long-term." The trend is not new; however, as the race to the bottom with regard to casual labor hits a new low, what is missing from the discussion is (1) the ways that permanent staff reproduce/support casual labor and (2)the myths associated with the 'opportunity' of casual labor for PhD students and unemployed academics.
First, let's talk about the new low. Each casual job posting seems to outline more and more unreasonable and unrealistic requirements: for example, a recent post for a year-long contract asks candidates to teach 8 courses; others ask candidates to teach a range of political science/IR topics that span nearly every sub-field; while others expect individuals to relocate for 4 months, 6 months, or only for the academic year. Universities are capitalizing on the growth of several categories of vulnerable individuals, including poor PhD students who are without scholarship or who have run out of scholarhsip funds, and academics who have been unemployed or underemployed- all desperate for experience and the prospect of a job that might lead to something permanent. Yet this exploitation narrative/depiction of the problem only goes so far. There is a need to reflect on where the accountability lies in relation to precarious labor and what can be done. This requires academics to ponder several questions, including: in what ways are secure tenure and tenure-track positions dependent on precarious/insecure/exploited labor?; what are the ethical obligations of secure staff when it comes to resisting or reacting to the casualization of academic labor?; can/how can those in secure tenure or tenure-track positions work to reverse these trends and/or support those working as precarious labor within the field? Below I list the top 4 myths associated with casual 'opportunities' along with the top 4 ways that permanent staff might work to acknowledge and reverse the trend.
4 (of many) Reasons Why the Casual 'Opportunity' is a Myth and a Trap
January for academics is like September for the fashion industry. Rather than fresh lipstick shades and new boots, 'tis the season to start fresh, to organize your office, shake off the pre-Christmas crumbs from your desk, and try to tackle the year with enthusiasm and a fresh perspective. Time to forget about the academic resolutions you didn't keep last year and start fresh with some new (and hopefully more realistic) objectives. Feel free to add some of your own to the comments section.
1. Stay away from Political Science Job Rumors. (www.poliscijobrumors.com)
Seriously, why does anyone- especially young scholars looking for advice or info about jobs- visit this 'Perez Hilton for Polisci Scholars' site? I'm not even on the job market and yet I find myself skimming over the contents at least a handful of times a year. Is it to remind myself how depressing, vile, gossipy, pathetic, competitive the field can be? This year I *MUST* avoid the endless debate about top schools, worst security profs, dysfunctional journals, and most eligible PhD candidates.
2. Never take red-eyes to conferences.
This is a classic mistake that must end. When booking, the savings of $200+ to fly overnight is often just too attractive (especially when you are working with reduced conference budgets). But, at 4am when you have been in a pretzel position for 6 hours between the snorer and the lady with the world's smallest bladder; or when you run into your student/academic hero/boss in the immigration or baggage line sporting zombi makeup, origami clothing, and your pink fuzzy flight pillow you will *ALWAYS* be willing to pay $1000+ to be in a hotel room getting a decent sleep before a full day of meetings. Life is too short.
3. Never share a conference room
While we're on the subject of conferences, let's all make a resolution not to share rooms anymore. Don't get me wrong- I have fond memories of sharing and catching up with friends at some conferences....but we're adults, we need sleep, we come from different time zones, we have different junk television needs at the end of the day, and we don't want to be held accountable for the decision to fall asleep face first in bed during the afternoon sessions. Surely this is all worth more than half the room rate?
4. Finally figure out how to file expenses
Seriously, does every university make submitting your expenses a 12-step obstacle course of shame, frustration, and hopelessness?
Have yourself a gender-neutral Christmas, let your toys be yellow. From now on our princess costumes and toy guns will be out of sight.... Well, you try to rhyme with this material. The Daily Mail asked yesterday "how to shop for gender neutral toys" noting the sea of blue and pink dividing stores like Toys R Us. But when Toys R Us introduced a gender-neutral toy catalog, in Sweden, France, Finland, Norway, Germany, Denmark and France- featuring Spider-Man pushing a pink pram and a young girl wielding a gun- conservatives bucked, calling the images brainwashing and 'male hatred.' Play Unlimited is a consumer action group that has been lobbying for more gender-neutral toys. Spokeswoman Thea Hughes argues that children need to be exposed to a diverse range of toys, noting "If a boy, for example, hasn't had experience carrying dolls around or pushing prams. We see fathers pushing prams around. Why is it OK for fathers to be involved in child rearing, but not OK for boys to play with dolls?" Some companies have capitalized on the debate- particularly with regard to the question 'what's good for girls'. Goldie Blocks, toys that are meant to inspire engineering skills within girls, has become an internet sensation (notwithstanding debate about it's own gender bias).
Well it is officially December- and you know what that means...all the hipsters and single dudes can finally shave off their Movember moustaches (those are the only men who participate, right?). Movember is a fundraiser for testicular cancer that has gained traction (in 2012 the campaign raised 29 million in Australia, where the idea originated) to the point where the moustache has become a symbol for cancer awareness.
But is Movember racist and sexist?
According to Arianne Shahvis at the New Statesmen, Movember is not all it is cracked up to be. She notes that the campaign's call for "real men" to grow "real moustaches" is "divisive, gender normative, racist and ineffective against some very real health issues." Read more on the debate here and here.
There has been a heated debate on whether Michelle Obama should be seen as a feminist. A recent Politico article called 'Leaning out: how Michelle Obama became a feminist nightmare' (pretty clear title) calls feminists to 'get over' the idea that the First Lady will, or has done much for women. Author Michelle Cottle says "enough already with the pining for a Michelle Obama who simply doesn’t exist" and laments her focus on children, dancing, and fitness rather than women's rights. Brittney Cooper at the Salon responded with 'Lay off Michelle Obama: Why white feminists need to lean back.' Here she argues "Black women have never been the model for mainstream American womanhood, and to act as though she takes something away from the (white) feminist movement is intellectually disingenuous and historically dishonest." She goes on to note the value in the First Lady's role as a mother and wife, and agrees with Kirsten West Savali's statement that, "In my feminism, we understand that raising intelligent, confident Black children in a loving family is one of the most revolutionary acts a Black woman can commit in America."
Finally, the University of Vermont is leading the way in efforts to allow students to choose their preferred gender prounoun. University forms allow students to choose from 'she', 'he' and 'ze' as well as the option to be referred to only by their name.
Two steps forward, two steps back. Just as three women completed training in the Marines for the first time- and as the US Military works to integrate women in to the combat arms, a top female US Colonel has lost her job because she asked for "average looking women" to be used in communications.
Col. Lynette Arnhart had been leading the effort to open more infantry roles for women in the army by January 1 2016. Politico first broke this story, noting that Arnhart had recommended avoiding using attractive women in communications because: “In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead.” She
dug herself deeper went on to say “There is a general tendency to select nice looking women when we select a photo to go with an article (where the article does not reference a specific person). It might behoove us to select more average looking women for our comms strategy. For example, the attached article shows a pretty woman, wearing make-up while on deployed duty. Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered hazardous duty),”
After numerous media reports on the gaffe, Col. Arnhart was removed from her post and replaced.
Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, weighed in on this....wait what?...ok she is also a National Guard soldier- declaring that the comments about attractiveness are "the unfortunate reality."
This week Dan Drezner hosted a guest post on the politics of Miss Universe and I responded by pointing out the lack of/and the need for a gender analysis in his post. In his response, Drezner asks an important question: "Why on God's green earth would I want to venture out from my professional comfort zone of American foreign policy and global political economy to blog about the politics of gender -- just so I can be told by experts on gender politics that I'm doing it wrong?"
I think we should discuss this. I assume there are many others in the field who feel the same way. Writing about anything political can evoke a shit-storm of responses- sometimes even more so when writing about issues we are less comfortable with and less confident about. Not to belabor the point, but I thought Drezner missed the gender politics- not that he got it wrong. But the question he raises deserves some attention. So why should non gender experts bother? Why deal with the possibility of offending, misrepresenting, omitting in a gender post- or when using gender in one's larger body of work? Is it easier to just ignore gender? First, it is important to separate engaging with gender from writing sexist remarks about women. I think any post that writes about women in a sexist way doesn't count as engaging with gender and certainly deserves the blasts it inevitably will get in the comments section. But feminists and gender scholars should think seriously about how best to engage those who make a genuine effort to think through gender- even when we think they didn't do a great job.
On one hand, the point is that gender should not be seen a sub-set 'expertise' that one has or doesn't have. If you are an expert on American foreign policy, you should already be confident in thinking through and writing about the gender aspects of foreign policy. On the other hand, that just isn't the reality of IR and I don't want my critiques to make someone feel like they should give up trying to engage. And I can empathize. I feel much less comfortable writing about race, LGBTQA and queer issues (amongst many others) and sometimes when I try I get blasted to the point that I wish I hadn't bothered. That's not useful is it? So how do we move forward?
Last week Dan Drezner asked What Does Miss Universe Tell us About World Politics in 2013? The post starts off on a positive note- that one can find politics anywhere- before it descends into one of the most classic examples of gender-avoidance/oblivion I've read in ages. Drezner swiftly calls on "the most qualified person on earth" to
outsource engaging on a lady topic write the remaining post. I felt like I was back at uni and my male professor had brought in a female body (any female body) to teach the week on gender. Sure she has a PhD and was Miss Earth- and she does have a unique perspective on pageants; however, since when do we need an insider to write about the politics of an issue (Drezner didn't rely on a Russian, for example, to substantiate his earlier comments about Putin and Russia).
- Do we still need ladies to comment on lady issues Drezner?
The post descends further into the gender abyss as Jessica Trisko Darden tells us that pageants are sort of like other international political events and that the organization itself is similar to familiar international organizations: "The decision-making process is opaque, often contested, and in many ways reflect the underlying power relations and interests of the dominant countries." Sure, I'm with you. Miss Universe is like the Olympics, or the Rugby World Cup- there is entertainment and politics happening at the same time. Got it. The post then mentions some slight problems with the organization, including institutional racism vis a vis excluding African delegates from a fashion show. And then, the post ends. That's it. Like my professors over a decade ago, Drezner doesn't come back in at the end of the lecture to engage with the content and he certainly doesn't address the
half-naked ladies elephant in the room: that pageants are different from other entertainment/political events in that they involve (largely men) judging the esthetics of one WOMAN who is meant to embody each country. Good lord, if you can't find and name the gender and race politics of Miss Universe where will you ever be able to find them? Skinny, straight, long-haired women parading in romantic, caricature costumes of their nation (you will never see Miss Canada wearing a replica uniform from the Indigenous residential schools- but you might see them in some phony universalized Native-American costume, for example)....and you don't think to write about gender and race? You missed the politics completely Drezner (and I'm holding you accountable, not your guest lecturer). Let's drop the useless comparison to other international organizations and talk about a few ways the pageant is political:
The Pop 5 is a new 'test' series of posts touching on events in pop culture and linking them back (briefly, hopefully, and sometimes loosely) to IR and politics. The posts are meant to be LIGHT, but also to take seriously the influence of popular culture on how we understand the world. It is, after all, one of the dominant lenses through which our students frame IR. I'm a self diagnosed pop culture addict with a list of shameful (and juicy) fixes (one of my most shameful pop culture habits will be revealed later in the post).
The focus today is on five recent pop culture events and what they might/might not tell us about the state of feminism.
Here's the list of some of the most popular/talked about pop culture recent events related to feminism (let's hope it was just a bad sample). More about each after the tab.
1. Melissa Harris Perry and bell hooks
2. Miley Cyrus
3. Miss Universe
4. Kaye West
5. Short hair/Bachelor Australia
Policies and practices set up to avoid discrimination in the past have a tendency to expire. Remember, 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' was originally set up to protect gay service-members within the US forces. Similarly, the often unofficial rule of having one woman on hiring committees has reached its expiry date. Primarily as a result of effective equality and diversity campaigns in the 1980s and early 1990s, many departments instituted either an explicit or informal policy to include 'at least' one woman on each hiring committee- usually after finding that most hiring committees included no women, and most hires were men. The result- in many cases- has been that there has been one woman on hiring committees in academia for nearly 3 decades. The problem is that while the number of female PhD graduates increases, and the number of female applicants increases, the lonely- token- woman on the hiring committee remains standard practice at many institutions. Sure, there is evidence that women can be just as sexist as men when it comes to hiring practices; however, there is also evidence that women offer a different perspective than men (particularly in terms of 'what constitutes-good/real- political science'). Changing the makeup of hiring committees could be an opportunity to change a hiring culture in academia in which men are not only more likely to be hired, but will also be paid more and promoted faster than their female counterparts.
Let's focus on tokenism. The one-woman policy constitutes tokenism for at least three reasons:
- The world is buzzing with news that Germany has introduced a 'third sex'- or, the option to leave a child's gender as indeterminate. This raises a slough of questions and long-overdue discussion.
- Speaking of gender, Californians are debating a new law in California (AB 1266) that would allow trans-gender students to choose their preferred gender pronoun and identity. Critics worry that it would result in a violation of privacy (most of the concerns seem to be about boys using female bathrooms).
- Obama is pushing Congress to pass a bill that would prevent employers from discriminating on the basis of gender identity (hello, is it 1970?? why hasn't such a bill been passed already?!)
- There has been quite a bit of discussion and sharing of the 'Switcheroo' Photo series by Hana Pesut (basically it is photos of couples that switch outfits- I don't really see it as a huge gender statement..maybe I don't get it).
- The World Economic Forum ranked the US 23 out of 126 countries in terms of gender equality- PBS has an interesting discussion of the fall from grace here.
The recent 'Maria' case- involving a young blonde girl taken from a Roma family and found to be the daughter of a Bulgarian Roma couple- has inspired greater scrutiny of Roma communities. More specifically, there have been subsequent cases of children taken from their Roma families because they did not 'look' Roma; however subsequent DNA tests confirmed the children to be the 'legitimate' biological children of their parents. A recent Spectator post calls the cases: a clash of "two great hysterias...racism and child-snatching, the Guardian’s obsession versus the Sun’s." These cases have inspired interesting debate about race and family and shed light on a 'new' kind of racial profiling. As Lindy West at Jezebel recently put it "The cultural complexities here are daunting. "We noticed your kid didn't look like you, so we took it" seems like it sets a bonkers precedent."
Despite targeting blonde children within Roma communities, and the recent Irish police 'blunder' involving the removal of a blonde child from its biological family, the Irish government has claimed that there is no racial profiling taking place in these communities. This process of removing children from their home and placing them in the care of the state, while forcing parents to undergo DNA tests, has been raised as an invasion of both the parents and the child's rights. Human rights groups are calling for an independent investigation of the cases.
Interpreting evidence related to poverty and development is never straightforward. Neo-liberal supporters of free market economics tend to point to economic growth as evidence that global inequality is stabilising, while those "closer to the ground" often point out the limitations of economic measurements and encourage a broader understanding of the everyday signs of exploitation and inequality in countries around the world- classic Development Studies 101. Evidence of this sustained divide between those who talk about poverty and those who seek to understand global economic inequality can seen by contrasting a recent NYT opinion piece by Jeffrey Sachs and an extensive research report on poverty. Sachs (primarily focused on the continent of Africa) declares that poverty is ending...soon; while a broader report published 24 hours later found that "economic growth is not helping Africa's poor." It seems almost unbelievable that such disparate accounts of "the developing world" can be printed within a 48 hour period. Poverty is ending, poverty is deepening, the market will save Africa, the market has destroyed Africa. With such contrasting messages it is no wonder that the general public (particularly students trying to understand 'development') can get confused.