Janus-Faced Finnish IR: Living With Contradictions

In this section we focus on the questions of lived and embodied experiences of pursuing IR as a feminist scholar. We raise eight themes that each speak of and to a male-dominated, male- and masculine-normalised, academic discipline with limited possibilities offered for female and feminist scholars. All this reiterates the affective side of Collage 1.

Embodied IR and Outright Sexism

Simply to be asked the question about feminist experiences in Finnish IR brings out the affective nature of lived experience. The encounter with the question itself brings “back bad memories and experiences that one rather has wanted to forget”. Furthermore, the question provokes reflections on the problematic relationship with the ‘discipline’. Memories of an experience provoke feelings of shame, being sidelined and humiliated, and other unwanted feelings such as anger.

These feelings are furthermore located in the body as aches and the “taste of metal in my mouth”. The feeling of being ashamed is not only internalised and targeted towards oneself, but also towards the discipline of IR, which feels violent and aggressive, but also grey and boring (Soreanu 2010; Soreanu and Hudson 2008). The feelings of being ashamed of the discipline relate to direct experience of sexual harassment and outright sexism, as this example illustrates:

“Is the feeling of shame the result of being a young female researcher in a male-dominated department where my other (male) colleagues told me that I was hired because the head of the department wanted to have sex with me—or, when I realised that observation was true? Or was it even earlier, when as an undergraduate student I had to listen to chauvinist jokes, gendered hints and sexual harassment?”

Watching Male Colleagues Climb the Career Ladder: Subtle Sexism Subtle sexism is also all too common. It happens with mundane gestures and comments, but also more strategically in recruitment situations and promotional situations. Male colleagues seem not to share similar experiences. Even for those who were slower to finish their PhDs, it seems to be easier for them to find salaried positions, networks and a firm ‘IR identity’. It further seems that men are supported more, and are directly encouraged to apply for positions, whereas women have to struggle through websites to find out about calls for applications. Situations repeated all too often include the following: “A male doctoral student is asked about the stage of their project and offered positions and funding, even when a woman colleague at the same stage is standing right there!” Negative evaluations or indifference can at times be turned into strategic opportunities to enter the discipline/department, such as temporary part-time/hourly-based teaching positions and secretarial and administration jobs—unthreatening posts in terms of the career competition between doctoral students since they do not offer upward career advancement.

The feelings of being an outsider become magnified because Finland as a context for international relations (academia, politics and the NGO sector) is small—the overall population of Finland is just 5.5 million. This, on the one hand, makes connecting and networking relatively easy, but on the other, leads to clique formation and feelings of claustrophobia.

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