Indifferent Handmaidens

Even though the circles are small, feminists recollect feelings of not being taken seriously as contributors to the discipline. Reactions vary from remaining quiet and displaying neglectful indifference to aggressive and dismissive attacks. It is not uncommon to witness a male professor attacking feminists’ work dismissively and maliciously in seminars. If you cannot take the attacks, it is seen as a personal weakness and scholarly immaturity—constituting embodied expressions of male dominance of IR, to which we return later in this chapter.

These hostile attacks are based on at least the following three ideas: one, that feminist engagement with international relations is not IR (Tickner 1997; Weber 1994; Zalewski 2007; Penttinen 2004, pp. 13-21); two, although ‘gender’ can be recognized as a ‘cutting-edge’ approach in IR, in reality gender is actually used as a concept in a positivist manner that has nothing to do with how feminist and gender studies scholars have been debating it for decades, (Elias 2015); three, well-meaning advice may rely on the idea that gender is ‘too narrow’ an approach: “Even though I have studied gender in a number of different political phenomena, internationally and nationally, producing both empirical and theoretical work, it does not count as a ‘broad range’”.

“Sometimes a feminist woman receives well-meaning career advice, such as, ‘You should broaden your horizons, don’t be doing only gender/feminism as it is so limited, if you want to get a job, you need to demonstrate that you can do a broad range of things in the field,’ or ‘There are jobs outside of academia, you know.’ The message really being, ‘Don’t think we’ll ever hire you’. Of course, they will commend her for all the secretarial and admin work she's done: ‘Oh you are so effective, things run so much better now than when [he] was in charge’”.

At times these dismissals make it to official institutional records: “The research profile of x does not represent the way in which the discipline is taught at this university. Instead, the person studies gender” (extract from a review report). While, at times, there simply are “too many applicants doing gender”.

Given the opportunity to teach, feminist scholars are micro-managed— a form of controlling the feminist content of taught modules and supervision. This micro-management can still come as a surprise:

“At times, even feminists have to come to terms with the ‘myth’ of equality: having practiced international affairs in various expert and activist positions with like-minded colleagues, it comes as a shock to realize that integration of such perspectives to syllabus, teaching content, thesis seminars and supervision is openly and at times aggressively opposed”.

Despite the fact that ‘doing gender’ catches the eye of committees during recruitment processes or research funding evaluations, the everyday feeling of general indifference prevails: “I don't think most of the people at my department in Finland even know what I am researching, or care”. This feeling seems to get worse after having defended one’s PhD, as scholars are left alone when PhD supervision is over, whereas regular PhD seminars at least provide a direct peer support network. Given the increased competition for global recognition through international university rankings, and given that state funding of Finnish universities depends on the level of documented ‘internationalization’ (controlled by the amount of outbound/inbound international visiting fellowships), scholarly attention is reserved for invited speakers at the expense of focusing on engaging with the work of one’s own colleagues.

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