Reverse Survival Strategy: Play Along

Here we describe three examples of ‘playing along’: toning down one’s feminist agenda, being the token feminist and letting the men play along. First, some strategically choose to distance themselves from explicitly feminist approaches and to play within the rules of the malestream (or male IR [MIR,]). While adopting a feminist approach may be personally enjoyable, some want to avoid being labelled as ‘too feminist’:

“Taking a feminist approach is like going through a little open gate; if you spend too much time enjoying the fresh and nourishing grass on the [feminist] side, you may be too ‘heavy’ to fit the narrow gate and come back to eat the (seemingly) greener grass [sources of funding, success in recruitment and forums of publication] on the [mainstream] side.”

Recounted examples of going ‘too far’ in feminism in the responses included ‘queering IR’ and ‘too radical’ notions of gender that would question the traditional binary gender division. Here we find an interesting connection between disciplining from the outside/mainstream to self-governance and disciplining from within the feminist community, which are qualities of a ‘good neoliberal citizen’. This is despite the fact that, internationally, queering the discipline and engagement with critical feminist theory are well established in feminist IR (Peterson 1999; Weber 2014).

Second, sometimes it is easy to play along, because one is accepted as the necessary token feminist to ‘tick all the boxes’:

“Some IR men know that in this day and age you cannot really publish an edited volume without including a feminist chapter, so they will use you strategically”.

But this playing along has an emotional downside to it:

“because they cannot give you any substantial feedback and there is a huge pressure not to mess up because you feel like you are standing in for a whole scholarly community. So if I do bad feminist work, they’ll end up thinking that all feminist work is crap”.

Finally, while feminists can let male colleagues play along with feminism and enter feminist spaces, it may end up being a double-edged sword, as feminists are not rewarded for doing feminist work. Instead, male colleagues will reward themselves for having engaged with feminism:

“While women feminists are seen as doing overly political work, the soundbites of feminism like ‘personal is political’ are taken up by those sympathetic to feminism to a certain extent and suddenly the arguments get heard.

At those times it seems that appearing as a feminist ally seems to be more important than an actual engagement with feminist work. Once a Finnish IR professor actually applauded himself for having gone to listen to a feminist panel at a conference. Apparently they need special rewards for engaging with feminist work”.

“I guess to go to a feminist panel as an ignorant man will be uncomfortable and there’s some of that emotionality involved, feelings of marginalization and exclusions that we feminists are so well used to by now. What really makes privilege visible is to go to that uncomfortable space where you are no longer the most privileged subject who’s able to define the rules of the game”.

However, the problem remains, participants in our dataset suggest, that most male IR scholars do not actively consult or reference feminist work, but instead make judgements based on certain ideas they have about feminism.

Whereas male feminists are regarded as more legitimate and, our data suggests, have their voices taken more seriously in the discipline of IR, female feminists are often considered to be too aggressive. Indeed, male feminists are taken more seriously and seen as facilitators between nonfeminists (or even anti-feminists) and female feminists—on the grounds that they are more neutral and better suited for this negotiation. Thus, there is a gendered division in feminist scholars’ experiences when it comes to the possibility of advancing one’s career and gaining the position of a scholar who is taken seriously or a scholar who has ‘made it’. These experiences clearly problematize popular claims such as that engaging men in talking about and promoting gender equality and feminist goals will automatically lead to progress and the abolition of varying forms of misogyny (see, e.g., #heforshe campaigns).

 
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