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Gender in International Relations

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As a scholar and teacher of international relations, I have frequently asked myself the following questions: Why are there so few women in my discipline? If I teach the field as it is conventionally defined, why are there so few readings by women to assign to my students? Why is the subject matter of my discipline so distant from women's lived experiences? Why have women been conspicuous only by their absence in the worlds of diplomacy and military and foreign policy-making?

I began to think about writing this book as an attempt to answer these questions. Having spent my childhood in London during World War II and my adolescence in New York as part of a United Nations' family, international affairs were an important part of my early life. But, as one of only three female graduate students in my year in Yale University's International Relations Program in the early 1960s, I began to notice that the academic discipline that I had chosen, in part because of these formative experiences, was not one that attracted many women. Admittedly, when I returned to graduate studies in the 1970s, the number of women entering the field had grown: while I felt less isolated, I observed that women scholars and teachers of international relations were clustered in areas such as international political economy, development studies, and international political theory. I still wondered why so few women chose national and international security studies, the privileged core of the field.

My own research has been in areas such as Third World development, North-South relations, and peace studies-- areas that were far  from the mainstream of international politics in the early 1980s when I began my academic career. Like many women in internationalrelations, I did not choose to specialize in security-linked war and peace studies, usually associated with great power relations and power politics, areas central to the subject matter of the classical discipline.

As a teacher of international relations, however, I have, of necessity, familiarized myself with what some in my field would call the "important" issues of war and peace, generally defined as national security studies. But, as only one of three women out of a total of about sixty students who participated in a course on nuclear strategy at M.I.T. in the early 1980s, my contention that this is an area of international relations not heavily populated by women was strongly reinforced. Trying to familiarize myself with the arcane and esoteric language of nuclear strategy, I remembered with some sympathy how, as an undergraduate history major, I had avoided details of war-fighting strategies and weapons development.

About the Author

J. Ann Tickner is professor of international relations at the University of Southern California.



 

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