Women and IR Blogs: Equally Likely to Blog, Less Likely to Study IR

By Suparna Chaudhry and William Nomikos

A couple of weeks ago, Barbara Walter and Taylor Marvin over at Political Violence @ a Glance asked why so few women in IR blog. They offered four potential explanations for the dearth of women in this part of the blogosphere: a lack of tenured women employed by elite research universities, imbalances in invitations to participate in blogs, outright sexism as a deterrent to blogging, and, finally, a low willingness of women to participate in blogs. At the Smoke-Filled Room, 3 out of our 12 bloggers are women or, looking solely at those who have IR as a concentration, 2 out of 9. Neither figure reflects equality in any real sense and so, given our existence as an exclusively graduate student blog, we wanted to dig a bit deeper into the mechanisms Walter and Marvin offer. Ultimately, we suggest that the lack of female bloggers in IR and, in particular, female graduate student bloggers, is a direct result of extreme gender imbalances that exist within graduate political science departments where two-thirds of students studying International Relations are male and only one-third is female.

In a related post, Jeremy Pressman asks whether the high percentage of tenured, male faculty in IR programs might just be a reflection of students in top PhD programs. To see if the paucity of female bloggers in international politics is just a reflection of the low number of women studying these topics in the top PhD programs, we looked at the distribution of women studying international relations and comparative politics across 17 schools (Top 20 schools selected non-randomly). Though the initial post did raise a question about the paucity of women specifically in IR, a look at some of the prominent blogs in the field such as The Monkey Cage, Duck of Minerva & Political Violence @ a Glance shows that posts are often made by comparativists as well.

Proportion of Each Gender by Subfield

Figure 1: Proportion of men and women studying International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Political Science in Top 20 Political Science Departments.

As Figure 1 shows, there is no paucity of women studying comparative politics. In fact, across the 14 schools that listed subfield interests for their doctoral students women have virtually equal representation (about 47%). Data from International Relations paint an entirely different picture. Only 33% of IR graduate students at these 14 schools are women. These numbers are especially stark compared to the gender balance across subfields. As we can see, women remain underrepresented in graduate programs in political science (39%) but much of this is due to one subfield—International Relations (American Politics is about equal; Political Economy, Methodology, and Political Theory are all skewed somewhat toward men).

Histogram of Proportion of Women Studying IR

Figure 2: A histogram of the distribution of the proportion of women studying International Relations at Top 20 Political Science departments.

Digging deeper, we can see from Figure 2 that only 2 schools have more women than men studying IR. And only 4 out of the 14 have at least 40% women. By contrast, 13 out of the 14 have at least 40% men studying IR. Clearly, a serious imbalance exists, which, in turn might lead to fewer women—in graduate school and in academia more broadly—blogging.

But, might it be the case instead that women are simply more reticent to post on and join blogs? This could be due to various potential causal mechanisms. First, foreign female students may not feel as comfortable voicing their opinions, especially if English is not their first language. However, since foreign male students are likely to face a similar language barrier, it may be the case that different cultures prescribe different norms of behavior, in particular with regard to the role of women in public and political life. It is perhaps the interaction between cultural differences and gender differences that makes international women more hesitant to blog. Second, looking beyond foreign students, it is also possible that women’s reticence to post, regardless of the geographical location of their prior education, could also have something to do with their classroom experiences, something that we are unable to capture just by looking at the distribution of women in PhD programs.

Relatedly, might IR blogs simply post about topics that women do not study? A 2006 TRIP survey of 1,112 IR faculty throughout the United States revealed certain dissimilarities between men and women in their status in the profession, approaches to teaching and scholarship, “Women study substantively different issue areas. Higher percentages of female than male faculty study international organization (+6%), international political economy (+3%), international law (+2%), the environment (+2%) and human rights (+1%). Higher percentages of men, in contrast, study U.S. foreign policy (+13%), international security (+6%), IR theory (+2%), and comparative foreign policy (+1%). These findings are consistent with evidence from the broader field of political science. The APSA divisions with the lowest female representation include international security and arms control, international collaboration, foreign policy, conflict processes, and international history and politics (Gruberg 2007). Indeed, fewer women are found in the field of IR than in American and comparative politics (Sedowski and Brintall 2007).” If our blogs are actually focusing more on such topics, then it is possible that some women may feel deterred to post about topics such as international organizations, law and so on, for fear that it may not generate enough interest. This perception could also be related to what is considered as “popular” or prominent in mainstream media, which tends to focus more on security and conflict-related topics, rather than topics related to international and non-governmental organizations and political economy.

Furthermore, Walter and Marvin, using the experience of Political Violence @ a Glance, suggest that it might be the case that fewer women are asked to join blogs. While this might be the case (the invitation process at the Smoke-Filled Room was similarly uneven), it seems more likely that this might also simply be a product of the imbalance that already exists. Additionally, as a blog, the Smoke-Filled Room has not faced any sexist attacks. Nonetheless, we acknowledge that these attacks occur and may serve as a deterrent for women. At this time, however, we are hesitant to draw any conclusions about how this could affect membership of our blog specifically and IR blogs more generally.

Nonetheless, we find little evidence that women are less likely than men to blog. Admittedly, the aforementioned factors, which might deter women from blogging, might reinforce the difficulties caused by the paucity of women in graduate programs but we doubt that these factors alone have pushed women out of the blogosphere. Let’s hypothesize that women and men are equally likely to blog. Let’s also posit an alternative hypothesis that men are more likely than women to blog. Given the structure of graduate departments, what is the probability that the Smoke-Filled Room would select 3 or fewer women out of 12 bloggers (or 2 out of 9 IR bloggers)? Given this probability, how confident do we feel in rejecting the null hypothesis that women and men are equally likely to blog? A very low probability (p<0.05, by convention) would suggest that it is unlikely that women joined the Smoke-Filled Room at such a low rate by chance.

To calculate this, we ran 10,000 simulated draws of bloggers from a pool of the 17 graduate schools for which we collected data. In 24% of these draws did the Smoke-Filled Room select 3 or fewer female bloggers (see Figure 3). When we restricted the sample to simply IR students (data from 14 schools), we found that in 40% of the draws, the Smoke-Filled Room selected 2 or fewer female IR bloggers (see Figure 4). We would not reject the null in either case at traditional levels. Therefore, we cannot conclude from the small number of female bloggers at the Smoke-Filled Room that women are less likely than men to blog. The reason is, quite simply, that the distribution of women in graduate programs and, in particular in IR, is so skewed toward men that it is difficult to find enough women to join blogs. The simulations reflect this fact as well. In fact, in a staggering 87% of the simulations, the Smoke-Filled Room selected more male than female IR bloggers.

Simulated Draws of Bloggers (Full Sample)

Figure 3: Histogram of simulations of draws from all Political Science students for bloggers for the Smoke-Filled Room. X-axis indicates number of women selected to join blog.

Simulated Draws of Bloggers (IR only)

Figure 4: Histogram of simulations of draws from only International Relations students for bloggers for the Smoke-Filled Room. X-axis indicates number of women selected to join blog.

Thus, the evidence suggests that women are not less likely to blog than men are. These findings align with our own experiences at the Smoke-Filled Room where our female bloggers, though fewer in number, have been just as active as our male bloggers. Indeed, the blogging process, even within International Relations, does not seem to be inherently flawed and sexist. Yet, as Walter and Marvin correctly point out, women do blog in smaller numbers than men do. Why? Our data gathered from Top 20 Political Science departments revealed a tremendous gender imbalance among PhD students of International Relations–33% are women, 67% are men. As our statistical analyses imply, the biggest problem appears to be structural gender imbalances within PhD programs. As we write, it is possible that issues such as women’s reticence to post, sexism on the Internet, the nature of topics discussed on IR blogs, and a smaller proportion of invitations going out to women could potentially reinforce the effect of structural imbalances, resulting in so few female bloggers. Nonetheless, the heart of the issue is analytical prior to the blogosphere and lies with the existing structures of graduate departments around the country. If we wish to foster a more equal blogging community in International Relations, it is there we should begin.

The authors would like to thank Guadalupe Tunon and Niloufer Siddiqui for their help with this post. You can follow Suparna on Twitter here and William here.

Let’s Not Forget the Good News: Croatia Joins the EU

With the ongoing conflict in Syria, Southern Europe’s financial difficulties, growing social unrest in Turkey and Egypt, and much else, it seems that “good news” often gets too little attention. Less than two decades after the end of some the most violent and brutal fighting in human history, Croatia just became the 28th member of the European Union. This is a triumph of the Croatian people’s will, international mediation, post-conflict institution building, and international organizations (though not all would agree with the latter assessment). Indeed, Croatia’s accession is merely another step in the rebuilding of the former Yugoslavia: the previous step was Slovenia’s accession and adoption of the Euro, the next steps will include the membership of Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, those “irredeemable” hotbeds of violence from the 90s, have remained free of fighting for over a decade, without any indication that conflict will recur.

But, for now, this is Croatia’s moment alone. The failures of post-conflict institution-building  in Afghanistan and Iraq loom large over the international community’s collective conscience, as well they should. However, these experiences shouldn’t cloud the massive successes elsewhere. This week, we celebrate one of these success as Croatia joins the EU and cements its status as a 21st century liberal democracy. A remarkable trajectory for a country sadly often known solely for its achievements in strife rather than liberty. Congratulations, Croatia, and welcome to the European Union.

For more of his thoughts on the role of international actors in post-conflict societies, follow William on Twitter.

What We’re Reading

We’re One Year Old!

A little over a year ago, on June 16th, 2012, we created The Smoke-Filled Room, a graduate student political science blog. We hoped to give graduate students a voice on the internet, a chance to express our thoughts on politics and to put to practical use what we were learning in the classroom. We learned very quickly that maintaining an active blog wasn’t easy, but were helped in the task by an excellent group of political science PhD students from around the country. We were flattered to be selected as one of the finalists in The Duck of Minerva’s annual blogging awards, in the Most Promising New Blog category (we’ll get you next year, Political Violence @ a Glance). We look forward to another exciting year of blogging and hope you’ll keep reading.

What We’re Reading

  • Some people use the word impossible when they mean improbable. Like this anonymous intelligence source: “The big thing that changed is an increase in the number of incidents,” the source says. “It’s impossible that the opposition is faking the stuff in so many instances in so many locations.” More on the Syria decision here.
  • Large protests are currently underway in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and other Brazilian cities against rising prices in public transportation and overall dissatisfaction with poor public service delivery in large metropolises. Some are calling it “the Brazilian Spring” and many say that protesters are inspired by the mobilizations in Turkey. Police repression has been strong: more than 190 people arrested in São Paulo, including 7 journalists. And this song effectively depicts the feeling of many taking part in these protests.
  • For even more on the Brazil riots, check out this tumblr.
  • “The unmanned aerial vehicle—the “drone,” the very emblem of American high-tech weaponry—started out as a toy, the fusion of a model airplane and a lawn-mower engine.” Fred Kaplan on the history of the drone.
  • Economist Robert Frank compares Sweden’s health care to Obamacare in the New York Times. “The encouraging news is that the Affordable Care Act was intended to foster the evolution of a new system that can capture many of the gains currently enjoyed by countries like Sweden. For that to happen, however, Congressional critics must abandon their futile efforts to repeal Obamacare and focus instead on improving it. Their core premise — that greater government involvement in health care provision spells disaster — lacks support in the wealth of evidence from around the world that bears on it. The truth appears closer to the reverse: Because of pervasive market failures in private health care markets, this may be the sector that benefits most from collective action.”

What We’re Reading


  • Substitute political words for the medical words in this excerpt: “The current regime was built during a time of pervasive ignorance when the best we could do was throw a drug and a placebo against a randomized population and then count noses. Randomized controlled trials are critical, of course, but in a world of limited resources they fail when confronted by the curse of dimensionality. Patients are heterogeneous  and so are diseases. Each patient is a unique, dynamic system and at the molecular level diseases are heterogeneous even when symptoms are not. “
  • A military and strategic assessment of the situation in Syria from Yezid Sayigh at Carnegie. Brutally honest about the existence of good, clean options for the rebels and its potential allies–there aren’t any–it’s a nice companion/update to Dexter Filkins excellent overview of Obama’s options in Syria from the New Yorker a few weeks ago. The crux is that Assad’s position is slowly stabilizing, making a prolonged stalemate increasingly the likely outcome of the conflict.
  • From the Monkey Cage: Akis Georgakellos and Harris Mylonas with a great overview of the structural realignments in the Greek political system. Many Greeks are still in denial about the very real–and immense–changes to Greek political life. At the core, Greece has been transformed from a two-party electoral system with one-party governance into a fragmented electoral system with multiparty governance.

Taksim: The Public’s Square

Amnesty International.

(Editor’s note: The following is a guest contribution by Jonathan Endelman, PhD student in Sociology at Yale University)

Ostensibly, the protests in Turkey began after the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan planned to place a shopping center and luxury housing complex in the Taksim Square’s Gezi Park in Istanbul, an historical gathering point for protest movements of the Turkish left. However, the current controversy over the proposed shopping center in Taksim square in Istanbul is a much larger matter than a construction project. As many analysts have recently pointed out, it was never really about the trees. What we are seeing today is nothing less than a power struggle between two opposing sides with radically different visions for the country’s future.

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