Being a Woman · Nature of Academia

#WomenAlso Research Cool Subfields You Should Pay Attention To

The Poli Sci Bitches have been musing on the disparity in gender across political science subfields for some time. We even saw a great paper at SPSA this year called, “You Research Like a Girl: Gendered Research Agendas and Their Implications” that began exploring this discrepancy.

As political scientists, we have three questions about women and our political science subfields. And I don’t have all the answers, but maybe you do.

1. Where are all the women?

Where do the women hang out in political science? What subfields do women tend to hang out in? Are all subfields equally welcoming to women?


In international relations, I notice that women are well represented in international cooperation and organizations, fairly well represented in international political economy, and not well represented at all in conflict and security.  In American politics, women seem to be more likely to study political behavior than political institutions.

Women also tend to hang out in public health, public policy, teaching & learning, and gender studies.  Now, with gender studies, the reason women are well represented there might be obvious, but the question of why more MEN aren’t interested in gender studies remains.

2. Why are women better represented in some subfields than others, and why does it matter?

This question is tricky.  It might be the case that women tend to focus on fields like policy or teaching & learning because their roles (goals?) are more administrative or professional in nature, and these fields can help women achieve those goals.

It might also be because women are aware of the pressures of the more traditional political science fields, those that are more male-dominated, and intentionally choose a less competitive field.  Perhaps women are being strategic with their choice of research agendas.

So why does it matter where the women hang out?

Because topics and subfields in the political science establishment are valued differently.  If tenure and search committees, conference program chairs, and fellow scholars are valuing certain kinds of research more than others, if they are valuing the more competitive fields like conflict or American institutions, then it matters whether women enter into these fields despite the pressure.

Perhaps more controversially, the causal arrow might be going the other way.  Maybe it’s not that women enter into certain subfields because they’re less competitive (and therefore less valued).  Maybe it’s that fields like public policy, gender studies, and teaching & learning are actually valued less because they’re dominated by women.  And that’s a big problem.


3. What can we do about this?

Oh boy.  I wish I knew.  But here are a few ideas.

First, we can stop giving women so many damned administrative tasks.  Even as graduate students, female RAs and TAs are asked to run errands, make coffee, and watch children more often than their male counterparts.  If women are discouraged about entering into a subfield where there is a lot of demand to publish and publish well, then maybe we should stop expecting women to be on every committee in the university.  Then we might actually have some time to get research done in a highly competitive field like conflict.

Second, we can continue to support wonderful organizations geared toward women in the field:  organizations that provide networks for women who study conflict, for women who study methods, and for women in political science in general, which is still very much a male dominated field.  We have a few links in our blog widget, and if you know of more, let us know!

Third, we can make a conscious effort as a discipline to value subfields and topics that are currently dominated by women.  Because like, SERIOUSLY? Do we really think that gender studies aren’t important? Public health? Political behavior? Teaching & learning?


These are growing fields in political science research, because they have real implications.  Are we going to let the Public Administration people have a monopoly on policy research?  The sociologists be the only ones who think about behavior?  Or God forbid, the Education Doctorates have the final say on teaching & learning?

Go to policy sections at MPSA! Go to the Teaching & Learning conference!  And, with ISA coming up, pay attention to the feminist theory sections and the international cooperation panels!  Women also know stuff about international relations, and we need to make sure that all research agendas are valued in our discipline.

*We are by NO MEANS the only ones who have ever posed these questions or tried to answer them.  Just to name a few of our inspirations and sources

Women in International Relations

Why Feminism is Needed in International Relations

Gender Bias in Political Science

Valerie Hudson’s paper on Why The Academy Needs Female Political Scientists

We were also overwhelmed by the wonderful women (and men!) on Twitter who told us that yes, absolutely #WomenAlsoISA and the IR Bitch is hoping to see you all there (if she is able to go!).  @amandachisholm5  @smsaideman @JM_Sievert @profmichelson and others!


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