Who’s Afraid of Identity Politics?

PSA Women and Politics member Jonathan Dean (University of Leeds) assesses the problematic messages behind – and alarming consequences of – recent debates over ‘identity politics’[i]

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Amidst the recriminations and collective shock in the face of Trump’s victory (and the myriad other reverses suffered by progressives in 2016), a consensus is emerging: the weakness of the left is attributable to its embrace of “identity politics”. Rather than focussing on the interests and priorities of the majority, the story goes, the left has for too long embraced a simplistic and sectional politics in which the interests of racial and sexual minorities have taken centre stage, at the expense popularity and electability.

A recent outburst from the perhaps unlikely figure of Stephen Kinnock typifies this narrative. “What we need to see in the progressive Left”, argued Kinnock, “is an end to this identity politics”. In its place “we need to be talking far more about commonality rather than what differentiates from each other – let’s talk about what unites us.” Similar pronouncements have recently been made by Bernie Sanders, as well as a number of left-liberal commentators on both sides of the Atlantic. However, this unease about so-called “identity politics” has been a longstanding feature of left commentary and scholarship. In 1996 the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm lamented the corrosive effects of identity politics within the left,[ii] while more recently, a number of prominent radical left theorists – Slavoj Žižek, Alain Badiou and Jodi Dean, among others – cheered the resurgence of discussion of the idea of communism in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, in part because, for them, it marked the end of a divisive, deradicalised left in thrall to identity politics. This disdain for identity politics is not isolated to a few individuals: it is a widespread sensibility expressed by Marxists and left-liberals alike (indeed, there is probably not much else that Kinnock and Žižek would agree on).

But what, precisely, is this “identity politics” that inspires such animosity? At a basic level, “identity politics” refers to any politics that seeks to represent and/or advance the claims of a particular social group. But in the narratives outlined above, it has a more specific meaning: in left circles, “identity politics” is, as Nancy Fraser pointed out back in 1998, used largely as a derogatory term for feminism, anti-racism and anti-heterosexism. The implication was – and very often still is – that gender, race and sexuality are identity-based in the sense that they are seen as flimsy, superficial and, to use Judith Butler’s memorable phrase, ‘merely cultural’. This, of course, is to be contrasted with its constitutive outside, class. Class relations, in the eyes of the identity politics critic, exhibit a depth, profundity and materiality that ‘mere identity’ lacks. Furthermore, the alleged universalism of class is contrasted with the narrow, sectional concerns characteristic of so-called identity politics.

But what, precisely, is wrong with this framing of the problem? For one, the implied distinction between “identity” (read: narrow, shallow, self-interested) and “class” politics (read: broad, deep, universal, authentic) misconstrues the character of these different strands of progressive politics, in at least three ways. First, all forms of politics arguably involve some kind of appeal an identity, insofar as, to use the language of political theorist Michael Saward, they entail claims to speak for a politically salient constituency (and thus an “identity” of sorts). This applies as much to “class” as any other dimension of power and identity. Indeed, as Gurminder Bhambra has argued in a recent piece for The Sociological Review, these appeals to “class” are quintessential identity politics: they appeal to an identity category – the (presumed white) working class – whose interests have been shamefully neglected by elitist, out of touch leftists and liberals. The question is not, therefore, universalism or identitarianism, but whether or not we acknowledge the “identitarian” character of our political claims. Something akin to this is eloquently described by James Clifford in a 1999 essay entitled ‘Taking Identity Politics Seriously’, where he argues that ‘opposition to the special claims of racial or ethnic minorities often masks another, unmarked ‘identity politics’, an actively sustained historical positioning and possessive investment in Whiteness’.[iv]

Second, few contemporary feminists or anti-racists would adopt the “identitarian” view that one’s identity necessarily gives rise to specific forms of politics. Indeed, the recent history of feminism, queer politics and anti-racism is precisely one of problematising identity by analysing and challenging the various ways in which heteronormativity, capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy shape identity-formation (recent work by Jasbir Puar, Sam Chambers, Imogen Tyler, Patricia Hill Collins and Alison Phipps spring to mind as exemplars). Ironically, Marxism arguably comes closer to the popular stereotype of reductive identity politics, insofar as it holds that one’s position within capitalist relations of production – and the forms of consciousness and identity this gives rise to – conditions one’s political interests.

Third, a frankly bewildering inference made by Kinnock, Žižek et al is that the left in its various guises has spent its time of late doggedly pursuing the interests of women, sexual minorities and racial minorities. The reality, however, is that left-wing movements and political parties in the UK and US have an at best patchy track records on race, gender and sexuality, as recent scholarship by the likes of Janet Conway, Julia Downes, Lara Coleman and Abigail Bakan make clear. All the way from the moderate liberal left to the radical Marxist left, race, gender and sexuality continue to be cast as minority concerns at best, and “bourgeois distractions” at worst, while sexism and misogyny (including, but not limited to, the sexual abuse of women comrades) remain depressingly prevalent across a variety of left spaces.[v]

Consequently, left-wing denunciations of identity politics yield a number of alarming consequences: they naturalise gendered and racialised hierarchies by casting white, male class politics as universal. Such a narrative is therefore not only powerless to challenge, but actively complicit in, the re-energised white supremacism which, as Akwugo Emejulu has recently outlined,[vi] has been fundamental to the context of Trump’s victory. What is more, to pit class politics against identity politics casts women, racial minorities and sexual minorities as outside the boundaries of true, authentic “working classness”. As such, the political claims of working class ethnic minorities, queers and women increasingly go unheard. This is exacerbated by the continued use of “left behind” as euphemism for “white working class”, with its inference that white poverty is unnatural, exceptional, worthy of our attention, while black poverty is either invisible or simply part of the natural order of things. Who is seen to “count” as authentically working class has thus become a key terrain of struggle in the era of Trump and Brexit.

Let us, therefore, not be under any illusions about how these dismissals of “identity politics” function: they are, in effect, a kind of dog whistle to those on the left who might, for instance, agree that black lives matter, but ultimately believe that when push comes to shove it is the (white male) working class that matters more. As others have pointed out,[vii] this is tantamount to being called upon to sacrifice a range of constituencies – women, racial minorities, queers, immigrants (and at times perhaps also trans people, non-binary and gender non-conforming folk, sex workers) – on the altar of political expediency. Putting aside any doubts as to whether this would actually work in terms of galvanising electoral support, this is clearly a morally bankrupt form of politics.

On a (slightly) more positive note, I am clearly not the only one to find class for a “return to class” alarming: indeed, since I started writing this piece a number of comment pieces have appeared online advancing a similar argument[viii] I would also concede that the challenges facing those committed to a progressive politics are deep and complicated, and I do not for a second claim to have solution. But any solution that insists we forget, minimise or ignore the disadvantage of those who are not white and male is not one I want to sign up to.

Jonathan Dean is Lecturer in Politics in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds.

[i] See http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/labour-must-stop-being-obsessed-with-diversity-says-stephen-kinnock_uk_58342344e4b09025ba335e02. Accessed 25/11/06.

[ii] Hobsbawm, E. (1996) ‘Identity politics and the Left’. New Left Review 217: 38–47.

[iii] See https://www.thesociologicalreview.com/blog/class-analysis-in-the-age-of-trump-and-brexit-the-pernicious-new-politics-of-identity.html. Accessed 25/11/16.

[iv] See Clifford, J. (1999) ‘Taking Identity Politics Seriously: The Contradictory, Stony Ground’. In: P. Gilroy, L. Grossberg and A. McRobbie (eds.) Without Guarantees: Essays in Honour of Stuart Hall. London: Verso.

[v] See, for example, this piece by Julia Downes on sexual violence in activist communities: https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/julia-downes/salvaging-listening-to-sexual-violence-survivors-in-uk-activist-communit. Accessed 25/11/16.

[vi] See, for example, http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2934-the-centre-of-a-whirlwind-watching-whiteness-work and http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2733-on-the-hideous-whiteness-of-brexit-let-us-be-honest-about-our-past-and-our-present-if-we-truly-seek-to-dismantle-white-supremacy. Accessed 25/11/16.

[vii] See, for example, this twitter thread from @BreeNewsome: https://twitter.com/BreeNewsome/status/800725481775661056, or this article by Paul Mason: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/globalisation-dead-white-supremacy-trump-neoliberal. Both accessed 25/11/16.

[viii] Maya Goodfellow’s recent piece for The Staggers blog is particularly worth a read. See http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/11/white-working-class-another-form-identity-politics. Accessed 28/11/16.

[i] A number of the arguments contained here are articulated in more depth in Dean, J. (2015). ‘Radicalism Restored? Communism and the end of Left Melancholia’. Contemporary Political Theory 14(3): 234-255.

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Won’t Someone Think of the Men? A Reply to Jack Grove and the Times Higher Education

Dear Jack (can we call you Jack?),

Thanks so much for your unsupported musings article on the ridiculously wittily phrased ‘anti-bloke bias’ in academia. It is always rage-inducing refreshing to see a bloke mansplain explain privilege to wimmin.

Let’s start with the opening, Jack (can we call you Jack?)

To even ask the question risks raising the hackles of many who still see sexism as a huge problem faced by women in the academy…

Problematic canine metaphors aside (bitches, anyone?), consider our hackles raised, Jack.

Other, less woke, wimmin than ourselves might dismiss this opening claim, but once we saw the quality of your data, it gave us ‘paws’ for thought. We’d never thought about the silencing of men’s voices in academia. Consider, for example, the one (that’s right – one) ‘bloke’ that makes up your article’s empirical foundation, pulled with little contextual explanation from a wider study that’s actually looking at support for BME academics.

“Departments have some kind of fear of some men – that’s why I have been held back,” said the academic, quoted anonymously in the study.

This is groundbreaking investigative journalism, Jack (can we call you Jack?) – a much-needed and welcome corrective to the overwhelming evidence of established bias against women in academia (like, we don’t know, maybe all the stuff on women’s continuing under-representation in academic posts – especially women of colour, or journal citation bias, or gender bias in teaching evaluations – well-established patterns that you’ve actually written about).

As political scientists, we’re always interested in new and exciting methodologies – so we’ve replicated your approach of acquiring a single data point by engaging one woman in a ‘hushed conversation’ in a corridor (we can’t reveal any further information for ethical reasons, bound as we are to the standards of our field).

Turns out, we’ve all worked with that guy (or someone like him). We’ve seen with our own eyes former male colleagues fighting back against their own marginalization through brave acts of resistance – drawing penis pics on staff meeting agendas, groping or propositioning younger female colleagues (shout out to the woke dude who sent one of us a text from the audience at the PSA Conference last year while we were on a panel asking us for sex), or publicly expressing that women taking maternity leave were ‘entitled’ and unproductive. For those men that don’t have the political capital to take a direct stand, more indirect forms of resistance are available to you – through who you cite, who you hire, who you promote, and who you give administrative responsibilities to.

Fight the power, dudes, fight the power.

Yours in privilege,

Meryl Kenny & Elizabeth Evans

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2016 Undergraduate Essay Competition Winners Announced!

The PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group is delighted to announce the winners of our annual Undergraduate Essay Competition. This year’s judge, Professor Rosie Campbell (Birkbeck, University of London and Vice-Chair of the Political Studies Association) noted the high quality of this year’s essays, stating: ‘The submissions were again of an excellent standard with a range of topics covered from the study of women and war to maternity leave provision in UK higher education institutions. The two most outstanding essays both addressed issues of gender and globalisation.’

Our 2016 winners are:

First Prize – Sebastian Wigdel-Bowcott (University of Leeds): ‘Critically assess the implications of postcolonial theory for our understanding of contemporary feminist politics’

The judge said: ‘Sebastian’s essay (submitted by Dr Alexa Athelstan) combines a deep understanding of abstract theory with an excellent use of examples. It was well written and engaging. I particularly enjoyed the way he pulled in examples from contemporary feminist activism such as Femen’s ‘Topless Jihad’ campaign. These examples were analysed through the lens of feminist theorists such as Butler, Eisenstein and Chester. Overall, the essay is an exemplar of how to use examples to explore, critique and develop theoretical approaches to gender and politics.’

Read Sebastian’s essay here.

Second Prize – Pablo Pérez Ruiz (University of Edinburgh): ‘Is globalisation good for women?’

The judge said: ‘This essay (submitted by Dr. Claire Duncanson) is extremely well written and constructed and presents complex issues with nuance and insight. Pablo demonstrates that gender relations are central to economic globalisation and provides a thoughtful critique of approaches that fail to acknowledge the role of gender.’

Read Pablo’s essay here.

Congratulations Sebastian and Pablo!

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X marks the spot but the Ys have it: referendum coverage as a boys’ own story

 

By Karen Ross, Newcastle University

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman (/feminist political communication scholar) because most of my time is spent on absences, peering into the black hole of women’s silencing. Any number of men, both politicians and journalists, regularly claim that this or that election will focus on the mumsnet vote or, in the case of the EU Referendum, that women voters will determine the outcome. The implication of these pontifications is that women will somehow be addressed as women, as if their/our concerns, interests and ballot box behaviour are both biologically-determined and homogenous. Not only is this fatuous nonsense, but even if it was a little bit true (for example, most of the folks who campaigned against the tampon tax were probably women), political parties and the media make scant effort to find out what women, individually or severally, might actually want. The siren song of ‘where are the women?’ has been heard as much during this campaign as any others although the final weeks of the campaign did see an improvement in the visibility of women politicians speaking on both sides of the argument.

The consideration of women’s ‘specialness’ was exemplified by both Remain and Leave’s launch of femme-campaigns, with Remain’s Women IN campaign launched in January via an open letter to the Evening Standard signed by 50 “leading businesswomen, scientists, trade union officials and health professionals.” Leave’s effort, Women for Britain, was somewhat cynically deployed on International Women’s Day, fronted by UKIP’s Suzanne Hill and Priti Patel for the Tories, with Patel subsequently becoming the only woman politician who enjoyed media traction in the first weeks of the campaign. Unfortunately for Patel, comparing herself and the other EU refuseniks with the Suffragettes’ struggle did not sit well with Emmeline Pankhurst’s great grand-daughter, Helen, who demanded an apology for the (in)appropriation. What unites both campaigns is the strange fact that their respective official launches constitute their only significant media appearance, not so much a campaign, more a PR stunt. There have been a few soundbites from their various spokespeople since their launches but they do not add up to a campaign for women’s votes: on polling day, Women for Britain’s FB page had a mere 1448 likes.

By May, the domination of a few male voices (Dave, Boz and Mike) and the extreme narrowness of the debate – it’s all about immigration, stupid – not to mention #allmalepanels, mansplaining and the beauty contest for next Tory Leader, was revealed in a Labour report discussed by Harriet Harman, prompting her to say that women were being “frozen out of the debate” and that she would be making an official complaint to Ofcom about women’s under-representation. Labour’s research showed that between January and the end of May, only 2 out of 14 commentators on BBC TV’s breakfast show were women as were 10 of the 58 politicians contributing to the Today programme alongside the 6 women out of 24 guests invited to chat on Good Morning Britain. This resonates exactly with Loughborough University Centre for Research in Communication and Culture’s rather excellent campaign coverage reports which persistently showed the marginalisation of women’s voices throughout the campaign.

By early June, the parties and the media seemed to have taken notice of the conspicuous and voluble social media critique of the exclusionary tenor of the tory-boys-story and ITV’s EU debate fielded five women and Boris. Remain had Angela Eagle (Lab), Amber Rudd (Cons) and Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) and Leave had Andrea Leadsom (Cons) and Gisela Stuart (Lab). The BBC followed suit in the last televised (The Great) debate on 21 June with the same pair of women for Leave but a different line-up for Remain (Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives and Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC) bookending Sadiq Khan. The media coverage of the event, at least the stories I read, was mostly gender-neutral with none of the routine trivialisation on women’s sartorial style. However, the Mail could not resist commenting on Davidson’s passion for kick-boxing and her recent engagement to her “partner Jennifer Wilson”, a level of personal detail not provided for any of the other panellists. Whilst the last week of the campaign did indeed render women more visible in terms of these set-piece debates, general coverage remained a boys’ own story, with Jo Cox the most significant woman politician in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons. We now know that xenophobia won the day and her belief that we have more in common than divides us has failed to persuade. We are the poorer for that.

Reprinted with kind permission from Dan Jackson, Einar Thorsen and Dominic Wring, eds. (2016) EU Referendum Analysis: Media, Voters and the Campaign, first published on 4 July 2016. http://bit.ly/EUReferendumAnalysis2016_Jackson-Thorsen-and-Wring_v1

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Congrats, you have an all-male book prize!

The W.J.M. Mackenzie Book Prize is awarded annually by the UK Political Studies Association to the best book published in political science in each calendar year.

Yet, in its entire 30 year history, the prize has only ever been awarded to men.

all male panel

(Thanks to http://allmalepanels.tumblr.com for highlighting this).

Below we include a partial (crowd-sourced) list of excellent books written by women in politics and IR during the last thirty years that our members have recommended. Please send us your suggestions and additions – which books written by women political scientists, IR scholars and theorists have influenced you?

  • Jane Mansbridge (1980) Beyond Adversary Democracy. New York: Basic Books.
  • Susan Strange (1986) Casino Capitalism. Oxford University Press.
  • Carole Pateman (1988) The Sexual Contract. Polity Press.
  • Cynthia Enloe (1989) Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. University of California Press.
  • Susan Moller Okin (1989) Justice, Gender and the Family. Basic Books.
  • Iris Marion Young (1990) Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton University Press.
  • Sylvia Walby (1990) Theorising Patriarchy. Blackwell.
  • Cynthia Cockburn (1991) In The Way of Women. Macmillan.
  • J. Ann Tickner (1992) Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security. Columbia University Press.
  • Joni Lovenduski and Vicky Randall (1993). Contemporary Feminist Politics: Women and Power in Britain. Oxford University Press.
  • Joni Lovenduski and Pippa Norris (1993) Gender and Party Politics. London: Sage.
  • Chantal Mouffe (1993) The Return of the Political. Verso.
  • Liah Greenfeld (1993) Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Harvard University Press.
  • Diana Coole (1993) Women in Political Theory: From Ancient Misogyny to Contemporary Feminism. 2nd ed. Lynne Rienner.
  • Anne Phillips (1995) The Politics of Presence: The Political Representation of Gender, Ethnicity, and Race. Oxford University Press.
  • Pippa Norris and Joni Lovenduski (1995) Political Recruitment: Gender, Race and Class in the British Parliament. Cambridge University Press.
  • Jan Jindy Pettman (1996) Worlding Women: A Feminist International Politics. Routledge.
  • Martha Finnemore (1996) National Interests in International Society. Cornell University Press.
  • Ruth Lister (1997) Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives. Palgrave.
  • Carol Lee Bacchi (1999) Women, Policy and Politics: The Construction of Policy Problems. Sage.
  • Marysia Zalewski (2000) Feminism after Postmodernism: Theorising through Practice. Routledge.
  • Carol Johnson (2000) Governing Change: Keating to Howard. University of Queensland Press.
  • Gabriella Slomp (2000) Thomas Hobbes and the Political Philosophy of Glory, Macmillan.
  • Ann Russo (2001) Taking Back Our Lives. Routledge.
  • Christine Sylvester (2001) Feminist International Relations: An Unfinished Journey. Cambridge University Press.
  • Maja Zehfuss (2002) Constructivism in International Relations. Cambridge University Press.
  • Shirin Rai (2002) Gender and the Political Economy of DevelopmentFrom Nationalism to Globalisation. Polity.
  • Louise Chappell (2002) Gendering Government. UBC Press.
  • Pippa Norris (2003) Democratic Phoenix: Reinventing Political Activism. Cambridge University Press.
  • Michele Micheletti (2003) Political Virtue and Shopping: Individuals, Consumerism and Collective Action. Palgrave.
  • Sarah Childs (2004) New Labour’s Women MPs: Women Representing Women. Routledge.
  • Joni Lovenduski (2005) Feminizing Politics. Polity Press.
  • Miki Caul Kittilson (2006) Challenging Parties, Changing Parliaments: Women and Elected Office in Contemporary Western Europe. The Ohio State University Press.
  • Georgina Waylen (2007) Engendering Transitions: Women’s Mobilisation, Institutions and Gender Outcomes. Oxford University Press.
  • Valerie Bryson (2007) Gender and the Politics of Time: Feminist Theory and Contemporary Debates. Policy Press.
  • Ayesha Siddiqa (2007) Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy. Pluto Press.
  • Judith Squires (2007) The New Politics of Gender Equality. Palgrave.
  • Laura Sjoberg and Caron Gentry (2007) Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Women’s Violence in Global Politics. Zed Books.
  • Bonnie Meguid (2008) Party Competition Between Unequals: Strategies and Electoral Fortunes in Western Europe. Cambridge University Press.
  • Kimberly Hutchings (2008) Time and World Politics: Thinking the Present. MUP.
  • Christina Boswell (2009/2012) The Political Uses of Expert Knowledge: Immigration Policy and Social Research. Cambridge University Press.
  • Nancy Fraser (2010) Scales of Justice: Reimagining Political Space in a Globalising World. Columbia University Press.
  • Mona Lena Krook and Fiona Mackay (2011) Gender, Politics and Institutions: Towards a Feminist Institutionalism. Palgrave.
  • Fidelma Ashe (2011) The New Politics of Masculinity: Men, Power and Resistance. Routledge.
  • Jacqui True (2012) The Political Economy of Violence Against Women. Oxford University Press.
  • Marysia Zalewski (2013) Feminist International Relations: Exquisite Corpse. Routledge.
  • Charli Carpenter (2014) ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda Vetting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security. Cornell University Press.
  • Louise Chappell (2015) The Politics of Gender Justice at the International Criminal Court. Oxford University Press.

Happy Reading!

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Is it really that difficult to find women to talk about the EU Referendum?

The significant absence of expert women’s voices from media debates and academic events related to the EU Referendum has been widely reported. PSA Women and Politics members Roberta GuerrinaToni HaastrupKatharine Wright share a list of women EU experts and argue there are in fact many women voices on these issues and they are not difficult to find. More work needs to be done by political institutions, campaigns, and the media to engage women experts and their contributions in a mature and meaningful way.

It is now approximately six weeks from the date when the British electorate will vote in the EU Referendum. This has been billed as the vote of a generation, the opportunity to settle the issue about the UK’s position in the EU once and for all. It was therefore unsurprising that when one of us tuned into Radio 4’s PM programme on 12 May that this was the theme under discussion. We were however taken aback to hear correspondent, Chris Mason trailing a report by his colleague Eleanor Garnier on the difficulty of finding women to participate in discussions around the various social, economic and political issues entangled in this debate. In the end PM did not go into further discussion on the issue, which was somewhat disappointing, as the myth about women’s engagement with and knowledge of politics that actually needs addressing.

Even before the beginning of the official campaign, debates about the EU have been dominated by male voices. Within and outside academic circles, this has become a discussion point and, as further evidenced by the PM programme, a story in and of itself. Since the possibility of a referendum became a reality, we have heard time and time again that there just aren’t women experts to contribute on the issues. On the few occasions we hear from women, they are being asked about so-called women’s issues. As women who work on the EU, we have been particularly frustrated by the way our contribution to our discipline and what is perhaps the most important debate for a generation has been relegated to the gender silo. This is not to say that gender and equality issues are not important (they are!) but women commentators can contribute to a full spectrum of issues, from economics, to security and immigration. Limiting space and opportunities for women’s engagement in one of the most important debates in a generation ultimately sends a subtle, but damaging message, politics (particularly EU politics) is not women’s business! The crystallisation of gender binaries in women’s engagement with politics and pathways to political participation may well be one of the most pernicious outcomes of the current debate.

We are frustrated by the significant absence of expert women’s voices from media debates, but also from academic events within our own networks. The problem is demonstrated by the volume of submissions of all male panels to the excellent Tumblr set up by Saara Sarma and the twitter account @EUPanelWatch to name and shame ‘manels’ and draw attention to the issue.  We are tired of constantly asking, ‘where are the women?’ And of course there are women! In fact, there are many of them and they are not difficult to find. Indeed, when the issue of the lack of women experts on the EU referendum debate came up a couple of weeks ago, we took it upon ourselves to compile a list of women from our professional and personal networks who we knew were capable of speaking to a lot of the issues under discussion. Most of these women are fellow social scientists from Universities and Civil Society organisations from across Europe. Beyond these, we also drew from the Academic Association for Contemporary European Studies Experts on Europe, a publically available resource. There are lots of women on there too. Given the expertise available within our professional associations such as Political Studies Association, but also initiatives like The Women’s Room and #WomenAlsoKnowStuff, there is no excuse! It is disappointing that this conversation is still on-going. We find claims that suggest that there aren’t women experts or that they are difficult to find indicative of a wider social and political environment that continues to relate women’s political participation to the area of social politics.

Rather, the absence of women’s voices from the EU referendum debate speaks to two interrelated issues. Firstly, it raises the question about who is considered and expert and what expertise is valued. Secondly, it also highlights the vertical segregation of the academy, whereby only 20% of professors at UK universities are women. Women’s absence from the highest levels of the academy contributes to the invisibility of women’s knowledge and contributions to the gendered production of knowledge. At a symbolic level, women’s absence form expert panels and the wider debate reifies the position of elite men at the heart of the profession and their contribution to the production of knowledge of political institutions and processes. At a substantive level, the invisibility of women and gender issues in the debate highlights the implicit bias of political discourse and marginality of social justice in the debate.

eu referendum panelImage: EU Referendum Question Time, University of Surrey #SurreyUKEU

There are examples of good practice that should be highlighted. For example, the Department of Politics at the University of Surrey held a gender balanced EU Referendum Question Time event. Ensuring gender balance is important not only because the range of views that can be aired in a discussion or debate, but at a symbolic level because it sends a message that EU politics is relevant to women. The Britain Thinks (2016) survey for the Fawcett Society highlights a continued gender gap in women’s perceived knowledge about the EU and their subsequent engagement in the debate. Excluding women’s voices from the debate, either at the level of the official campaigns, or in the context of expert opinions only serves to reinforce these assumptions. Considering that women have been identified as the “swing voters” in this referendum, it is striking more is not done by political institutions, including the campaigns themselves, and the media to engage this demographic group in a mature and meaningful way.

For A List of Women EU Experts see this shared Google doc (additions and corrections welcome).

This blog was originally posted on the LSE Impact Blog.

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A List of Women EU Experts

Where are the women in debates over the EU referendum?

Guess what – there are lots of women political scientists who work on the EU! Working in a lot of different areas! And they’re not hard to find!

Here’s a partial list of women experts on the EU (compiled by Toni Haastrup, University of Kent) – additions or corrections most welcome.

See also excellent resource Women Also Know Stuff.

Please circulate.

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