Notes From the Field - Academic Experts Weigh In

USC Peace
J. Ann Tickner

J. Ann Tickner is Professor Emerita in the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the School of International Service at American University, Washington DC and Professor of Politics and International Relations in the Gender, Peace and Security Centre at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Her principle areas of research include international theory, peace and security, and feminist approaches to international relations. Her publications include Gendering World Politics: Issues and Approaches in the Post-Cold War World (2001) and A Feminist Voyage Through International Relations (2014). She is a past President of the International Studies Association. She was named as one of fifty key thinkers in Martin Griffiths, Fifty Key Thinkers in International Relations.

  1. When you first started looking at Feminism and International Relations, what trends and connections did you see?

There wasn’t anything resembling feminism in International Relations when I started working on it in the 1980s. During the Cold War, International Relations was heavily focused on studying conflict and nuclear strategy. Many of my women students seemed very disengaged and uninterested and I became intrigued as to why. I concluded that International Relations was a very “masculine” field, both in its subject matter and in the questions it investigated.

While it is less true today, back then there were practically no women authors I could assign in my classes, and very few women professors in the field.  Any connections I made with gender issues came from reading feminists in other disciplines and thinking of how I could apply their ideas to International Relations.

  1. What kinds of challenges have you experienced in conveying this message within academia?

Given what I said about International Relations, it has been quite challenging for the mainstream of the discipline to accept feminism as a legitimate field of study and research. It is still the case that feminist approaches are often not taught in International Relations programs in the US. International Relations scholars concede that it is important to study women, but they claim that the kinds of issues that feminists raise do not belong in the International Relations curriculum. It has also been a challenge to convince scholars that gender is not just about women but also about men and masculinity—subjects that are certainly central to the discipline! Feminist issues are gaining some acceptance, but it is a slow process.

  1. How has this field grown and/or been hindered during the course of your career?

In spite of problems of acceptance, Feminist International Relations has grown enormously over the thirty years since I began to do this kind of scholarship. There are so many exciting books on all kinds of subjects. Publishers have been eager to publish feminist work. There is a great series titled “Oxford Studies in Gender and International Relations” (edited by Laura Sjoberg and myself), with close to twenty titles to-date on many different issues. The books include work on: the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the political economy of gender based violence, the global beauty trade, global sex workers, militarism and peacekeeping, and the International Criminal Court. And now, Feminist International Relations has its own journal The International Feminist Journal of Politics, which publishes thought-provoking articles on a huge range of topics. There is more acceptance for integrating feminism into the mainstream curriculum in countries such as the UK and Australia. And certainly there are many liberal arts colleges in the US, as well as some research universities, with similar courses.

  1. What keeps you up at night?

What I see as “toxic” brand of hyper-masculinity that has invaded our political system—extreme masochism and tolerance for racist and sexist discourse. Almost all our leaders today are white males with little interest in issues related to gender or racial justice. Before the last election, the US was making strides in getting more women and minorities into influential positions in politics. Now we seem to be going backwards. When Hilary Clinton was Secretary of State, she made enormous strides in getting the State Department’s women’s programs expanded and funded. Now, many of them are being eliminated.

  1. What trends do you see emerging today that are different from the traditional security paradigm?

Certainly the security paradigm has broadened in the last thirty years from its earlier focus on the Cold War, to include ethnic war, terrorism and other “new wars.” However, being taken seriously by the security establishment has been tough for feminists so it is particularly gratifying that the Women, Peace and Security field has emerged so successfully and is growing and thriving.

Academic centers are being established to support research and teaching in this area. Considering how security studies looked when I first started teaching, we have made enormous gains. But there is still a long way to go before we convince the mainstream security field that looking at security through a gender lens is essential for having a complete understanding of conflict and insecurity—and how we scholars can provide more comprehensive insights about how to move toward a more secure world.

The comments and ideas expressed in this blog belong to our guest experts, and do not necessarily represent those of Our Secure Future or One Earth Future.