Ok, I’m biased about this subject matter (international relations being my main area of focus, and me being a woman), but since entering my graduate international relations program I’ve noticed something quite striking:
Males outnumber females. By a very large number.
In my Chinese International Relations and Security Class, there are 5 females and perhaps 15 males. My other classes also hold the same demographic. I always imagined international relations to be a relatively balance degree of gender (it’s not engineering), but I was alarmed by the contrast. International Relations (IR) is basically an extension of politics–and there are no women in it.
I’m not an outspoken, hyperactive woman. I wish I was. I don’t raise my hand immediately after the professor asks a question. In fact, I’m very considerate about voicing a valid and thoughtful opinion when participating in class instead of just blurting out whatever comes to mind. Rather than ramble, I’d rather keep quiet until I can form a valid opinion.
Here’s an example:
“During the Cold War, why did the US care so much about the ‘domino effect’ spread of communism in Asia compared to, say, Africa–or Latin America? Why was Asia so important?”
I envisioned the map of the world in my mind and it came to me instantly:
Yet I didn’t raise my hand. I wasn’t confident in my answer.
One of the male students raised their hand and said geo-proximity (closer to former USSR); the professor said that was not the case. I remained silent. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel confident enough in my answer to raise my hand.
Finally, one of the white male students said:
“Aren’t there like, more people in Asia or something?”
And the teacher praised him. Said that was exactly right–even though I was thinking it all along. And much more eloquently.
I hated myself. Why was I always so quiet? Why didn’t I raise my hand? Why am I so self conscious?I looked around my class and realized:
All the students who raise their hand and constantly voice their opinion are, primarily, a white male.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to blame my lack of response on the fact that I think males were given priority in early education. Or because I’m female. Or whatever social construct you want to come up with.
Yet I can’t help but wonder if the confidence and proactive responses of mostly white males is more than just mere coincidence? Perhaps they don’t question their self-confidence or logic because, in essence, it has always been validated?
I read a recent article in the New York Times about the construct of self-confidence in young females. Basically the study found that females from 5-7 believed that they themselves, or other females in the class, were the smartest of the bunch. This changed from 11 and onward, when all females agreed that the males were the smartest group in the class despite the females superior academic performance.
Throughout my life I always thought myself shy. I always thought that it was just me–a purely personal problem, in essence–that prevented me from speaking up at large gatherings. Yet since joining this IR graduate program, I realize that I’m not the only one keeping quiet:
All women are quiet.
The fact that only the white males constantly voice their opinions (and rarely the males of color, or even the white females) was alarming to me indeed.
And I’m a realist, so I don’t want to harp on this so much. Ok, so white men were trained to be the leaders of our society–then what? What can I do to change the status quo?
I try. I try to raise my hand more. Speak up more. Write smarter papers. Stand out more. But honest to god–it’s hard. It’s hard to overcome years of social construct. I shake when I speak up in class. When I form an opinion in my head, I question whether it’s valid or not at least twenty times before I even think about raising my hand (and that’s if a white male hasn’t beat me to it). I really hate myself in those moments, and I wish I could stand up more not just for women but for minorities (as a half-Asian, I consider myself as a weird-hybrid minority).
If we look at the IR realm today, women are barely in it. Angela Merkel. Theresa May. And that’s it.
Some Foreign minister from the government of Japan came to speak at our school, and while she was an inspiration in some ways she was just a puppet in others. She rattled off platitudes without real advice. Bare bones diplomacy.
On the other hand, a female professor at my school was the assistant deputy to the secretary of state for China under the Clinton administration, and she basically pieced together the China-Task-Force plan for the new administration in 2017 (she wasn’t expecting Trump, but gave it to him nevertheless). An inspiration. She was bold, concise and smart. Eloquent, kind, and firm. A true role model for all women.
But aside from a handful of these women in IR, the majority of this sector is dominated by men. Like a splash of cold water to the face, I realized IR was a male-dominated industry. Making it as a woman in this world isn’t easy. Not at all. And damn, it gets me depressed.
But not despondent.
So to all you women in tough fields–I hear you. Don’t give up. Don’t compromise yourself. No matter how hard it is, try to raise your hand. Show up your male classmate. Don’t give in.
**PS: I apologize for lack of updates. Holy god, does graduate school kill all of your free time. I literally sleep, eat, study–repeat. It’s been a terrible few months. I’m learning a lot and I love it, yet at the same time I’m wondering if I can survive. I have four 10 page papers due in the next two weeks. Ouch. Hopefully following this semester I can cram in some more blog posts. Apologies in advance for the lack of posts–they’ll be back, I promise!!**