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The Wise Men

Women still aren’t the big thinkers in foreign affairs. Why is that?

Published on: March 23, 2014
Mara Tchalakov is a doctoral candidate in international relations at the University of Oxford. She served on the US Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff from 2007-2009.
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  • Andrew Allison

    “According to the American Political Science Association (APSA), in 2010 just 19 percent of women held full professorships in political science, . . .” Really?
    On a more serious note, the hypothesis is that women are underrepresented among the “big thinkers” in foreign affairs, but the article actually suggests that they are, in fact, underrepresented across-the-board.

    • free_agent

      You note, “just 19 percent of women held full professorships in political science”.

      There being about 150 million women in the US alone, it’s remarkable that 19 percent of them hold full professorships in political science.

      • Andrew Allison

        No, she did (hence the quotes). I was being ironic.

  • Jim__L

    Why is it a bad thing for talented and intelligent people to raise children?

    • Andrew Allison

      Jim, I think the point that Ms. Tchalakov (who apparently wants to be thought of as a man — the wife or daughter of a Tchalakov would be Tchalakova) was trying to make is that talented and intelligent women are penalized because they might choose to do so. She’s right, of course, but that has absolutely nothing to do with either international relations or foreign affairs. [/grin]

      • Jim__L

        Opportunity costs are opportunity costs. Life cannot be made perfect, and to try to do so usually screws something else up very, very badly.

        “The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There’s not one of them which won’t make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it isn’t. If you leave out justice you’ll find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials “for the sake of humanity” and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man.”
        – C. S. Lewis

        Careerism is not worth sacrificing motherhood. The species is the worse for anyone’s trying, and society faces destruction if such an idea is normative.

    • free_agent

      Certainly that’s a valid point regarding how far we want to embrace “feminist” changes overall. But in the case of the *most talented* — and we’re talking about less than 1% of 1% … no, we’re talking about 1 per 10 million — their ability to improve the world by breeding is enormously overshadowed by the potential of the world fully utilizing the intellectual advances they generate.

      • Jim__L

        Exceptions are exceptions, and norms are norms.

  • Anthony

    The author appears to be lamenting not just gender bias but also class/professional exclusion. Talent, seminal thinking, independence, ability, sagacity, etc. speak for themselves anywhere in the world. Now, breaking into established orders (conclaves) is a different societal arrangement – the very process of selection infers cultural and political bias as well as professional and class interests of the selectors (choice of public intellectuals). In the same way, author may be seeking (though lamenting) “price of the ticket” more than highlighting feminine exclusion vis-a-vis what ideas shall reach the public.

  • Pete

    So what? How many blacks are ‘big thinkers’ in foreign affairs?

    What’s her agenda — more quotas?

    • Anthony

      You engage consistently in social mindbugs (social mindbugs can give us both false feelings of faith in people we perhaps shouldn’t trust and the opposite – feelings of distrust toward those whom we perhaps should trust). How you can extrapolate (black Americans in this instance) indicate how simply you make assessments (without recognizing fallibility of decision) on people with little discomfort at having done so – though social mindbugs are not restricted to decisions based on a person’s race ethnicity or gender.

      • Pete

        Say, it sounds like you live in a sociology department.

        • Anthony

          No, I live in a complex (sometimes) world.

  • free_agent

    I suspect that the problem is that fewer women are willing to dedicate themselves to self-promotion. There is the idea that if one is sufficiently good at one’s job, one will be recognized and rewarded, and to some degree that actually happens. But if you want to reach the very top of the big leagues, you’ve got to treat self-advancement as the primary goal, not as a consequence. And women are a lot less willing to do that, at least in this culture at this time.

    And it doesn’t help that the place where the winners take the biggest prizes is guiding nations through the messiest conflicts, which means that the biggest stars are going to be the ones that study the most aggressive conflicts.

  • free_agent

    You quote, “the Kennedy Administration had its “brain trust” of Harvard faculty
    members, and university professors were often vital public intellectuals
    who served off and on in government”.

    Wow… the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the first firm embrace of the tar-baby that was Vietnam…

    • Jim__L

      It’s worse now. We put a generation of Ivy Leaguers in charge because we wanted philosopher-kings; we got robber-barons on Wall Street and imperious petty bureaucrats regulating all aspects of our lives and work, instead.

      Giving the intelligentsia too much power turns out like giving anyone else too much power… they pursue their own interests at the expense of everyone else’s. Power corrupts.

      Pull the plug on Washington. Keep the marble buildings and the Smithsonian as our Kyoto, or our Vatican City; move the offices, including the President, Congress, and Courts, to “flyover country” — Omaha maybe. If Omaha starts metastasizing like DC has in the last couple of decades, move again.

      Keep the power and the corruption from putting down roots.

  • JamesDrouin

    Amusingly, if that’s the correct word, the exclusivity of the club may well boil down to the political affiliation of the women who attempt to join said club (or the reasons why they choose their respective affiliation).

    After all, does anyone really believe Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Samantha Powers, or Madeleine Albright are intellectual heavy-weights … anyone other than their sycophantic followers that is.

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