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They Send Letters

[ 18 ] February 13, 2011 |

This is academic inside baseball, but since that’s obviously a disproportionate percentage of our audience, I’d thought I’d give some publicity to the issue here. The political science journal Gender and Politics has apparently decided to reject without external review any manuscript dealing with research on questions related to LBGT community. Because…gender is something that only straight white women have? I can’t really imagine the reasoning. At any rate, Julie Novkov of SUNY Albany has responded with an open letter to the American Political Science Association’s Women and Politics section, which I reprint below the fold…

President Kim Fridkin

President-Elect Mala Htun

Dear Professors Fridkin and Htun:

I am writing to express my astonishment and distress at hearing from Greg Lewis, Marc Rogers, and Ken Sherrill that their article, “Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Voters in the 2000 Election,” received a summary rejection without review from Politics & Gender. The letter from editor Jennifer Lawless informed them “Based on my review of the manuscript, I have determined that the paper is not right for Politics & Gender. We really focus on the latest cutting edge theoretical and empirical research grounded in the political science literature that focuses on women and politics (as opposed to the role of gender when assessing lesbian, gay, and bisexual political behavior). Therefore, I will not be sending your manuscript out for review.”

Let us leave aside for a moment the fact that the journal’s own title is Gender, not Women. This statement, in my opinion, shows a profound misunderstanding of the deep relationship between scholarly research on sexuality and politics and scholarly research on gender. The journal’s own mission statement advocates for a broad and comprehensive understanding of gender:

“[The journal] aims to represent the full range of questions, issues, and approaches on gender and women across the major subfields of political science, including comparative politics, international relations, political theory, and U.S. politics. The Editors welcome studies that address fundamental questions in politics and political science from the perspective of gender difference, as well as those that interrogate and challenge standard analytical categories and conventional methodologies.”

Is work on lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals as voters not within this “full range of questions”? Is the interrogation of how sexual orientation may affect voting behavior not a “fundamental question in political science . . . from the perspective of gender difference”? And given the mountain of articles on women as voters and minority groups as voters and the paucity of articles on sexual orientation and voting, is this not a challenge to conventional wisdom? The argument that sexual orientation has nothing to do with gender ignores the history of research on sexuality in political science and its intimate connection to gender studies, feminist theory, and individual feminist theorists.

Would the journal have considered an article on women and voting behavior in the 2000 election while rejecting this one without review? That, to me, is a highly troubling implication of this decision. It suggests not that the journal intends to move forward and break new ground with respect to gender and politics, but that it refuses to recognize what really is new in the field.

So I have a question for you. Is it now the policy of Politics & Gender that the journal will not consider scholarly work on sexuality or on LGBT identity unless the article focuses on the gender identity category of women? If so, I believe that this clarification should be publicized so that junior scholars working on sexuality do not inadvertently waste valuable time submitting work to a journal that is not interested in their questions.

I believe, however, that such a stance on the part of the journal would be a profound mistake. Not that long ago, I and presumably a lot of other people received a plea from the journal for more manuscripts to review. The journal has only just managed to get itself listed in one of the major indices so that its articles can count in measures of scholarly productivity. As a relatively new journal, it is still jockeying to gain a strong reputation for excellence in the field and to gain readership. Closing down an entire line of scholarly inquiry that – and here I differ with Lawless – is indeed about gender is damaging to the journal. I’m also baffled as to why, after making particular pleas to established senior scholars and then getting a submission of an article from people with a great deal of name recognition connected to a long history of high production of visible and excellent research, the decision is to define them out of the mission.

I humbly ask for your clarification and guidance on this issue.

Julie Novkov

  • Sage

    Very embarrassing for the journal, I think. An academic journal that subscribes to narrow notions of gender as somehow synonymous with women, and moreover fails to recognize not only the intersections of sexual and gender politics, but the inseparability of gender and sexuality in the formation of social and political identities. Pretty sad.

    • Sad, but as ‘cer’ says below, there’s a rear-guard action being waged by (mostly older) feminist scholars (male and female) who don’t like the shift towards complicating scholarship on sexuality and culture and away from a woman-focused activism.

  • Western Dave

    Further proof that the Political Scientists need less Maths and more History in their training. Even my 9h graders know that Gender is a social construction and would laugh at this essentialist nonsense.

    • cer

      Yes and no. This is a debate that is playing out across a lot of arenas, especially in the shifting of Women’s Studies programs to Gender Studies. I think part of it is that there are a lot of Women and Politics scholars who are primarily quantitative methodologists who work with the variable “sex.” On the other hand there is also a philosophical debate here in that as the focus has shifted from women to gender and now to gender and sexuality studies, “women” become invisible again. I say this as someone deeply invested in a sexuality studies program so I have no intellectual allegiance with this position but I see the political point. At our university they just eliminated the Office of Women’s Affairs and folded “women” as a caucus into a broader Office for Diversity and Equity, making women one caucus (with one representative) on a board with about a dozen other groups. Mysteriously, the pressing gender issues that the OWA had been working on were tabled this year. So I think there are legitimate political concerns at work here but they are going about addressing them completely incorrectly and in a way that is likely to do more long-term damage.

      • mpowell

        I think there is something to be said for the fact that women are half the population. LBGT are what, 10%? I’m not sure how this ought to manifest itself in the university environment, but you can see where some might feel that women as such deserve more attention, funding, etc. I’m not taking sides here, just noting this salient (at least seems to me) social fact.

  • Abby Spice

    Um, aren’t lesbians and some transgender people women? You know. Just saying.

  • J.

    When I was in college, I worked as an editorial assistant for a journal in a related field. The managing editor gave me the dubious task of sending out the rejection letters. I made this mistake in a bunch of rejection letters, and it took my boss a semester to catch on. It looks like the same thing is happening here.