Christina Wolbrecht (PhD, Washington University in St. Louis) is Associate Professor of Political Science and director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame. Her areas of expertise include American politics, political parties, gender and politics, and American political development. She is the co-author of Counting Women’s Ballots: Female Voters from Suffrage Through the New Deal (Cambridge). She also is the author of The Politics of Women’s Rights: Parties, Positions, and Change (Princeton), which examines the evolution of the parties’ positions on women’s rights issues, and the author or co-author of articles on such topics as public support for political institutions, women as political role models, the representation of women, and partisan position-taking on education policy.
Tell us about your involvement with #WomenAlsoKnowStuff.
Wolbrecht: We owe a huge debt to Samara Klar for the brilliant idea of a crowd-sourced resource of female experts in political science as a way to address the under-representation of women in the discipline (on panels, speaker series, citations, and so on) and as experts in the media. I have been delighted to have the opportunity to do my part for the Women Also Know Stuff initiative. From the start, the Women Also Know Stuff editorial board has had an all-hands-on-deck philosophy, with every person contributing their own expertise and skill set as their schedule allows. For me, that has meant helping edit various applications and essays, sharing links for promotion via our social media, participating in discussions over goals, plans, and strategies, and promoting the effort within my own networks however I can. It has been a privilege to work with these accomplished and committed scholars, all of whom are volunteering their time and expertise for a collective good for our discipline.
In addition to joining your list, what else do you recommend women political scientists do to share their expertise with broader audiences?
Wolbrecht: Share your work with those in your field. When you publish something, send it to others who do similar or related work. All of us in this profession are overloaded with demands and it is easy to miss out on exciting new work in your field. Help cut through the noise by making those most likely to be interested in what you have to say able to see it. Doing so makes invitations to speak and participate, citations, and all the rest more likely. It also means your fellow scholars will think to recommend you when opportunities to communicate with non-academic audiences arise as well.
For audiences beyond our discipline, own your expertise. What is common knowledge in your field may be little known outside of it. The challenge is to find ways to convey those expert insights in ways that are clear and relevant to a non-expert audience. In this way, engaging with the public is similar to teaching and like teaching, often requires us to use different skill sets, focus on different questions, and present our conclusions in different ways than in scholarly writing. Clearly articulating a key take-away insight that you can relate to a current event makes it more likely that your expertise will find an audience beyond the academy.
Engaging beyond the academy takes time, which is almost always our most limited resource. Everyone has to balance broader engagement with other career requirements–most notably research and teaching obligations. Whether this day or week or year is the right time for you to write that blog post or agree to that interview is going to depend on a lot of individual factors, including the degree to which such activity is rewarded by your institution or rewarding to you personally. There is a reason the Women Also Know Stuff form gives our experts the option of indicating whether they are, or are not, currently open to media inquiries, and scholars are welcome to change that status as their situation changes!
What can women political scientists do to foster the next generation of women experts?
Wolbrecht: I think the responsibility to foster the next generation of women experts lies with both women and men in the discipline. We need to be attentive to our implicit biases–research shows both women and men are subject to stereotypes about the capacities of women. We need to take active steps to facilitate the success of women at every stage, from encouraging undergraduates to consider graduate school through to promotion to full professor and endowed chair. This means being cognizant of barriers to women’s entrance and advancement in the field — whether its an unwelcoming graduate program environment, lack of family friendly policies, or professional networks that exclude women in practice, even if that exclusion is not intentional. It means facilitating opportunities for collaboration, connection, and advancement, and ensuring that women have access to the resources (especially time!) they need to do their work. Good mentors — female and male — are also key. I would encourage every woman at every stage to seek out advice from multiple sources, and encourage my female and male colleagues to be deliberate about sharing what they have learned about negotiating this profession, particularly with those who are under-represented in our discipline and may have less access to networks and resources.
Tell us more about your background and work in political science.
Wolbrecht: I grew up in a politically-engaged family and was interested in politics from a young age. From almost as young of an age, I understood that politics was not really something girls were supposed to be interested in. One of the reasons I am committed to the Women Also Know Stuff initiative is I believe it remains important to make women visible in politics and in political science so as to challenge those millennia-old conventions about the appropriateness of politics as a vocation and an interest for women.
I received my PhD from Washington University in St. Louis, and have been at Notre Dame since completing my degree in 1997. I work on American politics, with a focus on gender, political parties, and American political development. My first book, The Politics of Women’s Rights (Princeton), describes and explains the major American parties’ changing positions on women’s rights issues in the postwar period. Party position-taking remains an on-going research interest; I recently published a co-authored piece on how and why the parties have evolved on education policy. I also have authored or co-authored work on such topics as women as political role models and the representation of women in Congress
Tell us about a recent research project.
Wolbrecht: Counting Women’s Ballots: Female Voters from Suffrage Through the New Deal, co-authored with Kevin Corder (Western Michigan), was published by Cambridge University Press this past Spring. In this book, we use new data and novel methods to provide insight into whether, how, and with what consequences women cast their ballots in the first five presidential elections following suffrage.
Our estimates of women’s turnout and vote choice permit us to examine a number of theoretically and substantively interesting questions about the incorporation of women into the American electorate during a transformative period in American history. We are now working on a new book, A Century of Votes for Women, which will provide the first comprehensive account of the first 100 years of women as voters in American politics.
Look for more profiles from Women Also Know Stuff editorial board members in the coming weeks.