Twitter Illustration Angers Women in Political Science

They want to know why article on international nongovernmental organizations was illustrated with a photograph of a young Asian woman.

April 11, 2016

The American Political Science Association uses Twitter to promote articles published in association journals. While scholars typically welcome the publicity, a recent tweet has many women and Asian members of the association complaining about stereotypical treatment of female and Asian scholars.

The tweet, since removed but visible above, promotes the article "The Agency and Authority of International NGOs," which was published in Perspectives on Politics. The illustration was of a young Asian woman smiling. One of the authors of the piece is Asian, and on Saturday she shared her feelings about how APSA illustrated the description of her article.

"It’s pretty obvious to me why this is offensive, but let me spell it out," wrote Wendy Wong, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto and director of the university's Trudeau Center for Peace, Conflict and Justice, in a post on the political science blog Duck of Minerva. (Her co-author on the Perspectives piece was Sarah Stroup, associate professor of political science at Middlebury College.)

"What does the Getty image 'Portrait of a young woman smiling' have to do with INGOs? Or authority? Or politics?" Wong wrote. "What happened to my co-author? What kind of search terms were being used to even generate such a photo that APSA found worthy of posting not just on PSNow, but tweeting? Has all of my work on INGOs boiled down to some irrelevant stock image? Is it that hard to Google 'NGO' for images related to the work being advertised? Yeah, 'all Asians look alike,' but really?!"

Wong contacted APSA and wrote that she was told the image was "an oversight" but that the association regularly uses "diverse stock images" to illustrate its tweets. Wong then checked out other illustrations and found them to relate to the subjects of the articles, such as a photograph of a drone to illustrate an article about issues related to drones.

"An APSA employee thought it was OK to post a photo of a smiling (obviously nonacademic) Asian woman to advertise an essay by two female authors -- one Asian, one not," Wong wrote. "But is that the perception that APSA wanted its readers to have of our piece? And just because one of us is a visible minority, does that mean the whole piece of academic thinking boils down to someone who looks like one of the co-authors? Oh and by the way, APSA deleted the post, rather than just replacing the image and issuing a better public apology than 'bad choice of stock image.' As though the whole thing didn’t happen. As though it boiled down to some faulty download or spur-of-the-moment decision and not a systematic search of images to accompany a purposeful post. Perhaps we were too much trouble. … A lesson learned? Don’t be too angry. Be a model minority."

Some commenters on Duck of Minerva objected to the "obviously nonacademic" parenthetical, saying the woman pictured in the stock image could be an academic.

But the primary reaction there and elsewhere on social media has been anger at the APSA.

While the blog post complained that APSA didn't say anything publicly about what happened and removed the tweet, APSA said on Twitter that it removed the tweet to make sure the photo illustration disappeared, and it would replace the tweet.

Steven Rathgeb Smith, executive director of APSA, did not respond to a request for comment on what happened.


Back to Top