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No Shortcut to Change: An Unlikely Path to a More Gender Equitable World

reviewed by D-L Stewart - February 22, 2018

coverTitle: No Shortcut to Change: An Unlikely Path to a More Gender Equitable World
Author(s): Kara Ellerby
Publisher: New York University Press, New York
ISBN: 1479817163, Pages: 288, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

Kara Ellerby is an assistant professor of political science and international relations as well as women and gender studies at the University of Delaware. In her first book, No Shortcut to Change: An Unlikely Path to a More Gender-Equitable World, she adroitly challenges three key ideas she attributes to liberal feminism and their application to government, economic development, and violence against women. These key ideas are representation, recognition, and protection, which Ellerby examines through a critical feminist and intersectional theoretical lens.

The crux of Ellerby’s thesis is that policies aimed at “gender equity” are actually about women’s inclusion. The inherent problem in this synonymous use of gender and women, according to Ellerby, is three-pronged: a) it reflects neoliberalism and liberal feminism; b) it fails to challenge binary gender discourses; and c) it fails to challenge masculinity. Ellerby reinforces and illustrates this thesis throughout the book’s seven chapters. Chapters Four, Five, and Six specifically analyze and evaluate the (in)effectiveness of gender equity policies internationally for women’s representation in government, participation in economic development, and protection from violence.

There are three key contributions made by this text. First is Ellerby’s useful and necessary recognition that international policies seeking to advance gender equity have made gender synonymous with women. Through discursive analysis methods, she demonstrates how the language of gender equity has become a stand-in for a narrow focus on women’s inclusion. In this way, Ellerby’s research echoes other policy-focused public and academic scholarship that has noted the ways in which institutional and administrative policies and statements fail to create equity and systemic transformation (Ahmed, 2012; Spade, 2015; Stewart, 2017).

Second is Ellerby’s useful and well-executed critique of liberal feminism’s goals and effects. While she acknowledges that liberal feminism’s methods have realized some progress with regard to women’s greater representation, participation, and protection, she demonstrates through rigorous policy analysis that international political and economic development efforts have ultimately failed to realize gender equity in any substantive way.

Third is her unflinching critique of gender equity policy paradigms which leads to a substantive intersectional analysis of kyriarchy, not just patriarchy, and its role in the maintenance of gender binarist thinking that reinforces gender stereotypes and tropes about (cisgender) men and women. Early in Chapter One, titled “Add Gender and Stir,” Ellerby defines kyriarchy as “the sexist, racist, heterosexist, and imperialist system(s) of subordination central to understanding how gender equality has come to represent add-women/gender policies” (p. 6). Particularly in the realms of economic development and violence against women, Ellerby’s critique exposes how reproductive rights policies and policies aimed at curbing wartime gender-based violence both serve the neoliberal promotion of capitalism, especially in the Global South. With regard to reproductive rights, as Ellerby points out in Chapter Three, “When women control their fertility, they can more fully participate in formal economies and thus development” (p. 85). Ultimately, Ellerby illustrates that neoliberal capitalism invests in “gender equity” because it fuels larger profits for corporations and the expansion of economic exploitation.

Despite these important and valuable contributions, Ellerby’s text does not go far enough in employing her critical feminist paradigm, particularly with regard to gender binarist approaches. Ellerby critiques and deconstructs gender binarism for six chapters without a single mention of transgender people until the final section of the final chapter, “New Ideas for Gender Equality.” In the first chapter, Ellerby uses “queer” synonymously with “LGBT,” which is then used only to refer to sexuality and sexual orientation. Further, her naming of the final section of the book reflects a departure from her stated interest in advancing gender equity, not just equality.

Ellerby’s passing reference to transgender people at the end of the book (which is limited to a single paragraph), focuses on advancing transgender rights legislation. This focus is curious given the book’s central thesis that this kind of legislation, when focused on women’s inclusion, lacks a critical lens and fails to realize equity. Moreover, missing from Ellerby’s text is an awareness that the “gender equality” she argues for still reinforces and reproduces cissexism and cisgenderism. Challenging gender binaries must include an explicit enunciation of transgender people and their status in gendered social systems and structures.

Ellerby does point out that expecting women to advocate for women simply because they are women is problematic and notes that this expectation assumes that women’s advocacy is apolitical, value-neutral, and inherently intersectional and equity-minded. However, Ellerby notably does not seem to acknowledge or engage women as an identity category versus female bio-diversity. This is first exposed in Chapter Three as Ellerby discusses the limits of women’s inclusion in neoliberalism:

Specifically, efforts to recognize an “identity” obscured links between social or cultural values, like “feminine,” and structural practices, such as low female wages. This form of identity politics also assumed that by valuing devalued identities, redistribution would subsequently follow, which has not happened. (p. 61)

Acknowledging the distinction between women as an identity group and female bio-diversity involves a recognition that international policies of women’s inclusion reflect both usages operating together toward the same purpose. In other words, referencing (cis)women as an identity group supports the appearance of gender diversity and inclusion; while seeking to include female bio-diversity supports the maintenance of a bio-essentialist view of masculinity and femininity. Women are valuable in their difference from men only through a view of women as innately possessing certain traits.

Ellerby’s text can be useful for education scholars, and her analysis extends the intersectional gender analyses found in Ahmed (2012) and other compilations such as Gutiérrez y Muhs, Niemann, González, and Harris (2012) beyond education into the realm of international politics. Unfortunately, Ellerby does not make these connections herself. Nevertheless, No Shortcut to Change is useful for illustrating the global reach of neoliberalism’s chilling effect on radical, activist calls for equity, justice, and systemic transformation.


Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included: Racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Butler, J. (2004). Undoing gender. New York, NY: Routledge.

Gutiérrez y Muhs, G., Niemann, Y. F., González, C. G., & Harris, A. P. (2012). Presumed incompetent: The intersections of race and class for women in academia. Louisville, CO: University Press of Colorado.

Spade, D. (2015). Normal life: Administrative violence, critical trans politics, and the limits of law (2nd ed.). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Stewart, D.-L. (2017, March 30). The language of appeasement. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2017/03/30/colleges-need-language-shift-not-one-you-think-essay


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 22, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22287, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 3:53:41 AM

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About the Author
  • D-L Stewart
    Colorado State University
    E-mail Author
    DAFINA-LAZARUS STEWART is professor in the School of Education and co-director of the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Colorado State University. Zir research focuses on issues of equity and justice in postsecondary education through the experiences and outcomes of students minoritized by gender, race, and sexuality, and intersections with multiple systems of oppression. Zir recent publications include an historical text, Black Collegiansí Experiences in U.S. Northern Private Colleges: A Narrative History (Palgrave, 2017). Ze is currently designing a research study examining the collegiate choice process for queer and trans students in the U.S.
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