Spying Gender
: Women in British Intelligence 1969-1994

  • Jessica Shahan

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


While women have long been a part of the intelligence world, their roles in shaping contemporary intelligence organisation and practices have often been minimised, overlooked, or altogether erased. When their work is acknowledged, it is often through archetypical depictions of femme fatales or ingénues. As a result, the history of women in contemporary intelligence is piecemeal, and with few exceptions, women’s voices and experiences are missing from intelligence histories. This thesis explores the history of women in modern intelligence, centred on the British Security Service, MI5, from 1969 to 1994, a time period which contained many of the most significant changes for women in the organisation. This thesis addresses how structural and societal factors, in combination with organisational policies, practices, and cultures shaped women’s experiences in modern intelligence employment. Sources include autobiographical writing and public speaking events such as lectures, panel discussions, television and radio broadcasts. This analysis demonstrates the importance of women’s employment to studies of intelligence history and organisation and explores the interconnectedness of larger structural factors within women’s everyday lives and employment. Incorporating an interdisciplinary approach to women’s and gender history, this thesis draws from intersectional feminist theory, research on women’s employment and labour market participation, organisational and business management studies, and critical intelligence studies. This thesis argues that women’s narratives exist at a nexus of macro, meso and micro level forces and that these experiences are uniquely positioned to highlight how contemporary intelligence organisations have been shaped by women employees. In an ongoing fight for equality of opportunity, women have challenged and changed policies and practices which hindered their progression, including the gender coding of certain job roles. Foregrounding women’s experiences in intelligence work allows us to discern these changes in ways that are not as visible if we only consider the experiences of men.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorR Gerald Hughes (Supervisor) & Jenny Mathers (Supervisor)

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