Query from a reader

We’ve just had this query from a reader. I think there are real and difficult issues about how much personal risk vulnerable members of the profession should take on, so I’m curious to see what you all think.

I have been asked by a journal to review a collection of papers. Only one of the (20+) contributors is a woman. Would it be appropriate to highlight such a fact in a review?

I’m undecided and could use advice. On the one hand, I’m professionally vulnerable (currently jobless). I worry that even gently `calling out’ the editors may make me enemies. On the other, this seems like something worth doing. The collection’s topic is far from obscure, and plenty of women work on it–making the dearth of women contributors all the more striking.

10 thoughts on “Query from a reader

  1. I think you can do it gently. Look at the gendered conference campaign materials. There’s no need to assume they were acting with bad intentions. Suggest that the collection might have been improved with chapters by authors x, y, and z, where x-z are women. If you can say nice things about the volume otherwise, that helps too. “This is an excellent collection but an even better edition would include more entries by women in the field.” You can hope they issue another edition in future years and that these authors get added.

  2. I agree with the comment above, though I think it’s partly a judgment call your part.

    If you do decide to say something about it, you might want to think about linking it to another point about how the volume could be enhanced. Sometimes (though not always), the non-inclusion of women is evidence that the volume’s view of the subject is too narrow (or is skewed in some particular way). In other words, you might consider ways you could link the lack of women to another issue–one that’s related but that makes clear that in not including women’s perspectives, something specific is being left out.

  3. This is tricky. I think one of the things that’s so bad is that women are disappeared. So one thing you could do is to refer to a paper or two by a women, if you can. I am thinking of your saying something like “Prof He gives an elegant version of the smurf argument but still remains vulnerable to Prof. Her’s objection that….”

    I think that if possible you might also say “It is surprising that the editors did not include Prof. female’s work on counter-smurfs, since it directly addresses in a new way topics in several chapters. She has argued that …” Or some such.

    I’m wondering if simply including women in the discourse is enough, and perhaps you don’t need to say any more.

    In fact, I did this in reviewing a proposal for an anthology; they had left out the female founder of a field. I didn’t feel I needed to say anything more general about leaving out women, but the case wasn’t as egregious as this one.

    Anyway, my reaction is a bit different from others. Our gendered conference campaign occurs, after all, in a feminist context, and I am not sure that making similar points about representation in different contexts is effective. I think effectiveness counts for a lot, since ineffective uses of a point can take away some of its power. (I think, e.g., talking about representation at a logic conference is different, because when one is present as a person, one is not assigned a single role.)

  4. Another thing: you could let us know about the anthology; it will be a long time before your review appears, presumably, and in the meantime we could say something. If you do, please send us some female names in case none of us works in that area.

  5. For me, a collection (book, project, group exhibition, …) has to have at least a passable proportion of women contributors; this means generally more than 30% or I find myself not able to justify reading or spending money on it. It’s 2010, it should be an automatic, fundamental question, “Have we made sure we have adequate female representation in this collection/book/…?”

    If this came before me, with a pathetic 1 in 20 ratio, and the other factors you mention, I wouldn’t read it on principle.

  6. Frances, you are in philosophy? You might look at recent comments on the Philosophy Smoker blog on Jender’s new blog (what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy). Our profession sounds 19th C in its attitudes to women.

  7. I’d go with the strategy of mentioning particular women’s work that could have been included, rather than saying anything in general about the lack of female contributors. Basically – the strategy JJ suggests in comment 3.

  8. I’ve written reviews in the past wherein, if the topic is as the OP says, “far from obscure,” I express gladness to read the contribution from the female and say something to the effect that she cites other women who’ve already written eloquently on this topic including XX, XX, and XX (heh), then simply leave one sentence of criticism, like, It would be preferable to see them in the contributors list.

    This will not make enemies, if anyone indeed ever even reads your review. Feel free to assert the desirability of having more than one female contributor.

  9. Personally, i’d shout it from the rooftops…But then, I’m not trying to work in Philosophy. :)

    It is an interesting point, though, and I’ve always been of the opinion that a “review” is one reader’s OPINION (note the double use of the word opinion) of the text in question. So I don’t worry all that much about what anyone thinks of mine, since the old cliche about opinions and a$$holes holds true…

    I would be curious, however, what field the anthology is about. Is it a general philosophy? A specific field that tends to be male heavy? Something else? There may be a reason for the gender-skewing, which should definitely be addressed in any review…

  10. Wow. So the idea is that an important aspect of a review would be left out in order to not jeopardize one’s job chances? Is that even vaguely ethical? Philosophers sure are good at coming up with thought experiments about what the moral/just/right/good thing to do is. Isn’t this one a no-brainer? How far would you compromise yourself to get a job?

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