The Gendered Conference Campaign Spreads

Over the last month or so, the Gendered Conference Campaign has been spreading to other blogs! Ingrid Robeyns wrote about a Gendered Summer School, at Crooked Timber. Catarina Dutilh Novaes wrote about an all-male volume on epistemic modality at NewAPPS. As we recently reported, Eric Schliesser wrote about an all-male Hume conference, also at NewAPPS. And he added another one just today. (This last doesn’t meet our criteria, since it’s not actually *all* male. But 11/12 is pretty darned male.) All of these posts except the last, very recent one) have, unfortunately but also predictably, attracted some serious hostility. To be honest, I always feel a sense of dread as I do another Gendered Conference Campaign post, anticipating the onslaught. This makes me all the more grateful that we’ve been joined by such excellent allies in our campaign. (I’m also deeply grateful to the supportive replies we get.)

18 thoughts on “The Gendered Conference Campaign Spreads

  1. From the Leiter post, I love this comment: “The percentage of full-time faculty who are female is quite a bit lower than I realized, and shockingly so.” Does that mean he will finally agree that there is something very odd going on? Remains to be seen… Too bad that the post is not open to comments.

  2. Thanks, Hippocampa! I was just preparing my post when your comment came in. Catarina– I think Leiter does agree that there’s a problem, and he’s been very supportive of certain efforts, like the What is it Like blog. What he *seems* to disagree with is the Gendered Conference Campaign– or a least many instances of it.

  3. Jender, I think this deserves a post of its own anyway, otherwise it’s ‘buried’ in comments here. This is important.
    And yes, I see your point about Leiter’s position; his worry seems to be that some measures to counter gender imbalance may go at the expenses of ‘quality’ (God forbid! :D ) But he does not seem to be insensitive to the problem as such.

  4. sdv_duras,
    Just to be clear, out of 30+ submissions to this conference, two were from female philosophers. I hope there is no implication that there was any intent on the organizers of this conference, or department of philosophy at the university of dundee, to intentionally plan a ‘gendered conference’. I understand this concern fully, but i do hate feeling accussed of being a part of the problem when one organizes a conference, and 95% of the abstracts they recieve are from males.

  5. Michael,
    So what did you do after you discovered that only 5% of your submissions were from women? Nothing requires you to restrict yourself to only the responders to your CFP. You could, for example, specifically recruit submissions from female scholars, or invite them to give a talk. If you think “the problem” has to do with whether or not you’ve intentionally done the wrong thing in planning the conference, then you’re either not paying attention or you’re not understanding the issue.

  6. Michael, thanks for the additional info. I would like to ask then (not addressed to you in particular, but as a very general question), what are the possible causes of a very low rate of submission by female philosophers to a given conference? (That is, even below the already low percentage of professional philosophers.)

    And for the record, let me also add that I don’t think gender considerations should come into play in the selection of *contributed* papers: it should be totally anonymous. With contributed papers, you work with what you get; with keynote speakers, however, it’s a different story, as it is based on reputation, and you can in principle choose anyone you want.

  7. Matt,
    Well, in a sense, I feel like academic convention is you put out a CFP as widely as possible, and then choose papers based from those who respond. I’m not necessarily standing up for that system, but at least saying that seems to be the standard convention, no? Also, out of the four scholars we invited to give keynote presentations, two were male, two female, but unfortunately one of the females had to cancel, which left us at a 2 to 1 ratio for keynote speakers. I genuinely mean no disrespect, and you’re totally right, I may very well not understand the issue, as I only saw this post when I noticed an incoming link on my blog. One question I have, and I ask as I’m genuinely trying to learn something here, how much of this falls to the individual organizers of events? I ask this as for the past two conferences we’ve run in my department, it’s been 1 or 2 graduate students, who already have heavy research and teaching loads, doing all of the organizing with minimal time/budgets. So, in the case of this conference, I did send emails to females I know working in the field, and along with that, send an invitation to submit to a group of 35 or so scholars, over half of which were female. I just wonder what else I could have done in this situation? Spend hours on google searching for female graduate students who work on the contemporary appropriation of German Idealism?

  8. Catarina,
    Thank you for your reply. In the response I just posted, I mentioned that we tried to have an equal split for keynote speakers, but as you said, we did not let anything besides quality of annonymous abstracts play into decisions to pick individual papers. As for possible rate of low submissions…the only thing that comes to mind, and I hope this isn’t too shallow/crass to note, is that there is a huge lack of gender equality when it comes to recent conferences/published volumes that deal particularly with contemporary theories of materialism, or ‘speculative materialism’. This is odd as one of the most important contemporary materialist philosophers is Catherine Malabou. But, as someone who often helps plan conferences, I do want to seriously consider how to improve this in the future.

  9. Just so we’re clear on this: If Michael’s conference has one female keynote speaker, it does not qualify for our campaign. Our campaign is confined to all-male lists of speakers.

    I’d also note that from what you describe above (e.g. invited 35 scholars, over half of whom were female, planned 50% female keynotes) it sounds like you did a laudable job. Sometimes things still turn out badly, and why that happens is something we’re trying to understand here.

  10. Jender,
    Thanks for clearing that up a bit! I really appreciate what you are aiming for with the campaign and just want to make sure you know that my intention is definitely to be a part of the solution rather than one who perpetuates the problematic structures that create this problem!

  11. Michael,

    Of course their are limits to what you can do and what you ought to be asked to do. When the field has less than 17% full time professors who are women, it may be impossible to get good representation, especially in contributed papers. And given the detail you’ve added, I agree w/ Jender, you’ve done a good job. (I must apologize for only responding to your comment and not following the link.)

    As for how to handle contributed papers, there are all kinds of good reasons to encourage entries after the CFP deadline. For example, I’ve run conferences where we just didn’t get *enough* submissions, and in addition to reopening the CFP I’ve gone out of my way to personally ask for submissions from personal contacts and from other folks working in the area, as well as increasing the number of invited talks. I also think it would be totally reasonable to do the same if you were unhappy with the demographics of your submissions (though of course you can only do so much). On the other hand, of course you should do the reviewing of contributed papers anonymously as expected, and accept what you get.

    Keep up the good work.


  12. Just to say that I agree with Matt’s suggestion that, if as a conference organizer you are not satisfied with the submissions you received (and there are many possible reasons; not enough of them, poor quality, and yes, poor gender balance), then it seems perfectly advisable to go out of your way to try to get more submissions. But once they are in, they should be handled anonymously, and we all seem to agree on this.

  13. Do keep up the work on this.

    Having seen more than a few of the onslaughts over this, it seems to me that a lot of people have difficulty distinguishing the campaign considered as an attempt to address a systemic problem from an attack on the organizers (which everyone here makes a real effort not to do). To some extent that’s probably unavoidable — academia being so reputation-dependent, people are sensitive, and sometimes overly sensitive, to anything that could be seen as detracting from their professional reputation.

    But it has also made me wonder if perhaps an extension of the campaign is called for — a subordinate campaign, so to speak, for more openness about how conferences are organized. Certainly in the past the discussions of this that have shed more light than heat seem to be cases where the organizers, not taking it personally, have simply made an effort to make clear how they went about putting together the list of speakers. Perhaps conference organizers should be encouraged to put basic information about this in their announcements? I’d imagine that what information was available and relevant would vary quite a bit from conference to conference; but it might also help if conference organizers regularly said something about it from the beginning (and it would give those who at least already recognize the problem a bit of room to make clear that they do recognize it and are willing to help provide information to resolve it). Are there any problems with doing this that I’m not thinking of?

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