I thought it might be interesting to do a small ‘case study’ of gendered citation. Amount of citations gives us part of the picture, but as most women in philosophy can tell you, it certainly doesn’t give you the whole picture when it comes to whether and how women’s ideas are discussed. So here’s what I did. I picked up a famous philosophy book by a prominent male philosopher that was published in the last five years. No, I’m not going to tell you which book. That would be entirely unfair to the author – the problems we’re encountering here are systematic problems, not individual problems.
The book is on a topic that many talented, successful, well-known women have had things to say about. Here is what I found. (Epistemic warning: I did these calculations by hand, so they could be off by a bit).
Out of approximately 200 cited authors, 6% are women.
Our of approximately 400 total citations, 5% are to work by women.
The highest number of items cited written by a single man is approximately 4 times greater than the highest number of items cited by a single woman. There are six men with more than twice the number of cited items than that of the woman with the most cited items.
Then I looked for names of people in the index. In total, 10% of the names found in the index are the names of women. In this case, that’s 2 occurrences of women’s names.
So then I followed up the indexed items. In one case, the page referred to contains a citation of the woman, but no discussion of her work in the text. In the other, the woman’s name is mentioned, but she is not cited. (Indeed, though her ideas are appealed to I can find no citation to her work in the reference section.) In contrast, the male names in the index frequently take the reader to substantial, detailed, multi-page discussion of that man’s view.
Unless I have missed something, there is nowhere in the text where a woman’s ideas are discussed in any detail. Interestingly, though, in the acknowledgements section 19% of the people thanked are women.
Now, obviously this little rough and ready case study doesn’t show much. Induction on a case of one, after all, doesn’t tend to work out that well. The reason I bring it up – and the reason I found it interesting – is that it shows that there’s more to including women in the conversation than citing them. Not only are women’s ideas discussed or referenced less often than men’s, they can also be (as this case shows) discussed differently than men’s. And that’s a point that I hope can be part of our ongoing discussion about including women in the in-print conversations we’re having as philosophers.
Citation tells us part of the story – and the story it tells is a grim one. But there’s more to including women in a conversation than merely citing women. There’s also having the work of women truly engaged with, discussed, talked about the way we discuss the work of men. Hopefully that’s something we can strive for as we try to cite women more often.