Gendered Citation: a case study

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.

4 thoughts on “Gendered Citation: a case study

  1. Yes. I am writing a book and find myself really conscious of citing the work of women in it, and become consequently really aware of how little-cited women are in the work of male colleagues.

  2. Ture, one must make a conscious effort to cite women philosophers’ work and ideas, even if one is indeed a woman philosophers – it’s the effect of the widespread climate we lived in from the first year of undergraduate study.
    This is just my own strategy to counteract the tendency to not to cite women’s work. I follow this lines only for the core issues in the paper I am currently starting to write, strictly individuated, since it takes a lot of time!
    Over and above the (normally biased and inattentive) references of the essays I work on more, I usually check databases such as Philpapers and Google scholar using a variety of keywords. That’s to get an overall map of almost every thing that has been written (or, more precisely, published…but that’s another matter) on the central topic of my paper. Here I select on the basis of abstracts, then start reading through what is most relevant, keeping what is more interesting, original, engaged in discussion with others, clear, well argued for, thought-provoking…
    Most of the times, when I begin working on my paper, I will have a richer background of new ideas and perspectives. Sometimes I encounter what may be called “strange” views – i.e. non-mainstream – and theoretical development of intuitions and points of view not taken into account before. Something I could not have if I limited my research to well-known, canonical authors.
    I have to say that this strategy can be pursued only in relation to well circumscribed topics, though it may happen to you to find an interesting woman philosopher you didn’t know about only through a bit of exploration of similar paper archives by wider themes. I guess it is easier to fall into a revealing essay by woman by chance than by looking at the references most books show.
    I am just a student, so probably I have enough enthousiasm to question my knowledge and habits about cited philosophical work…maybe another, more trained and experienced philosopher has an harder time challenging “their own” standard references they go on repeating paper after paper. Do it just once, try! That’s research!

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