Who is it down to?

Recently I have read a number of comments on the web about women not submitting papers to conferences. The authors seemed to think that women had a responsibility to join in on conferences, and help improve conferences themselves. Otherwise “they only have themselves to blame” for all male conferences. It’s down to them/women.

I’ve had tons of discussions of this situation and, being a slow thinker, I’m only just seeing something odd about it. Or perhaps it was the suggestion that women are to blame for all male conferences that made me rethink. One way of putting what’s odd is that it assumes a direction of causation, one that goes from women not submitting to conferences being all male and even uninviting to women.

What is odd can be seen, perhaps, from comparing these two statements:

1. Women in general do not submit papers to philosophy conferences and this is a factor that keeps the profession largely male and uninviting to women in both substances and form.

2. The philosophy profession is largely male and uninviting to women in both substance and form; therefore, women in general do not submit papers to conferences.

Could the latter be true? Ha!

The second way of describing the situation seems to me to make it clearer that we all have something of an obligation to try to make the forums for expression in the profession more hospital to all the non-represented groups. Otherwise, we are participating in a practice that does not look all that good.


I’m traveling today from Galveston and Houston, and then back. The last time I did this – two weeks ago – I was in a fairly minor but very burdensome accident. So wish we luck, please, and worry a bit if I don’t respond to any comments. Driving a Texas freeway is sometimes challenging.

7 thoughts on “Who is it down to?

  1. I don’t think that “It’s down to them/women” is a fair interpretation of what these people are saying. Rather, it’s more a “we’re all in this together”. Just as men in the profession have a responsibility to change their behavior in the name of a more just and equal philosophical community, women too have responsibilities to this end. These include greater participation in conferences and other public fora (even if initially uncomfortable for women). I see nothing objectionable about that.

  2. I’m hesitant to have discussion of blame in cases like this. Although used often enough as a causal term (“The fallen tree-branch is to blame for my broken window”) it more typically, I think, involves moral censure. In the post, “they only have themselves to blame” seems as if it’s quote, though I expect that it’s a paraphrase. I did not read many statements that it might be a paraphrase of as indicating a moral failing or failure to meet a professional obligation of some sort to women, but rather to merely be offering a causal explanation, perhaps joined with the implicit idea that nothing more was needed. (Note that “we are not to blame” doesn’t imply “someone else it to blame.”) Given this, any implications of blame, including the idea that a significant number of people think women are “to blame” seem unhelpful to me.

    I think that this is at least largely compatible with Anne’s 2 above, which I take to be at least often accurate. What, exactly, follows from it probably has to be considered in a case-by-case way, I think, and any generalizations are likely to be at a high level. Or so it seems to me.

  3. Do women submit less to conferences? Whenever I’ve spoken to conference organizers the number of women submitting seems to be low, but not much lower than the percentage of women in the relevant stage of the profession. My sample size is very small there though. Are there stats showing that there is a significant difference between women at the relevant stage and submissions to conferences from women? Also, it seems like conferences are pretty much fun networking opportunities. Obviously that makes it important to do some conferences, but if you encouraged women to do a disproportionate number of conferences rather than, say, spend time on research, then it seems like you might actually do a disservice to future women in the profession. Women would be more visible, but would be producing less of the important research. In the long term, that seems pretty bad.

  4. Margaret, thanks so much for your good wishes. It says something that at the police stations along the Gulf freeway there are specialist police who are something like “accident advisers”.

  5. I think the whole post fell short of my intentions, or at least what I think my intentions should have been given the comments. One could think of the post as addressing two kinds of ‘explanations’ of all-male conferences: (1) those that do say that the fault of all male conferences sometimes or often rests with women, because they don’t submit papers, and (2) those who are having an all-male or mostly male conference who seem, as I interpret them, to offer the low submission rate as a reason for thinking they are not really responsible for the gender line up in the conference.

    With that somewhat clear distinction, I want to say that maintaining women are the cause of all male conferences seems at least to invoke (1) and miss out on (2). I think also those who see a very low submission rate as somehow letting them off the hook for an all male conference are again missing out on (2).

    However, I don’t think the issue is necessarily at all about blame because women should also be addressing the issues about (2). We’re in this together.

    Thank you all for the comments!

Comments are closed.