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22 September 2011


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Thanks for the great first post, Brit.

It might be worth noting that sometimes saying something can be less risky than one might think. If this is the volume you are referring to, it is pretty clear that the editors of the volume would have been receptive to your pointing out the gender imbalance of the proposed volume.

(This observation is not meant as a personal criticism by any means, and I am very grateful about your openness in the post. And I don't want to deny that sometimes there are risks involved in commenting on such things when one is in the position that you were in, e.g., as a manuscript reviewer.)

Anyways, thanks again....

Berit Brogaard

Thanks, Kris. Yes, I agree with you that pointing out gender inequalities usually isn't very risky. I am not sure why I failed to point it out back then. Maybe I (mistakenly) thought it was risky or maybe I just didn't think all that much about it. But I am certainly more aware of gender issues now.


Thanks for great post with very concrete suggestions. I wonder what you think of pointing out these problems as a reviewer post-publication. It seems worth doing after the fact, since, as the editors of the epistemic modalities volume show, it could affect their compilation process in the future. One problem with book reviews is that a lot of junior people are asked to do reviews and many of us may feel very cautious about our criticisms of senior people in our field. Still, it is worth thinking about how to do this in a constructive manner.

Berit Brogaard

In this particular case, the editors themselves acknowledged the gender inequality after the publication of the volume. In general, though, I think it is a good idea to point it out publicly when you come across an all-male volume or a volume with very few women contributors.

Feminist philosophers have done an excellent job calling our attention to all-male conferences. I think we should try to raise the same level of awareness with respect to all-male volumes.

Junior people may feel uncomfortable criticizing senior editors. However, the refereeing process is supposed to be anonymous. So, in principle at least, the editors wouldn't know who made the comments.

The problem, of course, is that the word very often does get out. However, I doubt that the editors of a volume would get terribly offended if you politely pointed out that it would have been nice to see more women among the contributors. If they did get offended, then you probably wouldn't want to interact all that much with them in the future anyway.


I wad thinking of book reviews that would be published in journal -- obviously with names attached. I am a junior professor and get asked to review books in my field 3-5 times a year, and authors are always senior to me. So it seems worth calling attention to, but also worth thinking about the power relation in this particular instance.

Berit Brogaard

Ah OK. I see what you are saying. I agree it may be better to leave this task to senior people writing book reviews. It's really unfortunate that these kinds of issues potentially can hurt us. There is a great chance that saying something wouldn't hurt you. But there is certainly also a risk.

Margaret Atherton

Thanks very much for all these helpful and concrete suggestions. I think that book reviews--under appropraite circumstances, of course--, can make a difference. I remember a while ago now, an editor put together a collection on an historical figure with all male contributors and a reviewer called him on it. That editor's next collection on the same historical figure included a number of women authors.


If this argument were reformulated so that the term "LGBT" replaces "woman", would the new argument be just as strong? If not, why not?

Berit Brogaard

Hi Margaret, I completely agree that book reviewers should point out gender inequalities, as it may make a difference in the future. I understand if junior people hesitate to do this, but senior people certainly ought to.

Berit Brogaard

Hi Clement, Yes, of course, the same applies to people who identify as LGBTQ. If 10 percent philosophers identify as LGBTQ, then that should be reflected by contributions to philosophy volumes. In fact, it would be very odd if this were not so. That would raise a question of implicit biases, and so on.

Now, one difference between the two cases is that it is far from obvious exactly who identifies as LGBTQ. Not everyone is open about it, exactly because they fear discrimination. So it is hard to know how many people identify this way in the profession. And it is equally hard to determine whether you have been sufficiently inclusive. The best you can do in this case is not to exclude anyone because you know they identify as LGBTQ.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

I just want to share a recent experience I had with 'speaking up'. It concerns conferences, but it illustrates some of the worries that people have expressed here.

I was invited to speak at a truly awesome conference, with an impressive lineup of speakers. I wrote back to the male organizer saying that yes, I was happy to accept the invitation, but that I worried a bit about the under-representation of women (I was the only woman on the list). It took him a few days to get back to me, and during this period I was sincerely scared that having raised the point (in a polite way, at least I thought it was polite) was going to harm me. A friend even said I might never be invited for a conference in that place again!

So, when I least expected it, some three days later, I got a message from the organizer saying that he was sympathetic to the issue, and that he would think about what to do within the limits of the conference budget. Big relief! And then, this week I got in touch with him again on something completely different (which was funny, given that we had never been in touch before), and he spontaneously mentioned that another woman had been invited to speak at the conference!

The moral I take from this story is that, yes, on the one hand the worry that bringing up issues of gender imbalance may potentially harm one's career, but that in fact, if you do it politely, most people seem to react quite well to it. For example, in my post linked by Kris above, Brian and Andy took it very well (although it's true that we can't expect everybody to take it *this* well when it happens out in the open).

Berit Brogaard

Hi Catarina, That is really encouraging. You do occasionally encounter people, like the commenter above, who will challenge you when you bring it up. One of my students jokingly said that maybe I should fight against the exclusion of Danish-American philosophers. I know he was just joking. But I didn't find it particularly funny. It's not about all minorities being represented equally. But if there are 50 percent women in the population and 20 percent in the profession, then we should expect to find at least 20 percent women presenting at conferences and contributing to volumes.


Hi Berit,

a couple of days ago I saw an CFP/announcement of a conference with four keynote speakers, all female. Should one intervene in this case? I am not convinced that one should. However, given your reasoning that at least a reasonable percentage of a big group of the profession and population should be represented, I suppose you should make a case for intervention (?).

Your main reason for inclusion seems to be that a fair representation of the respective groups in society or in the profession has to be assured, let me call this a political (or democratic) reason. Another drive for inclusion could be epistemic, following some epistemologists who argue that more diversity leads to epistemically superior results. Both reasons for increasing diversity seem to require very different ways of 'measuring' diversity. For instance, I do not think that just counting males and females suffices for the epistemic reason. In relation to the political reason, it also seems to leave out a lot of other forms of diversity (socio-economic, racial, sexual preference, age etc.) present in society and the profession, but well, we have to start somewhere.

Berit Brogaard

Jeroen, we certainly should not intervene in this case, as we are working toward gender equality. If we intervened in this case, we would need a much higher percentage of women at other conferences to ensure that the overall numbers were fairly representative of the population.

Sally Haslanger

Thanks, Berit, for the insightful post. Another suggestion is for those who are invited to contribute to collections and for one reason or another decide to turn down the invitation. I always suggest others who would be good to include instead, and always include women on the list. Even if the editors don't follow-up with my suggestions in this instance (they may have others they planned to pursue), it makes women's work visible.

Berit Brogaard

Thanks, Sally! That's an excellent suggestion. As an aside, people who suggest alternative referees when they turn down invitations to referee manuscripts might also think about including more women. Even if the women suggested don't have time to referee the manuscript, bringing editors' attention to their existence might be a small step toward making women more visible. As an editor, I have often learned about the existence of superb female philosophers this way.

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