First of all, I’d like to thank the New Apps team for inviting me to post here. I have been blogging for over 5 years, but this is my first post as a team blogger. Being part of a team inevitably creates a lot more anxiety than just blogging on your own. I am used to be solely responsible for my claims. Now, I could potentially shed some bad light on a team member. Well aware of this fact, I am going to jump right into a debate that has taken center stage at this and other like-minded blogs, viz. the debate about the status of women in the profession.
Most of the debate has focused on female participation in conferences. I think this debate has been extremely fruitful. It has helped people in our profession become more aware of who they invite (or don't invite) to conferences. Sure, the problem hasn't been solved. But I sense a new awareness of the issue among fellow philosophers. I occasionally hear male philosophers proudly announce that 50 percent of the participants at the conference they were organizing were women. This level of awareness probably wouldn't have been reached without the ongoing debates about the issue.
A related topic that has received relatively less attention is that of women contributions to philosophy volumes. A few years ago I decided to do an informal count of female contributions to Oxford volumes within the last ten years. I counted a female editor and any paper co-authored by at least one woman as a female contribution. My counting went by fast, and I probably missed numerous out-of-print volumes (and, I am sure, in-print volumes).
Still, my count probably is a fairly good estimation of the percentage of female contributions to philosophy volumes. By my informal (and sloppy) count, there were about 10 percent female contributions over the past 10 years. About 20 percent of philosophers holding positions at a research university in the United States are women. This number has not changed significantly within the last 10 years. So 10 percent female contributions to volumes is definitely not good enough.
I am certainly no angel in this regard. I have edited a volume with exactly one female contributor: myself. When I edited the volume in question I invited several women to contribute. They turned down the invitation. But that is no excuse. I could certainly have tried harder to get women to contribute. But I didn't. The issue just wasn't on my mind at the time. I just wanted great people and didn't care about their gender. That obviously was a mistake. When I announced the list of contributors on my blog Lemmings, I was shaking my head in disbelief. The list of contributors was outstanding but not a single one of them (except the editor) was female. Suddenly it was blatantly obvious how embarrassing this was. I acknowledged my mistake publicly on my blog. And I did learn from my mistake. The volumes I am currently editing have a significant number of female contributors.
But leaving out women as an editor is not the only mistake you can make in this regard. My next big mistake occurred when I received a book proposal a few years back from Oxford University Press. It was the book proposal for a collection on epistemic modality. It did occur to me at the time that there was not a single female among the contributors. It also did occur to me that none of the women I had talked to and who worked on epistemic modality had been asked to contribute. But I wasn't going to complain.
I am not sure exactly why. Perhaps I was simply honored that the OUP editor chose me as a reviewer of the proposal. Perhaps I was just so impressed with the list of contributors and the new interesting ideas set forth in the papers that I managed to suppress the thought that something was terribly wrong. I approved the proposal with enthusiasm without making a single remark about the inequality. Again, I cannot tell you how I was able to do this, as a female philosopher working on epistemic modality, knowing the area and knowing how many women could have contributed.
I was at least as much to blame for the lack of female contributors to that volume as the editors. It would have been very simple and very non-offensive to point out that all the contributors were male. Making a small remark about this would probably have been enough for the editors to make a real effort to get some women to contribute. So shame on me for not doing anything.
But was it just the editors and the book proposal reviewers who were to blame for this? Most definitely not. Oxford has several people review the final manuscripts for book volumes. The manuscript reviewers could have pointed out the obvious. So could the editor of the book series. And so could each and every one of the male contributors. When you are asked to contribute to a volume, you are normally told who else the editors are planning to ask or already asked. You are furthermore normally regularly updated by email about who the actual contributors are going to be. Every contributor to that volume would have been able to see that no female contributors were included. They could politely have pointed this out to the editors. But they didn't. Or they were not heard.
My point here is that it rarely is a single person's mistake when a male-only volume is released. Book editors, volume editors, contributors, book proposal reviewers and manuscript reviewers are all to blame for letting these volumes get published. Not everyone is as immoral as I was as a book proposal reviewer. A former colleague of mine has made a habit out of pointing out when a volume she is reviewing has very few female contributions. I am now following her lead. I hope that others will follow her lead, too.
There are very many steps in the publishing process at which you can intervene. If you are a book editor, you can at least ask the editors of a volume with very few women contributors why so few women are contributing. As a volume editor you can make a greater effort to get women to contribute. As a reviewer of a book proposal or manuscript, you can comment on the gender distribution. As a future contributor to a volume, you can keep an eye on the continually updated list of contributors and make your own contribution contingent on there being enough female contributors. Finally, as a blog reader, you can keep an eye on volumes in progress. Editors often publish news and updates about volumes they are editing. If you see an update on a volume in progress that has very few female contributors, leave a friendly comment on the post. It may not be too late for the editors to realize that they are about to make a major mistake that cannot be undone.