“I invited every woman working in the field. They all turned me down.”
This is the typical “excuse” editors and organizers of all- or almost-all-male conferences and volumes present in lieu of a defense. On previous occasions some of us have argued that this is a bad excuse. That the excuse itself could be a lie never occurred to me.
That is, until recently. I was talking to a male philosophy friend over drinks. Call the person A. We were talking about A’s volume on core area C. As A cited the names of the contributors, I noticed that he only mentioned one female contributor.
I gently inquired why A only had found one female contributor. “Everyone turned me down,” he said.
That seemed odd to me. I happen to know a lot of women working in core area C. Apparently A didn’t. So, I thought I’d help out A by suggesting a few women.
After each of my suggestions A replied, “I already invited her. She turned me down.” This went on for a while. As I moved down my list of female philosophers I received the same reply:. “Yep, already invited her."
I had at that point mentioned about ten female philosophers. What A probably wasn’t aware of was that I had also mentioned a relatively unknown male philosopher with a gender-neutral name as well as a lesser known Hollywood actress! “Yep. Already invited her,” A had replied.
I probably could have called his bluff. But I decided to let it go. Perhaps the man was suffering from a mild hearing impairment.
However, before I left I added that when I review these all- or almost-all male volumes for journals, I tend to call attention to the absence of women. “Now you know who not to ask to review your volume,” another philosopher said to A and laughed. But the other philosopher apparently felt bad about the situation, for he then suggested one of his own female students as a possible contributor.
A few days later I decided to rule out a possible hearing impairment. So I contacted two of the “real” women among the ones I mentioned as possible contributors. As I expected, neither had in fact been invited.
It was all a big lie. Or the hearing impairment was worse than I thought.
I must admit that I am in shock.
If you are going to discriminate against women by not inviting them to contribute to your volume, at least be up front about your bias. Don’t lie to us. That just makes us twice as sad.