Archive for the ‘failure to cite/notice’ Category

I am a Ph.D. student in philosophy. My research interests are in a subfield that is mostly male dominated. In the graduate seminars I am enrolled in, I am the only woman student. This week I e-mailed a classmate a paper I had found online, that look interesting and was related to my research, but that I knew was also related to his. I wrote that he hoped he would find it helpful. The next day he thanked me for the paper. I told him I hadn’t had a chance to read it yet, but would like to talk about it in the next few days.

Later that afternoon I found out he had sent out a draft of a paper he was working on that was a response to some of our other peers. All male, and all of whose research interests were less relevant than mine. I can’t help feeling hurt. Similar things (not being sent drafts of papers being circulated to other students) have happened in the past, and I was able to brush it off. But this is the first time it has been a paper that a) would not have been written (at least not as soon) if it weren’t for my input, and b) is directly related to my research. The climate in my department is quite amiable, but because we are friends I don’t want to confront him about why he didn’t think to send me a draft. I don’t want to be labeled as overly sensitive, I can’t help but feel like this is because he believes that I will not have anything relevant to say, despite the fact it is on a topic directly related to my research.

I’m scared. I’ve been told by many that one of the best things about graduate school is having peers willing to discuss topics you are interested in, and I feel like I am missing out. I am also worried that without this, I will not do as well in my studies as others.

I was at a bar with three colleagues, each of whom are a) male, b) my friends, and c) self-identified feminists. So there were four philosophers in a bar, at a 3:1 male-to-female ratio. The table was discussing a book that only half in attendance had actually read. Now, I was one of the two folks who had read the book. It should surprise you, then, to learn that for the life of me, I could not get a word in edgewise! 3/4 people were talking, and only 1/3 of those speaking had read the book under discussion, but every freakin’ time I tried to speak, I was summarily shut down, talked over, and/or ignored. I managed to successfully complete exactly one sentence, which was very directly dismissed by my friend. He blinked at me, then flatly ignored my comment, proceeding to respond to a prior comment from another male colleague. At that point I gave up. I was disheartened and sad to be treated this way by my friends. I picked up my phone, only to find that it was out of batteries, and tossed it back down on the table, frustratedly. One colleague took notice of my frustration and asked what was the matter, to which I responded rather directly, “Well there is nothing else for me to do at this table, and now my phone is out of batteries.” His response? “That sucks. So anyway, how was your weekend with [my partner]?” Shocked and appalled by this totally unnatural segue, I retorted, “We don’t have to stop talking about philosophy!” [implying of course: just because you’re going to include me, now.] Totally unawares, he sincerely replied, “No! I really wanted to know how your weekend was!” He didn’t even realize what he had done. I aggressively voiced that I was bored (because nobody would let me talk about the book they were already talking about, which I had actually read!) and his response was to ask about my boyfriend.

All three of these guys are my friends, they are self-identified feminists, and they take themselves to be good allies. I’ll bet if I told this story back to them in another context, all three of those guys would be appalled. But from the inside, they had no idea what they were doing. That, to me, was totally shocking. And, I might add, really painful! Because you know, you get a little hope fire going in your belly when you meet (straight, white) male allies, and you think, “Progress! Hope! A way forward! Evidence of change!” And then you have these experiences that reinforce how devastatingly insidious the norms of gender and power are. And it just feels like you’re Sisyphus, rolling the boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down on your again.

I no longer work at college level but when I did the professor of Philosophy quite explicitly told me that if I slept with him he would ensure I was looked after as far as my career went. I did not but I know others who did and he did keep his word, they received a lot of help establishing their careers. I am ambivalent about their behaviour since they were, as I was, mostly very capable anyway but I am somewhat cynical when they speak at conferences as representative feminists.
After my Phd was published, and the postgrad supervisor (a woman with whom I refused a relationship when we were both students, simply because I am straight, not gay) as well as my supervisor were ‘too busy’ to provide comments for the dust jacket I realised there was no point asking for the references necessary to enter the book for the relevant philosophy prize for publications in my area that year.
I wrote a letter to the university which awarded the prize tactfully mentioning the difficulty of finding overworked academics to write the necessary reviews and several names were suggested but they all were ‘too busy’ as well so I simply gave up. (The prize is no longer offered).
Finally, one examiner of the Phd which became the book, a professor at a prestigious US college, had offered to write a good review when it was published but was unable to be contacted either by the publishers or me when the time arrived. Nonetheless, when the university which had offered the prize for which I could not enter invited a well-known international scholar based at the same college as my examiner to give its annual ‘prestige’ public lecture the synopsis sounded suspiciously like my book. I wrote to him as well as the institution mentioning this and asking for a transcript of the lecture. Neither he nor the college replied but the international scholar’s first announcement at the lecture was that he had changed the topic and it would no longer correspond to the abstract that had been published.
So,sexual harrassment, attempted plagiarism of junior researchers and brushing it all under the carpet. If nothing else I no longer believe that well-known scholars are the best philosophers, merely the most ruthless and amoral.

At a department symposium I remarked R. There was an extremely short silence, and then the discussion moved on.

Later on, favored young male philosopher recommended that we return to look at my point. Afterward several attendees congratulated the yound male philosopher for his clever point, which they were all in a position to know was my point, but I had disappeared from the discourse.

As you may know, Kieran Healy has recently conducted an analysis of citation data in 4 top philosophy journals over the last 20 years. The results pertaining to gender are striking: Of the top 500+ cited items, 19 (3.6% of the total) are written by 15 women.

As has been noted, it wouldn’t be surprising if implicit bias–coupled, no doubt, with other problematic valences, along the elite/non-elite, junior/senior, and anglophone/non-anglophone dimensions, in particular–were playing a significant role in this data, especially given how failure to cite can percolate.

Without attempting to assign distributive weighting to these valences, I want to anecdotally register one batch of ways in which citation blindness has played out for me over the years. I’ll then offer a couple of positive suggestions about what women (or others subject to problematic citation blindness) can do to try to ward off or push back against this sort of thing.

1. Every year I read or get papers to referee on “Prominent Male’s approach to X” which do not cite me (much less discuss me), notwithstanding that I was the first to present and defend this approach in print and have since written several papers on the topic. The priority issues here are slightly subtle; a few people were working on this approach at around the time my paper was written. But no one could deny that I was one of the ground-floor proponents of the approach (which contribution is, thankfully, tracked in certain encyclopedia articles and surveys); nor could anyone doing due diligence on the topic miss that I am one of the primary “players” here. The editors of numerous journals certainly know this well enough!

But again, I am simply absent from many papers on this topic. This situation is improving somewhat of late, in part because I’ve been fairly active in contacting people and telling them my little story. But what a pain (for all concerned) to have to do that.

2. This citation blindness has occurred even in cases where the author is well aware that I work on the topic. Once I gave a talk where I discussed and defended the view (mentioning, as I often do in hopes of correcting the record, my initial paper). Two people who were present went on to write papers on “Prominent Male’s view” that did not cite me; one of these was my commentator. I caught one of the papers before publication and contacted the author reminding them that I was also a proponent of the view; the author was genuinely shocked that they had forgotten to cite me, and did manage to get a footnote to me in the final version, along with the usual in-text justification for focusing on Prominent Male as the prominent proponent of the view (a self-fulfilling prophecy, to be sure).

3. It has not helped matters that Prominent Male has never cited my paper in any of his work on the topic, notwithstanding that he was (of this there is no room for doubt) aware of my work.

4. Again, citation blindness percolates. Given that Prominent Male doesn’t cite me, why should anyone else? And so it continues.

5. One last peeve: of the papers I read or am sent to referee on this topic that do not cite me, a goodly proportion raise objections to the view that I have already anticipated and responded to in print.

So, what to do? Here are three suggestions off the top of my head:

1. Make crystal clear in the title of your paper what your new development (or response to objection, or whatever) is supposed to be.

2. Subscribe to the PhilPapers ‘new papers’ stream and religiously check for whether papers on your topic appropriately cite you. Many of these papers are drafts or forthcoming, in which case there will often be time for the author to cite you, or better yet, take your work into account.

3. When you get sent papers to referee on the topic which do not appropriately cite or discuss your work, do not be shy about saying that the author needs to do so.

I delivered a paper at a conference that argued that a famous historical philosopher always qualified concept X with adjective Y. In fact, I used what I had noticed to solve a long-standing problem.

At the meeting, a male philosopher mistakenly maintained he had presented the same idea about X being qualifed by Y. Guess who is generally cited as the source of this now standard point. It is not I.

In the not-so-distant past, I wrote a dissertation on a relatively “hot” topic in philosophy of X. My adviser, who was not in residence at my grad-institution the year I defended, offered only minimal support during my “dissertating” (though other (male) members of my department went *way* beyond the call of duty (e.g. reading and commenting on multiple drafts, revisions, etc.) to support me while I wrote).

A couple of years after I defended and had gotten a TT job at a SLAC, my “adviser” published a monograph on my dissertation topic, but he did not cite (or acknowledge) my work. A couple of years after that, he edited a volume on the same topic I wrote on, but did not invite me to contribute.

It is true, I am not running in R1 circles, but I have had a steady stream of (low rent) publications. I have found it very hard to keep up with Philosophy of X at my SLAC with a heavy teaching and service load. Meanwhile, as part of my review process, I am suppose to show how I have been influential in my field. Seriously? I am a woman in M&E at a SLAC in the south. Puh-leez!

It has been some time now since I finished my PhD, and I am trying to break into another area of philosophy that may be more welcoming to me.