404 Women Not Found Error
By Sarah Imhoff.
Manthologies are a network problem. I’m not talking about some technical connectivity issue; I’m talking about networks of humans. Who knows whom, how and why, and how they are connected. Anthologies full of the work of male scholars are not a problem solely because of networks, but thinking about the networking aspect helps us tackle part of the problem they represent and perpetuate. Here I’m highlighting the issue with gender, but the same structures perpetuate exclusion with respect to race and class—issues very much worth exploring, and issues that take on special concern and meaning within Jewish Studies.
Let’s imagine a male scholar who wants to put together a scholarly anthology on some aspect of Jewish Studies. This field, like all fields, has qualified women scholars. So only a sexist boor would ultimately publish a volume with all (or almost all) men. Right?
But the problem with our hypothetical editor may not be that he secretly harbors misogyny in his heart. Structural issues contribute to inequity, but they can be harder to see than individual prejudice. And so, while this editor’s excuses may sound familiar, it is worthwhile investigating them and their causes.
“There aren’t any women writing on this topic.”
How does our Jewish Studies anthology editor decide whom to invite to contribute chapters to his anthology? He invites people who are in his scholarly networks. These scholarly networks include people with whom he went to graduate school, people he has worked with at various institutions, people with whom he has spoken on conference panels, people with whom he has served on committees or boards, people with whom he has corresponded about research, or, as Alison Joseph shows, attendees at a conference he organized. He wants scholars who are experts, and he may also value name recognition. One obstacle to gender parity in an edited volume is demographics: across Jewish Studies, as with most academic fields, there are still fewer women full professors by a significant measure. Even fewer are people of color. When we add other factors attached to prestige, such as R1 universities, this percentage decreases. Prestige also attaches to white male bodies and names, as we know from countless sociological studies, and this can add to the impression that the best scholars are mostly men.
Another obstacle to the volume’s gender parity is that our editor can only ask people whose work he knows; no one can ask someone they don’t know about. Gender matters in both personal and business networks, and men are more likely to network with men. (Similarly, race matters, and people are more likely to network with people of their own race. We have fewer data for queer and trans professional networking, but there are good reasons to assume parallels there too.) Studies also suggest that men network more “effectively,” that is they are more likely to reap professional benefits from their networks, in part because they are more likely to ask for things that benefit them. So our male editor’s network likely contains more men than it does women, and women in his networks will be less likely to assert themselves in asking for inclusion in such a volume. If our editor notices that he has an initial list that has more men than women, he may very well then turn to his own networks to ask after more women scholars.
“I asked women, but they all said no.”
Let’s say our editor has a list of names now. Let’s say he’s tried very hard to include women and has come up with a list that includes half women scholars. Yet even if he wants to have a volume with gender balance, this may mean contacting people with whom he’s had little previous contact. Those of us who have been contacted by someone we don’t know and asked to undertake as big a task as writing a chapter will report that we don’t always say yes to these invitations out of the blue. Or our editor may think to ask the same very small set of senior women who, because of their rich publishing records, well-known scholarship, and visible service to the profession (and this is probably why he knows their names), are thus already overburdened.
Other factors also influence whether or not any invited women scholars agree to write. At many elite institutions, writing a chapter in an anthology does not qualify as prestigious work. It ranks well below books, and also significantly below peer reviewed journal articles. An anthology chapter may rank above an encyclopedia article or book review, but it takes far more time and investment. It is also true that whatever a scholar publishes in an anthology is, by definition, published, which will often prevent it from being published in other venues such as peer reviewed journals. Rightly or not, the values that elite institutions put on forms of publication—like peer reviewed journal articles above anthology chapters—influence the whole field. So the nature of the anthology chapter is that it is not as prestigious as some other forms of writing that might take just as much time.
Given the lesser prestige frequently attached to anthology chapters, human relationships also matter a lot. To use myself as an example, I have agreed to write for anthologies because I knew and respected the editor—even if I wouldn’t have agreed to contribute to an anthology with the same title edited by someone with whom I was unfamiliar.
So what is the correction to the manthology networking error? Because the causes of manthologies, just like the causes of so many problems identified by feminist scholars, lie in the pervasive bias in structures and networks, then even changing the minds of individuals will not solve the problem. Still, individuals can make a difference. Scholars must ask themselves about their own scholarly networks. Who are your primary interlocutors? Whose work do you read when it gets published? Whom do you ask to read and give feedback on your own unpublished work? Who do you invite to give talks at your institution? Whom do you go to see at conferences, and with whom do you sit and talk there? Whose work do you read and then write a note expressing your gratitude for their writing or engagement with their ideas? Are you only reading the work of people who work at the same 10 prestigious institutions? If these people all have the same background as you, make the effort to reach out to other scholars who do not. Men in particular should make the effort to network with women and non-binary scholars and read their scholarship; white scholars should seek out and interact with the scholars of color and their scholarship. We must create a better web of professional and human relationships at all career phases, even for those of us who are not putting together an edited volume.
Sarah Imhoff is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and the Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University. She writes about religion and the body with a particular interest in gender, sexuality, and American religion. She is author of Masculinity and the Making of American Judaism (Indiana University Press, 2017). Her current book project, A Queer Crippled Zionism: The Lives of Jessie Sampter, considers the question of what it means when our embodied lives do not match our religious and political ideals.