It’s Not that Easy: On the Challenges Facing an Editor
By Alison L. Joseph.
It has taken me months to build up the courage to write this post about my personal contribution to the preservation of gender imbalance. But here’s the truth, even for a person who is committed to gender parity, achieving an ideal is very challenging. You might stop reading right now and start writing nasty things about me on Twitter (I’ll give you a head start, @AlisonJoseph20), and I wouldn’t blame you, but I’m here to explain what made the ideal so difficult to achieve, to apologize, and to lay out steps for ensuring more diversity in the future.
In the midst of the difficult political climate, there has been more attention paid to latent gender discrimination in all parts of life, and academia is no exception. The attention to these injustices within the academy is met with some opposition, mostly, but not exclusively, from older, male, scholars. Protests come in the form of shirking responsibility: “We invited some women, but they couldn’t come;” “there aren’t any/many female scholars who do this ‘thing’;” “we didn’t know anyone.” All these excuses sound like what they are: excuses!
While I regard myself a feminist and regularly try my best to lift up other female (especially junior) scholars, I am guilty of these same excuses! I currently find myself in a particularly difficult situation. I am co-editing a volume of conference papers that is woefully unbalanced in its gender representation; we are set to submit the manuscript to the press this week. Some months ago as the contract with a good press in our field was signed and the scholars started to send in their final manuscripts, we reflected on the breakdown of contributors to the volume: 10 essays, 9 contributors, 2 women (myself included). While we lamented the fact that there should be more female voices represented in the volume, we didn’t know if we could do anything about it, at this late stage.
The volume is a collection of papers from a small conference more than two years ago, organized by junior scholars, funded by a foundation with the goal of promoting emerging scholars, and with the same 9 participants. One senior, female scholar, coming from abroad, cancelled three weeks before the meeting, because of a scheduling conflict. The two other coeditors (both male) and I found ourselves uncomfortable with the current gender representation of the volume, so we went out in search of women to contribute one or two more essays to the volume (the maximum pages that the publication requirements can accommodate). This also did not feel good. Almost at the eleventh hour, we were searching for any women to fill out the lineup. This felt like tokenism at its worst (even though we only reached out to scholars whose work we respect and fits in well with the volume) and out-of-place because the rest of the contributors all participated in a two-day conference, and the collegial exchange of ideas over that period. We ultimately added only one additional paper by a woman.
As the other posts this week have shown, so much of this is about power. Who has the power and how can they wield it? You might question why we couldn’t just put off our publication and try to add more essays from female scholars. My answers may sound like those protests above. There is a word limit on the volume imposed by the publisher, and even adding 1 or 2 essays, would push us over the maximum. The goal of the conference and the subsequent publication of its proceedings, as determined by the funder, was to bring together senior and junior scholars. Adding more female contributors would require removing or stalling the publication of articles by junior male scholars, who also need publications for their reappointment and promotions.
I am sure my co-editors and I will be criticized because our table of contents is still so unbalanced (11 essays, 10 contributors, including 3 women). We tried, but many will argue not hard enough or early enough for it to matter. And while I recognize that I wield some level of power as an editor of a collected volume, I regularly dwell at the lowest rung on the academic totem pole: always contingent and often on the job market. I currently do not hold an academic position. Perhaps it is admitting the part we play in maintaining the gendered status quo that has kept me from finishing this post. But here it all is. Our volume will go to press soon, as is. But I have learned that we all need to do better going forward, and perhaps this is why I have mustered up the courage to say it on the internet. What can we do about it?
First, recognize that there is discrimination at all levels of academia, even in who is accepted to graduate school. Socialized gender norms also affect the way that women and other minorities function once they are in doctoral programs. Women are less likely than men to “self-promote,” an essential way of getting your scholarly work “out there,” in part to generate the invitations to participate in conferences and special journal issues. They receive different (read: inferior) mentoring from advisers, which therefore means they may be less likely to apply to a conference, submit to a journal, reach out to a senior scholar—all methods for getting your work noticed. Once we recognize this pervasive gender discrimination, we have to be consciously mindful of representing women, even if the act of doing so feels like tokenism. We need to go out there and actively count heads because doing so will help to reverse this trend of gender discrimination.
Second, there needs to be a shift in the balance of power. To contest the excuse “We don’t know any women who do X,” women in other disciplines are taking action; an organization called 500 Women Scientists put together a website called “Request a Woman Scientist.” Similarly, the tongue and cheek named, “Women Also Know History” site. Mieke Bal suggests abolishing the peer review system because of its inherent biases, through the power invested on a few (journal editors) and their ability to control the influence and dissemination of ideas. On Twitter, scholars in all fields are calling out and attempting to shame “manels.”
People with power, namely tenured professors, have to step up for the underrepresented—rejecting invitations to conferences, withholding articles from journals that don’t reflect inclusivity. Academia is a hierarchical system, and all too often, the consequences of speaking up for scholars with little to no job security is often fatal to a career. Junior scholars, who depend on senior scholars for their promotion and/or jobs, can be deemed “trouble makers.” If the scholars with power begin to wield that power to force institutions and individuals to change, the culture will start to change as well.
Third, academia could use a lesson in generosity. Go out of your way to mentor, support, and invite underrepresented scholars. But more specifically, in order to create diversity, we need to make a conscious effort. Each time someone finds themselves in a position of authority, they need to ensure there is enough diversity. Perhaps twice as many women as men need to be invited to a conference to hope for a balanced program. Not only is inclusivity a moral imperative, studies show that “greater diversity of authorship might boost either the quality of the paper or the number of people who notice it, or both.” Striving for diversity will make all of us and our scholarship better.
And while I still feel smacked in the face by the number of manthologies (See Mara Benjamin and Michal Raucher’s pieces) being published, I am encouraged by the “calls to arms” by many scholars, including the recently published editorial by Robert Cargill, the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, entreating scholars to “support the amplification of women’s scholarly voices through publication, not simply through invitation.” Only by making intentional choices to feature diverse voices will change occur.
Alison L. Joseph is an EFSR board member and an adjunct assistant professor of the Hebrew Bible and its Interpretation at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Senior Editor of The Posen Library of Jewish Civilization and Culture. Her research explores the processes by which the Hebrew Bible was produced, bringing together historiographical, literary, and gender criticism as it illuminates the author/redactor’s role in interpreting and rewriting earlier texts. Her current project, Damning Dinah: The Priestly Battle against Intermarriage, looks at intermarriage and women’s sexuality in the Hebrew Bible and explores how late authorial voices reflect a growing concern with foreign infiltration. Her first book, Portrait of the Kings: The Davidic Prototype in Deuteronomistic Poetics, received the 2016 Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise.