Gender and Creative Agenda-Setting Philosophy: What is the Way Forward?

Almost everyone has had the chance to read the new Healy data on the citation of women. As another female philosopher has stated, a central take home point is that “women are cited. But they are only allowed to chip in to the debates–they are not allowed to be the agenda-setters.”

The question now is, what should we do about this? Increasing the diversity of those who participate in philosophy will not in and of itself change things unless we also find mechanisms to allow a more diverse range of people to “create” philosophy or to “set agendas” in philosophy, in Healy’s terms. Though it might mean some small progress, focusing on improving the citation of women’s work (for example, through a gendered-citation-campaign) will not fundamentally change things. Even if the citations of women’s work were to increase, women may still be prohibited from engaging in creative or agenda-setting philosophy.

There are likely a number of solutions that are worth of considering.  Here are a few beginning thoughts:

1. Journals could implement a soft or hard quota in favour of publishing work by women that is “creative” or “agenda-setting”. (For an earlier discussion of quotas more broadly and a rejection of the most common objections to quotas see this discussion and a draft of my paper on this topic.)

2. Journals could broaden their conception of acceptable philosophical topics and methods. Women may have a greater tendency to write about non-mainstream topics. If journals opened up what they count as interesting and important work – if they included more interdisciplinary work, more work grounded in practice and experience, more work off the beaten path, for example – then more creative pieces by women may be published.

3. Journals could increase the number of women on their Editorial boards. Perhaps women are more likely to be in favour of publishing creative philosophy that is by women or to notice when work isn’t properly citing the (creative) work that has already been done by women.

I am confident that these are just a few of the many solutions that could be implemented.  I hope that others will join the discussion by suggesting their own options or by clarifying which options among those discussed are the best and why this might be the case.

15 responses

  1. All good suggestions, Meena; I especially like the first. Two other sets of suggestions, one institutional, one individual.

    The institutional suggestions are that those involved in the editorial and refereeing practices do more to correct for the now-known myriad impacts of implicit bias. These might include

    (a) changing the format of assessments to partially correct for the fact that ‘overall’ assessments invite implicit bias, by requiring referees to answer specific questions (‘Does the paper make one or more novel contributions? Are the contributions primarily critical, primarily constructive, or both? Does the author appropriately cite the relevant literature? Does the author appropriately engage with any relevant argumentation? Do your (the referee’s) criticisms, if any, undermine the main line of argument or are they primarily concerns about implementation or presentation? Etc.);

    (b) editors doing more to assess the assessments—i.e., taking into account that, as a female philosopher observed on another thread, “there are double standards/ implicit biases when it comes to judging women’s positive and negative work. E.g. a woman’s “negative” work is judged as myopic or taxonomic or described “just making tiny distinctions”, whereas comparable men’s work is judged as rigorous and helpful. A woman’s broader, programmatic work is judged as “too abstract” or not very well worked out, whereas comparable men’s work is judged as visionary and agenda-setting.”

    (c) editors being more proactive to ensure that work by women and other underrepresented groups is being appropriately cited and discussed. Before any paper, book, or encyclopedia article is published, SOMEONE should do a PhilPapers search on the relevant topic(s), and require the author to incorporate citation (and discussion!) of any clearly relevant work.

    The individual suggestions are that we all do more (much more) to proactively call women’s work to attention, by, for example,

    (a) Flagging relevant work by women to authors at the pre-publication stage (after talks or upon reading posted drafts), as needing to be cited (and discussed!).

    (b) As referees, doing basic due diligence, along lines of (c), above—do a PhilPapers search on the topic(s), and if there are any omissions, flag them to the author’s and the editor’s attention.

    (c) Actively working to engage with work by women and other underrepresented groups, as well as non-elite authors of all demographics. Impose your own quotas, to be met if at all possible, whereby you cite (and discuss!) work by women and underrepresented groups, as well as non-elite authors of all demographics.

    (d) Stop engaging in pernicious citation practices (e.g., only citing or discussing the ‘most prominent’, typically famous white male, defender of a view); see here for other things to avoid:

  2. Thanks for the post. Other options for ways to improve the situation, alongside those mentioned above, include: (4) referees start calling this out, very explicitly, when refereeing papers; also important is for referees of book proposals to start calling this out (this can help to address things before the work gets written, so that citations to women are not just late add-on’s; (5) likewise editors of volumes need to pay attention to this when inviting/reviewing submitted contributions; (6) APA program committees and program committees for other conferences should pay attention not just to having women on the program but also to the roles that women are playing — e.g., women should be represented not just as commentators but as paper-givers; women should be represented not just as critics on Author-meets-critics panels but as authors; (7) work by women should be included on syllabi — and not just in add-on capacity but in agenda-setting capacities [this dovetails with 2 from the original post].

  3. Something like a Bechdel test for philosophy might be helpful and could easily be added to reviewer instructions…

    The PhiBechdel test is a test to characterize how the work of women is represented in a philosophical text.

    Passing the PhiBechdel test requires the text to engage:
         with the views of at least two women philosophers;
         which are discussed outside the footnotes;
         about something other than why they are wrong.

    Perhaps a database that people could add to might not be too unmanageable, and authors could respond. Entire journal issues that fail could be flagged, in some way, with special attention given to those that have x number of issues fail.

    (Such a strategy may also help promote the work of philosophers of color.)

  4. Pingback: Yet more on gender and citation | Feminist Philosophers

  5. “a central take home point is that “women are cited. But they are only allowed to chip in to the debates–they are not allowed to be the agenda-setters.”

    I wonder if this (apparent) result isn’t in part an artifact of looking at too narrow a range of journals. For example, it’s hard for me to think of a more agenda-setting work than Elizabeth Anderson’s paper “What is The Point of Equality?”. But, it doesn’t show up here, because it’s in _Ethics_, and not one of the journals looked at. But, is there any _good_ reasons to think that, for a paper like that, that _Ethics_ is a worse place to put it than Mind? I’d say no – It likely would have gotten _less_ attention if published in Mind. While I’m somewhat less sure of this case, it’s still my impression that Delia Graff Fara’s paper “Shifting Sands” has been one of the most clearly “agenda setting” papers in discussion of vagueness (and philosophical logic more generally), but it’s not noted here because it appeared in _Philosophical Topics_, and not one of the studied journals. I think it would be easy enough to think of quite a few similar examples.

    This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem. But, I worry that the (not unreasonable) focus on a small number of journals that are really not as general or representative as some would like to think is making the problem seem worse than it is.

    • Matt – Thanks for these observations! To begin it is worth saying something about why Healy focuses on the journals he does. The reason that Healy focuses on the four journals that he does is because of their perceived status. Most people view these four journals as being of the best quality (even outside of lemm subfields). This is worth focusing on because prestige matters for tenure. If high prestige publications and citations matters for tenure – largely because they help to establish someone as making a high quality contribution to the field – and women are being excluded from being published and cited in the Healy-4, then they are less likely to receive tenure at good institutions. Of course, there are some differences regarding what counts as a high prestige journal between subfields in philosophy. For those who work in ethics, Ethics and PPA would certainly be counted as elite ethics journals. As anyone who knows me already knows, I am a HUGE Elizabeth Anderson fan. And, I would agree that her paper has been hugely influential. That said, I suppose most of us think that the general point about agenda-setting translates to these other subfields such as ethics. I am especially inclined to do so because of data that I am now collecting on women authored (or rather the dearth of such) papers in Ethics, PPA, and JMP (for some idea of the data see the earlier discussion of quotas linked above). So, while there may be exceptions such as Anderson’s piece, I am inclined to think that the general point holds even when applied to prestigious journals in ethics (since women really aren’t publishing as much as we should expect in elite ethics journals and without this they can’t really be agenda-setters, since publishing in elite journals is most often required for agenda-setting). In short, women are not allowed to be agenda-setters even in areas like ethics. (Note also, that Phil Review is typically considered to publish some of the best ethics pieces. So, the data about PR is important for those working in ethics.) Finally, I agree that we need more information in order to determine just how bad the situation is in other subfields. Healy’s data is likely most relevant to those working in lemm. I am currently organizing a symposium that focuses on these issues in ethics journals. So, we will have more of this information soon! Thanks for the comment, Matt. Any further thoughts?

      • Thanks for your reply, Meena. I’ve been a long-time reader of Kieran Healy, so am familiar with his work, and reasons for focusing on those four journals, but I do think it’s distorting, rather than enlightening, in an important way. In the areas I work in, they are not at all the “agenda setting” journals. (I suspect that the fact that Healy’s wife is an excellent metaphysician helps make them seem more clearly central to him.) But, in political and legal philosophy, it just seems pretty obviously false to me that women are “not allowed to be agenda-setters” – in addition to Anderson, it seems that Shiffren, Nussbaum, and others (more and more Annie Stilz, for example, and Lea Ypi, among younger people) are _clearly_ setting the main agendas. Now, this doesn’t mean that everything is fine for women, even in legal and political philosophy, but I don’t think it helps to make the situation look worse than it is.

      • Another brief thought: my scholarly training and work are in both law and philosophy. Philosophy tends to use very few citations – many too few for my taste. Law, on the other hand, tends to comically over-cite. (Law students will be told that you must have X number of citations per page in a law review article, for example, regardless of what’s being said, or that every declarative statement needs a citation.) This is one reason (but not the only one) why a typical law review article is about 80 pages long (and often barely readable.) Perhaps because of this background, I tend to have a lot more citations in my papers than most philosophers do. (If you look at, for example, the issue of CRISPP on immigration I contributed to, my list of citations is at least twice as long as any other contributor, I think.) I don’t say this to pat my own back – it’s a matter of training turned habit. (Law reviews will complain I don’t cite enough!) But, one way out of this problem is probably to just adjust citation practices and make sure that we are citing all of the people that we should be. That won’t do everything, of course, but will do a lot, I think. (I should here cite Eric Schliesser’s discussion of the issue, which contributed to my thinking about this aspect of the issue a bit more.)

    • Matt – Thanks for your comments. Here’s my question: How do you know that things are being represented as worse than they actually are? What data do you have? As the social science literature shows us, armchair impressions are incredibly misleading, especially about issues that involve bias. So, we need at least some data to base our judgments on, not mere impressions. Based on Healy’s data, we can see that there is a problem in lemm. Given the problems in lemm, it seems more likely rather than not that there are similar problems in other subfields, including ethics. Of course, we need more data to be certain. There is some relevant data regarding the numbers of women-authored papers in elite ethics journals that does give us some grounds for believing that the Healy point applies, at least generally, to ethics too. The data that I am thinking of and pointed to earlier (and which I think really needs to be discussed in this context) shows that despite the significant (and growing) numbers of women who work in ethics (broadly understood) they are not publishing in proportionate numbers in elite ethics journals (see here: The question of who is publishing where matters to the question of who is an agenda-setter. At least presently, the general trend seems to be that, in order to be an agenda-setter, you must publish in elite journals. So, if women aren’t tending to publish (proportionately) in elite journals, then they aren’t likely to be agenda-setters (proportionately) either. Again, we do need more data to know for sure. I am working to collect this data, as are others. So, I want to emphasize that while “ethics” may be perceived as being more open to women, the data just doesn’t seem bear that out regarding publications, at least if we are focusing on the issue of proportionate representation. Finally, pointing to four or five exceptions (such as Anderson, Shiffrin, Ypi, etc. all of whom I respect deeply) really isn’t enough to establish a general trend in the opposite direction to the Healy trend or to counter the points I am making here. Thank you very much for continuing this discussion. It is an important one to be having.

      • Thanks, Meena. This is useful. Let me state my position as clearly as I can, and state what I think are the agreements and disagreements between us. I’ll be glad to be corrected if I’m getting your view wrong.

        1) I agree that where one publishes is often an important factor in whether a paper (or a person) is likely be “agenda-setting”.

        2) But, I think it’s a bit distorting to focus on these particular journals. For one, they are not the “agenda setting” journals for most non “LEMM” work. Even if an agenda-setting paper in a non-LEMM field is published in one of them, most of the subsequent discussion will be in other journals. (Consider Phil Kither’s “1953 and All That”, published in the Phil Review. It was obviously an agenda-setting paper in the philosophy of science and biology, but most of the discussion of it came in philosophy of science journals.) I expect something similar would happen with a political philosophy paper and many ethics papers. But Healy’s approach would then make this seem like it wasn’t an agenda setting paper, because the discussion of the paper would not have been taking place within his “big 4” journals. What would this show? It would show that, as interesting and important as his work is, it’s leaving out a lot, and so cannot hope to decide what is “agenda setting” work _except perhaps_ within a fairly narrow range of work that makes up the majority of the work published in these particular journals. But because that’s a fairly small part of philosophy, it can’t possibly show what work is “agenda setting” or who is publishing “agenda setting” work full-stop. In this sense, unless we are very careful in presenting what his work shows, we’ll be perpetuating a highly distorted view of philosophy.

        3) Because of this, the claim you’ve made that women “are not allowed to be agenda setters” is only supported by the data (if it is at all) in relation to the sort of work most commonly published in these journals.

        4) If the “agenda setting” work for, say, political and legal philosophy, is mostly published in journals like Ethics, P&PA, and others, (and if most of the _discussion_ of even the papers published in Phil Review or Journal of Philosophy in this area takes place in more specialized journals), then Healy’s data is just going to miss this. It won’t say anything about it, and we can’t draw any conclusions about these fields from his work.

        5) But, we _can_ tell if it’s the case if “women are not allowed” to be agenda setters in these areas, by looking at who seems to be writing papers that get discussed at lot, and that get responded to a lot, talked about at conferences, that one deal with when writing in this area, etc. For this, examples are enough. If we have some examples, it shows that the “not allowed” claim you’d made isn’t true, at least for this area. (It may be for others, but I think it’s probably too strong there, too, though I’m less sure.) The examples of Anderson, Shiffren, Nussbaum, Stilz, and Ypi (among others) do this. They show that the “not allowed” claim can’t be right here, since actual implies possible.

        6) It’s possible, and probably likely, that even in these fields work by women (or at least women other than those mentioned) isn’t given enough attention, is systematically under-cited, and sometimes under-placed because of unfair refereeing and other issues of various sorts. That’s a real problem. But, it’s a much weaker claim than that women “are not allowed to be agenda setters”. This weaker claim has the virtue of being true, and should be the one focused on. Some of the problem (though not all of it) can be addressed by being more generous in citation practices than philosophers typically are.

        7) Because the stronger claim isn’t true (at least in this area, and probably in some others, too), focusing on it will be a distraction from practical steps that can make progress on the problem.

        So, that’s my position. I appreciate you indulging a long and somewhat repetitive set of comments. I don’t think that any of it relies on “arm-chair sociology” any more than is appropriate, and of course it would be good to see more detail. (I’d be very interested to see, for example, the citations counts for Anderson’s paper compared to work on egalitarianism by G.A. Cohen and Ronald Dworkin, suitably adjusted for time of publication of the pieces, number of pieces on the topic, etc. I’d be surprised and slightly dismayed if her piece did much worse on that approach, but don’t, of course, know.)

      • Matt,
        One of Meena’s important questions above is: Why do you think your impressions of subfields like ethics are a reliable source of evidence about how women are doing in those fields? The Healy data is good data because its systematic and doesn’t rely on impressions. Now, you may be right that it is not representative of some fields. At best, though, this observation warrants thinking that this is a genuinely open question. But that’s not the position you take under #5 or #7 below.
        You seem to think that your impressions warrant these stronger conclusions. But this is just what Meena is challenging above. Let me give an example of evidence that suggests how impressions in contexts in which bias is in play can be misleading. (I’m afraid that I don’t have a cite for the study, but someone else here may.) A researcher, interested in the question of the extent to which classroom discussants perceptions of who is and isn’t doing most of the talking in a classroom were accurate, videotaped classrooms and then asked participants for their impressions of whether men or women were doing most of the talking. The impressionistic data would have led one to believe that women were doing the majority of the talking, but the video allowed the researcher to check these impressions by measuring the lengths of time men and women spoke. It turned out that women were doing *much less* talking than men. Studies like these show that we need data like Healy’s, not impressions, to address the question of how women are faring as agenda-setters in ethics, political philosophy, and philosophy of law.
        If you think the Healy data don’t speak to this question, you should be agnostic about its answer.

  6. Great to see these concrete suggestions. I have been using PhilPapers in the way Jessica suggests, both to find stuff I should discuss in my own work, but also as a prompt when refereeing others’ work.

    PhilPapers is a truly wonderful resource, but a lot depends on how extensively articles/books have been categorized. For various reasons work by women, or by members of other under-represented groups, might be less extensively categorized.

    This is something we can fix! You can categorize an item by clicking on it, then clicking ‘categorize this paper’; it takes a few seconds.

    The editors say ‘We encourage users to use these tools. Please use them only if you have relevant expertise: typically a Ph.D. in philosophy or graduate work in a relevant area. If you do have this expertise, categorization of as many papers as possible, especially within your areas of expertise, will be much appreciated!’ (from ‘The Categorization Project’ under ‘Help and More’.)

    Step one: categorize your own work.
    Step two: categorize the work of others when you come across it.
    Step three: some kind of systematic project to categorize the work of people appearing on the Directory of Philosophers from Underrepresented Groups in Philosophy???

  7. Pingback: But extra on gender and quotation | Posts

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