the old boys’ club and (un)natural disadvantages: women’s participation in academic work

Posted: 31/08/2013 in News & Analysis, Research
Tags: , , ,

Internationally, while most students are women, (by far) most senior academics are men. And some part of that is simply because the most senior – the oldest – cohort entered and progressed through the profession in unashamedly sexist times. But most of the problem is far less innocent.

The old boys’ (and girls’) club

There may still be some form of self-perpetuating androcracy – an old boys’ club – but even that is (slightly) more complicated, as academics advance their own students, whether they are male or female.

It’s only slightly more complicated, though, because socialising and other informal aspects of the profession tend to benefit men more than women, and because the greater number of more powerful male academics exposes a (far) greater number of vulnerable female academics to sexism and sexual harassment.

Personal and impersonal harassment

I would also note what I suspect may be different experiences and effects of different kinds of harassment and intimidation (though I haven’t experienced many of them, so it is only a suspicion).

I’ve suffered “political” (nationalist) harassment, and it has affected my behaviour and my work, but it is ultimately impersonal. I have worried about my career, but not about my self; it has made me wary of academic work in certain situations, but not of academic work in and of itself.

Harassment and intimidation based on gender, sexuality, race, etc., however, are precisely personal. They instil different and worse kinds of anxiety and insecurity. And they suppress some targeted people’s work and drive other targeted people out of the profession entirely.

(un)natural disadvantages

Again combining historic, direct discrimination with the legacy of that discrimination (and continuing direct discrimination, as well as interwoven problems such as the wage gap), child-bearing and child-rearing (encompassing out-of-hours care as well as time out from the profession) have long disadvantaged women.

If families need or choose to have a go-to-work parent and a stay-at-home parent, the wage gap incentivises families to perpetuate women’s disadvantage by keeping the (normally male) higher-earner in work and the (normally female) lower-earner at home. Clearly, the only significant “natural” disadvantage is that built into the economy, not that built into women’s bodies.


Some people (who are manifestly not in a position to talk…) argue that women are less intelligent than men (or are naturally, rather than socialised to be, better at some things and worse at others).

The old boys’ reading (and writing) club

Academic issues

Academic reading and writing have a whole host of more or less obvious effects on the practice of research and the structure of the profession (including on the funding that enables employment in the first place). Obviously, there are individual biases (such as one person’s dislike of another) and institutional biases (such as access to sources).

In addition, there are structural biases towards the citation of grand theoretical, methodological and evaluative works, which are normally written by men, partly because men tend to work in those areas (or because women tend to need to work in flexible areas instead), partly because men are in the position to be able to produce those publications.

Moreover, there are biases of “academic literacy”, wherein people try to demonstrate their knowledge of their field and/or the correctness of their interpretation through citing Big Names (which are and thereby remain men). For example, two pieces on Turkish archaeological politics were published in the same book, but readers tend to cite internationally-known Ian Hodder’s chapter rather than local-origin Mehmet Özdoğan’s chapter.

Gender issues?

(Based on Daniel Maliniak, Ryan Powers and Barbara Walter’s research into the Gender Citation Gap in International Relations,) the Economist has summarised how women ‘may fail to win chairs because they do not cite themselves enough‘ or, perhaps more honestly, because men cite themselves too often…

Disproportionately often, male academics cite themselves in their publications, and the fact that their work has been cited (albeit by themselves) can benefit them (by “scientifically” demonstrating the importance of their work). Walter’s anecdotal evidence suggests that both men and women ‘see self-citation as a form of self-promotion’, but that they react to that realisation in contrary ways.

Moreover, ‘men cite other men more often than chance would suggest they should’. At “best”, this may be evidence of the “academic” biases above; at worst, this may be evidence of men’s respect for other men and disregard for women.

I’d be both fascinated and frightened to find out whether that bias exists in my own work.


Economist. 2013: “Promotion and self-promotion”. The Economist, 31st August. Available at:

European Commission. 2009: The gender challenge in research funding: Assessing the European national scenes. Brussels: European Commission. Available at:

Hodder, I. 1998: “The past as passion and play: Çatalhöyük as a site of conflict in the construction of multiple pasts”. In Meskell, L, (Ed.). Archaeology under fire: Nationalism, politics and heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, 124-139. London: Routledge.

Maliniak, D, Powers, R and Walter, B F. 2013: The Gender Citation Gap in International Relations. International Organization, 28th August [online], 1-34. Available at:

Özdoğan, M. 1998: “Ideology and archaeology in Turkey”. In Meskell, L, (Ed.). Archaeology under fire: Nationalism, politics and heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, 111-123. London: Routledge.

Ranga, M, Gupta, N and Etzkowitz, H. 2012: Gender Effects in Research Funding: A review of the scientific discussion on the gender-specific aspects of the evaluation of funding proposals and the awarding of funding. Bonn: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. Available at:

  1. […] follow up on the general post on the old boys’ club and other problems that affect women’s participation in academic work, I thought I would post a tiny bit of my thesis, which is an exceedingly brief introduction to […]

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