Today, a Facebook friend linked to this short blog post, and it left me simply aghast.
It got me thinking about my own recent experiences. One involved the convening of a very big-wig, super-exclusive, by-invitation-only annual conference in my field that has rarely had women participants and even more seldomly invited women to be official discussants or speakers. I gave some moderate flack to a few of the organizers and participants from this year's all-male shindig, but was met with the very unsatisfactory response that "An effort was made" to include women.
As far as publications, I've got a story there, too. I was recently asked to contribute an article to a volume of conference proceedings. I was flattered and accepted, but then got to thinking. The proceedings are of a conference that I was not invited to, that took place a while ago, was an all-male event, and was on a topic I have not myself specifically engaged with in research or teaching. Not by a good margin, in fact.
I conclude that I was surely invited to contribute in order to serve as the token female. Or at least, that had to have been a key factor. Why else would they have asked ME? I was so bewildered by this that I wrote a brief email to the organizers asking point-blank why they had asked me to be a part of this project, given the non-overlap between my research and the topic of the conference/volume. What I wanted to know but didn't add to my email was: Why are you asking me when I can easily list 6 women in the field who HAVE published outstanding work in recent years on topics of greater relevance to the proposed project? Do you not know of this work by your female colleagues? Additionally, given the existence of such relevant work by women in the field, why weren't any of them invited to be part of your original conference? Hmm???
The answer I got back to the question I did ask was vague-- along the lines of, you've done some historical work that is kind of relevant, but if you don't wish to write about that, well, you can pretty much write whatever you want to write.
I guess I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth and all that, but something died in me a little to realise that they wanted a contribution from me and they didn't necessarily care about its contents. I mean, maybe -- just maybe -- I appear to be such a brilliant light in my field that they had to have a contribution from me, even if it wasn't in my subject area. Or perhaps through divine foresight the organizers sensed I would add something crucial to the debate, despite my lack of engagement in the debate hitherto. But the likelihood of that is quite small, whereas my being welcomed in as the lone female author is far more probable.
For now I'm going to adopt an optimistic stance, because what else can a girl do? I'm going to forget about all this and give the organizers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just wanted to help a young career kid get another good publication out, and I just happen to be female. Who knows. And besides, why the hell not? I'm up for the challenge of adopting an entirely novel direction for my research and having the resulting work be published alongside contributions from Big Names in The Field who've been thinking about, writing about, and attending conference without me on this particular topic for years. All in a girl's day's work, I guess.
Wish me luck.