Friday, October 11, 2013

E.M. says N.O. to Initials

Dovetailing with L's last post, I want to express first of all my gratitude for these practical suggestions for moving beyond gender bias in academia.  Believe me kids -- this is a real issue, and one I've already experienced after a single year on the job market in a ridiculously competitive field, much to my extreme frustration, shock and anger (not to speak of the psychological toll on my confidence moving forward this year).

So concrete suggestions are great.  But with all due respect to those who favor or ascribe to the following view, the idea of publishing using initials only is a short-sighted, quasi-solution that needs to die.

Everyone's told me to do it at some point-- peers, mentors, senior big-wigs in the field, and even myself: Just use initials on documents, and in that way force a gender-blindness for those reviewing your CV, your publications, your research proposals, whatever.

Using just initials in order to hide gendered names may help us avoid some bias (at least until the reviewers meet us in person, at which point the jig is up), but at what cost?  This: we can never change anything.

The "initials-only" method is a cop-out.  The bias will never be challenged if we hide our gender in this way.  All our fabulous work fails to be attributable to the fabulous women generating it.

I realize that, given the statistics, I am and have been and will continue to lose out in certain ways by attaching my whole, very female name to my academic work.  But dammit, I work hard and with integrity in my scholarship; I stand by it, and I want to initiate long-term, rich interdisciplinary dialogue through it.  So the world and all who live in need to know that this good work belongs to ME, and I am woman.  Hear me roar.

So no, dears. No, no and N.O. I will never publish under initials only.

Let's talk about solutions to gender bias, not evasive maneuvers. Yes there's cost, but in fighting status quo there will always be cost.  Ask yourself: do you want optimal chances at landing a job or getting published here and now?  Or do you want to change things so that someday your students, and your students' students, can publish under their fully female feminine girly flowery lovely beautiful names and not be punished for it?

End game, ladies.  Think end game.

1 comment:

  1. *Is* there a "solution to gender bias" though, beyond individual conversion? The initials system seems to be a way of getting women in the door and setting up the situation where that change of opinion can happen; the point about blind auditions seems valid. Sure, when the sexist director shows up and sees his first violin is a woman he still has plenty of opportunity to be a discriminatory ass. The hope is that he grits his teeth and by the end of the season has in some way learned something and to some degree come around; also that if he *does* treat her in an inappropriate or abusive or dismissive fashion that he is disciplined (or faces other consequences). But by virtue of the blind audition he did not get to not give her a chance, and that seems valuable.

    Then again, as you point out, initials can't get you far past the door, and some other measures seem to be needed then. The initial system seems to presume a degree of meritocracy in the system which may be (okay, is) unjustified. And again, while the conductor may grudgingly put up with Jasmine the first violinist, if he would not have picked her without the blind audition he's unlikely to be singing her praises and planning an all-woman orchestra at the end of the season, right? Just being willing to admit that a woman is competent doesn't of itself mean less sexist behavior in the future (a theme of my own research). And of course initials might get you a string of impressive publications but if the hiring committee doesn't want a woman...

    To conclude, I certainly don't have any answers. I've always published/applied for things under my full name.


Please comment! And please be nice. We'd prefer if you'd use your first name, but understand if you'd rather not.