On the S-USIH facebook page (Varad affectionately termed it Susie; the executive board has taken to calling it Sushi–any opinions?) David Watt kindly inquired whether the lack of women posting/commenting on our blog and our fb page was indicative of a trend at large.
Before I reproduce the fb conversation, I feel like I should comment as the single public female face of the group (though not the only female member, by any means. For example, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen has come to every conference, presenting brilliant papers every time).
I consider myself an intellectual historian for three reasons. One, when I was having difficulty as a young student picking a part of the world to focus on, I realized that every time I formulated a topic, it was about educated, articulate people. Two, I was trained by David Bailey, an intellectual historian who was trained by Henry May, David Hollinger, and Kenneth Stamp. Three, the people I study qualify as intellectuals–although not all the women would have agreed with that label of themselves.
Yet, I often feel like I don’t belong in this group. Why? Well, partly my own insecurity (perhaps a large part). That insecurity makes me question everything I post here, especially since I’m on the job market this year. I need to project confidence, but it is easier for me to laugh at my own flaws. I grew up in a small town where I had to mask my intelligence in order to make friends. It’s hard to sluff off that smiling self-mockery. I also tend to think of blogging as a more personal extension of academics. Here is where I can put all the self-conversation that goes on behind what I put on the academic page. However, few of the others write as personally as I do–and sometimes I feel like my personal tales are a bit superfluous compared to their very measured, intelligent comments on the past and the present.
The other reason I don’t always feel like I belong is that my people are not your people. Though I am usually familiar with the names the others write about, there are four years of dissertation writing between me and the last time I read a book about the people who frequent this blog. That is part of the reason I am so curious to see what happens next semester, the first time I am teaching intellectual history as a survey. I would be more comfortable if I was teaching black history, but that wasn’t an option.
But what about gender? Does that make me feel like I don’t belong? Let’s just say it’s still under debate. I have an unproven sense that intellectual history can be the bastion for men who reject gender and race based analysis. I worry that instead of incorporating new modes of analysis, S-USIH can become a self-selecting ghetto. It is, I suppose, easy for me to write this when I have many more open positions to apply for because I study race as well as intellectual history. Still, I would encourage S-USIH members to look forward and be open, rather than insular and angry.
Every time I try to run away, though, several things draw me back. I genuinely enjoy working with the others on the S-USIH executive committee, and they have often talked me through my anxieties. I think that it is important to infuse race and gender, to the extent that I do, into this blog and society. And I have to admit that as much as the platform daunts me, I also enjoy inhabiting it.
I’m struck by what a small percentage of the posts on the site come from women. Would it be fair to say that about ninety percent of those of us who belong to this group are men? (I am not trying to make a evaluative judgment here. I am simply trying to figure out the situation in which we find ourselves).
- Lauren Kientz Anderson This is something we’ve talked about. I do feel a mite bit lonely at times.21 hours ago ·
- Varad Mehta When Lauren started blogging, the percentage went way up. Don’t ask me to calculate how much. A lot of the people who comment here know each other personally, so in that sense it functions as a personal page where “friends” are talking to each other. That said, I counted 20 women in the 155 members (which is sometimes 151 members and sometimes 153 for some reason). That’s 13 or 14 per cent by my rough math. I have no idea how that compares to the field of intellectual history as a whole, but my impression is that it’s one in which men have preponderated.19 hours ago · · 1 person
- Andrew Hartman I would love for some fresh analysis as to why intellectual history continues to attract more men than women, even though it commonly incorporates the methods of the cultural turn that also served as an implicit critique of the gender conventions of older intellectual historical methods. As a Society, male-female imbalance is something we’re conscious of and would like to change. This year’s conference program features 50 women by my count, well over 1/3 of participants, a more even ratio. One of our plenary sessions is dedicated to U.S. Women’s Intellectual Traditions. So we’re a work in progress. http://us-intellectual-his
tory.blogspot.com/2011/08/ program-fourth-annual-us-i ntellectual.html
ot.comA general note on this schedule: this post is the official schedule of our confe…See More15 hours ago ·
- Varad Mehta So perhaps the preponderance of guys here isn’t really indicative of anything more than the fact that the most active members are guys. There are five main writers on the blog, and one’s a woman. As the Sabermetricians would say, SSS (small sample size). As for women in the field as a whole, it seems there are plenty if you turn the magnification down a bit. And history as a whole seems pretty much 50-50 these days. Unlike, say, philosophy, which still has lots of problems. I think I posted a link about that here ages ago.15 hours ago ·
- Andrew Hartman Varad: No, I think those interested in intellectual history-qua-intellectual history tend to be men, based if nothing else on notions about how it was narrowly practiced 50 years ago prior to the social and cultural turns. But hopefully this year’s program is a sign that this is changing.6 hours ago ·
- Constance Clark I identify as an intellectual historian and am on this list but i seldom have time to talk to anyone on Facebook because I am on too many university committees. Perhaps women have a harder time saying no to university committees? Or maybe it’s just me.5 hours ago ·