U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Where are all the women?

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.

For those of you not on facebook, I will copy the fb conversation, after the jump:

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-history.blogspot.com/2011/08/program-fourth-annual-us-intellectual.html

    us-intellectual-history.blogspot.com

    A general note on this schedule: this post is the official schedule of our confeSee More
    15 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 ·

47 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Here is a woman. I am not insecure or self-doubting, which I think there is too much harping about. I don’t post often and when I do it is as anonymous. Why? I don’t particular like the blogosphere where I have to constantly self-edit. I prefer face to face interaction. I also don’t spend much time on line because I would rather work on my current project and spend time with scholars that are in my real world. I read this blog briefly because it’s a form of keeping up with what people are thinking about. More like news. Am I an intellectual historian? It doesn’t much matter to me what label is placed on me. I just want to do the best possible work.

    Now why is it that the history of thought continues to attract more men? Maybe it is because in western culture intellectuals are seen as masculine and we have not done enough gender analysis to see how ideas are gendered. I think gender analysis that challenges the notion that ideas are gender neutral would be a worthwhile project. A project both men and women could take up.

  2. [This is a better edited version of my 9:17 am comment that has been removed.]

    Colleagues,

    I want to thank Lauren for bringing this conversation here. I’ve removed myself from Facebook for the next 5-6 months, but this is a dialogue I’m glad we’re having publicly.

    Personally, few things have vexed me more about our blog over the years—almost five to be exact—than the relative lack of female participants, whether blogging or commenting. The only thing that comes close is my near equal concern over our relative lack of people of color.

    The cynic might say that my vexations are just professional calculus. The profession cares about multicultural representation, therefore I must since the subfield won’t be “perceived” as relevant unless it fits in. It’s hard to fight that accusation, but I’ll give it a whirl.

    My concern over any kind of pluralist representation at USIH, and in S-USIH, is based on a humanist concern about the relevance of intellectual history to all kinds of people. Having participants that are representational of our pluralistic society serves as both a sign and signal that our subfield matters to all the parties that should care. As Andrew noted, the history of our subfield is not necessarily representational of wider society. But I’m not alone in believing that intellectual history matters to the LGBT community, feminists, immigrants, seniors, youth, Hispanics, communists, libertarians, Blacks, conservatives, liberals, upper class, middle class, working class, Protestants, and Catholics.

    Whether these identities are culturally real (an imagined construction that matters) or biologically essential is beside the point. To me, every community has an intellectual history that is worthy of exploration and capable of subtlety.

    Personally, I am very glad that Lauren has stuck around—that she has overcome the insecurities she’s had the courage to articulate. Intellectual and emotional safety can’t be underestimated. But Lauren, with all her positives, does not by herself make our community representational of society at large.

    That said, blogging is an individual activity that requires time and space to think and write. We’re all busy people. One must feel compelled—feel the urge. That is a prerequisite to our obtaining any new USIH contributor, let alone demographically diverse and representative contributors.

    – Tim

  3. “The other reason I don’t always feel like I belong is that my people are not your people.”

    That’s true in spades for me: I don’t even do US intellectual history! It’s never bothered me, though, and there’s no reason it should bother you.

    As for the diversity thing, I suppose I contribute to the diversity around here. But I never think about it that way. I’m much more interested in my being one of the only (if not sole) European intellectual historians here than I am in possibly being one of the few “people of color” here (which is a debatable point). I simply couldn’t care less about that. It just never enters into my thinking. Tim’s solicitousness is the opposite of my attitude. But then Tim has more at stake in USIH than I do, so it makes sense he’d have a broader perspective and/or interest in that than I would. I do intellectual history because it’s what I like. The rest is just so much adiaphora.

  4. Lauren, this is a powerfully written, thought-provoking post. I don’t see it as “harping” for you to discuss your self-doubts or insecurities in this post, since you connect them at least in part to your gender and to your sense of how gender works (or doesn’t?) on this blog and in intellectual history as a discipline.

    I would like to give some more thought to the issues you raise in your penultimate paragraph, and respond to them more carefully and fairly than I can manage at the moment. (I have to admit that I cannot relate to Anonymous’s comment that she dislikes the blogosphere because it requires so much self-editing — as if face-to-face interactions do not! I have had plenty of real-time interactions that could have been greatly improved by a little self-editing. But maybe that’s just me.)

    Anyway, I am mulling over this section of your post:

    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.

    You seem to be identifying the problem of under-representation of women within the field as primarily due to a resistance by some (powerful?) men within it to “new modes of analysis.” I haven’t decided yet whether you are right — but you very well might be. However, my gut feeling is that the gender imbalance among intellectual historians is not a methodological or even an epistemological issue. Indeed, I doubt very much that the commenter’s suggestion that “gender analysis that challenges the notion that ideas are gender neutral” is going to do much to address the under-representation that you and others have identified. I don’t think women are steering clear of intellectual history — or that it is steering clear of them — because epistemology is inevitably gendered. But then, I’m not an essentialist, which, I suppose, puts me in the same camp as Varad on this question. (!) Thus it will come as no surprise to say that I think Tim is on the right track here with his “humanist concern.”

    So I have to do some more thinking on this post. But one interesting meta-issue jumps out at me. You study African-American intellectuals, who in many cases may have confronted the problem of being seen as somehow “representing their race.” It strikes me that on the S-USIH blog, you see yourself — and you are seen — as similarly expected to “represent” for women in a discipline in which they are seemingly scarce. So perhaps it’s that pressure or expectation, more than anything else, that makes women intellectual historians hesitant to participate openly here. But I certainly may be wrong, and I definitely need to think this over some more…

  5. P.S. — If we are concerned about making our discipline more open to and reflective of the work of women intellectual historians, we might not want to use the nickname “Susie” for the organization / blog. Why gender this conversational space in that particular way? Just a thought.

  6. Regarding my previous post. I guess I am more concern about gender in thought than I am about women and their representation. Representation assumes that one women can speak for all women is some essentialist way.
    Do we believe that women has some essential experience that must be represented here?

  7. Hi Lauren: A really interesting and thought-provoking post. I serve as secretary this year and keep the membership roll for S-USIH and we have, to date, 22 women out of a total of 66 members. So, like the conference attendees Andrew noted above, about one-third the total are women. Of course, we should have more women and members in general as soon as all those presenting at the conference, join the society…

    I had a question about two observations you made. Do you think there is a connection between the number of women who go into intellectual history and the possibility of S-USIH slipping into a corner of the profession? Those two observations worry me, for obvious reasons, and I wondered if they bear any relation to each other. Thus it is good to read your post raising this issues to a level of serious and extended discussion.

    On a personal-professional note: I have trained a few students to go into graduate programs and study some form of intellectual history. They were all women, but that was not too surprising considering that the best students in college these days, according to a few recent studies, are women. But my experience teaching history in general is that there are still more men as majors than women.

  8. “I have an unproven sense that intellectual history can be the bastion for men who reject gender and race based analysis.”

    I’m not sure how to construe that remark. Plenty of men and women in other historical fields don’t do gender analysis, so I don’t think you meant that all the men who don’t like gender or race congregate in intellectual history. Perhaps you only meant that in our field those men who don’t embrace them stick to traditional intellectual history, while those who do do more newfangled cultural-style intellectual history. That could be valid. I admit that I don’t do anything at all with it. But then it doesn’t really fit the kind of work I do. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

    As to LD’s point about “Susie,” the coinage is rather obvious. I don’t like “Sushi” because I don’t like sushi. And if the acronym came out to a guy’s name, I’d call it that. The gendering was pure happenstance.

  9. On an incredibly less serious note . . .

    “Where are all the women?”

    On finding there were none, Rousseau declared, “My kind of place!”

  10. Yeah, I’m not particularly mystified by phonics.

    My point is that if we’re going to have a conversation about women/gender in the S-USIH, and think critically and carefully about why women seem to find intellectual history in general as undesirable or inhospitable, we might do well to consider whether any of the stuff we end up saying “by happenstance” might carry a valence we don’t intend.

    The nickname “Susie” might be rather unremarkable in an organization where women were as visible and vocal as men. But if the blog / Facebook page is mostly a bunch of guys who refer to the group affectionately as “Susie” while real live Susies are nowhere to be seen / heard — well, that might seem a little odd, especially if the conversation is about why Susie doesn’t seem interested in joining in.

  11. But Varad, you are right about this: the nickname of the blog is the very least and last of the things that we need to worry about in order to address the concerns Lauren raises. Susie, sushi, shizzle, shazam – whatever the acronym turns out to be, fretting over it is a distraction from dealing with deeper, more entrenched issues. My bad for bringing the red herring into the sushi bar.

  12. hmm, well perhaps there is a hint in here in the sex of people who train intellectual historians. I too had the privilege of studying with David Hollinger, who was certainly more than encouraging, but also with Ellen DuBois, who despite her identification with women’s history thinks of herself as a political historian, although I’ve been arguing with her that her approach to E C Stanton is intellectual history driven. Still I have to admit this is the first intellectual history conference I’ve attended, and the first time in forever that I’ve presented on a panel with men.

    Way back in my graduate school days (I seem to be about a full “cohort” older than the peeps who created this blog), intellectual history felt very contentious and “male” discourse driven. I can remember the philosopher Sandra Harding, another person with whom I was lucky enough to study, asking me why I was “ripping apart” the ideas of other women in order to make my point. It felt very much like that was what was modeled for me in intellectual history but my mostly male grad school peers.

    Still as I’ve been working on my current book, I’ve described it as an intellectual history of the concept of women’s culture. It feels a little odd, but apt. There has of course been more writing in this vein, intellectual histories of women, but mostly focused on individual thinkers.

    I’m very much looking forward to the plenary on the topic and to hearing both the intellectual histories of aesthetics and gender, both of which I seldom get to do in the company of others.

  13. Names do matter and I have to say I prefer a gender neutral name, perhaps even something like The Society over sushi.

    As to my provocative statement- I was trying to think of a way to say that some people in US intellectual history may actually derisively dismiss gender analysis, not just personally not use it in their work. Of any sub discipline, it would be easiest to do that in ours, which is already heavy with dead white men. Like the first commentator, I think there is a male gendered approach to intellectual history. Perhaps unlike her, I think it can be hostile to the participation of women. I have personally felt both welcomed and dismissed among US intellectual historians. Is the dismissal because of gender or because I can’t hack it? At least once it felt like it was because of gender and the way that I think, which is more feminine than masculine (not in an essentialist way). The welcome has been more frequent than the dismissal and so I’m still here. But I posted this in the hope that it would give some the space to articulate their feelings and others the chance to be open to something new.

  14. Scholars who derisively dismiss gender analysis are dismissing plenty of outstanding work by both women and men. Gender as a category of analysis is widely recognized and wisely deployed by both male and female academics. It’s hardly an innovation. So if you are talking about some “old guard” of intellectual historians who are sneering at the idea that someone might find such analysis useful — well, my surmise is that their numbers are dwindling.

    As to our discipline being “heavy with dead white men,” I suppose that depends on what you think intellectual history is. If you go with the “history of intellectuals” model, and you don’t want to spend your time on dead white men, then you have to spend time showing/arguing that the women you study “qualify” as “intellectuals” per the (perceived) constraints of the discipline. However, if you go with the notion that intellectual history is about the “history of ideas,” you’re in luck, because ideas are everywhere, everybody had them, and anybody in the whole great panoply of the past has the potential to play an important role in the history of an idea and in your exploration of it.

    “Like the first commentator, I think there is a male gendered approach to intellectual history. Perhaps unlike her, I think it can be hostile to the participation of women.” This observation/idea of yours came through better in the first version of this blog post, which I read fairly soon after you posted it yesterday morning. In that version, you had some interesting things to say about the style of discourse that happens on this blog, and I wish you had let them stand. (However, as someone who is always editing / expurgating my blog posts because I am not sure that I really do want to say what I really just said, I completely understand.)

    In her comment above, Michelle Moravec gets at some of the issues you raised earlier. She writes: “Way back in my graduate school days….intellectual history felt very contentious and ‘male’ discourse driven.” She had a mentor ask her “why I was ‘ripping apart’ the ideas of other women in order to make my point.”

    It seems to me that what you are both getting at is that the style of discourse here (“here” being the blog / the Society / intellectual history as a discipline) is somehow “male” — that women avoid / are excluded from participation in the discourse because it is conducted in ways that are alien to / hostile to how women approach questions / problems. What is modeled, you are suggesting, is “ripping,” tearing, combative, stylistically violent. Is that a fair reading?

    It’s probably true that there are lots of women who would find such a style off-putting. But so would lots of men who might be tired of every interaction turning into a contest for dominance.

    In sum, it seems like what you are trying to say in this post is that if men in S-USIH want to see more women participate in these forums, they need to change how they talk to each other.

    Did I get any of that right?

  15. Ok so my side project last year was a book about online communities of mothers. Thinking with that knowledge of gendered online comm theory a few things stick out

    1. you have to “join” the FB page, which is limiting
    2. some people are “added” by others, which creates a sense of “insiderness”
    3. from the quick skim it seems that discussion is tilted towards bigger thinkers, political discourse oriented intellectual history, which is fine, but as has been noted, if one is not an “expert” on those people one might not be inclined to pipe up
    4. on the other hand the tone is highly civil, which I would think would encourage participation by new people

  16. I find this conversation fascinating and important, and I’m really glad that Lauren brought it to the blog. But I’m confused by a few things that don’t seem so matter-of-fact. Lauren writes that the way she thinks is “more feminine than masculine.” She qualifies this by saying she’s not talking in essentials. But how else are we to take such a statement? It has always been my impression, as gathered from my favorite poststructuralist theorists of gender and sexuality (Joan Scott, Judith Butler), that making gender-based claims ensure the replication of the male-female binary, no matter the intent. There is no feminine or masculine way of thinking, only so many constructions.

    So I need clarification as to what is implied by feminine thinking. Is it opposed to combative discourse? In other words, is a combative style a masculine way of engaging with others? I’ve heard this case made before. That male academics build cultural capital as knowledge gladiators I see the plausibility of this argument, even though I am incredibly suspicious of what seems to me as its gender essentialism, qualified or not.

    But even if I concede as much, the problem, then, is that I find this blog to be an incredibly cordial space. There are few gladiators here. Sometimes I think we’re too nice. When we disagree with each other, we should be very clear about those disagreements, and should not let niceties slow us down. Anyone who thinks ideas are important should go to the mat for their ideas.

    Does this make me hyper-masculine?

  17. That there are no essentially masculine or feminine ways of thinking doesn’t mean that the realm of ideas and thinking are not gendered. Andrew, I think you make the mistake common to a lot of social constructionist critique to argue that if X is not natural, essential, or fixed that it must be somehow “unreal,” and that all we have to do is change our minds–as if that latter task wasn’t the hardest thing of all. Here you deploy the anti-essentialist argument as a way to suggest that ideas, arguments, rationality itself are somehow above or beyond gender; but intellectual “style,” for lack of a better world, is highly gendered, and for women to adopt a masculine style of argument is to work against a lot of dominant cultural structures, using only the tools of culture itself. It’s not as if the thing we call intellectual history is not socially constructed, and just a matter of brains analyzing problems in a culture-free way.

    I am troubled by the idea that intellectual history has a heavy masculine bias, but I can’t help but think its true. There have been recent discussions by women and feminist philosophers around the same issue (maybe on Leiter’s blog?), and an equal reluctance on the part of some men to admit that there is anything gendered about philosophical argument. The belief in a kind of bodyless, sexless rationality—the Cartesian mind freed from the body—still has some traction in large portions of the academic universe.

  18. Dan–Thanks for joining the conversation. I was not arguing that gender is unreal because constructed. But I was not very clear so I can see why you misunderstood me. I was simply inquiring as to whether a combative style of intellectual engagement, which I sort of like as a means of pushing discourse, inhibits women from participating.

    That said, though I don’t make the mistake you attribute to me about thinking gender unreal because constructed, I think such a reading of Butler is understandable. Butler argues that, yes, gender is felt as real, of course. But she also argues that feminist interventions based on masculine-feminine binary understandings repeats and thus strengthens gender norms. Which is why, if she supports any type of politics, it’s along the lines of troubling gender, or performing gender in ways that don’t adhere to norms. This is what I was getting at when I made the case that calling a certain behavior feminine, even if qualifying it as not essentialist, might not be the best approach.

    All that said, it’s ironic that I am using Butler to support my case since I’m not really a fan and tend to agree with the criticism leveled against her by Nancy Fraser and Seyla Benhabib, that Butler’s obliteration of the feminist subject makes a feminist politics impossible. Which, as pertaining to our discussion here, leaves us at a deadlock.

    Joan Scott might be helpful. She distinguishes between an older intellectual history that she argues is, indeed, sexist, in its matter-of-fact assumptions about rationality, and a newer one that seeks to complicate or unmask the gendered epistemological roots of these assumptions.

  19. Let me quickly explain what I meant about having non-essentialist feminine traits. (I’m running off to something). I believe there are energies/patterns of thinking that we have given the names “feminine” and “masculine.” These patterns of thinking reside in complicated mixtures in every individual (hence, I would not say that all females are essentially feminine). Some people in fact have the exact opposite gender of brains than their genitalia (these are gender queer or transsexuals). So I was trying to say that I have a collaborative style of argument that I attest to a more feminine way of being–but I don’t attribute that necessarily to my body parts. I believe there are women who are very comfortable with combative arguing.

    I agree that the blog is generally supportive (I would say that when I blog about my stuff, there are few comments, but if I pass into your stuff, there are many more–i.e. Hobsbawm got way more comments than most of the black women I write about, except from our diehard regulars). That is not anyone’s fault, per se, it is just an observation.

    I know I need to explain more what I have been alluding to, but I want to be careful in how I formulate it, so as to attempt to avoid misunderstanding. And right now I’m off to a Halloween parade with buddies from the history department.

  20. I get what you’re saying Lauren. But it seems similar to saying that washing dishes is feminine work and mowing the lawn is masculine work, even if preference for one over the other does not match genitalia. Such differentiation seems amiss. But on the bright side, this post has attracted over 20 comments so far, and you didn’t need to mention Hobsbawm or any other nearly dead white males!

  21. Andrew–
    I think I was reacting to this: “It has always been my impression, as gathered from my favorite poststructuralist theorists of gender and sexuality (Joan Scott, Judith Butler), that making gender-based claims ensure the replication of the male-female binary, no matter the intent. There is no feminine or masculine way of thinking, only so many constructions.” The “only constructions” line led me to think you were implying that a “mere construction” could not be a “feminine or masculine way of thinking,” which you indicate doesn’t really exist. And the alternative of not using gendered language for fear that we simply reproduce gender by doing so, appears to be denying that gender makes any difference or exists at all–we’re back to the abstract neutral personhood of liberalism. I can’t see how this would help solve the problem.

    And just to clarify–there are many women who are very good at a “masculine style” of argument, just as there are many men who reject it or are not comfortable with taking it up. But this does not make gender irrelevant, any more than the election of a black president means we live in a post-racial society. I’m afraid that at the structural level intellectual history still remains a gendered discourse, despite the attempts and effective contributions of many (both men and women) to move it toward greater gender equality. Much of this, I think, has to do with the question of what I’m calling “style,” rather than explicit denigration or dismissal of women. In fact, I think most intellectual historians would be happy to see equal gender representation among historians in our field. But denying that gender is relevant, or that the answer must take place in gendered language, doesn’t seem to me a way to achieve that end. It’s like solving the problem of race in America by following the prescriptions of the “I don’t see race” crowd. To paraphrase Marx on philosophy: you may not be interested in gender, but gender is interested in you!

    Lauren, I think what you describe as your view on non-essential gender difference actually is a form of gender essentialism. This sounds like Margaret Fuller, who wrote about the Masculine and Feminine principles, which were never to be found in some pure form in particular individuals, but represented some cosmic essential idea. No man is wholely masculine, no women is wholely feminine; we each have our masculine and feminine parts, said Fuller. Our bodies do not determine us. Yet, by arguing for a form of essential principles that were set as complementary to one another, Fuller was situating sexual differentiation prior to history and culture. And it sounds to me like you are too.

  22. Allow me to redirect the conversation. We all seem to want the same thing. More women in our sub-field, more women in S-USIH, more women participating on the blog. But we seem to differ on analytical terms. I don’t think the focus on gendered language is as important as others seem to. Am I opening a whole new can of worms?

  23. Dan–I wonder what the space between essentialist and all gender is constructed is? Unlike race, which is real but has no biological reality, sex has some amount of biological reality. Scientists frequently suggest that men and women, statistically, have different ways of thinking, based on brain scans. This makes me wonder if the scientists are asking questions based on their own social construction of gender. But at the same time, living in lesbian circles, I would say that there are certain traits that we each embody in different mixtures. Perhaps it is unhelpful to call these traits/ways of thinking masculine and feminine.

    Andrew–per your earlier comment, the choice of who does what chore is socially constructed. The way that we think both is and is not. As a child, in my particular family circumstance, I was always told to stop being angry. This led to a certain amount of fear of conflict. But I also think my tendency towards compromise over conflict is to some extent innate. But this is something I am fascinated by more than something about which I have solid conclusions.

    Andrew–per your last comment. I feel like it is a bit like France choosing not to keep any statistics on race. Thus there is no way to prove discrimination one way or the other. If there is 10-30% participation by women in a field that is at least 50% women, is it possible to talk about potential solutions without talking about gender? What solutions would you offer along those lines?

    I feel like my “representativeness” is fast running out. I will tell two stories. In the past year, there were two times I felt more gendered than I ever have in my life. By that I mean, acutely aware of myself as a person with a gender. One was at a meeting in which it felt like half the room wasn’t taking me seriously based on the way I was speaking (more experiential than rational, I suppose). The other was visiting Keeneland with a party dressed to the nines in hyper male/female attire and I did not fit into either camp.

    Hmmmm, one more story. My brother, four years older, is a philosophy professor. Ever since we were children, he used hyper-rationality as a weapon against me. This perhaps explains why I am both fascinated by intellectual thought and get nervous in hyper-rational discussions with men. I tend to blend experience and rationality when I argue. This was particularly evident when I told my brother I was gay and he tried to argue me out of it because he didn’t take my experience and knowledge of myself as a sufficient basis for argumentation.

    Not sure how helpful the stories are, but there they are.

    At least two of the other women who have commented on this blog point to functional reasons why they are not involved–too many meetings, not enough time to spend on the internet. Perhaps as part of the membership committee, I should seek out other types of blogs/societies like this one and see if there is a gender imbalance in membership/commenting?

  24. well, first let me say, I wasn’t online yesterday, as I’m sure many other people weren’t due to holiday fun, and the n= is very small #, but I think Lauren is on to something when she notes “At least two of the other women who have commented on this blog point to functional reasons why they are not involved…”

    As one of those women when I came back online this AM, I was rather surprised that no one had responded at all to my “functional” analysis, but instead had gone on talking “theory” (essentialism v constructionism) as though I hadn’t even commented. Since my paper for this conference is how discourses shape historiography, maybe I should have mentioned Lyotard or Habermas 🙂

    Don’t get me wrong, the organizers of the S-USIH have been great in helping salvage my panel when the chair had to withdraw, and even found a woman to replace her, but when you “welcome” some people into online conversations (directly or indirectly) and don’t do the same for others, you are shaping your online community (geez who knew editing a book comprised mostly of comm people would come in so handy!)

  25. Michelle, I and others did respond directly to the issues you raised. In fact, I mentioned you by name, I quoted you directly, and I suggested that what both you and Lauren seem to be getting at is that the style of discourse here is problematic. And the subsequent discussion about essentialism v. constructionism served to establish the idea that, whether gender is “just” a construct or not, it’s real, and it really affects how we do what we do here. No one carried on as if you had never commented — your comment fueled further discussion.

    Andrew, why try to redirect the conversation at this point and in this way? I mean, it’s a conversation about gender, identity, representation, the social construction of knowledge and communities of knowledge, unequal power relationships — how is the analytical language of gender not important to such a discussion?

    And I have to tell you — this whole thread has been extraordinarily instructive. I very much appreciate this discussion between Lauren and Dan and you and others who are taking pains to clarify what is at stake, what is being claimed, and on what basis.

    I have made some voluble contributions to this thread, but perhaps only one valuable one: a focus on “style.” From my second comment on the thread:

    It seems to me that what you are both getting at is that the style of discourse here (“here” being the blog / the Society / intellectual history as a discipline) is somehow “male” — that women avoid / are excluded from participation in the discourse because it is conducted in ways that are alien to / hostile to how women approach questions / problems. What is modeled, you are suggesting, is “ripping,” tearing, combative, stylistically violent. Is that a fair reading?

    It’s probably true that there are lots of women who would find such a style off-putting. But so would lots of men who might be tired of every interaction turning into a contest for dominance.

    A discussion of “style,” and the ways that style is gendered (and, FWIW, I think it is gendered culturally/conventionally, not essentially), seems to be exactly what is needed — perhaps precisely because it is what is most easily discounted as being important. We can say of our approaches to argumentation, “Oh, that’s just our style.” But it may in fact be our (unconsciously gendered) style that contributes to the situation in which we find ourselves, where it seems that women are under-represented in the discipline of intellectual history and on this blog.

  26. LD while I appreciate your response to my earlier comment at 3:06, my commet about “function” was made at 3:42, after you mentioned me.

    I believe Andrew referenced my pt 4 in his remark about “going to the mat” in defensive of our ideas.

    To that end, I will persist in noting that even the most cursory of glances at comm studies theory will indicate that in online communities when some people are mentioned by name in replies and others aren’t, when some comments generate responses and others don’t, an online climate is created, usually completely unintentionally, the encourages participation by some and not by others.

    I note this not because I am upset personally, but rather because it may be germaine to the question “where are all the women” which I believe was the question at hand.

  27. Lauren: You write: “Andrew–per your last comment. I feel like it is a bit like France choosing not to keep any statistics on race. Thus there is no way to prove discrimination one way or the other. If there is 10-30% participation by women in a field that is at least 50% women, is it possible to talk about potential solutions without talking about gender? What solutions would you offer along those lines?” Again, let me try and clarify. I am decidedly NOT seeking to quit talking about gender. I’m not sure why my comments continue to arouse suspicion that I want this problem to go away or quit being discussed or that I believe in gender-neutral language, whatever that is. There’s a disconnect at work. I blame my lack of clarity I suppose. I merely queried as to whether thinking about unrepresentativeness in linguistically structured terms was the right approach. I offer no conclusions. But I think there must be more material/institutional/functional reasons (as per Michelle) for the lack of female participation here than resistance to the gendered style of discourse.

  28. Colleagues & Friends,

    Maybe this thread is too much of a catch-all for various topics worthy of individual discussion. Let’s list some topics singly, and we (or I) can break them out for focus. So, which should we break out first? Second?

    To inject some humor, perhaps we can start a “Susie” v. “Sushi” poll. 🙂

    – TL

  29. There is no doubt that intellectual history was slow as a field to incorporate gender-based perspectives and to include women on a broad basis. Anyone who doubts that should take a look at the 1977 Wingspread conference volume. But intellectual history has changed a great deal since then.

    I wonder, though, if there is another dynamic that hasn’t been considered yet that might help explain the current situation, one that has little to do with whether self-defined intellectual historians are themselves welcoming of women and use gender as a category of analysis. As Michelle’s post indicates, there are many people doing intellectual history under the rubric of women’s history or women’s studies. Yet they don’t necessarily define themselves professionally as intellectual historians. In some ways, intellectual history as a form of self-identification has become something of a residual category for those who do not feel they fit in other categories such as women’s history, African American history, history of conservatism, diplomatic history, history of science, history of religion, etc. This reflects a professional environment in which the approaches of intellectual history are highly valued, much more so than a decade or two ago, but in which intellectual historians usually have to define themselves as something else in order to get jobs.

    The S-USIH should do everything it can to welcome women and to challenge the notion that intellectual history is just the history of white men. Intellectual history is a method and not a field and it can be applied to all manner of subjects. It should balance this, however, with continuing to find a forum for discussing topics that have few other professional venues.

    I think S-USIH is making significant efforts to address this very real problem of gender imbalance, from hosting this discussion to including a plenary on the topic at the November conference. But I think there are some dynamics related to the way knowledge is organized in the university and the discipline for which intellectual historians cannot themselves be held responsible and which they may find difficult to alter on their own. But if intellectual historians do reach out to historians in other areas doing intellectual history who don’t define themselves as such they may find them surprisingly receptive. Given the bad reputation on gender that intellectual history in some ways deservedly gained, it may be incumbent on intellectual historians to take the first step.

  30. I vote for “Susie,” but of course I would.

    I still say the presence (or absence) of women on the blog is not particularly reflective of their presence (or absence) in intellectual history in general. At least, no more so than the seeming absence of people here who work on the Early Republic or the Gilded Age is indicative of their absence in intellectual history.

    A while ago LD described the blog as being concerned mostly with the cultural issues of the 1960s and their afterlife. I think that’s a fair description, and probably is the most accurate explanation for the “limitations” of the blog.

    The blog is four years old. The society is but a few months old. As both expand their scope, we’ll see more intellectual historians of all kinds here, including women. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Professional organizations aren’t, either. At least, I don’t think so.

  31. Also – and I intend no offense to the blog nabobs – the internet is huge. The USIH blog, well, isn’t. Most specialized websites, heck, most blogs, probably attract modest audiences at best. That might have something to do with it, too.

  32. Andrew, you suggest that we are all agreed on goals, and that our difference is mostly over “analytical terms.” You are probably right about the goals part. But the analytical terms that are under discussion in this comment thread — “masculine,” “feminine,” “discourse,” “style,” “gender,” “essentialism,” “constructivism,” “structure,” “function,” “representation,” et. al. — seem to be proving useful in helping (some of?) the rest of us clarify for ourselves and for each other what we are and are not talking about. If these terms are not working, what others would you suggest? How else would you frame this discussion?

    Tim, your sense of humor is usually exactly what the doctor ordered, but it strikes me as a little odd here. Let me explain why:

    In her original post, Lauren parenthetically referred to those two nicknames for the blog, then asked for opinions. She didn’t indicate what her preferences were; she just asked what the rest of us thought. So I offered an opinion, and Varad offered an opinion, and I offered an opinion. And then, a zillion comments down into the thread, Lauren offered her opinion: “Names do matter and I have to say I prefer a gender neutral name, perhaps even something like The Society over sushi.”

    Now, I don’t know if that’s the first time Lauren has ever expressed that opinion — “Not only do I not like ‘Susie,’ but I really don’t like ‘sushi'” — or if it’s just the first time that she has voiced it publicly, as opposed to in discussions with the executive board. Either way, jokingly proposing a vote on “Susie” v. “sushi” makes light of Lauren’s concern that neither name seems particularly appropriate.

    To be fair, it’s not clear from Lauren’s writing whether this concern is deeply held or simply a minor matter of preference. And Lauren, this is one place where “style” becomes both problematic and important. It seems to me that one consequence of what you call a “feminine” or “conciliatory” style — which you seem to chalk up at least in part to a “fear of conflict” — is that what you really think about an issue does not always come through clearly. It seems to me that this is part of your struggle — the discourse of this blog (and our discipline) in some ways demands that you “speak a different language” than your own. You said as much in your comment, when you suggested that “half the room wasn’t taking me seriously because of the way I was speaking.”

    One way to frame this problem would be to say that people who want to participate in the discipline of intellectual history have to ask themselves: “In order to be included and to have my contributions welcome, to what extent am I willing to speak in a language and a style that is not my own?”

    But what your post has done that is so damn uncomfortable is to suggest that we who are within the community ask ourselves, “To what extent are we excluding people by demanding that they take up a language and a style that is not their own?”

    I don’t know how to answer that question, but it seems worth asking.

  33. personally the latter comments are getting more at what I think about calling myself an intellectual historian. The conflict I feel was oddly brought home to me yesterday when I half jokingly posted on my FB

    which do you prefer, Habermasian proposal, or implied Lyotardian strategy for feminism?

    Lyotard (v Habermas)
    Forge fictions (rather than histories)
    Feminine (rather than feminist)
    Little local narratives (rather than meta-narrative) of new ideas (rather than totalizing theories -ism)

    None of my friends replied, not even people who that very day, while we Halloweened, went on and on about Heidegger for hours. When my friend, who does not draw on H or L in her work, asked her husband, who does, why he didn’t reply, he said the “language” I was using for L was not familiar to him. The phrases comes from a “minor” work, that is unless you wish to make L address gender explicitly, in which case it is about your ONLY work.

    So yes how we speak about what we speak is crucial, but we do need spaces for IH talk on the interwebs, and more women’s history/gender studies people should be encouraged to think of their work as IH.

  34. LD–and to what extent is my masking of my own opinions (which you are quite right to say that I do a lot. I frequently pose questions in blog posts, without giving my own answer), a problematic style of discourse?

    *sigh* at least in academia, I think it tends to be very problematic. Which is why I’ve taken myself out of the role of the “representative” woman. 🙂 I think perhaps women in general tend to pose more questions than emphatically state their positions, but I don’t have evidence for that. I do have evidence that thesis-driven conversation is the life-blood of academia, not just US Intellectual History. Sometimes asking questions is an easy way of framing a post for the week, but I will work on being more emphatic with my opinions, even if (heave forbid!) not everyone agrees with me.

    Tim–I’m wondering if we shouldn’t move the conversation over to what Michelle has identified as problems.

  35. LD,

    I missed Lauren’s statement of a preference down the thread. But my insertion of humor was more about the notion of poll than the choice within it—as if a poll would solve our terminology problem (i.e. gender-neutrality).

    On the subject of taking up languages and styles that are not one’s own, one has to do this in any subfield (from intellectual history to feminist theory to anthropology to analytic philosophy to political science). The question then, that LD poses, is even more complex: Where within USIH (or intellectual history considered more broadly) does the terminology become gendered, or reflect gender bias, in nefarious ways?

    Sometimes I think the problem is less about the historians themselves who work in intellectual history than the subjects with whom/which they work. If one believes, for instance, in theories of “embodied rationality,” then a a great deal of twentieth-century intellectual discourse appears dis-embodied (i.e. the pursuit of rationality).

    – TL

  36. Lauren, change your style only insofar as it suits your purpose. Posing questions is a perfectly valid way to pursue a particular argument. Just ask Socrates. (But don’t have what he’s having!)

    And just look at what your questions, your discourse, your approach has accomplished on this blog. We are talking about things that need to be discussed and doing so in ways that productively problematize things we usually take for granted.

    Well done.

    Tim, thank you for your generous reading of my post. I meant it as kindly as you have taken it. And I do see the humor and irony in proposing a vote between two (bad?) options as a way to escape a discussion on binarism.

    So, as they say, what is to be done?

  37. LD: I have enjoyed the conversation about gender in relation to language and the practice of intellectual history. I’ve learned a lot from it, and I certainly have no regrets that it is taking place. I only meant to suggest that, in my opinion, the reason for the lack of female participation at the levels of the blog, Society, and sub-discipline, has more to do with the institutional/functional/practical areas pointed out by Michelle, Varad, anonymous, and others. Cheers.

  38. Varad, thanks for the link. (Or should I call you “Otaku”?) An interesting take on gender and representation.

    In a comment above, Dan mentioned that “Leiter’s blog” had a discussion on gender in the discipline of philosophy. Have to confess that I had to google Leiter’s blog. Glad I did. Here’s a link to an excellent post with some suggestions for how that discipline might address its gender issues, which I think you mentioned in your earliest comments on this thread.

    Here’s the link:

    The Climate for Women in the Subdisciplines

  39. Varad, thanks for the link. (Or should I call you “Otaku”?) An interesting take on gender and representation.

    In a comment earlier, Dan mentioned that there was a discussion on “Leiter’s blog” about the under-representation of women in philosophy (something you mentioned in your first comment on this thread).

    Not being even so much as an armchair philosopher, I had to google to find Leiter’s blog. I’m glad I did. There’s a really good post with some concrete suggestions about how to address the under-representation of women within that discipline. Might be applicable to intellectual history.

    Here’s the link:

    The Climate for Women in the Subdisciplines

    [I tried to post this comment a few minutes ago, but Blogger ate it. So, if it’s a duplicate, my apologies. :-/ ]

  40. Oddly enough, I’ve met Rebecca Kukla . . .

    LD, the difference with philosophy is that it concerns the discipline as a whole, not just a subfield as is the case here. They’re still trying to figure out how to get women to join, and then stay. They still worry about how to make philosophy less “hostile” to women. I don’t think that’s a problem history has had to be concerned about for a while.

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