In Which the Historianess Becomes a Token

Last week my friend and fellow Cliopat Manan Ahmed posted on Cliopatria about a letter he received from the AHA. Manan, along with a few other Cliopats, had detected some similarities in their scholarly work and they resolved to do a panel on their work–not as bloggers, but as colleagues.

Their panel was accepted with a condition: Since the AHA has a standing commitment to gender diversity on panels, the Program Committee has decided to require you to find a female participant, perhaps to serve as chair or a second commentator for your session.


Manan points out that while AHA regulations do “encourage” gender diversity on panels, they do not *require* it, as this program committee has done. And, as he also notes, no reminder of this official policy of encouragement appears on the AHA’s Calls for Papers.

Manan and his colleagues were understandably embarrassed to contact women academics with a request to chair the panel; would you want to call someone up, even a friend, and say “Apparently, me and my colleagues are not gender diverse; so, since you’re a girl, would you please chair our panel?” (Or, who would want to ask the converse: “Would you chair my panel since you’re a boy?”) Because these guys are my friends, and because I think this situation plainly stinks, I offered to take on the job as the AHA’s token woman on the panel and thus saved it from rejection.

Here’s what makes me so darn angry:

1. While gender diversity on panels is in general a good idea, rejecting perfectly decent panels because of a lack of gender diversity is short-sighted and offensive. It’s short-sighted because it alienates historians of any gender who would like to put together panels (which is time-consuming work in and of itself) while limiting their options and encouraging them to pick panelists simply because of gender rather than because of scholarly interest or ability.

2. It’s offensive because it installs a woman simply for the sake of having a woman on the panel. I won’t be doing any serious scholarly work for this panel; I just show up and introduce my friends (I many also get to wear a t-shirt that says “token”). That’s a great way to encourage gender diversity: put the token in a position of little authority or consequence, just because he/she will fit the quota. Ridiculous, and offensive. In all my time in academia, I’ve never been treated this way.

3. There are huge gender problems among historians. Women academics are still paid less than equivalently qualified male colleagues. Women still face discriminatory maternity leave “policies” that complicate balancing an academic career and motherhood. There is still a serious dearth of women at the tenured level in history departments, especially at the level of full professor. Income inequality and inequality at the level of senior scholars are both serious problems; sticking me, or any women, on an AHA panel is *not* a solution. Interestingly, my (admittedly quick) perusal of the AHA’s annual report did not reveal any substantive inquiries in the past year into gender inequality in our profession. Perhaps the AHA thinks that by getting a woman to chair Manan’s panel, history’s gender problems are solved.

So here’s my plea: no more offensive half-measures, no more quotas for panels, no more ridiculous “requirements” for panels. Instead, let’s have a serious discussion about the challenges that women still face in this profession. Let’s talk about unequal pay, about maternity leave policies, and about women as senior scholars. Let’s have some requirements that do something to actually ameliorate these problems.

In the mean time, I invite you to attend our panel. It will be great, even though there will be a token presiding.


20 thoughts on “

  1. What I still don’t get about the AHA decision is that the panel as submitted represents several kinds of diversity which the AHA also needs and “encourages”: ethnic, regional, methodological. That’s not enough, apparently. If you don’t want to wear a T-Shirt, we can at least get you a nice big “Token” button….

  2. “I won’t be doing any serious scholarly work for this panel”you are so wrong about that :)Please post this on Clio – and thanks, publicly, for being our gendered knight in shining armor. The panel WILL be fun.

  3. I was struck by your surprise at this. As a male academic I am always aware of the requirement for gender diversity/tokenism whenever I organize a panel. The joys of your gender privilege mean that you can simply take for granted your ontological privilege(And yes, you are right that there is discrimination in family leave, though I wonder if pay disparities are simply due to the number of men who dominate the top pay rungs of the profession as a hangover from the old days – would you really, really want to compare the average salaries of male academics with their female colleagues at the same point in their careers in comparable positions? I feel pretty confident that women wouldn’t be that far behind, and perhaps are likely to be ahead. Oh – and a note on family leave while we are at it –the most nasty comments I have ever heard on the subject of more flexible tenure clocks have come from childless women academics). Also – does your willingness to renounce quotas for panels extend to hiring? I was almost not hired at my current position because our dean was concerned about “too many men” being hired that year – she even bragged to my chair that she went into our meeting “perfectly prepared to dislike me” (yes, she said it twice) simply because of her concern about gender disparities in hiring for a single year. This kind of thing happens all the time, and when the slogan “all other things being equal, we will hire the woman” becomes de facto policy, it is surprising how “all other things” starts to change to “in the ballpark.” (And hiring committees often interview unqualified women just to have a balance on the interview roster – of the almost dozen hiring committees I’ve been on or have seen work, they are always putting in women weaker than the men on the interview lists just to have the right quota – but I’m sure that doesn’t bother you). So yes, by all means let’s have that conversation – but note how uneven it will be. I will not “uncloak” and talk openly about this because I want a career in academia and the diversity cops would throw me in the gulag (or make sure I never get a grant or can put a panel together for a major conference) if I openly dared to reject (some) peoples’ power. I do however hold the system in contempt even as I play by its rules. Welcome to a small taste of the crap that many of your colleagues have been made to swallow for most of their careers.

  4. Well, Anonymous, it’s a real shame you’re so angry and bitter. I find that angry, bitter people have a difficult time having rational discussions about gender equity issues (or anything controversial, for that matter).I wasn’t aware that I had a gender privilege. Thanks for pointing that out to me. Most of the time I look around and I see (as I noted in the post and in the article) serious gender inequities. Thinking that the AHA’s panel policy is ridiculous and useless doesn’t mean that I don’t see problems elsewhere.As for parental leave policies–why do you resent the fact that childless women wish to stick up for the childbearing rights of all women? Restrictions on flexible tenure clocks, among other things, are discriminatory and disgusting. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say there.If quotas on panels extended to quotas on hiring, I would perhaps oppose them. But I am unaware of quotas in hiring anywhere. Being AA/EOE does NOT mean quotas for race or gender. I’m sorry you had a rotten interaction with your Dean, but I will point out, you did in fact get the job. So, something in the process must have worked right for you.Lastly, if these issues bother you so much, I would recommend dropping the anonymity and getting your own blog to address these issues. Most people do in fact admire the courage of their colleagues’ convictions. It’s just possible that your experiences and insights would have something to add to the conversation–but hard to do when you insist upon remained anonymous.

  5. Dear Rebecca,I realized after writing that I did impute motives to you for which I apologize, but even worse I was unclear.First of all, what I was trying to convey concerning family leave was that childless women in my department are the least supportive of parental leave and a slower tenure clock for female faculty who want to have children. I actually do support slowing down the tenure clock/generous parental leave policies (and I have no personal stake in this – my wife is not an academic, if anything such policies will make my life harder, but it is the right thing to do). It was a senior feminist in our department who spoke with real anger over younger faculty women wanting such consideration.As for you not being aware of gender privileges I am not surprised. My sense is that women in academia take it for granted that they will get placed on panels as you did, and get jobs when it is a close (and sometimes not so close) call, and rarely bother to wonder why. I have been told in tones of ancien regime self-righteousness by other female colleagues that “all things being equal” female candidates should win in any bid for a job. Even more funny is the fact that I am open to this being the default position, but I do rather resent being told it in such authoritarian tones.As to AA/EOE rules not meaning quotas, I’m afraid I’ve not seen them work for people of the wrong race and gender. We are constantly scrutinized to make sure we have balance in our interviews, even when that means interviewing less qualified female candidates (which it has meant in about half of the 12 searches of which I have knowledge) and my department has been told by our administration quite explicitly that we could offer positions to people of the right race but not to others. Against the rules, even illegal? Yup. Now, given that these were verbal instructions, what are we to do? Sue the administration, and get into a war that we will not win? There are quotas in academe (as you have found out), but too often people mask them under talk of diversity and more often than not are not bothered by them.As to the rotten interaction with my dean, suffice it to say that I was hired after a nasty conflict that cost my department dear for a couple of years. I am grateful to my colleagues but what makes your answer so hard to take is the blithe indifference to rank discrimination. Something went right but only in the face of a dean whose commitment to diversity is impossible to distinguish from sexist discrimination. Am I to assume that for our profession “all’s well that ends well” because a woman is currently President of the AHA?In response to your last suggestion that I get my own blog, in academia I simply have not seen people admire colleagues’ convictions when those convictions threaten certain sacred cows. I have seen people who raise the kind of questions that I have raised marginalized within the profession. When I have several books to my credit and have established my reputation, maybe then I will raise questions, but right now, I need to not be blackballed when I apply for grants, and I need to be sure that my work is not passed to hostile reviewers, and have my panels continue to get accepted at major conferences. I have neither experienced or believe in the tolerance of people in this profession for real dissent(the position you are staking out is center left, and even then you are safe because of your gender and your insistence that the “real conversation” is about how women should be allowed to garner higher pay and other privileges).And yes, I do struggle with bitterness, but I love this profession, and I am also saddened as well as angry at some real injustices. Thank you for taking time to respond as well as for for your willingness to raise questions about the AHA’s policies. I hope your book review is going well and take care.

  6. Anonymous–I did not get “placed” on the panel–I volunteered. And you may verify this with my colleagues if you care to–I was not hired because I am a woman. There are many reasons I got the job I currently hold, but gender is not one of them.Lastly, being an AA/EO employer means that “all things being equal” you do hire the woman/person of color over another candidate. “All things being equal” though means that the finalists’ qualifications must also be equal, which is harder to verify in academic searches. There are no quotas, at least not legally.If your administration is indeed engaging in the kind of conduct you allege, then it is up to you to say something and do something about it. I derive no special privileges from being a woman, Anonymous. I have had to work as hard as anybody else to get where I am now. If you are waiting for me to say I am against affirmative action, or that I feel bad for white guys, you’ll be waiting a long time. I do think that this particular AHA policy is silly and useless, and I favor a thorough investigation into the state of women’s salaries and promotions in the historical profession. What I think after such an investigation is concluded will have to wait until later–without data I can’t diagnose problems or offer solutions.But if you do love this profession, and you are observing illegal activity, I would say you’re morally obligated to say something about it–non-anonymously, and elsewhere.

  7. Waiting for people to renounce privilege is, as you say, a very long wait, likely as not a fool’s errand. You have power, you intend to keep it, and you feel good about yourself/justified in the privileges you do have. I’m sure white guys felt just like you do once upon a time.I don’t doubt that you worked hard, but one of the things that every man in a position in academia knows is that he is without a doubt better than any woman candidate who applied for the job, because otherwise he wouldn’t be employed, “all things being equal.” Just to be clear, I’ve been suggesting that “all things being equal” all too often gets fudged in favor of the female candidate, and the neat thing as you know is that there are elements of any evaluation that contain a subjective element that make “equality” hard to determine even if no one is putting their thumb on the scales to ensure their department has the “proper” gender balance.As to my moral obligations, those include not involving myself in a ruinous law suit that an academic salary and the care of a family does not allow me to afford, as well as not trying to carry on a correspondence in which I seem to be stepping on toes without trying (“placed” on the panel was not my effort to diss you – I’m sure that a panel on constructing identities in 20th century Pakistan, etc. will benefit from having an early modernist on it, but by your own showing you are not there primarily for your expertise, as competent as I’m sure that is, but because of your gender). I’m glad you find it silly in this context, forgive me if I’ve not disciplined my sense of humor enough to see a bit of fun (as well as a lack of justice) in insisting that white guys already start out with a handicap in any job for which they compete. And I agree that we do need a look at women’s (I would add minorities) salaries in the profession, and I would be happy to learn the answer one way or another. If, as I suspect, that for male and female faculty starting out and in comparable positions women are offered more, then maybe concerns over reverse discrimination might be heard. And if I am wrong and women are unjustly compensated in academia, I would support correcting such an injustice, and happily realize that my own sensibilities and assumptions require correcting. My experience is that women enjoy real advantages in the upper levels of academe and are quite brazen in their assertion of privilege, but I am open to correction based on facts, not dogmatic assertion.

  8. Then I invite you to troll through the archives of and of the CHE, in which you will find numerous articles about gender-based income inequity across academic disciplines and the dearth of women at the full professor level (an even more serious problem in the sciences than in the humanities). This is not dogmatic assertion, I assure you. There are, as I have written before, real problems with gender inequity in the academy. I hardly thought it was novel to point that out. What I haven’t seen are recent studies with particular reference to history, which is why I suggested a study (though if someone can point one out, I’ll have a look).I can also offer my own anecdotal experience–several of my male grad student friends got jobs the same year I did. We all went on the market just about done, and all finished our degrees around the same time. I am making the least of all of them–one of my equivalently qualified male friends os making almost 20K more than I am. So, anecdotally, I would say I’m hardly privileged there.

  9. To be clear – I do not deny that the profession is top heavy with a lot of white male full professors (who are possibly paid far more than they are worth and thus distort any study). Those august relics of a byegone era aside, however, do the studies show that there are discrepencies in male and female salaries for those in comparable positions at peer institutions who have a similar record of publishing, teaching, service etc who do not take time off for family leave? And is there an exit strategy for EA/AA? Given that I saw a talk titled half a millenium of darkness about patriarchy in the Americas, can I hope that some great, great great great great great great great grandson of mine 470 or so years hence might have a shot at jobs where all things being equal the committee flips a coin and doesn’t regard it as a misfortune if the winner is a white guy?

  10. More than anecdotal, the studies of pay equity which I’ve seen control for age and years of service, and still come up with significant differentials in favor of men. And the rest of it? Whining. Sorry to be blunt, but the “white guys are the oppressed now” thing was junk when it first came out in the seventies and remains pretty pitiful. Don’t get me wrong, there are cases where AA/EEO policies are applied sloppily, there are boorish people out there of many genders, and neither equality nor fairness are precisely defined or entirely in our grasp. But we’re getting there.

  11. Dear Jonathan,I don’t think of it as whining to find something amiss that I almost lost a good job which I had won fair and square because a Dean committed to quotas under the guise of AA/EO worked very hard to have my department restart a search simply because I was a white guy (and retaliated against us for a couple of years after my hire when my department stood up to said dean). Also, it was done to further AA/”EEO” policies, so pardon if I don’t get all misty eyed and weepy when others talk of racial injustice but are willing to regard my experiences (and those of other male colleagues who were denied positions) as either “anectdotal” or simply the result of boorish individuals. ‘Tis not whining to have problems with a mindset that regards rassenpolitik as all well and good provided its aimed at certain people. But we all have different comfort zones.

  12. Rebecca,Good going! I hope your being such a good sport is appreciated by your colleagues. My friend,Super Crazy is in a situation similar to that of the folks on your panel, and I’m wondering if you’d consider giving him a hand. You may have read that on a recent episode of WWE’s RAW: “Melina and Johnny Nitro defeated Super Crazy & Women’s Champion Mickie James in a Mixed Tag Team Match. It seemed as if James & Crazy had the match all but sewn up, but Mickie was distracted by watching Nitro send Crazy into the ring post. This gave Melina the opening she needed, allowing her to gouge Mickie’s eyes and pull her down by the hair into a pinning combination for the victory.” [ ]Since Mickie’s going to be out of action for a while, Super Crazy needs a partner in an upcoming rematch with Nitro and Melina. If your schedule permits, I’m sure Super Crazy would appreciate your helping out.On behalf of Super Crazy and his fans, thanks in advance!

  13. ” one of the things that every man in a position in academia knows is that he is without a doubt better than any woman candidate who applied for the job, because otherwise he wouldn’t be employed, “all things being equal.”Feh. That’s about as idiotic a thing as I have ever read. Good on you, Rebecca for trying to engage with Anonymous but …. he needs to go troll elsewhere.

  14. Dear Manan,A question – if AA/EEO rules mean that all things being equal a woman should always be hired over a man, does it not then follow that for a man to hold a position he was simply so much better than any female competitors? This seems to me elementary logic. I admire and envy your being able to narrow your reading so that this is the most idiotic thing you have ever read. I am however rather unhappy with your description of the questions I am raising as “trolling.” Does pressing someone to develop a point and consider the broader implications of their views that they raised in public forums and on which they invited discussion constitute trolling? Or is simply believing that there are injustices in academia that go beyond your comfort zone trolling? And have I raised no points that you might consider a fair contribution? For example, have you never been on a hiring committee where there was a conscious effort made to balance the interview roster with female candidates, some of whom were not as good as their male counterparts? I have and was told we had to do it. Such examples have made me more skeptical of the system as such, though quite frankly I don’t want to go by my own experience alone – I want to understand Rebecca and your perspectives, especially given that her assertion that the real conversation we need is on how to increase benefits granted to women and your attempt to close down this discussion with insults and assertions of prima facie intellectual superiority are what constitutes the mainstream of the profession. If what I am mainly to learn from you and Rebecca and Jonathan is that the current system whereby women are privileged in hiring, where demanding women be represented on panels simply because they are women is problematic only because it embarrasses women who are obviously stigmatized as tokens and obscures the “real issues” (more pay and perhaps quicker elevation of women as women to senior status in the profession) and any objection to such is “whining” and trolling, then these are useful lessons for which I am honestly grateful. I would recommend however that as you gain positions of authority in academia or wherever you work that you proceed as my administration does, by making sure that all AA/EEO rules that you intend to apply “sloppily” (to use Jonathan’s phrase) be communicated verbally or quietly with euphemisms rather than by creating a paper trail that can be fairly read to endorse discrimination. Most people like you won’t mind, and those of us who do see this discrimination can contemplate our helplessness and continue to practice ketman. Pardon me now while I return to my cave, some yummy dwarves are stewing in hobbit sauce….

  15. (I’m writing from a public computer which won’t let me log in. This is Rebecca.)No one has suggested we need “to increase benefits for women.” I have suggested that there is still ample evidence of discrimination against women in the academy; women’s situations in the academy vis-a-vis salary, maternity leave, and promotion needs to be examined. These are hardly radical statements, nor are they discriminatory. Nothing Anonymous has written thus far convinces me that these underlying suppositions or any of my suggestions are somehow incorrect. In fact, his bitter statements tend to confirm them.Since Anonymous is at a state u, his experiences are probably slightly different than mine. He has suggested that his institution engages in illegal hiring practices; whining here (and yes, it is whining) will do nothing to change that. That is a situation that only he can confront.Now as for this “conversation,” frankly I have other work to accomplish over the next few weeks–I have two books reviews, a conference paper, and a book proposal to write. So, if Anonymous wishes to continue to write here, he is welcome to, but I have no further energy to devote to stroking his delicate male ego.

  16. I don’t remember the priest telling me when I went to Confession when I was a kid, “Well, Lance, it was wrong of you to disobey your mom and talk back to her like that, but since you set the table every night and do your homework and sent your aunt a birthday card, what the heck! You’re a good kid. Your sins are forgiven automatically. No need for you to do any penance.” 文秘 心脑血管 糖尿病 高血压 糖尿病 高血脂 高脂血症 冠心病 心律失常 心肌病 心肌炎 中风 And maybe it’s happened a few times and I haven’t heard about it but I can’t recall a judge ever letting somebody walk on the grounds the crook was a good guy and his friends really like him.

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