what does this graph mean?

Presumably, if you were an English major at college, it means that you didn’t spend a lot of time looking at graphs, and you were more than likely female.

This graph is courtesy of Kieran Healy’s post, which is about the gender divides in academic philosophy.  Take a look at the post but also the comments.

Healy himself makes a nice observation further down in the thread:

Incidentally, asking “Hey, how can it be sexism if Education and English are full of women” thing is similar to asking “How can there be Global Warming if we just got three feet of snow in DC?” Global warming, narrowly construed, is an aspect of climate change, and an explanation of it requires a theory of climate systems. Sexism, narrowly construed, is an aspect of gender relations, and an explanation of it requires a similarly more general theory.

So what would that more general theory look like, if it were to comprehend both English and Philosophy departments, alongside Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering?



5 responses to “what does this graph mean?

  1. OK, I’ll put this out there: if philosophers, near the bottom left-hand corner of the graph, can discuss how the under-representation of men is a problem for their discipline, what should we do with a skewing of gender in the opposite direction for the upper-right hand corner? What does this suggest to us about the “more general theory” of disciplines and gender that the graph invites us to create?

  2. Laura Rosenthal

    Hmm. To me it’s hard to reach a conclusion without further information. I don’t have any statistics at my fingertips, but I believe in general at as one goes up the ranks (asst, assoc, full professor, high-level administrator) everything starts moving in the opposite direction. I think a lot of those women represented in the graph in English at least are not entering the profession, both by choice and as a result of persisting sexism. I’m guessing that in psychology, though, a lot of them are able to become practicing therapists.

  3. That’s a good point, about how the skewing starts to move in the opposite direction, the higher up you go in the pyramid. We’ve seen the COACHE report document this pattern on our campus to some extent, but it’s precisely the historical disciplinary variations that make central policy so difficult to set, and make it relatively easy for the departments to resist.

    I think we live with the consequences of this in English departments all the time, especially in terms of the compensatory behavior people develop as a result. In my mind this represents a good example of how “culture” trumps “discipline” or even “ideology”: something seems to be happening that is outside of people’s conscious planning or control, and persists in ways that go beyond individuals’ ideologies.

  4. Interesting data; one issue that Laura’s call for more data raises in my mind is the relation between pursuing the Ph.D. and hiring practices/trends outside of academia. Not that I know, but is it possible that fewer women pursue Physics Ph.D.s because those that have Physics BS degrees get lucrative jobs straight out of college? Do women pursue advanced degrees in English because it is difficult to secure meaningful and/or lucrative employment with an English BA? I think that without companion hiring data, it’s difficult to assess these numbers. (Though, I suppose we could conjecture that both English and Psychology speak to female interest in “interiority”…but I think it’s clear where that conversation might lead us…not a good place.)

  5. I picked this up from a discussion about the implications of the gender division for philosophy, which I found fascinating because it’s (apparently) so difficult for “mainstream” philosophy to acknowledge or reflect upon this divide. But if this kind of sociological channeling has implications for the discipline of philosophy, how might we (meaning the women and men who practice literary studies) begin to reflect upon our own discipline’s sociological trajectories?

    In response to Laura’s and Dwight’s posts, I’m all for better information and broader contexts. And I suspect one could do some interesting gender-tracking of English majors through MAs through ABDs through PhDs through tenure, associate, and full. But the key issue here remains the discipline by discipline comparison, which seems pretty striking to me, and striking enough for me to want some sort of explanation.

    One further implication that I see here is that every interdisciplinary encounter could be redescribed as a gendered encounter: the feminized realm of literary studies receives some needed discipline from the hard sciences, etc. etc. What should we make of that kind of gendering? As I’ve mentioned before, I see a lot of science-envy in interdisciplinary work like the Culturomics project, which tries to read culture without descending too much into literary criticism. Am I wrong to see this as a desire to make one’s scholarship seem more scientific, and therefore legitimate, to audiences in- and outside the university?