Political science graduate students read very little scholarship written chiefly, or exclusively, by women. This is a pretty damning finding from a new paper published in The Journal of Politics and PS: Political Science and Politics by two professors–Heidi Hardt of UC Irvine and Amy Erica Smith of Iowa State University (two others, Philippe Meister of Iowa State and Hannah June Kim, who was a graduate student at Stanford at the time of the research, also have author’s credit). Their findings aren’t surprising, given the way misogyny permeates American society. Still, I had no idea it was this bad at a level where so many people–so many men, given the results published in the paper–ought to know and do better.
“Courses are often graduate students’ first major exposure to a field of study,” Hardt said in a Sept. 3 news release from the UC Irvine School of Social Sciences. “If women don’t appear much in syllabi or reading lists, students may receive the incorrect signal that women do not belong in academia. Implicit signals can add up–affecting the leaky pipeline, where women are leaving academia at higher rates than men.”
For the paper, Hardt and her co-authors dug into the Graduates Assignment DataSet (GRADS), a massive database containing 75,601 syllabi readings taken from 840 separate syllabi and 605 unique instructors at 94 political science departments throughout the U.S.
And guess what they found? Women-authored works constituted 21.8 percent of the scholarship assigned to grad students by men and 35.0 percent by women. What’s more, “race was statistically significant among male instructors,” with “nonwhite male instructors assign[ing] female-authored work at rates that are indistinguishable from those of female instructors (both white and nonwhite).”
Meaning that while both percentages were pretty awful, white male instructors–of all ages and experiences–were even worse at assigning works written by women to grad students. The paper’s authors attribute all of this to a variety of factors: “path dependence,” where instructors, pressed for time, simply assign the works they were assigned when they were students; a reliance on “well-known scholars,” who are predominantly men because women have traditionally been underpublished; and “implicit biases”–the very common (but very wrong) gender stereotypes born of a patriarchal society that say “women are less brilliant than men and less capable academics.”
“We expected that instructors from underrepresented groups assign a higher proportion of female-authored readings,” states the paper. “Both men and women of color, as well as white women, are likely to be more aware of barriers to demographic representation, due to both personal experience and informal networks.”
To put the paper into context, I showed it to Major Jessica Dawson, PhD, an assistant professor of sociology at the Army Cyber Institute, U.S. Military Academy at West Point. I first came across Dawson on Twitter, where she’s outspoken on issues like the importance of racial and gender diversity. As I expected, the paper didn’t surprise Dawson at all.
“The implications for political science are particularly concerning,” said Dawson. “Florida State sociologist Patricia Homan has an excellent paper that shows the impact of women at the state level strongly impacts the well being of women and men in their states. She highlights that the lack of women in state level positions means that the concerns of women are not addressed and this causes significant impact on health and well-being for everyone, not just women.”
Dawson further noted that the paper by Hardt and her co-authors mirrors research in other fields. Duke University sociologist Kieran Healy has found that the philosophy field is full of citations for male authors but not so many women. For women who go into philosophy, this undoubtedly colors what’s considered worthwhile knowledge.
“For example, in early studies of morality, Elliot Turiel stated that everything in morality is about justice and rights, everything else is just social convention,” said Dawson. “But then Carol Gilligan came along and said, hey, that’s a pretty male-centric way of looking at things. Women tend to moralize harm and fairness. You can’t declare morality to be only male-focused concerns.”
Hardt’s paper addresses this insidious effect of such lop-sided attention, noting that students could develop their own biases regarding “the quality” of research conducted by women.
“The same effect occurs in sociology with regards to social theory,” said Dawson. “A recent paper by Lynn McDonald about the erasure of women from sociological theory highlights this. The classical theory sections of most grad level courses at top institutions are focused on Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Max Weber and Georg Simmel. Some are starting to incorporate W.E.B. DuBois into American classical theory but the concerns of women sociologists such as Harriet Martineau, who predates Durkheim in discussions of how to scientifically study morality in society, are ignored. This then shapes the focus of sociology graduate students on things deemed important to everyday life and ignores the contributions of women to the development of social theory.”
Dawson said getting her own students to read more scholarship by women is a work in progress that requires a never-ending search for new authors who might not be getting the attention they deserve.
“As far as my own syllabi, I’m actively restructuring my social theory article in response to the McDonald paper to better incorporate women into the development of sociology as a discipline,” said Dawson. “I also follow a lot of women and underrepresented minority scholars on Twitter and am constantly finding new work to ensure that more voices are read and heard in my social inequality class beyond those found in the more established social inequality readers.”
Click here to read the paper by Hardt and her co-authors.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.