Are female law scholars representing themselves well?

Shana Tabak’s announcement of the Pioneers of Women in the Law reminds us of the need to make sure that women are written into both the history and scholarship of the international law.

A year ago I wrote about a paper in circulation that documented a gender citation gap.  The study has been published, and it is generating a debate.  Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article noting the cultural tradition of women feeling uncomfortable citing their own work. The article reminds us of the need to cite our own work, and to pay attention to gender balance in our own citation practices.

In political science, the focus is also moving to Wikipedia. We have long known that Wikipedia, like many encyclopedias, tends to write out the contributions of women. Indeed the format of an internet based encyclopedia may even exacerbate the problem, since 90 percent of Wikipedia’s contributors are men.

I plan to study the representation of women political scientists on Wikipedia, comparing it to their representation in institutions like editorial boards and learned societies. My interest in this topic was piqued when I found a page that lists American Political scientists with Wikipedia pages.  Former presidents of APSA, winners of the most prestigious Woodrow Wilson Book Prize, and many other notable female scholars were not on the list.

Take a look at the Wikipedia list of international law scholars.  Maybe I missed some names, but I found 8 females on this list.

In addition to studying the female pioneers of international law, we need to counter the practices which continue to marginalize female voices. The question is not ‘if’ women’s contributions are written out. The real question is what are we going to do about this? The solution in a number of fields is for women scholars to organize and write more entries.  On the eve of ASILs conference (which I will unfortunately miss), it seems timely to put this issue on the agenda of IntLawGrrls.

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2 thoughts on “Are female law scholars representing themselves well?

  1. I once commented early in the existence of this blog on a post closely related to this (it was something about how there are few women acknowledged as international law experts I think). I said that the post was likely referring to a universe of Western, predominantly white, women in its reference to the marginalization of women in international law. I said that there are women human rights and international law students and scholars in developing countries, including those who may never have a chance to go to Western law schools, take their LL.M.s or J.S.Ds, get published in Western law journals and therefore be counted in the counting in a blog about women in international law. Language may be a barrier. But so is the implicit assumption that the ‘women’ referred to in titles like “Pioneers of Women in the Law” or “female law scholars.” Since this is about international law then perhaps its only right to think internationally – and by that, not simply North America, Europe and maybe Australia and New Zealand. Sorry to be making this point (since I do understand why the domination of the male perspective in legal scholarship is a problem) but this does remind somewhat of that “solidarity is for white women” critique.

  2. Perhaps your comment is about the “Pioneers of Women in Law?”

    The citation gap, the underrepresentation of many groups on Wikipedia, and what we can do about both, are really seperate issues. These are empiricle issues– at least that is how the social scientist in me sees it.

    You are probably correct in saying that there is also an ethnicity gap. And since there are different Wikipedias for different languages, it is surely true that the English language Wikipedia will be slanted by language. Whether we call it a bias that English Wikipedia focuses on English publication, I’m not sure.

    But the larger point is that there is something we can do to rewrite the story, and it is up to us to write the narrative of who is important in studying IL.

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