When it comes to experts, men are their favourite authority
It’s taken an exhausting study of 1.5 million academic papers stored in digital library JSTOR, but Stanford University sociologist Molly King can categorically confirm that men love to quote themselves.
As a man, I could have told you that.
In the working paper, King and fellow researchers from the University of Washington and New York University (a team which, it should be stated, included two male colleagues in case anyone presumed bias) found that out of the 8.2 million citations used in various journals and books published between 1779 and 2011, 10 per cent of these were self-citations.
While female authors were also found to cite their own work, males self-cited 56 per cent more than women and, according to King, this gap increased to “70 per cent in the final two decades of data studied”.
(In a somewhat amusing anecdote to the research, it was found that the data held true even amongst King’s research team. Consisting of three women and two men, the male authors of the paper had cited themselves “at nearly three times the average rate of the women authors”.)
But, what King’s study highlights isn’t just that men have a higher opinion of, well, their own opinions.
It’s that even in the cerebral ivory towers of academia, where gendered performance is continually being deconstructed, certain behaviours are encouraged in men while being discouraged in women.
In this instance, it’s that men will happily engage in shameless self-promotion while women are less inclined to boost their own work.
So why the double standard?
That’s not very lady-like
According to a 2001 report, this may have something to do with the belief that the kind of assertiveness required to engage in a shameless bout of self-promotion is traditionally a masculine trait and one that was undesirable in women.
Elizabeth Humphrys is a lecturer in social and political sciences at the University of Technology Sydney and she agrees that the problem isn’t the fact that men are self-citing (or self-promoting) but it’s that society doesn’t approve when women engage in what is considered masculine behaviour.
“I think it’s definitely symptomatic of a wider problem,” explains Humphrys.
“It’s not an issue of men and citation but more of an issue about how gender works in any workplace, and in this instance academia. It’s also about how men and women are socialised differently and what we expect from the two.”
To be clear, self-citation or referencing in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing – if you’re the sole expert in a particularly esoteric field of research you may in fact only have your own work to draw from.
But in the world of academia, citations are also basically coin in the bank – the more you have, the more highly regarded you appear in your field of research. (Kindly note that in no way is the number of citations an indicator of quality.) And the more citations you have, the more others are likely to cite you. They can even be used in the negotiation of pay and tenure at academic institutions.
(Currently, 70 per cent of “above senior level lectures” were male. In 2014 a study conducted by the University of Western Australia also showed that a 15 per cent pay gap existed between men and women academics.)
So while self-citing may indeed be based on referencing previous or unique fields of research, it can also be a calculated strategy of self-promotion and a practice to get ahead professionally.
A practice that, historically, men have been far more comfortable doing than women not only in the realms of academia but in plenty other industries as well. And the higher up the ladder women are the worst it apparently gets.
In their book The Confidence Code, authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman explain how, the “the more senior a woman is, the more she makes a conscious effort to play down her volubility.”
“It is, I think, difficult for women to carve out a space…”
In everyday scenarios, being able to speak about or acknowledge your own talents isn’t something to be ashamed of. But when it comes to a professional setting, women are far less inclined to speak up about their achievements than men in the same industry or position.
In fact, in Laurie Rudman’s (heavily cited, I might add) paper on the backlash against female leaders, she suggests that women who displayed this kind of behaviour have suffered either social or economic penalties or simply been deemed “unhirable”.
So is the answer as simple as women should simply be more willing to self-promote?
Maybe. But according to Humphrys it’s a little more complex than that.
“The change is something that has to happen in a broader scale where we allow one behaviour for men but then punish women for doing something similar,” she explains.
“We also need to stop deferring to men as the assumed authority on topics simply because they are men – which is something that you see in the media other public forums such as politics where men can often dominate the conversation. It is, I think, difficult for women to carve out a space to be taken seriously.”
Or in other words, maybe it’s high time men took a seat and let someone else take the floor for a change.
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