A Case of Double Standards

Keith Thomas’s article about double standards in the sixteenth century unfortunately applies today to the historical profession itself. In my latest column for History TodayI examine how female historians are still treated unfairly both inside and outside the academy, and argue that things must change.

11 thoughts on “A Case of Double Standards

  1. I hope that anyone who strives to be a historian can be one without getting trouble from others. I understand the differing beliefs and ideas, but not allowing someone to that belief or idea because of something like gender is terrible. I myself want to work in the field of history, so I am working hard so that I can be good at what I love! I wouldn’t want others I work with to be put down or treated unfairly just because they are not a part of the majority.. Thanks Dr. Lipscomb for being one of the inspirations to become a Tudor Historian!

  2. There is no doubt that as in almost every profession, sexism is rife in academia. I was going to say that television was perhaps an exception with Suzannah, Kate Williams, Mary Beard, Tracy Borman, Carenza Lewis, Helen Geake, Katie Hirst, Alice Roberts, Bettany Hughes, Janina Ramirez et al. However, I’ll happily concede that it may just be the producers apparent need for some “eye candy” that there are such outstanding female historians on our screens. I certainly feel that the presentation skills of the females far exceeds the crusty, dusty, boringly academic presentation of most of their male counterparts.

    I am sure that women are very under-represented in the more senior posts in Universities and other academic institutions, and that most certainly needs to change.

  3. I’m appalled after reading your piece, at the behaviour of these people, especially the treatment of the Historian whose research was turned into a TV series, why do people behave like this ? To my mind gender should not come into it when appraising anyone’s work or anything else for that matter.

  4. Hi Suzannah, a friend passed this on. Having spent nearly 30 years in the book industry, I think I can confirm that publishing has a male bias and an aversion to taking risks, especially for female authors who write in traditionally ‘male’ areas. However, with stats you quote, it’s not that simple.

    Roughly 90% of books are bought by 10% of the population, just over half of book buyers are female – they tend to dominate in fiction and are the ones who buy books for their children. In general, men buy more non-fiction (following their niche interests) and are published in far more non-fiction niches than women. For example I know of one specialist transport publisher who has over 900 titles, none of which are written (or I suspect are read by) by women – but they count in the stats.

    Defining ‘history’ as a category is an issue too. e.g. If you include ‘military’ in the history section then it is dominated by men. Taking one year’s stat’s isn’t that good an indicator either as figures are easily skewed. e.g. Andy Mcnab’s Bravo 2 Zero was classed as military history, sold in millions but was mainly bought by guys who only read one book that year. It dominated the charts and skewed the figures accordingly. I had to talk my then employers out of putting in big military history sections in their stores on the basis of the high McNab sales – they just saw the top-line.

    I know of several students, both male and female, who have had their dissertations expanded into books for a relatvely small sum, only to find that the publisher has made a small forture from it.

    Having said all this I do believe that persistance pays off. If a book is really good, it will find a publisher. It’s just a question of being thick-skinned and toughing it out. (JK Rowling was rejected by 9 publishers before Bloomsbury). Finding the right agent is key. These days much of the traditonal work of preparing a book for publication has moved from publisher to agent. Here, these days, women definitely have the edge and I can only see a bright future.

    The other plus side is that the old duffers who have dominated mainstream publishing for the last 30 years are dying off!

    Best wishes Graham

  5. Having had the privilege to have worked with Suzannah at Hampton Court Palace, all I need to say is historians should valued based on their knowledge and ability to communicate what they know. The majority of female historians – especially Suzannah – are in my experience, far better at doing that that than their male counterparts… enough said!

  6. It is ridiculous that women are treated differently in this day and age, its worth noting that more females are succeeding than there male counterparts, in the last decade in the traditional academic subjects, and just maybe those old stalwart males are just getting a little be scared of being overrun.
    Personally I love history and thoroughly enjoy the slant that the modern female historians put on the old tried and tested set traditions of instruction

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