Is academic publishing an intersectional feminist issue?

This blog is an extended conversation from this blog by Dr Pooja Sawrikar on the intersectional dynamics in academic publishing.

I first met Kathomi, the president of AWGSA, when she was collecting data for research on racism in academic publishing. Like all researchers who have access to the privilege of positional and prestige power that comes with having a PhD and a university logo beside your name, she got to hear many stories, not just mine, and pull them together to tell a bigger informed story about ‘where to from here to make things better?’ While sharing my story, I also got to hear some of her story. It was the first time ever that I did not feel so alone and that a real human conversation had been had about a really serious problem.

The very senior manager who denied my promotion from Senior Lecturer to Associate Professor after having been an academic for 20 years managed to get her name on more than 20 publications that year (I know because I looked), despite not penning a word in those publications. She knew exactly how to play the game. Her name was big, and everyone else who knew about it let that slide because having her name on the co-author’s list increased their chances of getting published. Win-win. As she kept climbing the ladder through other people’s work, grant money kept s pouring in because her track record was increasing primarily from other academics’ labour. No one bothered to check her contributions to those publications. Of course, it also helps when you have white skin or are male.

In Australia, approximately 37.5% of the population are white men, 37.5% are white women, 12.5% are men of colour, and 12.5% are women of colour. If we had nationally proportionate representation, the number of Full Professors in this country would resemble these ratios. They do not need to match exactly, but anything very far off in either direction – up or down – would indicate structural dis/advantage. Here is where we are actually at: 67% of Full Professors in Australia are white men, 23% are white women, 8% are men of colour, and 2% are women of colour. White men have a nearly two-fold advantage, and women of colour have a nearly six-fold disadvantage. The crass lesson I learned across my 20 years in the sector was that I just needed white skin and a penis to have doubled my chances of promotion without having done half the work. The combined intersectional effects of racism and sexism are profound, and unless it is your lived reality, this just lands as a bunch of numbers. It is not just self-esteem that’s grossly damaged by the gross unfairness; it is the gross harm to the livelihood of their families.

This blog would need to allow me to talk about the size of a PhD for why these barriers occur. The gatekeeping alone would be multiple chapters; before I even looked at the power of empiricist methodologies, let us consider that having at least one white co-author or at least any part of your name that is Anglicised provide unconscious stamps of credibility and trustworthiness. In fact, journal impact factors go down the more they publish women’s work because they are cited less. Often, editors (mostly white men, even in feminised disciplines) are motivated to keep them out to protect the journal’s reputation, gendered divisions in housework, and unpaid and unvalued care labour at work and in the home. I cannot unpack these things here further. But a good researcher does not just keep their

eye on the pattern; they also keep their eye on the ‘outliers’.

Recognising these disparities and the outliers in academia, I created Scholar Freedom, a platform that has been built to let every person just speak. The quality of your work depends on what you say. We charge a small amount because business costs need to be covered, but it is no more than a meal out with family and friends. The more our members put in a small contribution, the more we can keep investors out, and the focus of your business can remain on the cogency and essence of your words. We have been built for scholars who wish to set themselves just a little free from the neoliberal academic slavery that spares no one. We know you still need to meet the publication metrics of your university, but you do not have to publish everything where they tell you to, especially if they have not fully covered your time (Consider that Vice Chancellors earn two or three times more than the Prime Minister does). If your words are ethical and truthful – precisely what researchers are trained to do – so that you can provide the public with independent, informed comments after deep thinking – then you are who we are for.