Using Initials to Hide Gender

Using Initials to Hide Gender


There is some evidence that women scientists use their first initials, rather than their first names, at a greater frequency than men do in their publications. It would not be surprising if this were also true in philosophy and some other non-science disciplines. Reasons for women using initials might include worries about sexism in non-fully-anonymized peer review, or concern about how papers written by women are not cited as much as ones written by men (see this and this). I don’t know of any studies on whether using initials rather than names helps in this regard, but people are welcome to share their experiences. (Note: this is not a call to reveal the genders of authors who publish under their initials, rather than under their first name.)

Against this background, I received the following query from a male, early-career philosopher:

I’ve been wondering whether or not I should publish under my full name. Admittedly, this seems a somewhat persnickety question – bear with me! My reason for thinking initials might be better is that my first name is determinately masculine—and I guess I thought that having another man’s name added to the various journal rosters (and conference lists, when I give talks) isn’t going to help with the problematic gender imbalance in the discipline. I am, of course, far from influential, but I figured that if more men did this, the imbalanced image of philosophy that one gets from reading conference listings and so on, might change for the better. Or is this flawed reasoning? I’d be really interested to hear people’s thoughts.

The thinking, I believe, is that while using initials only—initially—changes just the appearance of the gender imbalance in philosophy, such a change in appearance might have—eventually—substantive positive effects. Thoughts on this?

(image: illustration from Alphabeasties by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss )

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