Germs, Gender, and the Journal

April 1, 2021

“Twenty-Twenty,” by Sharon Brogan, on Flickr at https://flic.kr/p/2jrJ81n, Creative Commons licence: Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Written by guest bloggers Matthew Hayday, Tina Loo, and Catherine Desbarats.

COVID-19 has occupied our collective attention for the past year and promises to continue to do so even as vaccinations get underway. As with all pandemics, its effects have been uneven: race, age, and class shape people’s vulnerability – as does gender, the issue that we, as editors of the Canadian Historical Review (CHR), are considering in this particular blog post. We know women have been disproportionately affected: they’ve experienced more job loss, have had to take on more child and elder care duties, and are at more risk from domestic violence. The pandemic has also had a gendered impact on scholarship. Across disciplines, it has disrupted women’s research and publishing more than that of their male counterparts, something likely to have long-standing effects on their careers.

But even before we came to know our provincial health officers by name, we knew about the gender inequities that existed in the Canadian historical profession. In 2015, El Chenier, Lori Chambers, and Anne Frances Toews reported on the representation of women authors among Canadian history book prize winners and in journal and book publishing.[1]

Their article prompted a discussion at the CHR about its own practices and led it, a number of years ago, to begin to compile some rudimentary data that the editors and editorial board hoped would help answer a number of questions.[2] For instance, who submits manuscripts to the journal? Who resubmits after a revise-and-resubmit decision? Who ultimately gets published? Who agrees to write reviews? After the outbreak of the pandemic and implementation of new public health measures, we added a new question: is COVID-19 having any effects?

First, some context. Over the past six years (2015-2020), 64 percent of submissions to the CHR were from male authors, and 36 percent from female authors. In terms of published authors – whose pieces actually appear in the journal – 60 percent are male and 40 percent female. In other words, the journal publishes female authors slightly more than might be expected given the number of submissions from them.

These proportions are more or less equal to those of men and women in the profession as reported by Chenier et. al. in 2015. (More recent statistics are hard to find: currently, the Canadian Association of University Teachers doesn’t seem to keep track of gender by discipline and in any case would only track those employed in post-secondary institutions. That practice wouldn’t capture graduate students, post-docs, precariously employed scholars, or people who work in other institutions like museums and public history organizations or outside Canada. To our knowledge, the Canadian Historical Association doesn’t keep such statistics either).

But the actual situation is a bit more complex than those numbers would indicate. Just as there’s no invisible hand operating the free market, neither is there an unseen force governing the CHR’s submissions, keeping them proportional to the number of men and women in the profession. Instead, the editors have intervened to shape the journal’s submissions by commissioning some of its content, with an eye to improving the representation of women authors.

CHR editors past and present have commissioned pieces for the Forum, Historical Perspectives, and Life in History sections of the journal, approaching men and women more or less equally. All of these pieces go through the usual double-blind peer review process. While commissioning something doesn’t guarantee it will be published, or that it will be published more quickly than unsolicited manuscripts, the practice has helped us ensure that we have better gender balance – and avoid publishing an issue in which all the articles are authored by men (a “missue”?). From 2015 to 2020, commissioned articles made up 18 percent of the CHR’s published content; in other words, just a little more than four of every five pieces came to us “over-the-transom,” or unsolicited.

If the journal relied solely on unsolicited submissions then the ratio of male to female authors from 2015 to 2020 would be 64:36; with commissioned submissions included, the ratio is 60:40. That doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but in an individual year, it can make a significant impact. For instance, without commissioning, in 2018 the ratio of male to female-authored submissions would have been 66:34 instead of 56:41.[3] In 2020 the ratio would have been 74:26 instead of 69:31.

TABLE 1: CHR SUBMISSIONS, 2015-2020

YEAR WITH COM* PIECES OTT** PIECES ONLY
  %M %F %M %F
2015 59 41 58 42
2016 53 47 55 45
2017 71 29 75 25
2018 56 41 66 34
2019 67 33 67 33
2020 69 31 74 26

As any author knows, submission and publication timelines and outcomes are different! If we look at what is actually published in the journal, we see that not only can commissioning help address the under-representation of women among those submitting articles, it also usually results in more gender-balanced issues. In 2015, the ratio of male to female authors published in the CHR was 72:28 – the year where there was the greatest disparity. However, without commissioned content that ratio would have been much worse, 82:18! 2016 and 2020 were outliers: in both those years commissioned content actually increased the representation of men somewhat. Again, this is partly due to timing: what gets published is shaped in part by when authors return their revisions to us.

In addition to commissioning content, the CHR also created a new phase in the peer review process, to try to provide additional support for authors whose submissions had potential, but where the co-editors believed the submitted article stood a strong chance of being rejected outright by peer reviewers if sent out in its current form. The category of “Editorial Revise and Resubmit” was created for these submissions. The authors of these manuscripts receive a letter from the editors asking for specific revisions to strengthen the article (a discussion of the research methodology, or greater engagement with the historiography, for example) prior to it being sent out for external peer review, in the hopes of generating a more positive end result. Although this process was not specifically designed with an eye to addressing the gender imbalance issue, it was hoped that this might make the peer review process more collegial and supportive. Many articles that have been published in the CHR’s pages over the past several years have benefitted from this initial revision process.

But back to the pandemic. If we look at 2020, what’s striking is that the journal got more than twice as many submissions from men than women. That’s about a 70:30 ratio. After March 2020, when everything shut down, 72 percent of our submissions were from men and 28 percent from women.

If we look only at what we received over-the-transom after March 2020, then the ratio becomes even starker: 82 percent of the unsolicited pieces we received were authored by men, 18 percent by women. There was a huge, collective sigh of relief and cheering when, in the late summer, we finally got something we hadn’t asked for that was written by a woman scholar.

We can gain a bit more insight into where pandemic pressures are being felt if we break those numbers down a bit further, by career stage. After March 2020, the real disparities seem to be among full professors and graduate students: men made up 89 percent of the submissions from full professors and 88 percent of submissions from graduate students. For comparison, from 2015-2020, men made up 62 percent of submissions from full professors and 63 percent of submissions from graduate students.

Thankfully, commissioned content means these pandemic-related disparities won’t show up in what the journal will publish in 2021 – or at least not to the extent they would if the CHR relied only on unsolicited submissions.

Although gender has been the focus of this particular blog post, we’re aware that the journal needs to work on improving its representation of other under-represented authors. Other efforts are underway to encourage submissions from Indigenous and Black authors, as well as ones from people of color.

COVID’s effects will extend beyond this year, and reverberate beyond the CHR to other journals and scholarly publishing. The journal’s efforts to address this will continue and we welcome a larger conversation about how to ensure the journal includes a diversity of perspectives and voices.

Matthew Hayday has been the co-editor of the Canadian Historical Review since 2018, and served prior to that on its editorial board for three years, and as its associate editor for a year. He is a professor of Canadian history at the University of Guelph.

Tina Loo has been co-editor of the Canadian Historical Review since 2019. She teaches and researches Canadian and environmental history the University of British Columbia.

Catherine Desbarats is the Associate Editor of the Canadian Historical Review. She is a historian of colonialism in New France and the French Atlantic World. She teaches in the Department of History and Classical Studies at McGill University.

Offering a comprehensive analysis on the events that have shaped Canada into its current state, the Canadian Historical Review is a benchmark in the exploration of Canadian society and its institutions. Each issue contains a series of insightful articles that examine Canadian history from both a multicultural and multidisciplinary perspective, along with in-depth reviews of books that are of importance to all those interested in Canadian history.

[1] Elise Chenier, Lori Chambers and Anne Frances Toews, “Still Working in the Shadow of Men? An Analysis of Sex Distribution in Publications and Prizes in Canadian History,” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 26, no. 1 (2015): 291-318.

[2] The journal doesn’t officially request this data from authors and reviewers, so the analysis is based on what could be gleaned from publicly available information in order to at least get some broad trends. Our focus in this early phase of data analysis was on gender and career stage. We’re aware that journal hasn’t historically published a significant number of publications by racialized minorities and Indigenous people; this is due in part to their under-representation in the field as a whole.

[3] The numbers for male and female authors don’t add up to 100 because 2018 was the first year we had an author who explicitly self-identified as non-binary.

The UTP Journals blog features guest posts from our authors. The opinions expressed in these posts may not necessarily represent those of UTP Journals and their clients.

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