Diversity Quotas for books? Should every edited book have at least one female contributer?

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A few years back, the BBC decided that they should insist on having at least one female on every panel show.  It was a well intentioned effort to correct an imbalance and specifically in the context of comedy to give more women comedians the opportunity to showcase their talents.

The other day, I saw this tweet.


The poster is taking a similar approach to theology and publishing.  She’s arguing that whenever there’s a publication that brings together a number of authors, almost like a panel discussion that there should be at least one female contributor.  Now, why does this matter?  Well, I think she has got a point there because those publications function a bit like the panels because as well as addressing a subject and encouraging debate, they also show-case the writing gifts of specific authors.  A publisher may not be willing to take a punt on investing in an unknown untested author. However, try them out in a compilation with other known names and you get to do two things. First, you get to see more of their writing ability and secondly, you introduce them to a wider audience so that when you do publish a whole book by them, others have heard of them.

Some of the interactions with the original post were concerning and no doubt will have convinced Kaitlyn that her argument was confirmed.  These responses at times amounted to “know your place. Women should not be attempting to study or teach theology.”  That’s utter nonsense. It’s shameful, ignorant stuff. It’s hurtful to so many sisters in Christ and dishonoring to him.

There were also a couple of people arguing that the lack of female contributors in books was down to the lack of female theologians generally. We can’t blame the publishers for that.  Now, that might be true to some extent but I think this misses the point Kaitlyn is making.  Her response I suspect would be that if that is the case (and she may challenge it) then that is a further element of the problem not an excuse for it. She would, I’m sure, argue that there should be more female theologians by now.

Some people may argue that there is a complementarian argument against women contributing to theological compendiums.  This would depend on your view of how teaching authority functions. Speaking as a complementarian, I don’t think that Scripture excludes women from writing or lecturing on theological disciplines.  I note that even the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has contributions from both male and female authors.

However, I don’t agree that the solution is to insist that we must have a quota of women contributing to edited books. I’m not keen on quotas generally.  I don’t think it helps the author. Are they included because their gifts have been recognised or to make up the numbers. Tokenism simply does not solve system issues in terms of racial, gender or class bias.

The second issue I have is because quotas are all well and good if we are just dealing with a binary issue but as I’ve begun to indicate, the issue is more complex.  It isn’t just that one group of people is excluded, it is that publishers are likely to prioritise certain groups of people and primarily it is to do with name recognition. This is part of the “blokes worth watching” culture that Glen Scrivener and Naomi Dawson have recently written about in Evangelicals Now.

That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been arguing that we need to do things to give more attention to those with the gift to write and contribute.  I have a particular concern to see more people from and engaged in urban ministry contexts writing and being read.  In other words, people from working class and non-white ethnic backgrounds. And that means that there may well be times when one priority trumps others.

The third issue I have is that good theology is applied theology and application includes contexts. There will be times when we want to apply something specifically to a pastoral situation that requires us to focus on hearing the voices of particular people.  For example, I can see a strong case for compendiums that look at experiences of domestic abuse that are exclusively written by women. Of course, there are men who suffer abuse too but there are differences in experience and a focused treatment may even enable those with slightly different experiences to learn by overhearing and applying analogically.

In the conversation on Twitter I mentioned that I’d participated in an edited book by seven male authors. “The pastor with a thorn in his side” is about the experience of men in ministry who have struggled with depression.  We wanted to write together because depression remains a bit of a taboo subject in wider society, there is an added taboo to talking about Christians having depression, a further layer is added if we are talking about those in full time Gospel work but a further layer again when we talk about men in full time Gospel work.

Now, by writing about one very specific and very challenging aspect of depression from one very specific perspective is not to deny that there are many other people, men and women, Christian and non-Christian, in ministry and out of ministry who suffer or who face particular taboo challenges in talking about it.  However, we felt that there was a particular need to address this specific aspect of it and we were keen to do that. At the same time, we were also aware (and have been encouraged by feedback to this effect) that by one specific group of people talking about one aspect off depression we were also giving people permission to talk more about their own experience and context. 

Fascinatingly, some of the aggressive responses to my example offered good illustrations about why it is hard for men and even harder for men in ministry to talk about mental health. 

Now, does this mean that only men will be heard on the topic?  I think not.  In fact, all of us who were involved in that particular project have been keen to point people to other resources on mental health and that includes quite a few brilliant books and other contributions from female authors.  I personally encourage people to take a look at Sharon Hastings “Wrestling with my thoughts” and Emma Scrivener “A New name.” I’ve also recently been asked to provide a review and endorsement for another book coming soon. This is just a heads up to watch out for that book because it will be a vital resource for the church.

On a side point, it may be argued that a book about depression is not a theological book but rather a pastoral one.  I don’t want to get too far into a debate which is one of the primary reasons for Faithroots existing but have a look at the tagline to this site “What we believe affects how we live.”  One of my burning concerns has been the unfortunate dichotomy created between what is theological and what is pastoral. However, that’s a discussion for another day.  What I would say is that this is simply an example of how particular subject matter may be a priority when selecting who to write.

So, I’m not convinced that diversity quotas are helpful when it comes to book editing. What I do think we need to be doing is generally encouraging more female theologians to write (and more African and Asian Theologians, more single theologians, more working class theologians etc).  I know of one publisher who is particularly seeking to address this issue and I’m sure that they would love to hear from anyone who might be able to help.

So, if you are, or know a woman who is interested in writing theology for publication, drop me a line via the Contact page and I’ll try and link you up with them.

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