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Male Academics May Be The Ultimate ‘Mansplainers,’ Study Says

The male professor’s go-to expert? Himself

Image via CC (credit: D Coatzee)

A common notion is that men are the worst mansplainers. Well, actually, men in academia hold that title, if one study is viewed in a certain light. Allow me to mansplain.


The study in question took a look at the practice of so-called “self-citation,” wherein professors play the ivory tower’s game of proving legitimacy through citing those with legitimacy by dropping footnotes to their own published work.

"Over the years between 1779-2011,” the researchers found, “men cite their own papers 56 percent more than women do. In the last two decades of our data, men self-cite 70 percent more than women."

These trends are consistent with anecdotal evidence that if men like to hear themselves talk, men with advanced and prestigious degrees love to do so. But they’re also consistent with stories that prestigious academic publications have developed a mania for using citations as a mechanism to weed out submissions.

Example? A leading scholar of nationalism once complained to me that a paper he submitted came back with comments demanding more citations to authoritative work on nationalism—work that, if it played by the rules, would almost certainly just cite his own prior, foundational work. “I am the authority on nationalism,” he sighed. From one perspective, the put-out prof is a prime example of the self-referential professorial male. From another, however, his desire to see his work published merely chafed against the absurdity of citation mania—the root of the silly practice of overloading on the self-cites that have exposed his fellow academic men to charges of ultimate mansplaining.

And, in fact, women in academia who are unable to muster a long track record of prior work to pad out their citations are in just the same boat. If they write up some research or theorization that breaks new ground, establishes new sub-disciplines, or otherwise just doesn’t need a library’s worth of citations to perform legitimacy, they’ll likely get the same kind of feedback as the established old-school male professor who can’t bear to play the publication game created by his younger, more prestige-obsessed colleagues. I’ll leave it to you to guess what kind of feedback a study pursuing that hunch would receive.

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