English Studies – A Pioneer of Women’s Full Academic Establishment





By Renate Haas

In many, probably most, European countries, English Studies is widely considered a female domain, especially in terms of student numbers. Things may look rather different at the level of chairs and greatest influence. Nevertheless, many Anglicists are convinced that even in the higher and highest echelons they have achieved a better gender balance than other humanities disciplines and that English Studies has been a pioneer of Women’s and Gender Studies. Such impressions and convictions are not easy to prove, in particular as comprehensive statistics differentiating between the various subjects are missing. (This is, for instance, the case with the otherwise most useful She Figures of the European Commission.) Specific data for English Studies, which also allow comparison with neighbouring disciplines, are therefore most welcome, even if limited to a single country.

In the context of its Year of the Humanities 2007, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research commissioned CEWS / Center of Excellence Women and Science (Bonn), the leading EO research institute in the country, to do such an in-depth analysis of the vertical segregation and the glass ceiling effect. CEWS accordingly picked out the largest subjects, whose clientele made up almost 70 % of the humanities student total and which, at the same time, covered different, illuminating fields: German Studies, Education, English Studies, History, Psychology, and Philosophy. With a complex design, the researchers reconstructed a typical professorial career by starting from the habilitations (i.e. the exams qualifying for full professor) of 2004-6 and going back over the standard earlier rungs of the ladder: doctorates 1998-2000, graduations 1994-96, starts 1989. For each of these stages, as well as the totals of students in 1992, of regular academic staff in 2003 and of professors in 2005, the numbers and proportions of women and men were worked out in each of the six subjects. And English Studies proved to be quite exceptional.[1]

At virtually all stages, English had the highest female shares, leaving most other disciplines far behind, above all Philosophy and History, which turned out to be still extremely male-dominated. (Only at the beginner level was English Studies surpassed by Education by a negligible 0.6 %: Education 78.9 %, English 78.3 %.) English Studies was one of the subjects where the female shares increased between start and graduation. At the doctorate level, it could boast a female ratio of 62.0 %, while the six disciplines together just averaged 43.6 % and Philosophy and History lagged way behind with 25.6 and 36.1 % respectively. With 57.6 %, English Studies also led at the level of habilitations, whereas the whole group averaged 36.2 % and Philosophy and History merely attained 24.5 and 26.5 % respectively. 57.6 % furthermore meant that English was the only one among the six where women numerically still outweighed the male colleagues at this highest level of formal qualification. Concerning regular positions[2] and professorships, the pipe leaked enormously, but it still appeared to hit women in English less hard than elsewhere. A professorial ratio of 32.1 % was deplorably low, but nonetheless compared favourably with the 11.3 and 17.5 % of Philosophy and History.

The CEWS researchers were at a loss to explain the exceptional case of English Studies. They briefly speculated that it might have to do with characteristics of the discipline and mentioned the Anglo-American relations (2007: 26). More broadly, they might have added the strong international orientation of English Studies, which also includes Continental European connections. She Figures 2015, after all, was able to state that “[t]the propensity to integrate a gender dimension in research content increased faster in the EU than worldwide during the period from 2002 to 2013”.[3]

Apart from the EO merits of English Studies, the data, unfortunately, also document its poor job situation. As has been frequently observed across Europe, English Studies usually has to rely on a very broad base of untenured, often part-time staff.[4] With the CEWS statistics this shows drastically in comparison with other disciplines, in particular with heavily male-dominated History. Although English had more students than History at all three levels (beginners, totals and graduates), it had just a little more than half of History’s positions: the ratios being 1,263 : 2,115 for regular positions and 330 : 623 for professorships.

The poor job situation has far-reaching consequences. In the years covered by the CEWS statistics, doctorates in English Studies not even reached a quarter of the number of those in History (300 : 1,352), and habilitations not even one third (59 : 189). So, unfortunately, the good female percentages of English Studies rested on disproportionately small actual numbers. Sociologists would speak of horizontal segregation.

Surveying English Studies under gender aspects thus raises far-reaching questions about its position in society and the value authorities and the general public attach to its work and achievements. All in all, its exceptional female ratios may, nevertheless, count as an important success.


[1] CEWS, “Sonderauswertung: Retrospektive Verlaufsanalyse von Karriereverläufen in den Geisteswissenschaften”, Bund-Länder-Kommission für Bildungsplanung und Forschungsförderung, Chancengleichheit in Wissenschaft und Forschung. Elfte Fortschreibung des Datenmaterials (2005/2006) zu Frauen in Hochschulen und außerhochschulischen Forschungseinrichtungen (Bonn, 2007), pp. 15-29, esp. 24 f.; available at http://www.pedocs.de/volltexte/2008/441/pdf/t1621.pdf.

[2] The formulation is ‘chief occupation’, which is no longer synonymous with full-time.

[3] European Commission, She Figures 2015: Gender in Research and Innovation (Luxembourg: EU Publications Office, 2016), p. 149; available at https://ec.europa.eu/research/swafs/pdf/pub_gender_equality/she_figures_2015-final.pdf.

[4] Cp. Martin A. Kayman, “Report on a Survey of English Studies in Europe at the Turn of the Century”, European English Messenger 14:1 (2005), 15-30; available at https://essenglish.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/MAKreport.pdf.