Journal apologises for review’s ‘lady author’ slur

Sussex historian Joanne Paul said she felt she ‘had not been taken seriously’ after reading sexist review of her work

December 22, 2017
Joanne Paul

A journal has apologised after a female academic was repeatedly referred to as a “lady author” in a review of her first book.

Joanne Paul, lecturer in early modern history at the University of Sussex, said that she was shocked by the use of the description in a review of her book, Thomas More, by Peter Milward, a recently deceased Jesuit priest and literary scholar.

“My sincere compliments are due, as reviewer, both to the publisher and to the lady author of this unique publication of Thomas More as thinker,” Professor Milward wrote in the Heythrop Journal.

He later continued: “On the other hand, I find I have also to offer the lady author my equally sincere condolences on having had to undertake such an impossible task as she has, with the connivance of her publisher, set herself.”

After receiving the review, Dr Paul said that she emailed the journal’s editor, Patrick Madigan, to query the matter, but said that he “did not offer an apology” and instead blamed the use of the term on a “stylistic lapse”.

The review received fierce backlash after a link was posted on Twitter, however.

“Lady author? What is this, the 18th century?” responded Marion Wilson Kimber, a researcher of music and gender at the University of Iowa.

“The journal's continued use of that offensive language is a disgrace,” said Lisa Smith, professor of digital history at the University of Essex.

A search of other reviews in the journal by Professor Milward, who was emeritus professor of English literature at Sophia University in Tokyo until his death last August, reveals at least 13 previous mentions of the term “lady author” between 2013 and 2017.

“Reading this review was a punch in the gut,” Dr Paul told Times Higher Education. “Not because anything negative was said about the book, but because it felt like I was not being taken seriously as the author of a book I had worked very hard on and was proud of.

“My name was not even mentioned,” she added. “‘Lady author’ was a sign of a condescension that pervaded the review and made me feel less like a proud and confident scholar, and more like a schoolchild who had been misled and wandered into something she could not possibly understand.”

A statement from Wiley, the publisher, said that the editor of the Heythrop Journal “was remiss in not exercising sufficient editorial oversight, specifically in not correcting certain expressions that are offensive in nature and hold no place in professional academic discourse.

“There is no excuse for this and we deeply apologise to Dr Paul and the guild of scholars as a whole...We can assure you that this experience will not be repeated, and we will be examining our process of peer review and approval in light of this incident.”

The same text was used in an apology published online by Heythrop Journal on 14 December.

“[Professor Milward] was an impressive and eminent scholar, and I was honoured to be reviewed by him,” said Dr Paul. “[The sexist reference] should not have gotten through an editorial process, however. This is an extreme case, I grant. But not an entirely isolated one, and one that is indicative of deeper issues.”

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

It's disrespectful to publish an article about this really very minor issue just after the reviewer in question has passed away. And by the way, the fact that Professor Milward lived in Tokyo might explain how he might have developed something of a tin ear when it came to contemporary scholarly diction. Just when I thought THE couldn't sink any lower. God help the universities in this country if these articles reflect general opinion on campuses.
I see what you are doing here. I quite enjoyed the 18th-century flavoured phrasing "contemporary scholarly diction".

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