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Thread: Women in Philosophy

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    Women in Philosophy

    Now that 99problems is in Purgatory, I can create a thread that I was sure would be utterly derailed otherwise.

    So in undergrad I was a philosophy major, I just completed a MA in philosophy last year and I've been admitted to a PhD program in philosophy this year. One of the things I have noticed as my stay in academic philosophy continued was a somewhat prominent issue, often discussed among my peers and on a number of online fora: the dearth of women in philosophy.

    Here are a couple of articles on the issue. To quote from the first:

    In the UK, women are 46% of undergraduate students in philosophy, but only 24% of permanent staff. Women are approximately 21% of professional philosophers in the US, but only 17% of those employed full-time. These figures are very unlike those for most fields of the humanities, in which women tend to be near or above parity with men. Indeed, they more closely resemble mathematics and physical sciences (biological sciences are much closer to parity). One recent study by Kieran Healy showed philosophy to be more male than mathematics, with only computer science, physics and engineering showing lower percentages of women.
    These numbers match up pretty well with the numbers I've seen regarding the proportion of women in academic philosophy in the US as well. Evidence seems to suggest that the drop-off happens very early: it is not just a case of fewer female philosophy majors going on to post-graduate work in philosophy. From the second article:

    At Georgia State, for example, women make up about 55 percent of Introduction to Philosophy students but only around 33 percent of philosophy majors.
    Additionally, according to a study mentioned in the second article:

    Overall, female students found the course less enjoyable and the material less interesting and relevant to their lives than male students. Compared to male students, they also felt that they had less in common with typical philosophy majors or with their instructors, reported feeling less able and likely to succeed in philosophy, were less comfortable participating in class discussions and were less inclined to take a second philosophy course or to major in philosophy. (Interestingly, however, they didn't anticipate receiving lower grades.)
    There are a number of hypotheses I've heard mentioned:

    A) There is a lack of female representation in philosophy faculty, which alienations women from the subject.
    B) There is a lack of female representation in philosophers studied, which alienates women from the subject.
    C) The dominant philosophical methodology is strongly correlated to 'masculine' forms of expression: assertive, often aggressive, debate and criticism. This alienates women who do not identify with those forms of expression.
    D) Implicit biases regarding women lead to different treatment by professors and peers which, in combination with C, creates an environment where women are often ignored or talked over and is therefore hostile, to some degree, to women.
    E) Sexual harassment and misogyny are still present in academic philosophy, creating a hostile field for women.

    The minimal research on the subject cited in the NPR piece seems to suggest that A and B are larger factors than C and possibly D. E is almost certainly a factor for female majors, graduate students and faculty but probably less of a factor for non-majors.

    I was curious what you all thought, both in regard to the possible causes and suggestions for how the situation could be altered. Obviously factors E and D should be eliminated as much as possible. But, for instance, A will be hard to change unless more women enter the field. I think it would be especially valuable to hear from some of the women here about their experiences with philosophy courses: what was it like, what could have been different that would have made philosophy more appealing and so on.

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    I remember reading this article about Women in Philosophy

    I've recently read two books by Martha Nussbaum and she's as brilliant as any modern philosopher I've encountered. These books have helped me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thevenin View Post
    I remember reading this article about Women in Philosophy

    I've recently read two books by Martha Nussbaum and she's as brilliant as any modern philosopher I've encountered. These books have helped me.
    There are so many brilliant female philosophers from the 20th (and 21st) centuries, there's little excuse not to be assigning them unless one's focus is historical: Karen Bennett, G.E.M. Anscombe, Martha Nussbaum, Christine Korsgaard, Onora O'neill, Philippa Foot, Patricia Churchland, Hannah Arendt, Linda Zagzebski, and Ruth Millikan to name some off the top of my head.

    Alleviating the number of male-authored readings gets a lot trickier if a course is historically oriented, though.

    By the way, which books did you read?

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    *resists*

    edit: fail.... can't.

    Spoiler: ...

    Ayn Rand

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    *resists*

    edit: fail.... can't.

    Spoiler: ...

    Ayn Rand
    I knew it!

    I won't comment on the legitimacy of this disposition, but I think you'd have more luck convincing most of the discipline to assign more readings by women than you would convincing most of the discipline to assign Ayn Rand even once in their academic lives. Heck, Ayn Rand is probably more universally maligned than the oft-maligned subfield of feminist philosophy (based on my experience).

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    Didn't come here to defend Ayn Rand or her philosophy. Just mention that she was a woman and a (imho, brilliant) philosopher.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    Didn't come here to defend Ayn Rand or her philosophy. Just mention that she was a woman and a (imho, brilliant) philosopher.
    Sorry, I wasn't trying to criticize her either. I was just remarking (tangentially) on what has struck me as an unusual feature of academic philosophy. I appreciate the contribution.

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    I'd like to comment further and on-topic, but it would necessarily (and from the perspective of the thread's topic, rather directly) digress into an attack on the academic system at large, from which perspective this particular failure of the system (women in philosophy qua academia) is just one of a whole spectrum of disappointing failures engendered by its salient, fundamental flaws; one leaf on one twig off the whole big, rotten, many-branched tree.

    *shrug*

    Edit: I guess, a relatively more on-topic way to put it.... as I see it, this problem supervenes upon deeper issues taking root in the academic system itself, as well as wider cultural matters pertaining to gender-role and so on. Any answers, and so solutions, start from solving those causes, as I see it. Fighting things at the purely academic level is just fighting effects, as such.

    Spoiler: at an angle to the topic

    This whole thing reminds me of a thread I had at the other place, "Fixing Philosophy". Maybe I'll re-start it here for some futile posterity....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    I'd like to comment further and on-topic, but it would necessarily (and from the perspective of the thread's topic, rather directly) digress into an attack on the academic system at large, from which perspective this particular failure of the system (women in philosophy qua academia) is just one of a whole spectrum of disappointing failures engendered by its salient, fundamental flaws; one leaf on one twig off the whole big, rotten, many-branched tree.

    *shrug*

    Edit: I guess, a relatively more on-topic way to put it.... as I see it, this problem supervenes upon deeper issues taking root in the academic system itself, as well as wider cultural matters pertaining to gender-role and so on. Any answers, and so solutions, start from solving those causes, as I see it. Fighting things at the purely academic level is just fighting effects, as such.

    Spoiler: at an angle to the topic

    This whole thing reminds me of a thread I had at the other place, "Fixing Philosophy". Maybe I'll re-start it here for some futile posterity....
    That sounds really interesting. I don't think it's necessarily off-topic (if you think the situation with women and philosophy is a symptom) but if you create a separate thread about it I will certainly read it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Krill View Post
    By the way, which books did you read?
    "The Therapy of Desire" and "Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions"

    For personal reasons, over the last three years, I've been reading the stoic philosophers, particularly Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. To me, there are appealing and useful aspects of this philosophy and it has been helpful and comforting. This led me to try to understand emotions in an organized, rigorous way--particularly the difference between positive and negative emotions. I remember once at the symphony reading in the Playbill a quote by Rabindranath Tagore as follows: "A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it." So, even though I'm an extreme INTP and we're supposed to eschew emotion (and, many deprecate it), I'm trying to understand emotion, which, obviously is an important part of all our lives. My wife, an INFJ, understands emotion intuitively and in a useful way. I'm just trying to get a basic handle on things. Nussbaum's approach fits the INTP preference for logic, yet she applies it brilliantly to what would seem least logical. I now understand that there is a logic to emotions.

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