Over the last several weeks and perhaps more gradually over the last year or so there seems to have been an increasing awareness of the many ways in which women are less incorporated into the world of academic philosophy than men are. During my life as a philosopher I have found a sense of being excluded puzzling and difficult in a variety of ways, but I have found it equally disturbing that there really just hasn’t been terribly much awareness of this fact.
But now we are have a moment when the discussion is being fed by an excellent series of posts by Evelyn Brister at Knowledge and Experience , picked up at Feminist Philosophers, and continued on the SWIP-list. These online discussions are echoes of others earlier this year. The issues seem to be gaining some traction. So much so that now, people are beginning to talk about how to do something to at least keep the conversation going, but maybe more importantly to begin to do something to change the circumstances.
So what to do? Here are some suggestions:
- I am very pro more data collection. I have been thinking for some time that what we need is collection of both quantitative and qualitative data about women in philosophy AND women who leave philosophy. There has been at least one SWIP post in the latest discussion that has looked at this question.
- Also along the lines of data collection, Sally Haslanger has been looking at women philosophers and journals. We need more of this as well. She has some resources available here.
Those are more old ideas, that is ideas that aren’t really mine but I am adding here because I think they are good ones. This final one is a newish idea and perhaps some people will not like it because it sounds a little “old-fashioned”, a bit like consciousness raising or something along those lines. But here goes anyway.
- I think that it is worthwhile for those of us who have persisted in philosophy to think hard about the ways in which gender has played a role in our lives as philosophers. I am saying this based on my own shifting understanding of these issues. Throughout my career many of the choices that I have made as well as many of the forces that shaped my choices turn out to have been influenced by my gender in a variety of ways that I was not aware of at the time. But more to the point, I worked very hard not to see them as being related to my gender at all. In the end I think that I did myself a disservice because of this but more importantly I think that failing to discuss how this happens harms others because they are apt to repeat more head-in-the-sand approach. I think it is important not just to think about it but to talk about it, not to bemoan the hard time that women philosophers have but to understand what needs to be changed and why.
So there are some suggestions for action. I am optimistic. I think we may be on the verge of some new ways of thinking about women in philosophy.
Update: I’ve just come across a book that seems to be doing the sort of thing that I am talking about above. It is not specifically by or about philosophers but more generally about women in the academy. See Mama, PhD.