Women in philosophy

Jennifer Saul on the psychological biases adversely affecting philosophy – and what we can do about it.

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.

What’s the explanation for this? It used to be thought that women were simply unsuited to philosophy. As Hegel puts it: “Women can, of course, be educated, but their minds are not adapted to the higher sciences, philosophy, or certain of the arts …. The difference between man and woman is the same as between animal and plant.”

This view is, for obvious reasons, less popular now. However, quite a few people, both feminist philosophers and philosophers of psychology, have drawn on the importantly distinct idea that women approach things differently, and that philosophy is the poorer for not fitting well with women’s ways of thinking. One version of this idea can be found in Carol Gilligan and another in very recent work by Wesley Buckwalter and Steve Stich. These claims of women’s difference, however, have never held up well empirically, as Louise Antony argues eloquently in her “Different Voices or Perfect Storm”.

Another commonly floated explanation is that women’s family commitments make it more difficult for them to progress professionally. This may well be true (studies do show that women continue to do the majority of housework and childcare). But it fails to explain why philosophy should show such a different profile than other fields of the arts and humanities, which have achieved (or surpassed) parity. If anything, one would expect it to be easier to thrive as a mother and philosopher than as a mother and scholar of French literature, who is far more likely to need to travel to archives and the like.

I am firmly convinced that there are multiple factors involved in causing the under-representation of women, factors that interact with and compound each other. One important one is the likelihood that women in philosophy experience an unusually high level of sexual harassment. It is very hard to get good data, comparative or otherwise on prevalence of sexual harassment due to very low rates of official reporting. However, many have been shocked by the stories reported at What is it Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy (beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com). As the editor of this blog, I have been even more shocked by the large number of cases I have been contacted about which never appeared on the blog due to fear of identification.

Here, however, my main focus will be on implicit bias and stereotype threat, two well-established psychological phenomena. In the cases of implicit bias most relevant to this topic, people are found to hold unconscious biases against members of those groups that are negatively stigmatised in their culture. The biases take the form of, for example, a tendency to associate men rather than women more strongly with leadership. These biases are extremely widespread, and found both in members of the stigmatised groups and in those who are consciously highly egalitarian. Importantly, these biases are also very likely to be part of the explanation for the under-representation of other groups as well. We lack good data on the racial, class, sexual orientation or disability makeup of philosophy, but surely it is difficult to doubt that philosophy is overwhelmingly white, middle class, straight and non-disabled (and to a far greater degree, in fact, than it is male). These issues will not be my focus here, but it bears remembering that part of the reason there is so much discussion of women in philosophy these days is that there are now enough women in prominent positions to put this topic on the agenda. This is less so for other groups.

The implicit biases of philosophers have not yet been studied (although I’m working on it). However, there are widespread unconscious biases in our culture which bring it about that the same CV is considered less strong with a typically female or black name at the top of it, and that (for example) women having trouble being taken seriously as leaders. Women are also likely to receive weaker letters of reference and, when not marked anonymously, lower marks.

Now on to stereotype threat. This manifests itself when members of a group that is negatively stigmatised at some task are made aware of their group membership in a high stakes situation where they care about doing well. In such situations, we see underperformance from groups as diverse as white men at Princeton doing sports, girls doing mathematics and black students engaging in a test of academic ability. The reminder of group membership can come from many sources – ticking a box indicating gender, engaging in a stereotyped task (colouring in a picture of a girl holding a doll, for example) or simply being one of very few women in the room. When this happens, people who normally perform just as well as those from positively stereotyped groups see their performance decline precipitously.

Although we don’t yet have studies of philosophers, there is good reason to suppose that both implicit biases and stereotype threat play a role in perpetuating the under-representation of women in the field. In addition to biases against women that are widespread in the culture, it seems likely that philosophy as a field is stereotyped as male. Feminist philosophers have argued this point for decades (as in Sally Haslanger’s landmark “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy”). But it’s frankly what one would expect in a field that is nearly 80% male – it would be very surprising, given these demographics, if philosophy wasn’t associated with maleness. Add to this the fact that philosophy makes heavy use of logic (often requiring it for an undergraduate degree) and the well-established fact that mathematics is stereotyped, quite strongly, as male.

If this is right, then it’s very likely that women face a lot of barriers due to implicit bias. Their work is likely to be taken less seriously at every stage if not dealt with anonymously – from early student comments in discussions to work being marked and submitted for publication. (Although most refereeing in philosophy is anonymous, very little editing is and editors reject up to 65% of submissions without sending them to referees.) And these biases will continue to work against them as they apply for jobs, tenure and promotion. It bears emphasising that these biases will cause all sorts of people to fail to appreciate the quality of womens’ work – of all genders and political persuasions, including even those who are actively fighting for equality.

Stereotype threat will also cause women in philosophy to underperform. It will be regularly triggered – by exclusively or nearly exclusively male reading lists, overwhelmingly male lecturers, department seminar speakers and conference programmes. As they progress further in their careers, their colleagues will become increasingly male as well. Combine this with implicit biases, and it is not at all surprising that those who are not white males should have difficulty flourishing in philosophy.

The bright spot in all of this is that we can rather readily do something about it – both as a profession and as individuals. The first step, though, is to move away from a widely-held picture of biases. On this conception, things like sexism and racism are a matter of conscious beliefs, easily introspectable. This is a reassuring picture, as most of us well-meaning people can introspect and see that we don’t have any of those nasty racist and sexist beliefs. Having done due diligence in this way, we can trust ourselves to assess work, students and job candidates fairly. What we know about implicit biases shows this to be wrong. We are all likely to hold biases of which we are unaware, and we are likely to be similarly unaware of the ways that these biases are affecting our judgements in particular cases. Once we acknowledge this, we can begin to do something about it.

Whether or not we’re blameworthy for our implicit biases or their effects is a matter of considerable debate. (My own view is that in many cases we are not.)

But it is very clear that once we know about implicit biases, we acquire an obligation to try to do something about them. And philosophy will be far better off for our doing so: as things stand now, we are very likely assessing work unfairly at all levels unless we’ve anonymised. This means people are not getting the marks they deserve, and we’re not selecting the right papers for publication. We’re also likely to fail to hire the best candidates. Stereotype threat is very likely to be causing some of the most talented women to underperform. The quality of work being published in philosophy, then, is lower than it otherwise would be – both due to actual underperformance and due to unconscious biases affecting assessment at all stages. Both for the sake of fairness and for the sake of philosophy, then, one should want to do something.

And there is a lot we can do, both as a profession and as individuals. The most obvious step is to anonymise whatever we can. Anonymised marking is nearly universal in the UK, but almost unheard of in the US. (For any Americans reading this, anonymity can easily be accomplished by having all students put their name only on cover sheets. Before you start grading, fold all cover sheets back. Don’t look at them again until you’re done grading. Anoymised refereeing is widespread but anonymous editing isn’t – and it’s increasingly straightforward to implement as more journals move to electronic submission.

But anonymity is not always feasible, and anyway it would do nothing for stereotype threat. To address these problems at their source, we need to change the stereotypes. The best way to do this is to expose people to what are known as “counter-stereotypical exemplars”, well-known people who fail to perform to the stereotypes of their stigmatised groups. Even brief exposure can be effective in blocking the operation of implicit biases – gazing at a picture of Martin Luther King for a few minutes before taking a race Implicit Association Test dramatically alters performance. But obviously the more exposure the better. That’s why it’s such a good idea to try to avoid all-male conferences and edited volumes. We should also try to put women on our syllabi, and also to hire them and get them as PhD students. All this, however, is easier said than done.

The most basic thing for accomplishing all of these goals is to begin with a bit of distrust for our initial judgements. For example, the first names that leap to mind for a syllabus or conference are likely to be men, whether or not they are actually the best people to have. Spending a bit of time trying to think of some women who work on the topic will in all likelihood lead to the inclusion of some excellent people one might not otherwise have thought of. (It’s worth recalling also that prominence in the field will be partly a function of biases –there are very likely plenty of women who deserve to be prominent but are not so.)

Our initial judgements of job candidates are likely to be influenced by their gender. There are many ways we can try to counteract this. A key one is to make sure that we never fall back on a simple feeling of fit, but instead examine and discuss our judgements carefully. Another is to make sure we agree upon multiple data points and their relative priority in advance – studies have shown that judgements of the importance of criteria can switch in some worrying ways (credentials most important if they’re what the male candidate has, work experience more important if that’s his stronger suit). Multiple data points will also help correct for individual bits that may have been affected by stereotype threat: a job talk to an overwhelmingly male audience may not be as accurate a measure of a woman’s abilities as a writing sample, for example.

My final suggestion may actually be the most difficult to implement: it’s to stop talking about “who’s smart”, a widespread vice of philosophers in my experience. As Eric Schwitzgebel notes, these sweeping judgements are really very problematic: “I have been collecting anecdotal data on seeming smart. One thing I’ve noticed is what sort of person tends spontaneously to be described, in my presence, as ‘seeming smart’. A very striking pattern emerges: In every case I have noted the smart-seeming person has been a young white male …. Seeming smart is probably to a large extent about activating people’s associations with intelligence. This is probably especially true when one is overhearing a comment about a complex subject that isn’t exactly in one’s expertise, so that the quality of the comment is hard to evaluate. And what do people associate with intelligence? Some things that are good: poise, confidence (but not defensiveness), giving a moderate amount of detail but not too much, providing some frame and jargon, etc. But also, unfortunately, I suspect: whiteness, maleness, a certain physical bearing, a certain dialect (one American type, one British type), certain patterns of prosody –all of which favor, I suspect, upper- to upper-middle class white men.”

Smartness claims are also remarkably immune to counter-evidence (“He’s smart, he just doesn’t work very hard”; “She’s not really smart, she just works very hard”). Moreover, smartness judgements are deeply tied to the notion that there is such a thing as smartness, of which some people are lucky enough to have a big dose while the unlucky get less. And this view of intelligence, Carol Dweck has shown, makes it easier for stereotype threat and implicit bias to do their nasty work. Teaching people instead that intelligence is malleable and can be increased through effort helps to insulate against both phenomena. It also helps to motivate people to seek out challenges and to work hard.

In short, there is much that we can all do to fight the implicit biases and stereotype threat that are very likely impeding the process of women (and other groups) in philosophy. My view is that we should all start doing these things whenever we can: they will increase fairness, and improve philosophy.

Further reading

The report authored by Jennifer Saul and Helen Beebee, with more detail on these biases as well as thoughts about what we can do to combat them is called, “Women in Philosophy in the UK”. It’s available at swipuk.org/notices/2011-09-08.

For the view from America, see Kathryn Norlock’s “Women in the Profession”, available at apaonlinecsw.org/workshops-and-summer-institutes.

Kieran Healy’s graph showing the percentage of PhDs awarded in the US to women by discipline, see kieranhealy.org/files/misc/phil-by-discipline.pdf

For readings on implicit bias and stereotype threat, see biasproject.org/recommended-reading and reducingstereotypethreat.org. You can take the Implicit Association Test at Project Implicit implicit.harvard.edu/implicit.

For more on avoiding all-male conferences, see the Gendered Conference Campaign feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/gendered-conference-campaign.

Jennifer Saul is professor and head of department at the University of Sheffield, director of the Implicit Bias and Philosophy Research Network (biasproject.org), and director of SWIP-UK. She is co-author with Helen Beebee of the BPA/SWIP Report “Women in Philosophy in the UK” and author of Lying, Misleading and What is Said: An Exploration in Philosophy of Language and in Ethics (forthcoming, Oxford University Press).

Leave a comment ?

25 Comments.

  1. That was a very instructive article. I had no idea philosophy fared so much worse than other disciplines in attracting women. Although I’m sure the considerations offered in the article are compelling explanations for women being disadvantaged in a predominantly male environment, I didn’t really understand how they might explain why philosophy has been less successful than other disciplines in partially overcoming the disadvantages generated by implicit biases and stereotype threat — though I understand that work is ongoing in these areas and perhaps some answers will emerge.

    One thing that occurs to me in thinking about what might make philosophy more severely inaccessible to women than other disciplines is the following. In many other disciplines, every practitioner builds a body of work and expertise which is something distinct from her performance in the fray of discussion. A scientist, for example, conducts an experiment and achieves certain results. A historian develops knowledge of a particular set of sources that few other academics have examined. If the scientist’s or the historian’s work goes well, its results will be replicated, confirmed, extended by others and will lose something of their “personal” quality: they will increasingly be identified in terms of their factual content rather than as the words of an individual.

    In philosophy there is not perhaps the same distinction available between one’s work, on the one hand, and one’s discussion of it, on the other hand. The work that one does simply IS (in print or in the seminar room) the bringing of one’s own ideas into the discursive fray with the ideas of other people. Tellingly, it is named individuals (Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume … Kripke, Nagel, Nozick, Rawls) that we are asked to study, to a far greater extent than in other disciplines. It is mind on mind, not mind on matter.

    I don’t (personally) think that that necessarily makes for a more combative style, one that is somehow less woman-friendly — although it might well do at the undergraduate level and in quite a few poorer-quality philosophical discussion contexts. But what might be possible is that the enduringly *personal* classification of contributions to philosophy highlights the originators of ideas, and consequently the gender of those originators, in a way that perhaps give more scope for the operation of implicit bias and stereotype threat.

  2. re “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”.

    Why would a likely explanation for this be that professional philosophers, taken as a group, are more prone to engage in sexual harassment than professionals in the other humanities? Isn’t a more likely explanation for the lower numbers of women employed in philosophy the fact that modern philosophy has come to be far more like mathematics and the physical sciences? In other words, the very factors that lead to lower numbers in mathematics and the physical sciences (whatever they may be) are the same factors in philosophy. Modern philosophy has become rather unlike the other ‘humanities’, which are, to simplify, concerned with the human condition; and much more like a branch of mathematics/physical sciences, with its stress upon theoretical logic, its frequent (constant?) obeisance to both the findings of science, and its methods, and the implicit assumption of many of its practitioners that it works hand-in-hand with science, physics particularly.

  3. Great article, and here’s friendly suggestion about anonymity. I do electronic only submissions, and I know a lot of other professors do as well. The cover sheet method isn’t really feasible. However, I think there are two good options for electronic submissions.

    1. Have the student put their name at the end of the paper. Maybe even on a brand new separate page.

    2. Have the student highlight their name and change the background color to black. You’ll see a black box where their name should be. Highlighting the box will reveal the name.

  4. As an academic new to the US, and coming from the UK, the lack of anonymization is troubling and frustrating. I’m trying to encourage my colleagues to use it, but they have understandable concerns about it being a hassle, given current submission procedures (though for hard copy grading Prof. Saul’s cover page idea is simple and ingenious – I guess you could also have them put the cover page at the back of the document instead of the front).

    For example, many of us use TurnItIn for electronic grading, and while it provides some good online tools such as plagiarism reporting, it does not currently allow for anonymous grading. I have therefore been reduced to having students submit anonymous papers, then using strategically placed sticky notes to avoid learning their identity (TurnItIn displays their name at the top of the grading screen, whether you like it or not). This is pretty ludicrous, and makes me reluctant to advocate seriously for others do the same.

    TurnItIn UK of course *does* have anonymous grading, because the QAA demanded it – hooray for the QAA! All that’s needed to provide the service in the US as well is therefore for TurnItIn to remove the ‘off-switch’ in the code for all non-UK services. If you read this important article and feel as I do that we should be practicing anonymous grading, please consider contacting TurnItIn and asking them to allow anonymization on their US service. You can reach them at sales@turnitin.com and just send them a link to the article.

    I have already done my best to relay all of this stuff to a TurnItIn representative via telephone. The representative had never even heard of implicit bias, and though receptive, was unable to commit to anything, and merely passed the buck to superiors with whom I was unable to speak.

  5. Jenny saul om women in philosophy « Feminist Philosophers - pingback on October 18, 2012 at 4:15 am
  6. My understanding is that there is some evidence to suggest that the impact of biases is lessened, or even in some cases eliminated, when people operate under certain kinds of motivation: a motivation to be accurate, what’s called ‘outcome dependency’ (which is, I gather, the belief that an outcome of importance to the assessor depends on the person assessed), and a concern about biases. [See Cordelia Fine, 2006. “Is the emotional dog wagging its rational tail, or chasing it?”, Philosophical Explorations 9, 83–98, especially 87–88.]

    I wonder whether you know the extent to which these factors are controlled for in the research you rely on.

    One reason this is an interesting question, I think, is that it seems likely that these motivations may be operative to a higher degree in real assessment situations than in test situations. For example, in a test situation the assessor may not believe that an outcome of importance to him or her hinges on the person assessed, but in real hiring situations this will often be the case, since the assessor faces the prospects of having to be a colleague with the assessed person for years to come. One might wonder, first and foremost, whether the research accounts for outcome dependency at all, but it is also interesting to ask the extent to which outcome dependency can be properly simulated in a test scenario at all (within ethical limits).

    Similarly, we might conjecture that a person may be more strongly motivated to be accurate when a real hiring decision is at issue than when in a test situation. And, as you allude to in your article, we may hope that many of those that are on hiring committees are rather concerned to avoid biases.

    Anyway, I do not intend to try to undermine anything you say, and I do not intend to suggest that biases are not operative at all levels. (And the motivations in question seem unlikely to be as significant in many other important arenas, for example in marking student papers or assessing journal submissions.) I just wonder whether you (or anyone else) know whether the research tries to control for this, if so, how, and the extent to which you believe they are successful in so doing.

  7. Just a quick note on anonymity. When I was an undergrad in the US (I am now in the UK), many of my professors required cover letters to be attached to the end of the essay. If I ever go back to the US, I will follow this example.

    Also, I can say that with few exceptions, my female students do better *overall* in my classes. However, when speaking with some of the top ones about graduate work it is almost always out to the question. The thought of doing philosophy “professionally” is never taken seriously. But for my male students, it is something they almost all have considered (even the not so stellar ones).

    I have a hard time imagining that these female students avoid graduate work in philosophy because of implicit bias. I think the answer is much less complex: it simply does not appeal to them (as hard as it is imagine).

    Before assuming the worst, I think we should wait to see where the evidence takes us. In the meantime, statements like this- “Although we don’t yet have studies of philosophers, there is good reason to suppose that both implicit biases and stereotype threat play a role in perpetuating the under-representation of women in the field.”-are incredibly irresponsible. Why? Because even before serious research is done you seem to know the answer.

  8. Philosophy and Sexism… | philosophyfactory - pingback on October 18, 2012 at 5:06 pm
  9. It is surely a healthy move to look at issues of bias empirically, looking at the relevant research in psychology. I wonder if it would be worthwhile to examine more closely at exactly what point sexism occurs occurs in philosophy. Someone might profitable examine tenure rates for men and women to see if they differ. There seem to be fewer women than men being hired and tenured. Why is this? We should not just intuit! And that goes for all views. One could take those who went through the tenure process and rate their publication record, perhaps using the top 20 list of journals that appeared on the Leiter site, perhaps giving a 20 for a Philosophical Review paper, and then less for other on that list. Then one could consider the total publications score of a candidate at the tenure stage and where they got through tenure, and see if gender if making a difference. One advantage of this is that there is minority of men who complain, rarely in public, that women are advantaged not disadvantaged in academic decisions. They claim that being a women makes it twice or more likely a person will be tenured than a man other things being equal. This again is hearsay. An empirical approach could see off this complaint, as well as help the cause of women in philosophy by seeing wherether there is sexism in the tenure granting process. Or perhaps it occurs elsewhere. Better empirical than intuitive!

  10. Update On Being a Woman in a Male-Dominated Field - pingback on October 19, 2012 at 1:16 pm
  11. I find all this so sad. I have never been aware of discrimination on grounds of gender, and I believe my philosophising has always received the respect – or otherwise – it deserves. I certainly hope no female philosopher will (as Rose Woodhouse suggests in ‘Update On Being a Woman in a Male-Dominated Field’) contemplate concealing her forename when submitting written work or a job application.

    However, it is noticeable that female philosophy under-and-post graduates rarely give off the same air of confidence as their male counterparts. Unfortunately, confident and sustained argument is attractive to academics. I once heard a Cambridge professor saying he always went for fresh and fierce young minds. In this context Jennifer Saul’s comment on “seeming smart” is spot-on: (“He’s smart, he just doesn’t work very hard”; “She’s not really smart, she just works very hard”).

    So where is fresh and fierce among females if they do not push their arguments through without fear – or expectation – of looking silly? Lack of female input is noticeable on philosophy blogs; so often we just read coy little one-liners.

    But is fresh and fierce in itself enough? It is worth looking at the dynamics among female politicians. Why are some women vociferous and innovative but unpersuasive? Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton show that a certain transcendence or disdain of sexuality gives argument a cooler power-vibe. This is not just a female issue. The very few male philosophers who over-groom create a similar barrier to be being taken seriously. I once attended a lecture where an Oxford vision in Byronic blue velvet had to work hard – indeed glare – to get his perfectly good arguments across.

    I wish the male-female imbalance among paid philosophers could be rectified. But I do see how this will ever be achieved by female bleating about unfairness.

  12. Very interesting, but why no discussion of those fields of arts and humanities where women are overrepresented? Just not a problem worth looking into, eh?

  13. Addressing gender bias in philosophy « Catherine E. Hundleby - pingback on November 5, 2012 at 1:02 am
  14. Harwood Farcourt

    “In the UK, women are 46% of undergraduate students in philosophy, but only 24% of permanent staff.”

    Gee, do you suppose the tenure/hiring process is biased against women? Well, if you think that’s a big problem, try calculating the percentage of conservatives with permanent staff positions.

    When academics take that problem seriously, then I’ll be ready to listen to your complaints about the apparent bias against women. Until that happens, hard cheese, baby.

  15. Jack, you’re kidding, right?

    Jack, red herring much? Misread titles much? “Addressing gender bias in PHILOSOPHY” is just that — not an argument denying an imbalance could exist elsewhere.

    The professions that immediately come to mind when I think of those in which women are mostly overrepresented, in the Western cultures, are — 1.the service industries: hospitality (as wait/barstaff, not managers and cooks; 2. medicine: as nurses, not as doctors or administrators; 3. education: as teachers, not as department heads and administrators and not at the most prestigious universities; and 4. personal ‘assistants’ of all sorts — interpret loosely.

  16. This has been welcome but painful reading. Thank you.
    As a young Philosophy student at London University I found myself for the first time in my life among other minds equal to my own. This was disorienting and triggered a dive in confidence..
    I was also completely unprepared for the unstructured task demands. “Write a paper on Descartes’ Meditations” left me lost at sea. I was used to compare and contrast, comment on a statement, give for and against analysis, or examine the theme of.
    So far so ungendered.

    I also knew I was breaking a sound barrier. I’d read Plato’s dialogues, and seen the colossal absence of women apart from an embarrassing wife and a witchy inspiration. Even the Meno slave used to demonstrate the untrained mind was a boy.
    None of the other books I saw on shelves in the Philosophy Dept were by women. One faculty member was female but like so many female academics in unsupportive contexts she survived by being self effacing, silent, almost invisible.

    Trying to talk to other undergrad girls didn’t work well at all. To my consternation they gabbled about boys and fashion no differently to the shopgirls I knew from my paid employment. Trying the undergrad boys got further but I was crushed by the arrogant throwaway comments, the name dropping and jargon games. It took years to learn thatr they were actually more ignorant than I was but a lot more keen to hide it. For that reason but also my gender I felt a gulf between us as if I had two heads. Definitely I was a freak.

    By my second term I was completely in a mess. I had done no assignments and didn’t know how to start. (See issue of unstructured demand above) I went to see the Dept. Tutor to ask for help.
    This man was then just a standard faculty lecturer. He is now famous so I would not dare name him. In his office I stumbled through an account of not knowing how to handle other students who were so clever (apparently) when I had always been used to being the clever one. How the papers I was asked to write did not tell me WHAT to write. That I felt like leaving and giving up.
    I think i subsided in sniffles.
    The Man, tall, in a crisp pin striped shirt, with horn glasses, and tweed trousers, loomed above me behind his desk. “Yes well,” he said. “I have noticed that you are a very neurotic young woman and I seriously recommend that you go to a therapist for your problems.”

    Needless to say I was devastated. I sleepwalked out of his `office and the condemnation is still with me today, 40 years later. I was inadequate because I was neurotic (I showed my feelings) + young (I was a student) + a woman.
    Short of transforming all key aspects of my being I could do nothing about my defects.

    In those days students were not so micro managed as now. I drifted through the rest of that year still not writing a word! Luckily the following year I was` assigned to a remarkable and unusual tuto: Arnold Zuboff, who dedicated much time to salvaging me as a student. But I never really regained my confidence. Largely due to his efforts combined with my own bitter determination, I gained an Hons 2.1.

    But apart from him the people in Philosophy were just unspeakable. Dick waving fools, as I know now. I left and took up another field of study though I still loved Philosophy. But the price as a woman was too high.

    Today my son has been accepted to do Philosophy at London University. There is happiness in that. I look forward to revisiting the discourse. He will not have the same barriers and he already talks the talk through family habit.
    But I grieve for the highminded girl I was who was so harshly treated.

  17. I assume Professor Saul would also claim that the overrepresentation of persons with Asperger’s in philosophy is due to discrimination against non-Aspies. Her post ignores the vast scientific literature on average differences in male and female brains. To name just one relevant example, far more males have Asperger’s, which is conducive to “systematizing” fields fields such as math, physics, and academic philosophy. (See Simon Baron-Cohen’s research.) Music composition, too, requires this skill. Note that there are virtually no female composers even in musical theater–not exactly the most macho world.

    I’m a female professor of philosophy and I have no problem recognizing this. If you can’t stand unpleasant facts, get out of empiricism.

  18. I would point out that, at least in the UK, once you are on a philosophy degree it can be difficult to transfer to something else unless you have been taking courses in another subject. My experience of philosophy has been one of going from laughably easy and shallow courses to conceptually and analytically difficult courses. Quite frankly, had I known how difficult it would become I would have stuck with my science degree as it would have been easier.

    Now, most people are not going to want to repeat a year or more just to transfer from philosophy to something else just because they begin to find philosophy difficult. So from that perspective it makes sense that the number of graduates going into postgraduate education is low; particularly if the prior comments regarding male and female psychology/neuroscience is true. Overall, just because someone has an undergraduate philosophy degree doesn’t mean that 1) they want to pursue philosophy; 2) they are any good at philosophy; 3) they can afford 4+ years of postgraduate study in philosophy; or 4) they meet the entry requirements for postgraduate philosophy.

  19. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_female_composers_by_birth_year

    There are very few women composers that get programmed, true enough, but they exist. Just another instance of the same problem, not evidence against it.

Leave a Reply