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The long road to equality

Julian Baggini reports on a surge of activity questioning the low representation of women

Rubens’s Four Philosophers

Rubens’s Four Philosophers

Sally Haslanger is angry. “I entered philosophy about 30 years ago,” she told me at the American Philosophical Association’s Eastern Division meeting in Boston. “I had a budding feminist consciousness, and I thought then that there weren’t enough women on the reading lists in my classes or among my teachers. But I thought things would certainly change, given the importance of the feminist movement. I’ve been though the profession now and worked hard on the Committee on the Status of Women. I’ve worked hard in other forums like SWIP – the Society for Women in Philosophy – that were trying to advance women’s interests. After 30 years I was seeing that there wasn’t really that much change, and that made me mad.”

Haslanger is not alone. Women’s under-representation in philosophy has been well known for decades, but there does not seem to have been sufficient collective will to really grapple with the problem. Now, however, there are signs that things are changing. “There’s been a lot of momentum gathering in the UK dealing to a great extent with the under-representation of women in philosophy,” says Jules Holyroyd, one of the organisers of a well-attended conference in Cardiff last November, on the issue of all under-represented groups, not just women.

Although the dearth of women is obvious, until recently no one had tried to analyse the data to establish the facts. Two years ago, tpm conducted its own survey and found that only 18 percent of full-time permanent academic philosophers working in leading higher education institutions in the UK were female. The comparable figure in the USA was 22 percent. (See tpm 47)

Since then, Helen Beebee has been gathering more comprehensive data for the British Philosophical Association, of which she is director. What this shows is that women become scarcer the higher up the career ladder you go.

“Women start out not too badly under-represented,” she told me in Cardiff. “About 47 percent of undergraduates in philosophy in the UK, single or joint honours, are women. That goes down to about 30 percent at PhD level, then it drops to about 21 percent at permanent staff. It’s more than 21 percent at junior lecturer level and it goes down to about 15 percent at professor level.”

Similar patterns have been found in America and Australia. But why? Almost without exception, people agree that it is multi-factorial. There is no single and simple explanation. In an influential Hypatia paper, “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone)”, Sally Haslanger argued for the importance of two psychological factors: implicit bias and stereotype threat. Jennifer Saul picked up on these at the Cardiff conference.

“There’s a lot of empirical research showing that almost all human beings are subject to a range of biases against certain stigmatised groups – like blacks, gay people, women, disabled people and so on and so forth,” she told me. “These biases operate at an unconscious level, they’re often totally contrary to the person’s explicit, genuine conscious beliefs; they may devote their lives to fighting racism and sexism, and yet still there are tests that reveal in the laboratory that they do have these biases. Even psychologists, who know about this stuff, are subject to these biases.

“Stereotype threat occurs when members of a stigmatised group in some particular area are presented with a situation that’s said to be threat provoking, where they become preoccupied with fear of confirming stereotypes about their group and they actually under perform as a result of this. So black students in any test which is presented as a test of intellectual ability will under-perform; women who are asked to tick a box indicating their gender before taking a maths test will under-perform; five-year-old girls will do worse on a maths test if they first colour in a picture of a girl holding a doll rather than a picture of a sunset. Anything that reminds you of the stereotypes about your groups will cause you to under-perform in the area that your group is stereotyped as performing badly in.”

One reason philosophy has been less successful than other disciplines in overcoming these biases could be that the subject’s self-image actually makes it more vulnerable. “Philosophers have this special relationship with objectivity,” says Saul, “where we think that we’re better and more rational than everyone else. It’s very well confirmed that people are really bad at judging their own objectivity and systematically over-estimate it. But really interestingly, it’s also been shown that thinking about how objective one is increases bias rather than decreases it. If you form the explicit intention to be unbiased and not affected by gender and race, you will be more affected by these things.”

Philosophy has also been peculiarly indifferent to feminist thinking. “We are the anomaly in the humanities,” says Haslanger. “You can’t go through a graduate programme [in other humanities subjects] and be considered competent in those fields unless you’ve done some work on gender and race issues. Feminist work is mainstream. In philosophy that’s just not true. You could go through a philosophy degree to this day and never have a class by a woman, never have to encounter anything having to do with feminism or gender or race.”

One reason for this is that “many philosophers have the view that in order to be objective you have to be value-free or value-neutral and feminism is by its nature not value-free or value-neutral. So there are a lot of philosophers to this day who think there’s an inherent contradiction in the idea of feminist philosophy or feminist epistemology.

“But one of the aims of objectivity, I think, is to get multiple perspectives on a phenomenon so that you can better understand it. If you just have a single perspective on the phenomenon, then that doesn’t protect you against bias. I think feminists have shown that knowledge practices in the contemporary west and throughout the history of philosophy have been exclusionary and have been problematic and have prioritised some kinds of knowledge at the expense of other kinds of knowledge in ways that reflect a bias. So what we’re saying is that we can achieve greater objectivity by bringing women and feminists into this conversation.”

Beebee identifies as a further problem for women in philosophy “the kinds of highly aggressive discussion that you can often get at philosophy seminars – this is at professional and postgraduate level but maybe to some extent at undergraduate level as well. I think in seminars, at least in a lot of my experience, there is a very adversarial, confrontational approach that the audience has towards the speaker. It’s like: this is a fight we’re having now, and I want to win the fight and I want you to lose the fight. That can be very off-putting.”

Some have objected that this suggestion undermines women, because it suggests they’re are not up to the cut-and-thrust of first-rate philosophy. Beebee rejects that charge. “I don’t think it’s undermining of myself to say that I don’t actually find a bunch of people being extremely aggressive towards each other and trying to win the fight all that comfortable. To say that what I’m saying is that women can’t cut it in this discipline is to mistake the nature of the discipline for the contingent nature of certain social interactions that philosophers tend to fall into.”

Beebee’s point is that the aggressive nature of philosophical dispute is bound to work against any group that happened to find itself in a minority. “If you behave in a very aggressive and competitive way towards someone who is already in a marginalised group, that’s going to make them feel uncomfortable, even if they’re just as competitive and aggressive as you.”

Rae Langton tentatively suggests that another psychological factor might be differences in how the sexes tend to respond to setbacks. “When we’re studying something really difficult or working at something that’s really demanding – it might be the piano, maths, anything – when things don’t go as we hope we might be the sort of person who says ‘bad luck, this problem wasn’t presented very clearly’ or ‘bad luck, I’m having a tough day today’; or we might be the kind of person who says ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘it’s just not me’. Optimists tend to externalise their problems more than pessimists do, and I think there are some studies suggesting that women tend to have more pessimistic explanations. I know some people have cited these explanations in looking at the fall-off for women in maths, and it’s possible that has something to do with it.”

Finally, Stephen Stitch and Wesley Buckwalter have suggested that women typically have different intuitions to men in a number of canonical thought experiments. Writing in the previous issue of tpm about “Gender and the philosophy club”, they suggested “Since people who don’t have the intuitions that most Club members share have a harder time getting into the Club, and since the majority of Philosophers are now and always have been men, perhaps the under-representation of women is due, in part, to a selection effect.” Their paper has generated a lot of discussion, but I’ve heard many voice some irritation that, as is so often the case, it is not until a high-status man starts discussing a subject that the philosophical community at large takes an interest in it.

One other explanation is all too prosaic. “You mustn’t ignore the level of sheer hassle that many women put up with in philosophy,” says Rae Langton, who spoke at a session on the climate for women in philosophy at the APA meeting. “The problems have been emerging recently in a new blog, What’s It Like To Be a Woman in Philosophy? (beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com) A lot of the stories are really horror stories about departmental parties where sexual harassment and attempted rape took place.”

What then can be done to make the climate better for women? Saul is encouraged by the fact that there are interventions that can counter stereotype threat. “If you tell the black students that this isn’t a test of intellectual ability, that we’re just looking at how people reason in general and at the processes, their performance leaps up. If you tell women that women and men have been shown to perform equally well on this test, it becomes self-fulfilling – they do.”

Similarly, threat diminishes greatly when the minority becomes sufficiently large. “There’s a huge difference that occurs when women reach 25-30%,” says Haslanger. “There’s a critical mass and then at that point women in the profession or in the academic field are no longer seen as women philosophers, but philosophers who happen to be women. We haven’t reached that point, we haven’t reached the critical mass.”

Saul backs up this point. “Implicit bias is reduced by exposure to people from the stigmatised group who don’t confirm the stereotype. So anything that can be done to give women in philosophy greater visibility will help reduce both of these things. Not just getting women into philosophy but making sure women are speaking at conferences, appearing in anthologies, and that their pictures are up on websites and up on walls. One of the things the data shows quite strongly is the power of an image. You can reduce implicit bias enormously just by having people look at a photograph of a counter-stereotypical exemplar for a couple of minutes or imagine one.”

Most also agree that it’s important to get good data, “because, for one thing, you can see when some progress is made,” says Langton. “So in Australia, in 1970 women held 4 percent of continuing positions in philosophy, and in 2006 it was 23 percent. But then you can also see that it has not been changing much over recent years. And the news that things are not changing much is news that means we’re not doing enough.”

“The American Philosophical Association has been egregiously irresponsible in not collecting data on women,” says Haslanger. “I was on the committee on the status of women in the profession in the late eighties and we requested this data – just regular demographic data about women on the job market, women getting jobs, women at different ranks. I believe it was requested before that and it’s still not being collected.” She also charges that “the APA does not even provide adequate ombudsperson support for people who are being treated badly. So I think another crucial thing is for there to be major changes in the APA that really take this into account as a major issue and try to take leadership in solving the problem.”

There are those who remain unconvinced we should do anything at all. But as Beebee says, “It’s a problem for philosophy as a discipline if students with extremely high potential to go on and be really good philosophers and good teachers who publish really good stuff don’t stay on in the discipline. If there are women who would end up being just as good as men sitting there doing their philosophical jobs, or better than, then that’s a loss for philosophy.”

Saul concurs. “To get the best possible philosophy done, you need the best philosophers performing to the best of their abilities. And implicit bias is going to mean that women are having their work assessed unfairly, less well than men’s work is assessed; they’re going to receive less encouragement along the way, you’re going to end up with fewer women in philosophy; stereotype threat is going to be suppressing their performance in philosophy. So even people who just want the best analytic metaphysics should care about this.”

And more people do indeed seem to be caring, so much so that Haslanger is hopeful as well as angry. “I am so energised by the changes I have begun to see in the last few years. I really do think it’s become an issue that people are talking about. I’ve also been contacted by many women who are starting groups of women philosophers to get together and share work. There’s real activity happening in departments.” Better late than never.

Julian Baggini is the author of The Ego Trick: What does it mean to be you? (Granta)

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30 comments for “The long road to equality”

  1. I had not heard the claim before that the reason for differential IQ scores is that the lower scoring groups are living up to negative expectations. You would think they might try harder to disprove the stereotype. Are there any references you could give for this?

    Posted by Stephen | March 28, 2011, 1:14 pm
  2. The pursuit of equality has led to the banalisation of Western university culture and a situation where - it seems to me - no-one ever says what they actually think (though still being subject to “biases” that “operate at an unconscious level” as an interviewee puts it above). It would be better to withdraw funding from this sort of social engineering and let people be what God made them - unequal, perhaps incommensurable - and therefore interesting to each other.

    Posted by Stephen | March 28, 2011, 3:21 pm
  3. A few weeks ago I read the experimental philosophy debate in the New Yorker’s Room for Debate http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/08/19/x-phis-new-take-on-old-problems/a-myriad-of-methods. One of the first things I noticed was there were no women among the debaters. A great part of my experience with philosophy is from these pages which have always had a good representation of women, and I mistakenly thought women more prevalent in modern philosophy than is the case. So, in a way, I have you to thank for this particular misconception of mine. I definitely feel it worth it if it furthers the cause under discussion.
    But, not to consider women’s self-perceived place in our society seems derelict in an essay such as this. I should think its their understanding of our culture’s demands on women that reduces their presence in the philosophical ranks. I’m reminded of a woman philosopher who was introduced to the TPM blog around a half year ago. She wrote a piece about herself, and in it she told of her passion for philosophy to the extent that she couldn’t envision having a family. But she married and was about to have a baby. She’ll probably continue doing philosophy but, I should think, in a reduced capacity.
    Another recollection. Again, a half year or so ago, in this magazine, a woman philosopher complained about young women not having the devotion to their (philosophical?) studies as she herself had at their age. I did a bio check on her and found my instinct correct. She had come from a very well-to-do family. I have nothing on which to back up that instinct, but I still suspect a great percentage of women in the philosophy PHD programs don’t have to worry about their finances.

    Posted by Ralph Sabella | March 29, 2011, 5:38 pm
  4. Since my comment above I decided to browse The New York Times’s (not New Yorker’s) Room for Debate. I looked at a dozen, plus or minus, topics. No other topic, just the philosophy one mentioned above, had only males (or only females) on their panel. In one particular topic, “Where Are the Women in Wikipedia?” one person mentioned an informal survey she took to find out why people had not signed up for some symposium or discussion group: “ Both men and women [mostly women] said their main reason for not participating was because they were intimidated by the tone of the discussions.”
    I also learned from this topic, I should probably apologize for my lengthy comments.

    Posted by Ralph Sabella | March 29, 2011, 11:39 pm
  5. The “must win” attitude a lot of philosophers take into discussions/debates and the level of acrimony that ensues makes me think that philosophers are probably motivated by much more than the strength of their ideas. Philosophy seems all too often a good place for angry intellectuals with poor social skills to exercise dominance over others. Seems the problem is more than just too few women but perhaps also too many unbalanced people out of touch with their own motives. When your job is to construct rational arguments all day long you get pretty good at rationalizing… Many of your social commitments and interests can be experienced and expressed through philosophical positioning and the debates one engages to defend those positions.

    This is not just a problem for Philosophy but seems to show up in varying degrees in every academic department.

    OK, not just academic departments but all areas of intellectual engagement.

    OK, not just areas of intellectual engagement but anywhere that beliefs are expressed–its pretty much a universal problem… Beliefs are much more than propositional attitudes, they are ways of relating to each other. How you treat others whose beliefs you do not share says a lot about how much respect you have for them as human beings. Many people don’t score so well on such a measure. Unfortunately, we condone heated debate that ends up formalizing opportunities for interpersonal competition, aggression, and cruelty. And often, its all in the name of how many angels fit on the tip of a pin. Honderich vs. McGinn, etc.

    Posted by Thomas Wood | April 2, 2011, 12:42 am
  6. [...] A really nice article on women in philosophy, including interviews with Helen Beebee, Sally Haslanger, Jules Holroyd, Rae Langton and Jenny Saul. Sally Haslanger is angry. “I entered philosophy about 30 years ago,” she told me at the American Philosophical Association’s Eastern Division meeting in Boston. “I had a budding feminist consciousness, and I thought then that there weren’t enough women on the reading lists in my classes or among my teachers. But I thought things would certainly change, given the importance of the feminist movement. I’ve been though the profession now and worked hard on the Committee on the Status of Women. I’ve worked hard in other forums like SWIP – the Society for Women in Philosophy – that were trying to advance women’s interests. After 30 years I was seeing that there wasn’t really that much change, and that made me mad.” [...]

    Posted by TPM: Women in Philosophy « Feminist Philosophers | April 2, 2011, 10:33 am
  7. Stephen, people who underperform as a result of negative stereotypes aren’t just being lazy! Part of the problem is that trying to disprove a stereotype is very stressful, and elevated stress levels typically make people perform worse rather than better. Imagine giving a presentation in a room full of people who (you believe) are expecting it to be terrible because of your membership of some social group. Do you really think that’s gong to make you do a better job?

    Also (this doesn’t apply to things like math and IQ tests, but it does apply to things like seminar presentations) if the audience is correspondingly suffering from implicit bias, it’s going to be that much harder for you to disprove the stereotype anyway — your presentation will be judged worse than one of the same standard given by someone not in the relevant group. So ‘disproving the stereotype’ is made doubly difficult.

    A very good book on all this is the social psychologist Claude M Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us.

    By the way, do you think that we should ‘let people be what God made them’ when what they are is, say, racist or sexist? Because that’s what a lot of this is about — not eradicating genuine differences between men and women, but eradicating perceived differences where none exist, e.g. thinking that the woman (or someone with a foreign-sounding name) whose CV you’re looking at is less well qualified than a man (or person with non-foreign-sounding name) who in fact has exactly the same qualifications.

    Posted by Helen Beebee | April 2, 2011, 3:23 pm
  8. “Stephen Stitch” is really Stephen Stich.

    Posted by Crimlaw | April 2, 2011, 4:21 pm
  9. Being a graduate student in philosophy, I feel a little bit more hopeful after reading this article that it’s possible for mainstream philosophy to take seriously its position as a social institution with a history and a culture that affects people–not just as rational minds–but as people, bodies, and citizens. A lot of the pushback against thinking about considerations of social justice in philosophy is, I suspect, because of unconscious scientism. When you’re told that your work is only valid if it’s perfectly objective and universal, you start to think of “promoting equality in this specific social situation” and “doing philosophy” as mutually exclusive, which they are not.

    Posted by Stacey | April 2, 2011, 5:54 pm
  10. I’m a bit older than Ms. Haslanger and I think a slightly longer perspective tells a slightly different story. I began undergraduate work in philosophy in the 60’s and became a faculty member in the 70’s. At that time there were almost no women on philosophy faculties at all. I could have named them. Then under the urging of feminist philosophers, mostly of my generation at first, there was an increase to about the present numbers. Then it stalled and has remained stalled for the last 30 years. This seems to me to follow the same pattern as racial equality: substantial progress in the 60’s & 70’s, followed by plateauing. Racial equality stalled when jobs became a zero-sum game, so that a black getting a job meant a white not getting one. Given the current trends in our profession whereby tenure-track jobs are decreasing and non-tt jobs increasing, I am not hopeful that the percentages of women in the profession will increase in the near future. I hope I am wrong.

    Posted by tm | April 2, 2011, 9:56 pm
  11. While I agree with those above who note that this problem goes across the disciplines, I agree with Haslanger: http://academinist.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/030105Babbich_Dresses.pdf But professional philosophy has many ways of counting certain voices out of consideration. In addition to the problems of being a woman in philosophy there are also the problems of writing from a continental vs. an analytic perspective. Hence — a year ago now — I sent Prof. Haslanger a collegial email thanking her and sharing some of my own work on related themes, work foregrounding my own personal experiences over the last forty years. I have yet to hear from her. Of course she is busy — so am I. But I also know that the analytic-continental distinction, among other things, also plays a role in that. The puddles we play in as academics are messy ones.

    Posted by Babette Babich | April 3, 2011, 4:03 pm
  12. I know I’m taking a chance at being lambasted for the following, but I might learn something:
    I’m disappointed! Not only because no one saw my contribution above as worthy of reply or even a mention but also that philosophers seem disinterested in obvious truths that perhaps go a long way towards answering a question at hand.

    Posted by Ralph Sabella | April 3, 2011, 5:07 pm
  13. Im not sure why anyone would want to be a professional philosopher…are they in high demand? Enrollment of women in high demand knowledge sectors (e.g., medicine) exceeds male.
    Isnt women in philosophy like women in auto mechanic trades? They can do it, but just arent “into” it.
    The article talks about interventions, positive self-image - so if a person takes drugs like medical marijuana, feels good, means good grades?

    Posted by J.Majestyk | April 3, 2011, 9:48 pm
  14. While Steve Stich is a wonderful philosopher (as is Buckwalter, for all I know), there are very serious objections to it that have been articulater both on Leiter’s blog and on the Experimental Philosophy Blog.

    The form of their explanation - namely, group G is excluded because of G’s characteristics - fails to provide an adequate place for the bias and bigotry that forms a constant part of too many women’s lives in philosophy.

    Posted by jj | April 3, 2011, 10:08 pm
  15. Im baffled by this; students will scrape the bottom of the barrel looking for excuses about their grades, now we have implicit bias and stereotype threat. Clearly, if a persons expectations are so high that they are suspicious of low grades, how can they possess the negative self-image that purportedly lowers their performance?
    The psychological theory assumes that the threat is unconscious, they “operate at an unconscious level, they’re often totally contrary to the person’s explicit, genuine conscious beliefs” but how can one judge motivation in unconscious states?
    Is the victim suffering from a bipolar, manic depressed state? If a woman outs a perceived subtextual threat, has she made a realization about herself or a perpetrator? Is the threat or claim of a threat itself motivated by some other unconscious motivator - where does this train end? What is the moral obligation entailed by an unconscious disposition, how are we responsible?

    Posted by HeyZeus | April 4, 2011, 4:56 am
  16. Helen,
    I think God made us racist and sexist in the sense that we have domain specific mechanisms for classifying people as natural kinds, including male/female and friend/foe, based on phenotypic appearance and behaviour (e.g. facial characteristics, voice). These mechanisms are identifiable experimentally and psychologically by speed and lack of conscious control. We then have domain general capacities (reason in a word, that the good Lord also gave us) that may modify and extend these categories. As used to be said, we are ‘rational animals’. The domain-specific characteristics allow us to find mates and develop specific cultures and so are essential to our continuance and well-being as a species. Academic ‘education’ is pernicious where it tries to suppress or eliminate them.

    My initial question was specifically about differential IQ. I see Steele’s book gives an example of a maths test, which is certainly relevant. There seems to be some way to go to attribute all differences to this cause, after so many other tests have excluded environmental factors. Have the humanities not simply ignored evidence on inherited differences by arbitrarily endorsing a long series of hypotheses on environmental influences, all but the latest of which have been refuted by empirical studies? By denying the fact (if such it be) of inequality, scholars in the humanities exclude themselves a priori from debates about the nature and consequences of inequality. Surely that is one reason for the lack of jobs referred to - academic projects on the egalitarian model have no empirical content and are thus seen as irrelevant or harmful to society.

    Posted by Stephen | April 4, 2011, 12:17 pm
  17. Is there a female Plato? A female Spinoza? A female Kant? A female Hegel? A female Deleuze even?

    Posted by Francoise | April 4, 2011, 1:49 pm
  18. Francoise:

    How about Phillipa Foot? How about Hannah Arendt? How about
    Simone de Beauvoir? Aren’t they in the same league as Deleuze?

    As to a female Plato or Spinoza, who is the male Plato or Spinoza today? There are many reasons why no one does philosophy like Plato or Spinoza today and it is evident why women did not do philosophy in Plato’s or Spinoza’s day.

    Hello Ralph: I had missed your presence. What have you been up to?

    Posted by s. wallerstein (ex amos) | April 5, 2011, 2:03 pm
  19. The issue was dealt with by the US Supreme Court in Ricci v. DeStefano — that white firefighters suffered illegal discrimination when a promotional test on which they did well was thrown out because not enough blacks did well.
    The tests were put together in a conscientious, race-neutral way. Not only were minority firefighters over-sampled in devising the questions, but nine oral exam boards were established, each a three-person panel, each consisting of precisely one white, one black and one Hispanic. New Haven paid $100,000 to a diversity testing firm, IO Solutions, Inc. of Illinois, to design the exams to be completely free of any racial bias.
    Dissenters on the court argued that Ricci had no right to a promotion, but he does have a right to fairness, to not being denied promotion because of his skin color. Ricci is also dyslexic, which apparently does not count and did not prevent him from excelling, a tribute to his character, the same grit that led him to the Supreme Court. He studied long and hard for that exam.
    Despite modified tests to neutralize the threats referred to in the article, the state threw the it out anyway, because the test failed to produce the result of more black promotional candidates, which questions the whole point of having tests in the first place and the enormous costs of sampling test design and implementation with minorities.
    Philosophy departments simply lack the taxpayer funding of New Haven, or rather the ability to squander the sums on altered tests and panels it would later ignore. If the argument is that people wont step up because they think the system is rigged against them, Frank Ricci might agree with you.

    Posted by AStanley | April 5, 2011, 9:12 pm
  20. [...] mannen i fleecetröja behåller objektiviteten för sig själv. Och som Jennifer Saul konstaterar här:  “[p]hilosophers have this special relationship with objectivity where we think that we’re [...]

    Posted by Filosofins självbild « Inte ett öga torrt | April 7, 2011, 4:32 pm
  21. Can you not link to the research itself? That would be very useful.

    Posted by John S. Wilkins | April 11, 2011, 1:31 am
  22. Why aren’t there any comparative statistics about the representation of women in other humanities departments? It beggars belief to think that male philosophers are much different than their brothers in history, literature, politics, etc., in their desire and ability to oppress women - I’m sure their political views are identical. The commonsense explanation - that fewer women, on average, ultimately find themselves interested in being philosophers, ought to be explored - even though if it is true, it’s not very interesting.

    Posted by Anon | April 11, 2011, 3:10 am
  23. I studied philosophy in Scotland in the late ’90s, and everything in this article seems spot-on as far as how things were there then.

    About a third of the students were female. The class discussions tended to be combative rather than collaborative. About half the female students seemed (to me) to be just trying to hide and to say as little as possible to avoid exposure. The other half seemed extra-combative (again, to me), as though the best defense were a good offense.

    In that department I was taught that any consideration of a person’s socioeconomic status or of the historical origin of a point of view was an example of the “ad hominem” fallacy, and thus was surprised when I talked with students from other humanities disciplines for whom these considerations were paramount. As far as that goes we are very much out of step as a discpline–and the more “analytic” the more out of step.

    Nowadays I work in a public defense law firm where about half of the employees are women, and it’s been a breath of fresh air. Once a group of people reaches a certain critical mass, the stereotypes just drop away as an explanatory factor. My co-workers have their strengths and weaknesses but they are perceived as personal attributes. No one ever says, or even seems tempted to say, “She’s a surprisingly good trial lawyer, for a woman,” or anything like that. It just doesn’t come up. And so then they relax too, and I think they perform better. I wish philosophy departments could be more like that, and hope that they will be one day.

    Posted by Elwood Ash | April 11, 2011, 4:31 pm
  24. Dear Elwood,

    Nowadays I work as nurse and about 95% of the employees are women. Mirabile dictu!

    Look, the fact that women make up half of your PUBLIC DEFENSE law firm in no way represents a noteworthy contradiction of a stereotype. On the contrary, it’s a rather obvious affirmation of one.

    Let’s table the issue of varying ability. (I actually think women have slightly better verbal skills–key in law.)

    But if women can’t stand the ferocious combativeness so rife in every Philosophy department around the world, how will they ever, EVER succeed in law or business? Or any other global endeavor open to the best and brightest men around the globe?

    Elwood, why do women make up half of your PUBLIC DEFENSE law firm? Why are they not practicing patent or corporate law at a competitive firm? Will you consider for but a moment that perhaps men are on average more aggressive because of, oh I don’t know, something called TESTOSTERONE?

    Evidently, you want the world to look like the inside of your public defense law firm. So what then is your solution, Elwood? Are we to subject men to hormone therapy or rigorous sensitivity training? Are we to force them to in some way be less competitive?!

    Alternatively and/or concurrently, are you also going to attempt to make women less collaborative and more competitive?

    Here’s a novel idea. Why don’t we stop wishing women were more like men! Instead lets start celebrating and encouraging their special abilities and contributions.

    Posted by USPhilosophess | April 11, 2011, 7:49 pm
  25. [...] also a short article in The Philosophers’ Magazine about women in philosophy.) Recent PostsOPR VIII.22: The Authority of the StateOPR VII.21: [...]

    Posted by Public Reason · Women in Philosophy Blog | April 12, 2011, 6:33 pm
  26. Utterly. Ridiculous.

    To begin,

    Darwin > Locke

    Given the physical dimorphisms, and the divergent evolutionary pressures and roles of the sexes, on what bloody basis do we assume apriori that female and male academic representation should even be equal?!?!?!

    The implicit logic behind the ubiquitous, hand-wringing jeremiads of this sort is that the female/male ratio would be at parity in the absence of sexist discrimination.

    WHY?! Again, I ask, WHERE IS YOUR EVIDENCE–of equal ability? of equal interest? of equal perseverance? of equal aggressiveness?

    This is nothing more than a religion of equality. A fictive feminist article of faith; an assumption, an anemic hope based on a feminist projection that God gives a flying fig about her conception of radical equality. Rubbish!

    While far from perfect, we live in the most fair, equality-concerned, meritocratic, cognitively driven, results-based marketplace in the history of mankind. Yet women are far, far from parity. It’s time to stop making pathetic excuses and get to the root. For those minds not impoverished and blunted by the false pieties of Political Correctness, a parsimonious solution exists for the prevalent disparity we see always and everywhere.

    Posted by USPhilosophess | April 13, 2011, 3:44 pm
  27. I see that there is a brief discussion of ’stereotype threat’, as cited in the main article above, in this online article:


    Posted by Stephen | April 17, 2011, 1:53 pm
  28. [...] From Julian Baggini, in The Philosopher’s Magazine: Sally Haslanger is angry. “I entered philosophy about 30 years ago,” she told me at the American Philosophical Association’s Eastern Division meeting in Boston. “I had a budding feminist consciousness, and I thought then that there weren’t enough women on the reading lists in my classes or among my teachers. But I thought things would certainly change, given the importance of the feminist movement. I’ve been though the profession now and worked hard on the Committee on the Status of Women. I’ve worked hard in other forums like SWIP – the Society for Women in Philosophy – that were trying to advance women’s interests. After 30 years I was seeing that there wasn’t really that much change, and that made me mad.”  Haslanger is not alone. Women’s under-representation in philosophy has been well known for decades, but there does not seem to have been sufficient collective will to really grapple with the problem. Now, however, there are signs that things are changing. TPM: The Philosophers’ Magazine | The long road to equality [...]

    Posted by The Dearth of Lady-Philosophers « panopticon | May 24, 2011, 3:57 am
  29. [...] conference in Cardiff last November, on the issue of all under-represented groups, not just women. More… « Tickets Available–Humanities Conference [...]

    Posted by The long road to equality at thehumanities.com | June 9, 2011, 4:51 pm
  30. The issue should be that of the issue of all under-represented groups, not just women, and just because that includes women.

    This is part of the point as the issue is also all about the difference/distinction/divide between analytic or mainstream philosophy (as it is practiced at MIT) and continental philosophy (which is indeed a vanishing kind)…

    Posted by Babette Babich | June 13, 2011, 6:10 pm