A member of Feminist Philosophers invited SPP to respond here to a post of mine. I strongly supported this idea and in doing so assumed that we could at least converge on an account of what happened. Instead the blog has ended up providing a platform for a response from SPP that is in error on facts and issues.
I took my previous post to make two statements. The second was inaccurate, and it was corrected as soon as the error was pointed out. They were: (1) the SPP conference has a talk/session that instantiates an exclusion that it attempts to explain; (2) The conference has a poor record of invited women philosophers at the last 3 conferences; the figures cited were corrected to: 1 speaker in 2010, 3 in 2009, and 0 in 2008. (Readers should note an amendment in the earlier post.) Let us take these in reverse order:
(1) Antony disputes the facts about conference speakers, in part because she includes women who were not invited to speak at the conference. That is, she adds in those invited to speak at a workshop occurring before the conference. The workshop tends to be the responsibility of one or a few individual members; it isn’t a product of the program committee, for example, as the conference is. My understanding is that in the current year, 2010, the workshop was produced by one individual. Hence, the connection between the choices shaping it and those of the SPP is much more tenuous. In addition, the presence of invited women philosophers at this year’s workshop was noted in my comments, as was the unusually high number of contributed papers by female philosophers.
Antony wrongly and puzzingly attributes to me an allegation that I did not make. Indeed, in a comment, Rob Wilson said he wasn’t sure anyone was making the allegation in question, which I take as some sign that the attribution of the allegation is much more problematic than Antony is indicating. It is simply wrong to say that the post was about issues concerned with friendliness or hostility. One indication of the narrow focus of the post is noted by Antony: the number of invited speakers couldn’t possibly decide the general issue of the climate women experience. I couldn’t possibly think it did. That was not going on.
Of course, supposed allegations, like insinuations, may be solely in the minds of the hearers. One should be very careful attributing them to the speaker.
What, then, was the post really about? I was wrong to think that was clear. So let me explain: It is an ongoing concern of feminist epistemology and philosophy of science that practices in many fields deprive women of epistemic authority. This worry provides the motivation behind my post. One reason for our gender conference campaign is that some practices in philosophy do particularly fail to accord women philosophers epistemic authority. They fail, that is, to accord women philosophers equal status with men philosophers as contributors to the intellectual enterprise of philosophy. A good indicator of the inequality is the practice of not featuring women philosophers as invited speakers, or not doing so in numbers comparable to the men (allowing, of course, for differences in overall numbers in the field). That is hardly my idea alone, and our gendered conference campaign arose not just in agreement among ourselves, but also in response to our readers who comment here, along with recommendations from professional literature, such as this pdf from the Barnard Center for Research on Women.
(2) To take up the issue of the opening talk: The underlying concern here as elsewhere is the role accorded to work by women philosophers, including our own professional efforts, along with those from other fields, to understand what to many of us appear to be exclusionary practices.
There is a field of knowledge about the causal mechanisms producing the low number of women in many fields, and it has been extensively developed over the last 40 years. There has been significant success; thanks in part to the $130 million NSF has invested, results are being tested and codified, and new procedures are implemented in many universities. Noting this historical background speaks to formulating and evaluating causal hypotheses linking some phenomenon to the low numbers of women in a field. Stich’s title and a related paper by his co-author suggested that they are advancing a relevant causal hypothesis. I think that I’d object to any causal hypothesis featured at a professional meeting that didn’t take into account existing expertise. But in any case, the point here is that the existing expertise is owned at least in part by people whose general absense was being both explained and instantiated.
There is, then, another layer that explains why the focus was so much on the talk and the invited speakers. That’s the worry that that session did not just instantiate the problem it was discussing, but it may also have instantiated the cause of that problem. The failure in professional contexts to represent women’s professional expertise as relevant can be a real killer-off of women doing research. As the opening session illustrates, it happens even when the knowledge is being developed by leading researchers supported by NSF. That’s what made the issue so important. That and the fact that the choices we are discussing here suggest a lack of knowledge of such issues, as opposed to ill-will.
The scientists I discussed this issue with before writing the post were in contrast very aware of the political implications of the situation. This blog has been very concerned that the physical sciences now appear better able to adapt to women scholars than philosophy is. Supposing my scientist friends are somewhat typical of scientists in the US today, I think it likely that awareness of such issues in the science communities may help explain some of the difference.**
Nothing so far speaks to Stich’s work specifically on gendered differences in intuitions, which may be up to his own high standards of brilliant and revisionary research. (On the net perhaps I need to stress that I am completely serious in saying he has done superb and wonderfully revisionary work.)
**This still imperfect paragraph has been changed in light of comments 1-3. Thanks, MBS and Jender.
I haven’t been able to address all of Antony’s points, but I’m not even sure many people will have read this far. For those who have followed this, your comments are very welcome. Unfortunately, when Jender and I discussed which day the posts should go up, I had forgotten that on June 30th I will be traveling quite a bit. However, I will get to the comments as I can. Please be sure to follow our rule – be nice! – so your comment stays up.