Figures on women in tenure/tenure track jobs usually put the percentage of women at 16 to 20%. Interestingly, the gap between men’s participation and women’s starts early in their undergraduate career. This phenomenon is proving hard to understand for a number of feminist philosophers.
There is an explanation given sometimes in computer science, and it might be worth considering here. The idea is that while men are often keen on abstract problems divorced from all other human interests, women are much less so. Like women in computer science classes, perhaps women in philosophy are considerably more engaged by questions that are not divorced from reality. We needn’t posit innate differences between men and women to ground such a result; differential training would be enough.
I read this explanation for CS sometime very recently and can’t remember where. It is also
in the excellent study of women in CS at Carnegie called Unlocking the clubhouse.
Let me give some examples for philosophy ; note I am not arguing from these examples. They are just illustration. (1)A women explained to me that she was interested in philosophy until they got to Hume’s account of the self. Presumably she didn’t want to spend hours arguing that she did have a self, as she understood the debate. (2) at a university where the women were expressing increasing dissatisfaction with their courses, I was approached by one of the male faculty about why this was happening. I said that he seemed to take philosophical discussion to be a matter of his standing on the top of a hill knocking off all the students until one knocked him off. “Yes,” he responded enthusiastically. “That’s what I do best.”
Note in the second example we can see two issues. One is whether women like the combative style – a well known question – and the other is whether knocking the professor off the hill is something they want to spend 4 years on. It is not exactly an abstract question, but one where it might be hard to say what its interest is. (Phyllis Rooney has a recent paper arguing relatedly that, to puT it roughly, the combative method is disliked principally because it changes the topic.)
Another case: on a recent blog I saw a reference to a prof who spent the semester arguing about a possible elephant on the table. That certainly could dampen my interests however cleverly it was done.
It could be that we have too many Intro teachers who like to demonstrate puilosophy’s lack of relevance. Given what is said about men in CS, irrelevance is not a killer of interest for many of them. But it may well convince women that they’d be happier elsewhere.