Women and Minorities in Philosophy

There’s currently a huge amount of momentum around the issue of improving numbers of women and minorities in philosophy.  A major catalyst for this has been Sally Haslanger’s incredibly important paper on the topic.  I know that many women just starting out in philosophy found that paper a very depressing read.  But the extremely good news is that it’s serving as a real catalyst for discussion and action, and there’s actually a lot of optimism and energy. There’s a nice example in this post from Evelyn Brister:

In the last decade, at least half of U.S. college graduates have been women. But less than a third of philosophy majors have been women. Women have not reached workplace equity at the beginning of the 21st century, but there are only a few places and ways in which they are not reaching educational parity. Philosophy—the discipline that takes as its subjects ethics, justice, consistency, and self-reflection—is one of those places.What does this gender inequality indicate about our discipline? Some have taken it to indicate that the material itself is gender-biased, that the methods of argumentation reflect masculine psychology, or that philosophy is a bastion of cultural traditionalism that incubates sexist practices.That assessment is too negative, in my opinion. As an optimist, a meliorist, and a pragmatist, I think that it indicates first and foremost that philosophers, unlike other analytic disciplines, have not made gender parity a priority.       

Brister argues for greater attention to undergraduate recruitment and retention. If you have thoughts on this, head over to her post and share them! Sharon Crasnow suggests that those of us from under-represented groups who have persevered or even thrived in philosophy should reflect on what helped us to do this and to talk about this. If you have stories on this to share, go tell Sharon. There are also some very important data collection efforts getting underway– more on those in a later post.

One thing that’s struck me is that there actually are a lot of genuinely well-meaning people in philosophy who would like to improve recruitment and retention of women and minorities in philosophy, at all levels, but who need some guidance about how to do so. I’m going to be working on providing a document with such guidance, and would appreciate any suggestions you may have. One thing I’d particularly like to hear about is what sorts of techniques actually help one to correct against the very unconscious biases that Haslanger and Valian have drawn our attention to. But I’m really interested in hearing about any ideas you may have– or reports of efforts, even those that haven’t worked. Please put them in the comments!

Note: Categories have been updated as a result of comments.

Ladies, Make An Effort

Or you won’t catch a prize like me, writes Ted Safran , in the (UK) Times.

There are many, many differences between the British and the Americans, but none more glaring than UK women’s approach to their own upkeep. I am a massive fan of British women. UK girls, in my opinion, are the greatest natural beauties in the world . . . when they’re 17 or 18 years old. The girls I was surrounded by when I was a teenager were sublime roses with lustrous hair, flawless skin, bright eyes and lithe, athletic bodies. They dressed as if there would be a prize at the end of the night for the girl wearing the least. I then went away to Philadelphia for university. Four years later, I came back and wondered: “What the hell happened to all the beautiful girls I knew?” My first assumption was that one half of them had eaten the other half and washed them down with a crate of lager. These girls looked phenomenal when looking good took no effort. But when British women get to the age where they have to make an effort, they appear unable, or uninterested, in rising to the challenge.        

And what’s required to rise to the challenge?

An informal poll of my US female friends revealed that they spend roughly $700 (£350) a month on what they consider standard obligatory beauty maintenance. That covers haircut, highlights, manicure, pedicure, waxing, tanning, make-up, facials, teeth whitening etc. They will spend a further $1,000 (£500) a month on physical conditioning such as military fitness, spinning sessions, vikram yoga, Pilates, deep-tissue sports massage, personal training etc. On top of that, add the occasional spa day, a week-long “bikini boot camp” in Mexico at the start of every summer and seasonal splurges on personal shoppers and clothing. I’m not sure any of my British female friends spends £700 during an entire year on her appearance. American women see these costs as a simple and sensible investment in their future.        

The fools.  If only they spent a fortune on their appearance they could snag the likes of Ted.   (And where does he get his ideas about American women?  One suspects he has never actually conversed with any, but instead learned about them via “Sex and the City”.  Sort of like black-and-white Mary, for the philosophers amongst you.  Only without all the facts.)   (Thanks, Kitchen-Chick, for this astounding read.)A note: I wondered if this was parody, as I’ve been told that my American origins may prevent me from properly perceiving certain instances of British humour. But extensive consultation with native informants confirms that it’s not. Still, it’s quite enjoyable to read if you pretend that it’s in The Onion.