The Future State of Equality in Philosophy

As some of you may know, in the US many philosopers tend to get their jobs by applying for interviews at a large annual meeting of the American Philosphical Association. There are sometimes as many as three hundred positions up for grabs, and for those trying to get jobs, the whole process of applying and interviewing is fraught and unpleasant. This year, this experience has been chartered, in blog form, by some anonymous grad students(see here).

Much of the blog is amusing, often well observed, and highlights just how looking for a job in philosophy affects you (it sends you crazy). Some of the recent posts have started to look at just what it means to be a women or a minority going through the APA job market. Indeed, they even talk about Sally Haslanger’s recent paper on women in philosophy. The most interesting posts are this one, and this one. Sadly, part of what is interesting about them is the comments they generate.

What you find is a lot of white male philosophers – presumably grad students looking for jobs – complaining that women and minorities who get these jobs are doing so purely by dint of their gender or race and at the expense of their more qualified white male counterparts (“Its reverse discrimination I tell ya”).  In one or two cases, people name black philosophers at top institutions, decry the value of their work and openly suggest that the person holds that post purely because they’re black, and it looks good if the department is ethnically diverse. You will even find the term “I’m not racist, but…”. And of course there is the age old “girls can’t do metaphysics” plum – the real reason women aren’t getting jobs easily and need “reverse discrimination” to help them out is because hard-core philosophy is abstract, and women prefer things with material results.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of commenters point out how sexist and racist this all is, and there is alway trolling to take into account, but all the same, I can’t help feeling a bit depressed by it. We know things were bad for women and minorities in philosophy thirty or more years ago. We also know from Sally Haslanger’s paper that they aren’t all that good now. But reading some of the comments coming from those that aspire to staff philosophy departments for the next thirty years, the future doesn’t look all that rosey either.

I’m probably just over-reacting. But have a look at the comments and see what you think.

5 thoughts on “The Future State of Equality in Philosophy

  1. I’ve been reading through those comments already. There are some depressing ones, it is true; in particular, it is difficult to hear people wonder why there aren’t more females doing exactly the kinds of philosophy I do, and think about all the male grads that I have tried to explain the real and everyday impacts of sexism on my progress in that field who simply tried to reconstrue anything I described in ways that made it sound nonsexist.

    But – I thought the comment thread was much better than pretty much any other I’d seen outside of a feminist blog. PGS really gets it, more than any other male grad I’ve heard speak about this. In particular, he comes out and says that part of what is needed is to ask women and minorities about their experiences, and take them at face value: not try to work through each case explaining why the speaker is really just taking it personally (to not start from the assumption that we are all somehow making this up).

    There are also some well-intentioned but still clueless ( and still sexist) commenters. But there seemed to be a general tone of defense of the fact that really, sexism and racism are genuine problems, and there was some ownership of the fact that we as a field need to first recognize all the myriad ways this crops up in concrete circumstances before we will be able to improve on it.

    So, it could be better, but I think there’s improvement, and it heartened me to see that there were so many other people making explicit note of it.

  2. It hasn’t been much better in other disciplines, namely rhetoric and Greek Bible scholarship. Thanks for alerting us to these revealing, and depressing, comments! (PS: What do you or readers think about Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.’s inverted question: “Is Matriarchy the Shape of the Future?” I’ve linked to your post and his here, and would like him to respond but he allows no comments).

  3. For people who don’t want to sift through the various threads of racism and sexism on PJMB, let me repeat (below) a summary by Mr. Zero and his reactions.

    First, though, kudos to PGS, who really does get it. I agree with his decision to let the bigots have some of the stage and in effect out the bigotry..

    I thought we philosophers were supposed to be educated, enlightened people. But in the previous threads, people have suggested that men are hardwired to be better at philosophy than women; that sexist attitudes that women experience are in their minds and not really happening; that sexist attitudes that women experience are their own fault for being obnoxious; that certain black philosophers do not belong in academia; that the reason why there are few asians in the NBA is analogous to the reason why there are no Yorkshire Terrier guard dogs.

    Oh my god. What the fuck is wrong with you fucking people? Jesus Christ. I had no idea that things were this bad. Apparently, philosophy is chock full o’ assholes. I feel shame and sadness.

  4. BTW, one reason for reading it is to see the outrage well expressed in comments by (self-identified) women. Our sisters are doing well indeed.

    Also, PGS has picked up on some excellent women’s responses, which he’s put in his posts, so you can read them without searching through the depressing stuff.

  5. In a way I think it’s important to read the comments on the Job Market blog in order to see (a) JUST HOW sexist and racist the sphere of academic philosophy is; and (b) how resistant many philosophers are to even the SUGGESTION that academic philosophy really-actually-seriously IS sexist and racist.

    Of course, the people on Feminist Philosophers are not the sort of people who need convincing of either (a) or (b). But perhaps some of the Job Market blog clusterfuck comments could be used as a resource for interlocuters who deny (a) or (b)? Just a thought.

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