Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book, Outliers, emphasizes that high achievement depends much, much more on environmental factors and hard work than on something like innate talent. A dramatic example comes with the dominance of Kenyans in men’s long distance running competitions. They are remarkable. Is it the genes? Something in the water? How about this: in Kenyan 2,000,000 boys run 12 miles a day. In the US, which doesn’t in general do well? Gladwell said in a talk on Wednesday that he’d be surprised if it were more than 5,000.
So what does that have to do with women in philosophy? Well, it was part of his discussion about how ways in which the environment is structured can determine who can achieve.
In his talk, Gladwell used an interesting example for unwitting discrimination. In both Canada and the Czech Republic the cut-off age for being considered for a hockey league is Jan 1 (of some one year, such as one’s 9th). So a child born on Jan 3, 2000 will be judged along with a child born on Dec. 3, 2000. But the first child will be 11 months more developed. The consequence? Members of hockey leagues tend to be born in Jan-Mar; if you are born after the summer, you basically do not have a chance at playing at a league level. And a similar thing happens in school. The youngest children in a class are likely to do less well than the much more developed oldest children. They are, then, less likely to be selected for high achieving programs, and so on.
He was asked about gender, and responded to that question by commenting on math ability; it is silly to think in terms of innate ability, though it is hard to stop people from doing it. But he said, the society’s attitude toward math skills in girls (not generally positive) was enough to guarantee that girls, once they internalize it, will do much less well. He’s looked a lot at factors in maths achievement and maintains firmly that there is no evidence that there’s some basic talent such that if you don’t have it, you can’t do maths.
So how about women in philosophy? What social factors or rules discriminate against women?And which of them are matters of changeable rules? Can the rules of tenure governing the granting of tenure be changed? And is the tolerance of lechery more a matter of rules or not? (It might seem at first that it isn’t a matter of rules or changeable structure, but how about providing women with safer alternatives?)