How many women? What per cent? Addition

So what should we say when a conference has 90% male philosophers as speakers?  Better one or two women, rather than none? 

Maybe it is enough to emphasize that participating in what is in effect an exclusion of women from public arenas in philosophy is damaging to the profession, to women in the profession, and to students.  It damages the profession in that, if nothing else, it brings it about that many, many talented women do not participate.  A further result, I would argue, is a kind of ossification of views.  The damage to women in the profession is clear:  they remain marginal, excluded from the insider’s discourse.  And students?  Like their few female professors, women students suffer the epistemic injustice Miranda Fricker has described, implicitly positioned as having a voice  of lesser value.

Notices of conferences like the one below cross my mailbox everyday:

From the APA:

The University of Texas at San Antonio Department of Philosophy welcomes Dr. Robert Audi (Notre Dame) as the ’08-’09 Brackenridge Philosopher in Residence for the Brackenridge Philosophy Symposium…

The theme of this year’s Symposium focuses on ethical and epistemic implications of Audi’s intuitionism.  Confirmed participants for this year’s Symposium are: Roger Crisp (Oxford), Ernest Sosa (Rutgers), Mark Timmons (Arizona), David Sosa (Texas-Austin), Carla Bagnoli (Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Hugh McCann (Texas A&M), Peter Graham (Cal-Riverside), Christopher Kulp (Santa Clara), and Ralph Kennedy (Wake Forest).

The conference web site also  lists 9 moderators, one of whom is a woman.   Counting Audi, this gives us 19  participants, with two women.  That’s 10.5% women. 

The conference itself is about the “Ethical and Epistemic Dimensions of Robert Audi’s Intuitionism.”  Could we please not say “O, there are no women working in that sort of area”?  Let’s not be silly.

Over the last year or so, we’ve taken some notice of some conferences with a problematic representation of women. This link should get you most of them, along with some irrelevant bits.

22 thoughts on “How many women? What per cent? Addition

  1. I am also seeing comparable conference programmes, in which men are hugely dominant and one or two women are there as tokens. My sense is that there is a regression going on, at least within English-speaking philosophy: Caring about the status of women in the profession is so twentieth-century.

    I was recently talking with a senior male philosopher. When I mentioned that women are but a small minority in the tenured ranks of philosophers, he professed surprise. When I stated that to me it seldom feels normal to be a woman in our field, he was, without exaggeration, astounded. His jaw dropped. He appeared not to be able to believe me.

    Feminist philosophy is now highly marginalized, at least in my own home department and in most of the conferences I have attended in the last year.

    In short, the profession is reverting to (or perhaps it never left) business as usual.

  2. If we are being careful, the conclusion that women are being actively excluded, although possibly correct, appears (to me) to be made too hastily in this instance.

    I understand that Robert Audi’s intuitionism is a specific area of research that not just anyone is qualified to speak about. It is possible that male philosophers have, for whatever reason, chosen to focus on this area more than female philosophers (and contrariwise for other areas of research). To say with confidence that women are being actively excluded (as opposed to choosing not to focus on intuitionism), what we need is to count the proportion of the scholars “sufficiently qualified” to speak about Audi’s Intuitionism that are men as compared to women and observe whether it is adequately reflected in the symposium participants.

    Of course, I grant that determining who is sufficiently qualified is not an easy task (e.g., counting the number of females and males making journal publications about intuitionism), since it requires that the community outside the conference is open to female philosophers. What we really need is to find women whose chosen area of research was intuitionism, but were kept from participating in the conference.

    As a student of philosophy at UBC, I can testify to the imbalance of men to women in my faculty. It is a baffling problem for us in the sense that we don’t know how to overcome it. Prior to choosing an area of research, there are fewer women who choose philosophy to begin with. Whether this is voluntary or imposed is a question we are trying to better understand.

    I hope it’s clear that I’m not suggesting that there isn’t gendered discrimination in academia. Rather, I am saying we should be critical in identifying such discrimination.

    To argue that women are being excluded on the basis that there are fewer of them represented on the panel is to assume that men and women have the same (or no) proclivities at the outset, but then women are kept from pursuing those proclivities on the basis of their gender. I am not denying that that is the case, although I am skeptical of such a “blank slate” model of human proclivities. I am however suggesting we not merely assume such an equality of interest, but rather that we demonstrate it.

  3. Mavaddat, you have made some assumptions that I think could be examined a bit more. First of all, the program has both speakers and moderators and I know at least one (male) moderator doesn’t know much about the area. So participation is not restricted to specialists in Audi’s area. Secondly, the geographical area they were drawing on for moderators has quite a number of women philosophers in vaguely related fields (as is the male I know), so it should not have been hard to find some. No one I know directly was asked.

    Secondly, you are assuming a burden of proof; we can’t criticize until we know all sorts of not very easy to find facts. I don’t agree. It may be that the exclusion of women is now encoded in the construction of certain small areas in philosophy. What follows from that? It is in fact well within the traditions of philosophical discussions to bring in someone with a slightly different approach to provide some life and new views. I tried to provide some reasons for doing so: the health of the profession, students, women in philosophy. I could have added: an not having an ossified discussion. And in fact, they seem to have done so at least with the moderators, or some of them.

    One thing we might think about is what holds these sorts of practices in place, and then try to evaluate them. If one is that there’s a certain Balkanization of subject matter, then that might provide a reason without providing an excuse.

    Finally, I think my language does not ascribe to the conference organizer(s) a deliberate and intentional exclusion of women; I did not say they were actively excluding women. My language might have been used to describe a number of effectively exclusionary practices without implying a deliberate excluding.

    I think the situation of women in philosophy is in general pretty dire. I suspect that philosophy is so behind the rest of the humanities in part because people are not recognizing the effects of their decisions or, if they are, they don’t take themselves as responsible. That has to stop.

  4. Thank you for your very reasonable response, JJ.

    If familiarity with Audi’s intuitionism isn’t a qualification to be considered a speaker or moderator, what is exactly? Do we know? Is it number of journal publications? Or is there no specific qualification? Also, do you agree that such a familiarity with intuitionism should be a prerequisite for participation in (or moderation of) the discussion? If so, doesn’t the proportion of females in a position to participate still matter?

    You mentioned that there are women philosophers in the “geographical area” of the people they’re choosing to participate in the conference. But unless they are choosing participants based mainly on geography (are they?), I’m not sure I understand how that is relevant. Can you clarify this point?

    The consideration here seems to be that we need to understand the subset of people they are choosing from before we determine whether there’s (conscious or unconscious) exclusion happening.

    I also don’t understand your complaint about burdens of proof. My point was merely that there might be another explanation other than discrimination against women at play here (specifically, women might be voluntarily choosing not to enter philosophy, and then, women philosophers might also be choosing not to be in the subset of people from which the conference coordinators are choosing — whatever that subset might be). It is certainly true that you don’t have to look into all the facts before making your criticism. However, without clearly investigating the relevant alternatives, the charge of gendered exclusion lacks bite. In other words, the strength of any criticism is commensurate to the evidence supporting that criticism.

    I agree that your language does not ascribe conscious exclusion. I apologize for giving the impression that I thought it had. I didn’t. Neither do I think that the exclusion needs to be conscious to be considered “active” exclusion.

    I only wonder if perhaps women are (for the most part) choosing not to participate as opposed to being excluded. This possibility wouldn’t preclude some qualified women being excluded (or, some qualified men being excluded). Nor would it preclude some unqualified men or women being included. All it suggests is that the largest part of the imbalance would be attributed to volition rather than coercion.

  5. Rather than entering into the debate above, I want to note that I work in an area of philosophy where there are in fact many women (and feminists): political philosophy. And yet it’s not at all uncommon to see anthologies like this one:

    The website doesn’t offer a breakdown of “classic” and “contemporary” authors, but the flyer I received in the mail for this book did. Out of approx. 22 contemporary authors in an anthology entitled “Arguing About Political Philosophy” designed to provide an “engaging survey of political philosophy,” only 2 are women. And from a quick glance at these promotional materials, it doesn’t appear that feminist perspectives are directly addressed anywhere in the volume.

    I wish this were not so common (esp. not in 2009)

  6. Mavaddat, I fail to see the relevance to this discussion of your objection that women might be excluding themselves. Aren’t philosophers then responsible for creating an environment that is inhospitable to women? I do not believe that there are entire areas of philosophy — or even very specific sub-areas — that just do not interest women, except that discursively and socially they are structured in such a way that women are turned off interest and participation. And this in itself should be noticed and addressed by practitioners of the discipline.

    Philosophy of whatever variety should be a public discourse, not an exclusive men’s club. It is often, institutionally, publicly funded. But more than this, it is supposed to be a noble pursuit of the mind that does not discriminate on the basis of the kinds of bodies we have. That by and large there are far fewer women participants than men is not because women do not value pursuing philosophical questions. Nor is it, largely, because male philosophers set out deliberately to exclude them. But when the trappings of philosophy — the in-jokes, the homo-socialisation, and the willful blindness to questions of difference — are so, so very alienating to women, then the notion that women self-exclude is no excuse for the discipline.

  7. Let me just note that since I’m not really working in ethics, i can’t speak directly to Audi’s intuitionism. However, a very quick whip around reveals that Audi’s clearly interested in virtue theory and it’s reactions to intuitionism and on kantian views of ethical knowledge. And there are certainly women in those fields

  8. Thanks all for the thoughts! This discussion has been helpful for me in thinking about gender difference and power.

    I think you make a good point, Joanne. It is difficult to discern exactly why women are not being represented, but the history of gendered-oppression raises our suspicions that it is systemic as opposed to chosen.

  9. However, without clearly investigating the relevant alternatives, the charge of gendered exclusion lacks bite. In other words, the strength of any criticism is commensurate to the evidence supporting that criticism.

    Perhaps, but we aren’t dealing with merely the evidence of this particular case. If it were just this particular case in view, one could say, “Oh, perhaps it was just a fluke” — for instance, lots of women being asked and almost all of them declining would be a fluke, a sheer accident. But it’s the whole set of cases that starts raising suspicions. If this happens only occasionally, OK; there’s lots of possible explanations for that. But if it happens always or very often, they can’t all be sheer accidents, especially if it mostly happens to women and not to men and women equally. As Aristotle might say, nothing is a chance event that happens always or for the most part. That’s a sign that there’s an underlying cause that disposes things that way. And it is true that a case here and there could still be a fluke; but the evidence sets up a presumption that it’s not, that the underlying cause is doing its work — and that this is probably the case is the conclusion commensurate with the evidence. So we don’t need to know details for the charge to have bite: the evidence is adequate to support it (albeit defeasibly) if this is not an isolated case. Thus the charge of gendered exclusion already stands — it can only be blocked in two ways: showing that this case was, in fact, contrary to appearances, a fluke; or showing that the underlying assumption (that this happens a lot) is incorrect.

  10. I was recently in a position of selecting speakers for a largeish conference on philosophical methodology. (It wasn’t just me making the decisions, but I had quite a lot of input.) Some of our demographic data might be interesting for people who spend time thinking about these issues. We had 110 submissions; of these 26 (23%) were women. We did not referee blind; I tried, however, to be as fair as possible, keeping in mind the implicit biases that have been discussed here and elsewhere recently.

    We ended up inviting 4 women and 8 men from this group. (We also have 3 male and 1 female invited keynote speaker, not taken from the submissions.)

    I’d be interested to know, if anyone knows, what proportion of applicants to such events are typically female? Was our case typical? What proportion would reflect the current actual demographics of the field? Are women more likely to be passed over in unsolicited invitations than in non-blind applications? (A guess: yes.)

  11. Brandon, just to be clear, I wasn’t suggesting it was a fluke or an accident. I was wondering if it wasn’t a result of a difference in proclivities between men and women (which is by no means “accidental”). Just wanted to be clear!

  12. JJ writes: ‘One thing we might think about is what holds these sorts of practices in place, and then try to evaluate them.’

    One gelling factor may be the dynamics of organizing a conference or edited volume, especially the selection of invited speakers, which can be interwoven with stressful financial and other considerations. One wants at least a smattering of speakers who will agree to come, preferably on first time of asking, and who are known quantities – which means, often, one’s professional friends and acquaintances. Also, there is social pressure to not exclude those friends/acquaintances working in the same field. And there is the thought that a conference involving one’s friends/acquaintances will be a more enjoyable prospect than a conference involving near strangers. Assuming that the friendship/acquaintance relation tracks gender (among other qualities like institutional affiliations, ethnicity, etc). Result: these hopelessly skewed conferences.

    Key point: if this is indeed a factor (I doubt it’s the only one), I’d guess (but I’m not confident) that the existing gender imbalance in the profession would be amflified by it. That is, even if female organizers do this too, they are fewer in number, and there are fewer potential participants to be invited out of friendship. So the effect is a magnification and hence a sustenance of the imbalance.

    An obvious remedy if this is right: conference organizers (or at least, male ones) should recognize the distorting impact on their field of inviting friends and acquaintances as such.

  13. Hi Mavaddat –

    Along with everyone else’s points, I’d add that you’re working with a false dichotomy. Can’t someone freely choose not to work in a certain area in part because of a reasonable belief that they would be excluded and marginalized? They might even say, years later, that they dabbled a little in that area, but ultimately decided that they weren’t `really interested’. You should read Martha Nussbaum’s account of adaptive preferences in Women and human development, if you haven’t already.

  14. Thanks everyone for the great discussion, and to Mavaddat for helping to spark it. Some points:

    Jonathan, I wish others would follow your lead!
    Brandon: nice argument!
    LPG: the named conference organizer for this one is a woman, and that’s true for at least two other men’s conferences we’ve mentioned earlier. I suspect there are a number of reasons why it happens, but one point important for us to remember is that a woman may experience the same bias-inducing environment as a man.
    Another thing that many people, I suspect, feel it is somehow wrong to privilege someone on the basis of her gender; they forget that many men, because they are men, have experienced privileges that women almost never see.
    Another might be that some people just don’t see picking speakers as having political implications; quite how they manage that these days isn’t clear to me. In any case, we’re trying to increase awareness of the political dimension.

    To everyone else: Yes!

  15. Noumena,

    I wasn’t presenting a dichotomy at all. I fully admit there could be a number of possible ways in which women are being excluded (including their choosing not to engage in an activity that is excluding them!). In fact, that’s my point.

    What I was suggesting was that there may an alternative explanation that does not rely on exclusion at all. Do you see how there’s no disjunction in that? It is a statement of possibility.

    There are activities that men enjoy doing which women generally choose not to do; and there are activities that women enjoy doing that men generally choose not to do. My proposal amounts to the possibility that scholarship on Audi’s style of analytic philosophy is one such activity.

    The underlying assumption of this article is that a gender imbalance in some activity implies exclusion. While fully acknowledging the history of female oppression, I am suggesting that we demonstrate that hypothesis rather than assume it.

  16. Mavaddat, if the exclusion is a factor in the free choice, then free choice is not, per se, an alternative explanation to exclusion. At best your alternative hypothesis was underdescribed. If you want a genuine alternative to the exclusion hypothesis, your hypothesis might be that (a) women freely choose not to engage in this activity (or freely choose to do so at a different rate from men, or something like this), and (b) this free choice is not influenced by their exclusion from this activity. But this is still consistent with a claim that women are excluded, which is unjust whether it’s the cause of different rates of participation or not, so it’s not actually a real alternative either. What you need to claim is that (a) women freely choose not to engage in this activity (or etc.), (b) this free choice is not influenced by their exclusion from this activity, because (c) they are not excluded from this activity.

    But then the debate is over (b) and (c), ie, whether or not women are actually excluded, and what influence this has on their free choices. And since the latter question is less important, the debate is really about whether or not women are actually excluded, and drawing attention to people’s free choices when we’re talking about underrepresentation starts to look like a big red herring.

    Hmmm I should put this argument in my file of papers to write.

  17. Noumena, if we’re being technical, it is possible for a person to be excluded from some activity and to freely choose to abstain from that activity. For example, I am excluded from most of my city’s yacht’s clubs. However, I wouldn’t go even if it was invited. It doesn’t interest me.

    That was just an aside. I think you capture this point in differentiating between b) and c).

    To call the gender imbalance an instance of “underrepresentation” is again to beg the question, since “underrepresentation” assumes that women ought to be represented in this field (whether they want to or not!). My entire point is that, contrary to your red herring charge, free choice as an explanation for the imbalance is viable and important. We must rule out volition empirically if we’re to regard this imbalance as an injustice, not merely a priori.

  18. It seems to me that there are macro and micro forces and reasons at work in all these matters. Assuming a sliding scale form ‘most-macro’ to ‘most-micro’ (though the latter sounds wrong), we could see these possibilities:
    1) What women primarily do is undervalued and, often, underpaid. (Nursing)
    2) Women (and men) are socialized by their relevant groups/cultures to think of certain jobs/areas of pursuit as gendered – and, so, as ‘not what a woman/man does.’ (No landscaping for women; no day care work for men.)
    3) One person, for genuinely individual reasons, is not interested in a certain career path. (see below)

    I do not mean that these three capture all the points on the scale. However, if I understand Mavadatt’s posts, s/he is simply noting the range of possibilities and observing that these do not exclude one another.

    I think it is important for feminist philosophers to recognize this range of possibilties. After all, we would not want to tell our women students that they must go into subfield whatever because women are underrepresented in that subfield. Would we? To do so would be to tell them that their individual interests and desires must be subsumed to the end of proportional representation in an area of work. It seems to me that this is a kind of inverse-essentialism: you are female, therefore you must …

    I certainly never wanted to be a nurse or a doctor, a high school or elementary school teacher, a trash collector, an accountant, a retail clerk or a store manager (although I did both), or a logician.

    My point is that feminism must not become another system of oppression: “you must do/be X.” Let’s work to eliminate what I described as possibilities 1 & 2, above, and let individuals truly be themselves.

  19. cstars, I just recovered 3 of your posts from the spam bucket; if you don’t see comments of yours getting posted, please do write us so we can check it out.

    I have no idea what set off the spam police; usually, it is lots of links.

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