Female philosophers, anyone?

Here’s a quick story. A glance at the history of many things tends to reveal a long list of men’s names, and very few women’s. Does that mean that no women were involved in that history? Or that their involvement was less important, their contributions less grand? No, folks. In many cases all it reveals is who became famous. And in many cases that’s not the women. No doubt there are many explanations for this phenomenon. But it’s easy to see that once the thing gets going, the ball keeps rolling. The men who get noticed are the ones who get mentioned in books, whose works are studied, about whom documentaries are made, and so on. They are then the people most likely to be noticed. It will be no surprise to readers of this blog, at least, to hear that this is not just a historical phenomenon. It seems, e.g., to be happening in our profession right now. You want to organise a conference on x? For some reason, it’s the names of men working on x that spring most readily to mind. Those men get invited to speak at the conference. People attending the conference will then think of those men as the people working on x. They will get invited to write books on x, to contribute to encyclopedias about x, and so on. The women working on x thus get sidelined. One of our concerns over at FP is to try and raise the profile of women working in the profession. One way to do that is to persuade conference organisers, encyclopedia writers, and so on to take just a minute and consider whether there are some female philosophers who should be included. I’m not talking about substituting a mediocre woman for a great man. I’m talking about asking yourself whether there are women who work in the area whose work is as deserving of praise and discussion as the perhaps more famous men. The answer will inevitably be ‘yes’.

Given the above, you can perhaps see why we were a bit disappointed with Brian Leiter’s recent poll (now closed), which asked readers to vote for the greatest twentieth century philosopher, and contained not a single woman. Yes, we know it was just a bit of fun. But it still gives the impression that there were no women philosophers of note throughout the whole of the twentieth century. So just for fun, here’s a chance to vote for your favourite twentieth century female philosophers. (I’m writing this in a hurry when I should be making porridge, so if you want me to include someone else on the poll, just drop me a comment.)

Edited to add: the poll has grown and grown throughout the last couple of days and is now an inspiring list of twentieth century female philosophers. I will keep adding further names to it as they are suggested. In recognition of the fact that many feminists (including a lot of us here at FP) dislike the selectivity and hierarchy involved in ranking people, you can now vote for as many people as you want as many times as you want. And no results will be published ;) Follow the link to see the poll…
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Structural sexism and racism

Structural factors underlying inequalities are discussed today on Dollars and Sense and Democracy Now.

Dollars and Sense addresses the recent NY Times mini-article and chart of pay inequities between woman and men (as we did here).  In separating discrimination from “personal choices” and “men’s greater experience” the NYT article disguises the  structural sexism in the work place that results in very serious inequalities.  “Personal choices” is code for childbearing, and men have more experience in large part because they don’t share the burden of giving birth  or as much of the burden of child care, to put it generally.

Democracy Now has a very interesting discussion of one way in which racism is part of the political structure we in the States live with.  The number of jailed African Americans serves many interests, some of which you may find surprising, as I did.  For example, for a number of towns in upper NY state, the prison system is a major source of employment.   Because prisoners count as residents, districting may involve keeping the prisons going.  And the prosecutors in NY City derive a lot of power from the very harsh drug laws in  NY state.  Discrimination may account for the unevenness  of arrests, but other factors may prevent  problems like that from being adequately addressed.

Both sites are worth checking out!