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…
One might also note that both Leiter and I are guilty of focusing wholly on ‘Western’ philosophy. I’ve no doubt there are great twentieth century philosophers working in other traditions. One might also observe that non-whites tend to get sidelined in a similar way to women. Cheers to Amy!