Where are all the women?

Rob, in a comment here, and someone actually interviewed for the article, have sent us this link.  It’s to an article in The Philosophers’ Magazine, which is eponymous with this post’s title.

I find the article overall depressing, a mood perhaps enhanced by the Taquilla a lovely student brought yesterday for Mr. jj from Mexico.  And it may be that the topic treated is depressing.  Still, we can be  glad that the problem has been noticed!  And for an introduction to the problem, perhaps it is really all we could reasonably hope for.

Two explanations get the most serious run:  (a) the aggressive culture of philosophy and (b) the possibility of biological or cultural pressures against women. 

How about the aggressive culture?  I do think we need to be careful with this.  As a central explanation, it can be seen to point to a womanly wimpishness as the cause of what, much recent detailed research suggests, is actually the product of pretty subtle  discriminatory factors.

Saul importantly  remarks that it isn’t an inevitable part of doing philosophy.  None of those interviewed like it, and I think most women think there’s a downside to it.  I do wonder whether it is exactly the style itself that we so dislike, or the fact that we’ve found it used against us. **

The biological/cultural factors?  Saul tries to fill out how cultural factors might operate to degrade the performance of perfectly qualified women, and her brief comments will be interesting especially to people who are just starting to think about the questions.  However, mostly (b) is treated as a black box that (as people in cognitive science  too often say) outputs the result that philosophy and women don’t really suit one another.  Michelle Montague (lecturer at Bristol) is quoted in the following part of the article:

“It’s hard to say but if you had an explanation for why there aren’t many women in maths and engineering, I think the explanation might be similar as to why there aren’t as many women in metaphysics and logic and language,” she says. “I think that the mindset and the kind of mind that is interested in those topics is similar – so I think if you found an explanation for the maths and engineering, it would carry over.”

We really badly need to communicate to the philosophy community that there’s a vast amount of research done in the US on this issue and there are tons of explanations that do not appeal to kinds of minds.  Further, as we noted recent,ly, the exclusion of women from these fields varies with countries.  It is not an immutable result founded in differences between sexes.

It is interesting that Helen BeeBee does  not feel she has ever been treated unfairly; she is director of the British Philosophical Association.  She is,  however, prepared to say that the per centages make a case for injustice.

In addition, the thorn in my side (at least), Simon Baron Cohen, gets cited.  He thinks that men have these systematizing minds that fit them for all sorts of scientific and leadership roles and women are warm and fuzzy.  OK, that isn’t it exactly.  But a major part of his evidence – men are in a very significant majority of top outliers on maths tests – has been shown to be a cultural phenomenon that never applied in most of the world’s countries.  And it is disappearing in the States as it becomes possible to be feminine and do maths.

**There are women who early on get treated as one of the boys, and it would be interesting to see if their reactions are the same.  Mind you, cause and effect might be hard to disentangle here, but it might be interesting to look at women in long term partnerships with male philosophers who started those relationships early on  in their careers.  Did Stephannie Lewis, for example, find the Princeton male agression as difficult as many women did?   Does Marilyn Adams brace herself when she is delivering a paper?  I think Annette Baier is  on record for having found the culture difficult, and so, as we’d expect, shared marital status  may not guarantee shared attitudes.