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.

52 thoughts on “Where are all the women?

  1. Tequila should always be a mood enhancer!

    While the “manly combativeness” thesis is a prevalent explanation in these discussion it is usually eventually met with the counterexample of linguistics, which is apparently as combative and has a better gender balance. I don’t have much familiarity with linguistics practices, so I can’t really say.

    Whatever is going on, I suspect that we aren’t going to get a single neat answer, and that there are probably some interlocking factors at work. That said, I’m very glad to see any discussion of the problem, even if it is mostly treading familiar ground.

  2. As for men outperforming women on math tests … I read somewhere that girls initially outperformed boys on standardized math tests, so the test writers went back and tinkered with the questions to “fix” it! Tests such as the SAT are also pretty reliably classist as well … just another couple of good reasons to toss out standardized testing!

  3. I wonder. I know that fields like psychology, linguistics, biology are rife with controversies. People in those fields argue a lot, and argue quite aggressively. Yet women are represented quite a bit better.

    How’s this: Philosophy is distinguished from other fields (I claim) not in being more aggressive, but rather in being spectacularly useless (to the economy, that is). Philosophy consists of people luxuriating in abstractions (I know *I* luxuriate!). Accordingly, the people drawn to philosophy are predominantly those from the “upper classes”, since these people have the luxury (or perhaps they *think* they have the luxury) of not being too concerned with finding gainful employment. Now, it’s certainly possible for women and nonwhite men to be “upperclass”, but as is known, white men are more privileged than these others.

    Therefore, white men are disproportionately drawn to philosophy.

    This is a half-assed hypothesis, inspired by a bottle of wine, but I’d welcome any thoughts.

    [I see mrv has mentioned linguistics; yes, it’s quite true. For instance, the line between semantics & philosophy of language is nearly nonexistent. Yet there are many women semanticists, and not too many women philosophers of language.]

  4. All: Thanks for the wonderful thoughts.

    Heater, there’s some evidence in other fields, i understand, that women are less attracted to the utterly useless. That isn’t to say that women don’t like the very abstract or theoretical. The important book Unlocking the Clubhouse explores this theme in a way that makes sense. I still think that we need to realize that there are gatekeepers, or gatekeeping mechanisms, that make it harder for women, whatever their/our tastes.

    Linguistics is an important example, and counterexample. Given the superb women linguists, the question for philosophy seems to acquire a certain burden of proof. Why shouldn’t we think there’s something really quite wrong with philosophy?

    Tequila is a great mood enhancer, but the next day one might rethink that strategy.

  5. I’m not sure the uselessness hypothesis explains everything. A Computer Science degree is more valuable today than ever, but the percentage of women in CS has actually *declined* since the ’80s!

    Of course, it’s quite easy for anyone who frequents websites for CS nerds to see why: the culture is proud of its “geeky” reputation, and part of its geekiness is wrapped up in being a (heterosexual) man who has trouble communicating with women. Women who post on geek sites like Slashdot are almost always replied to with “joke” posts like “show us your pics” or “No way! Everyone knows there are no girls on Slashdot!” It’s quite sad, really. (See this comic http://xkcd.com/322/ )

  6. Something I’ve observed is that when you get very, very deep into working on philosophy problems, the sense that things matter starts to fade. Working on problems starts to seem like “just a game.” And I think that’s more true in philosophy than in other fields. From what I can tell (with a limited sample size, of course), men mind that less than women. I’ve heard men say it’s just fine with them to devote their lives to something that’s just a game. My impression is that women often don’t like that quality. They want to feel like they’re doing something that really matters. Some of those women leave the field and do something with a higher “mattering” quotient. Others stay in the field and gravitate toward the high-life-relevance areas. Or they figure out a way to do the more abstract stuff in a way that creates satisfying connections to things that matter to them. If the “mattering” business is part of the reason why there are fewer women in philosophy, then maybe it’s not so bad that there’s a gender imbalance. There are probably also negative things keeping the numbers lower than they should be (the aggression thing seems to be part of it), but I’d be reluctant to say that in a perfect world, women would be just as attracted to all areas of philosophy as men are. (Another way to create gender balance would be for fewer men to do philosophy! Maybe that’s the fix we need!) This little theory fits my experience, but what about the linguistics example– that’s a “gamey” field too. So why are there so may women? Do they have the perception that linguistics matters? Hmm. Not sure, but these categories strike me as being important to understanding what women do within philosophy, and why many wind up choosing to do other things besides philosophy.

  7. The explanation I favour: there’s nothing about philosophy (the subject) which explains why it is so men-heavy. Purely by chance, a greater proportion of males became philosophers, but once that had happened, all sorts of mechanisms kicked in and made it difficult for women to enter the field (women don’t look like philosophers; men-philosophers more readily spring to mind as the big names, etc,. etc,.) In other words, nothing accounts for the emergence of the pattern at the outset – that was down to chance – but once it had emerged, it was perpetuated.

  8. I agree with Monkey. Philosophy as a subject matter doesn’t seem to have some special feature in virtue of which more men are attracted to it. The relevant feature is the institutionalized sexism. And whilst it might be interesting to see how this came about historically, I notice that when this topic comes up the question is usually, Why are things this way in our subject? There then follows some armchair theorizing wholly uninformed by empirical research. Much less often do you hear, What can we do to remedy it?

    I agree that understanding the causes of the problem can help with tackling it. But given how unlikely it is that we’re going to agree on an answer to that any time soon, surely it would be better to just start trying to deal with the problem and see what works.

    I’d prefer to see an article discussing possible strategies than possible explanations.

  9. Very interesting to see these replies. Part (but not all) of the reason I left academic philosophy was because I started to feel that I was working very hard researching and writing on a subject that had other consequences whatsoever. No matter what conclusions I came to, it would have no impact outside of philosophy journals and seminars. I only started to feel this after I had children. I wonder if this is a consequences of changes to how I viewed the world, or to the difficulties of being a mother in academia, or something I would have arrived at no matter what.

  10. One important feature of linguistics is that women have mentored other women.

    There is the unpleasant historical fact that women were largely barred from higher education until around the 1900’s. Every field in existence then was male. It does seem important that philosophy has been the slowest humanities field to change, at least in the Anglo-American community, with apparently Canada being by far the most progressive, to judge by the comments on frog’s recent post on the upcoming Canadian conference.

    There’s a somewhat similar question about the sciences; why has biology been integrated and chemistry and physics not? Explaining the difference in terms of women’s tastes is at least politically troublesome, since it leaves out the hypothesis that the gate keeping is stronger in proportion to the self-regard existing in a discipline – at least I’d place physicists and philosophers as at the same level in their conviction that they are revealing ultimate truths. Perhaps the same goes for mathematicians. It’s also the case that the participants in each field often view themselves as somewhat select. These are not fields just any relatively intelligent person can shine in, it has been often said.

    Perhaps the self-conception of a group as elite is a big factor in triggering all the biases against anyone who seems different.

    There’s a lot available on how to change this. Here’s a wonderful pamphlet:

    Click to access bcrw-womenworkacademy_08.pdf

    We need to know what’s holding gender patterns of hiring and promotion in place; look at pages 10-12. Pages 13 onwards address how to change it all.

  11. I have another proposal about the difference in linguistics: it’s a far more internationalized field than philosophy (in the US at least). This introduces various other elements, especially if we recall that some of the gender biases and expectations about performance in science and math are culturally based. I have read research indicating that more women go into and succeed in math and science in some countries because education in such fields is more class-stratified than gender-stratified. In a previous job I was in a department with close affiliations with linguistics and I also observed that the social mores were quite different. The linguists had very fun parties with music, dancing, and good (potluck, international) food. They exhibited more social graces and more, simply, joie de vivre. But if I get onto the topic of philosophers’ lamentably developed social skills, I could go on all day. Ever since Socrates philosophers have prided themselves on being social misfits, not fitting in, not following common social expectations, etc. My own explanation for this is that many philosophers were skinny geeky or nerdy boys in high school who didn’t date but sat alone in their rooms reading Nietzsche or Camus or Ayn Rand (fantasizing about being Howard Roark figures like that poor pale slug with the socks we saw in the nude photo recently), and now that they are in a profession which somewhat ludicrously perceives itself as macho, they have a happy feeling of male bonding during philosophical conversation or argument which is heavily tinged with homoerotic elements and gets disrupted by the occasional woman who tries to participate.
    Although I have always been successful in the discipline of philosophy, I have always found most of my colleagues to be not very nice people.

  12. Why did I choose this discipline again? I actually think the explanations here in this article are too simplistic. The issue more likely has to do with a combination of messages from dominant culture about what it means to be a woman, with attendant assumptions about a woman’s “proper place” and intelligence, the overwhelmingly antagonistic culture of philosophy, and the dominance of the male voice and subject position in the dominant philosophical discourse. Women might begin to question their own rationality when they DO stay in the discipline. (I originally misplaced this comment in the hiring practices discussion–sorry.)

  13. I’d go with (1) tipping point + (2) elitism.

    The phenomenon of positive feedbacks in the economy is well-known: why VHS beat out Beta, why PCs beat out Macs, etc. Men, as it happened, colonized philosophy and central areas in philosophy in particular so the mere fact that women are in a minority makes women less likely to play just as fewer people get Macs because fewer people get Macs. And this is true even in my department where the school provides all faculty with computers and tech support for Macs is, if anything, better than tech support for PCs. So for women it takes either more motivation to do philosophy than for men or less discomfort in working in an environment where you’re in a minority.

    Elitism figures too I think though this is more speculative. A philosophy degree is pretty much worthless as a qualification for any Real World job and the philosophy job market is dreadful. For women there’s more risk involved in getting a philosophy degree because women have fewer fallback positions. Elite males know that they can get decent jobs with a BA in any major; women know that unless they have special qualifications they’ll end up in essentially secretarial jobs. So ambitious women, and non-elite males, go for degrees that give them a leg up in the job market. If you aren’t a gentleman you can’t afford to get the gentleman’s C, or a worthless humanities degree.

    Then of course one asks why women are the majority going for other worthless humanities degrees. Just from my experience, most students who major in these other humanities disciplines aren’t driven. Maybe this is where the aggression issue comes into play. The culture of philosophy selects for drive, ambition, aggression. You do not get laid back people who are ok with just doing what they like, drifting and hoping that something will turn up as you do in other humanities disciplines. Women and non-elite males who have the kind of drive you need for philosophy can’t afford to assume the risk of getting a useless humanities degree and spending their lives at boring deadend jobs.

  14. Re: high self-regard fields keeping out “different” people.

    I think you need to bring in taste to explain a variety of things (like which areas of philosophy women prefer), but particularly this sequence of events (that I have experienced and observed)– Woman gets into philosophy (or math or physics), succeeds in a male-dominated high status area, experiences high self-regard from doing so, yet also experiences not-high-enough personal satisfaction. So she either shifts into a lower status area or leaves the field. Example (not my own): very successful female mathematician moves out of male dominated pure math and into female-dominated math ed. I know of a number of stories like this. They may tell us something not just about the individuals with this trajectory, but about why some women don’t enter the most abstract precincts to begin with. (By all means–there are lots of other factors. I’m not by any means saying the taste factor is everything.)

  15. I’m worried about foregrounding taste, because I think that won’t yield an explanation of why there have been so very few women in metaphysics, philosophy of language and so on. These fields are not so different from the theoretical areas of linguistics in which women have excelled.

    Another thing about taste is that in this sort of forum it involves self-reporting and we really may be missing key factors in the formation of our taste.

    Since I really dislike telling others they don’t understand themselves, let me say I’m thinking right now that I may have seriously mis-diagnosed my own situation. Early on in my career my strongest intuitions were in metaphysics and philosophy of language. (I actually strongly dislike what is happening in much in those fields now, since I like questions about whether causation can be understood in terms of counterfactuals, but I have no interest in working through 60 articles on counterfactuals.) But I left those fields because I failed to have any strong public voice in those area, I think now today. That is, on Sept 5, 2009. Up until a few hours ago, I would have said I left because I thought they were trivial and boring, but in fact I left before they became full of articles on tiny details.

    I now work in any area which is equally abstract and abstruse, but I have a much larger network of supportive friends in an interdisciplinary area. It’s also too new to have gotten too trivial. Hence, I’ve been able to put up with all the people who assume that if a woman says something different she must be wrong. Though I have to say that it has been close; the last time questioners from an audience reacted as though I were a mad woman who had escaped from the attic, I really just about left once again. I had had an earlier experience that spring of the same sort of stuff, and thought it was just too much of a burden to have to fight all the time to be taken seriously.

    At one of those conferences, several of us women noticed that one of our kind was taken very seriously, and I’m just not about to say exactly what our diagnosis rested on, but let’s say it certainly involved the hypothesis that the men were not thinking with their brains.

  16. I’d love to hear why people persevere through bad experiences. I’m wondering whether, like Calypso, it involves have early and then sustained successes (as I assume, Calypso, you felt as though you did). Or perhaps for others it involved moving into more supportive areas??

  17. I started in metaphysics. Now I’ve finally gotten back to it after years of writing in a half-assed way in feminism and sort of social and political philosophy.

    Why did I get into these areas? Pure risk-aversion–some innate and some promoted by my colleagues. It’s harder to get vita entries in metaphysics. It’s perceived as a harder field. And my colleagues pushed me to get into feminism: I was the departmental woman so, early in my career I was told that “getting into feminism” and starting a women’s studies program would be my strongest suit for getting tenure. Once you invest in a new area, and lose track of what’s going on in your original specialty area, it’s hard to get back.

    3 months ago I had to make a decision. I was trying to turn a topic on which I’d written a few articles into a book, which would have meant reading lots more in social and political philosophy, and boning up on game theory. I decided to ditch the project. It’s one thing to write a few quick and dirty papers to get vita entries and APA trips but quite another thing to pursue work in the area seriously.

    I felt a huge weight fall off my shoulders when I decided to ditch the project and get back to work in metaphysics–going from “How much of this stuff do I have to read to write the book” to “Yum!, Look at all this work in mereotopology! I can’t gobble it up fast enough!” I may never publish anything again, but metaphysics is what I’m going to do.

    So I repeat: I think the chief thing is risk-aversion.

  18. JJ, I’m not sure why you think explanations that involve taste are more riddled with problems of self-reporting that explanations that have to do with publishing pressures, poor social support, combative style, lousy parties, etc. etc. Whatever we say about why we got out of X and into Y involves some sort of little theory about ourselves that could be wrong. In any event, my main case was about someone else, not myself. But I’m not going to insist–I think there are lots of factors, many interesting and worthy of attention.

  19. JK, nice point! I really didn’t mean to be responding to you particularly; a number of people have mentioned taste, and my main concern is with making it sound like women can’t do philosophy – if not because of logical ability, then because of taste.

    I think that I had in mind another problem with taste though. Suppose one says I acted because P. There is a commitment to a connection of some sort, and that might well involve some sort of mini-theory. And if we’re talking reasons for action, seeing something as a reason might involve something like a matter of values. But statements of taste bring in additional problems, I think.

    I am inclined to think that when P is something like “I don’t really like it” there are two closely related possible problems that other cases needn’t have. First of all, it is typically much less objectively accessible. Not always and not completely: There can be evidence one way or another for all sorts of taste judgments, such as whether it fits in with others judgement one has made, whether one really acts on it, and so on. Secondly, I’m pretty sure a number of us use/think “I don’t like it” when we can’t or won’t probe for a further explanation. If we’ve had philosophy training, we might well try to probe, but there are lots of ways in which we are now becoming aware of factors that may have influenced us without our knowing it.

    I’m pretty sure I know of a number of cases of fairly equal merit and performance where he gets remembered and rewarded, while she fades away from people’s attention. This might show up in them as a big difference in liking, but that’s really not a good account of why she might leave.

  20. A question from a non-philosopher. Why are there so many
    (non-scientific, personal observation) women lawyers, when so many of the same skills that go into philosophy go into being a lawyer?

  21. Well OK, we could easily be tempted into taking simple reports about what people like too seriously…and not looking further, and not considering other things that are going on. But it would be interesting to look deeply at how women feel while doing philosophy…of different types. Since I’ve done many types of philosophy in many settings (and compared notes with a lot of people), I’ve thought about whether there are male-female differences. I think maybe so…but it does make me nervous to say that, so I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong.

  22. amos, it’s interesting, women have a strong presence in law and medicine. The objective data pretty much support your sense of the situation.

    One thing that may be happening is that women who might otherwise be in philosophy have gone into law. There is almost a tradition now of this sort of explanation for both men and women. As in, Well if you value money over the pursuit of truth, go to law.

    I don’t, of course, endorse that explanation. I’ve also heard that blacks prefer law over philosophy, since law is so lucrative. I think that such explanations reveal instead how impoverished philosophy professors understanding of the social implications of their actions is.

    So what is going on? It might be that law has some sense that a diversity of opinion is a good thing.

  23. JJ: We’d have to investigate what types of law women attorneys practice, whether they defend the tobacco lobby or work as public defenders, which is less lucrative than the first alternative. Maybe opting for law or medicine over philosophy (for women) has something to do with what Jean K. affirms at 2:32 above, choosing something practical, something which isn’t just a high IQ game. I have no facts or figures, but I’m thinking of a long-time woman friend, now in her mid-60’s, married to and then divorced from a philosopher very young, who at around age 30 studied law and ended up defending low-income juvenile offenders.

  24. On jj’s footnote about aggression: I enjoy a good aggressive argument, and so far I have been accepted by other philosophers as a basically competent person. (I’m not crazy about the “one of the boys” phrasing, because in my case, many of the relevant people doing the accepting have been other women! I don’t want to speak for my female classmates, but they’ve never struck me as particularly quiet or particularly uncomfortable with heated debate either. I certainly haven’t ever scared them off by coming on too strong in an argument.) I am not in any sort of romantic relationship with a male philosopher, though, and I intend to keep things that way.

    Routine aggression is different from gendered hostility masquerading as routine aggression, I think. It’s one thing to rip somebody’s argument apart when it’s tacitly understood that you’re basically equals; it’s another thing to beat up on somebody because you think they have low social status and want to rub it in.

  25. The question in its most general form is: are women under-represented in X (where X is a discipline or subdiscipline) because of some intrinsic feature of doing X or because of something extrinsic to doing X–the X “culture,” the pipeline for getting into X, the way in which women are treated in X, etc. Here are 2 examples that suggest it’s extrinsic.

    (1) One of the areas in which women are scarcest is philosophy of religion, which seems especially strange since in the outside world women are over-represented amongst churchgoers and, notoriously, more religious than their male counterparts. So why? Most philosophers of religion are churchgoers–that’s the pipeline. Churches cater for “traditional women” but are inhospitable to women with serious career interests–including women in philosophy.

    (2) This statistic may be out of date but last time I looked there were proportionately more women in pure math than in engineering. Why? Because pure math draws students from a purely academic route. There are more non-academic paths to engineering, which attracts tinkerers and the kind of guys, and I mean male guys, who used to be radio hams.

    This would also explain the decline of women’s participation in CS. In the old days the pipeline was more strictly academic. Then the guy culture of gaming developed and became a major pipeline for computer science.

  26. HE, What would be the extrinsic explanation for there being more women in ethics than in other areas of philosophy? The fact that this is so fits with the cliche (which might be somewhat true) that women are interested in people. In ethics, more than any other field of philosophy, one thinks about people and their real life problems. It would seem like a stretch (to me, anyway) to explain this entirely in terms of pipelines, the ethics subculture within philosophy, etc.

  27. I’m not saying that the pipeline issue is the whole of it. I also, remember, mentioned risk-aversion and ethics broadly construed is a less risky area than most because, especially if one works in applied specialty areas, there are ample opportunities for getting vita entries. Same goes for why there are proportionately more women in law than in philosophy, given that the intrinsic characteristics of the disciplines are very similar. A law degree is a credential that virtually guarantees professional employment; a philosophy degree does not. The issue isn’t making lots of money with a law degree vs. making less money with a philosophy degree, but the risk of ending up doing pink-collar shit work.

  28. HE, Law is not just a safer career choice, it’s also strikingly more sociable. Also, many people go into it with the idealistic feeling that they’re going to help people. So, same skill set as philosophy, but very different occupation. I can see many factors at work in women preferring law to philosophy.

    Personally, I did not perceive ethics as “safer” at all when I was in graduate school. Mind and language were the high status specialties that seemed more likely to get you noticed and hired.

  29. This is a very interesting discussion. I want to add one point that has been mentioned, but not focused on: it’s difficult to understand gender issues in isolation from issues of race, class, etc. The question that seems most important to me is: why does philosophy lack diversity in general, relative to other academic disciplines? Focusing on that question gets us away from thinking primarily about male/female differences in preferences, abilities, etc.

    The answer to the question is a simple one, I think: philosophy as a discipline has not embraced the idea of diversity or taken many concrete steps to increase diversity, at least relative to other disciplines. There are probably a lot of reasons for this. Though most philosophers, like most academics, are left-wing, philosophers have tended to be more politically conservative than people in other humanities disciplines. Philosophers are also much less likely to take concrete, political action on the basis of their ideas; their work stays “pure” and abstract. I have a male colleague who has even published a bit of decent stuff on feminism, but who treats actual women around him like dirt. And many philosophers still have the view that philosophy itself, like mathematics, is a pure discipline and it doesn’t matter who is doing the philosophizing. Logic is content-free, and any person of any race or gender will come to the same conclusions on the basis of logic, so why would we need a diversity of people within the discipline? I would say the majority of my colleagues, though left-wing and paying lip service to diversity, do not actually care one whit about affirmative action or trying to make our department more diverse. Few of us have even made any attempt to incorporate non-white or female philosophers into the classes we teach.

    So we end up with an old, white boys’ club that takes few steps to welcome newcomers and often actively discourages them. This might not make too much difference in undergrad education, and women are decently represented there (though racial and ethnic minorities are not), but graduate school is damn hard, and being a tenure-track professor is even harder. Feeling excluded, being interrupted in colloquia, being given crappy committee work, being left out of socializing, having trouble publishing, all takes its toll. Philosophical skills are transferable to many other disciplines, so why wouldn’t a Latino/a, say, take his or her excellent logic and abstract reasoning skills to some other field that is more welcoming?

  30. This poses questions about the purpose affirmative action. I’d argue for affirmative action in employment, with hard quotas and strict enforcement. For a terrific book see Barbara Bergmann’s In Defense of Affirmative Action

    However I’d argue that the purpose of affirmative action isn’t to promote diversity but rather to ameliorate the effects of ongoing discrimination–in particular, implicit bias. In the US, after the Bakke Decision, advocates of affirmative action were pushed into the diversity defense. But, arguably, the diversity defense is a Noble Lie, and one that has already backfired.

  31. Thank you to Amy; your comments, as well as those by others bring up the question of how we characterize the “instrinsic” nature of the discipline or of doing philosophy (which need not, of course, be conceptualized as the same). That is, would it be possible to misunderstand something as “intrinsic” when it is actually merely a particular way of doing things which has contingent roots in a particular type of social/discursive position? This then might blur the seeming dichotomy and/or draw from the meaningfulness of an intrinsic/extrinsic disjunction. It also leaves open the possibility that women may be able to learn such practices, but that the efficacy or “neutrality” of the practices seems to rest on the actual (not merely ideal) equality of practitioners; further, it leaves open the possibility that there are other practices that could also be deemed philosophical which are nonetheless nonconventional from a traditional point of view.

    Perhaps this takes us back to the question of whether we want women to just fit in the discipline as it is; or whether we acknowledge that the inclusion of women, people of color, people from lower-class backgrounds, etc. will actually lead to substantive changes within the discipline.

  32. I think another thing that may be worth looking at is whether, and how many, children women in philosophy may or may not have, in comparison to men in philosophy, and in comparison to women and men in other disciplines.

  33. Philosophers can be pretty snobbish about what does and doesn’t count as ‘real’ philosophy – e.g., the number of ‘analytic’ philosophers who turn their noses up at what they consider to be ‘continental’ philosophy. Although I’ve no idea if and why that affects women more than men.

  34. although I easily tire of worn-out analytic/continental bickering, it does nevertheless seem (to me, at least), that there is a higher proportion of women at SPEP than at the APA. There are two possible reasons for this: (1) there is a greater proportion of panels on race/gender/identity at SPEP than at the APA, and (2) the focus on language skills over deductive logic in continental philosophy coincides with gendered divisions of intellectual labor (we all know the old stereotype that girls are better at language and boys are better at math). The Memphis PhD program may be another contributing factor.

  35. My experience is that, in general, women working in fields like metaphysics are not taken quite as seriously as men. This translates into facts like: they are not cited as much, grad students do not work on their stuff as much, their comments in audiences at conferences do not get as many follow-ups, etc. The differences are small but they add up significantly over time.

  36. doctaj, your comments was in the spam box. I think your listing the url may have alarmed some robot or other.

  37. I’m disturbed by some of the assumptions that seem to underlie many of the comments here. First, the ‘fear factor’ involved in going into philosophy (blanket suggestion by some), or more specifically metaphysics/language/mind/logic. Are we suggesting that women are just plain scared, and that men have some advantage in the world of risk-taking? While acknowledging that some of the other factors suggested by those advocating this idea might contribute (e.g. being attacked more harshly, taken less seriously, pressure from colleagues, etc.), I’d like to suggest the following: 1) I don’t see any evidence for women being more afraid to take risks than men, and 2) If it does happen to be the case that women are more averse to risk-taking than men, women should be less afraid, because it seems clearly beneficial to be willing to take risks (up to a certain point). But this leaves us with the explanation of the lack of women in analytic philosophy being that women either a) just need to ‘toughen up’ or b) are simply not suited to this kind of career. If it is the case that women are more averse to taking risks than men, then this strikes me as something wrong with the social construction of gender and not something wrong with philosophy. So, if we want to fix the problem, and the problem is largely about fear and risk-taking, we ought to create a society where women are more likely to go into philosophy, rather than making philosophy such that it caters to women. However, let me restate that I’m not even sure where this assumption is coming from, for at least in my day-to-day life I see women taking huge risks all the time.

    Second, philosophy is ‘aggressive’. And women aren’t. I don’t think philosophy is aggressive. Certainly one needs to have self-confidence and the ability to assert oneself in philosophy. But these are good things, that we should encourage, and if women don’t possess them, it seems that the wrong thing to do is to change philosophy so as to bring more women into it, and the right thing to do is to change the more fundamental parts of our society that are making it the case that women don’t possess them. But again, I’m quite hesitant to agree that women aren’t this way. I get accused of being aggressive all the time, when it seems to me I am just being assertive or exhibiting self-confidence. Of course, perhaps women are attacked for this sort of behaviour more often than men are, but that’s not specific to philosophy. But I also think women ought to be able to hold their own, even if/when things DO become aggressive, and that, again, it is the wrong solution to point to aggression in philosophy as the problem, when in fact it seems that the way women are trained to be women is the problem, IF there is a problem here.

    Finally, I’m so tired of the claim that metaphysics/language/mind/logic have nothing to do with the ‘real world’, or with people. Any person intelligent enough to be a professional philosopher ought to be able to see that these areas are crucial to our understanding of the world and the way we operate within it. It’s shocking to me that people are still labeling these things ‘games’.

    As an assertive, game-loving (but also truth-seeking), woman interested in metaphysics and logic, I find the discussion of this article a bit troublesome.

  38. As I said above, I’m not a philosopher and so I can’t speak for the specific field of philosophy, but from what I see, women often can’t take the risks that men do in the job market, because women almost always have the final responsibility for raising and many times supporting children. That is, a woman needs a steady and dependable income because if her male partner decides to meditate on a mountain, she will be left with the kids and even if the male pays child support, the day to day financial responsibility, the groceries, will be the woman’s problem. That situation should be changed: childcare responsibility should be shared, but until then…..

  39. Maybe the discussion should focus more on success stories. Maybe it would be worth examining the burgeoning ranks of women doing not-particularly-practical, non-values-oriented analytic philosophy (and doing it very well) to find out what worked for them. Ask Jenann Ismael, Laurie Paul, Carolina Sartorio, Karen Bennett, Kathrin Koslicki, Jessica Wilson, Helen Beebee, Tamar Gendler, Karen Neander, Laura Schroeter, Susan Schellenberg, Susanna Siegel, Carrie Jenkins, etc., etc. The percentages may in some ways be depressing, but there’s real progress being made here, and we should figure out how it works. When I was in grad school in the late 1980s, we heard about a few “grand dames” of philosophy — e.g., Anscombe, Marcus — and some younger stars — e.g., Millikan, Cartwright — but I don’t think there were the sheer numbers of hotshot analytic female philosophers that one sees today in the younger professorial ranks.

  40. Rob, I think that is a wonderful idea.

    Your list and the generations thing does remind me of a sore fact. Somewhere around 1988/1989 it seems as though the idea that women could do philosophy entered into the majority mind of the profession and, lo and behold, it was possible for a woman to be called on at a conference. But, of course, the women called on were the ones entering philosophy around that time; older women still couldn’t do philosophy, it seemed to be thought. One wonders if now there’s another move forward, maybe in the mid or late 90’s, as it hits the collective unconscious that women are actually desirable job candidates. Not older women, of course…after all, if they were any good, they would have been hired by the top departments decades ago.

    This is not entirely fair, of course, since one thing that happened is that a lot of women who would have been top analytic metaphysicians and philosophers of language were steered somewhat forcibly into history of philosophy or ethics.

  41. On risk-taking and the fear factor: I at least wasn’t suggesting that women were more risk averse than men s.t. given the same probability of incurring equally bad outcomes by doing x, women would be less likely to do x. What I suggested was that for lots of actions x, the probability of getting a bad outcome for women in significantly greater than the probability of getting a bad outcome for their male counterparts. Making the same choices is riskier for women than it is for men

    The risks of getting a “worthless” philosophy degree, where jobs in the profession are hard to come by, are not as great for men as they are for women because men have more half decent fallback positions. Guys with generic college degrees and no special credentials still have an easier time getting decent jobs out in the real world than women. Women with generic college degrees and no special credentials who don’t hand in in the profession are more likely to end up with dead-end secretarial jobs and such.

    Here is a real case. We had a freeway flyer adjunct with a terminal MA who was deciding whether to go on for the PhD or get out. He checked out the Real World–got a clerical job in some business. While he was at the xerox machine making copies a member of management got into a conversation with him saying, “you must be pretty bored doing that.” In the course of the conversation the former freeway flyer explained that he had a philosophy MA, the job market in philosophy was lousy, and he was considering trying a non=academic jobs. The manager said, “Great. Let’s try you out.” So freeway flyer was bumped up to an entry level management trainee position and, when I called him to ask whether he was interested in picking up a few logic courses he told me this story, said they were paying him much more than he’d ever expected, liked his job and wasn’t going back to academia.

    No one would have noticed if I, a woman, was xeroxing or would have worried that I was bored. The would simply see me as just another secretary and not give it a second thought. I would not have been “discovered.” This is just one case: in general, women with philosophy degrees are likely to get a much worse deal outside of academia so there is more motivation to hang in. It isn’t that women are more risk-averse, but that the risks are greater for women.

  42. The above-mentioned case seems to me to be in fact not a real case at all. You give an example of an opportunity that one man received, and then you conjecture that you would not have been afforded the same opportunity if you were in the same position. I’m not convinced this is true, and I think the assertion requires empirical evidence, not anecdotal (and hypothetical) evidence.

    But perhaps you are right that the risks are greater for women. It still strikes me that IF this is the case, the problem is not with philosophy, but with society.

  43. MMcS: I’m with you on a number of comments, but not all. Right now I’m wondering what sort of empirical evidence is needed to form expectations about what a woman’s experience will be like in the work place. In any case, you may have missed an earlier discussion where HEB was looking for evidence about differential treatment in the workplace. There is, unfortunately, a great deal.

    Have you looked at Virginia Valian’s Why so Slow? I don’t know if you’ve followed many of our earlier posts, but it gives you a good idea of what some foundational problems are.

    By the way, I’m thinking about your being called aggressive, as I think you said. Do you think a man with the same behavior would be considered aggressive?

  44. I WISH the case I described were anomalous or, even better, unreal. Unfortunately there’s lots of empirical data. I’ve team-taught a course on woman and work with a colleague in econ and all the data suggests that discrimination against women in the labor market is ongoing–sometimes just plain discrimination, more often as a consequence of implicit bias.

    For good books on this try Blau and Ferber, The Economics of Women, Men and Work which we’ve used as a text for the course, Barbara Bergmann In Defense of Affirmative Action and Robert Cherry Who Gets the Good Jobs? for starts. Lots of data.

    One reason in fact why women make the educational and occupational choices they do is precisely because there’s less discrimination in some occupations than others. So, for example, the male-female wage gap is smaller for college grads than for non-grads and that’s why we see women outnumbering men in college. Also there’s less sex segregation in college grad jobs.

    I agree entirely that the problem is with society, not with philosophy. I’m a gung-ho, aggressive, game-loving, truth-seeking analytic philosopher doing metaphysics. And I don’t think that philosophy should somehow be adjusted to be more accommodating to the supposed delicate sensibilities of women.

    The risk issue however is quite a different matter and explains also why non-elite males are less likely to go into philosophy.

  45. H.E.: I wholeheartedly approve of your last post. Now that I’m clear on what you’re saying, I think I’m with you 100 percent. And if this is what others mean when they talk about risk-taking, I’m with them too. I’m just concerned about, either accidentally or intentionally, us giving off the impression that we think women are weak or, as you put it, have delicate sensibilities. I’m glad you are too.

  46. I think that something that I wrote was misread, and, if that is the case, my point (if I had a point) misrepresented.

    We seem to be willing to admit that there is discrimination, and some would like to suggest that the problems with which we seem to be dealing with regard to women in philosophy are cultural problems and do not have to do with philosophy, per se. I think this reflects the typical standpoint that philosophy somehow transcends culture, that its practices actually pull a person’s thought out of their relativistic tendencies, and so offers a potential “view from nowhere”. This reminds me of the so-called Cartesian Salon Women, who believed that the Cartesian idea of the mind-body dualism worked in their favor, since it suggested that all minds are socially neutral and equally capable of refined thought, regardless of the contingencies of bodily characteristics and the social categories and roles attached to those bodies. Of course, culture did as it would do despite this idea, and it proceeded to develop extremely exclusive academies of learning, after which the Salons lost their influence and allure. The lives of women were enfeebled or extremely limited by lack of access; women were not there (at least in large numbers and within the centers of learning) when the core of the modern philosophical discipline was being formed.

    Feminist epistemologists have drawn upon the work of developmental psychologists, especially that of feminist Carol Gilligan, to study the relation between gender and ego-development. The correlations Gilligan draws out are contingent upon what are considered “traditional” gender roles–meaning a female mother caretaker and a male father breadwinner, who works away from the home. They may also only account for white folks and middle class people, but I do not remember this particular detail. The suggestion, at least on my reading, were that gender affects the way that women and men experience the world, since it affects the ego formation along discernable patterns. Men have more rigid, and distancing egos, whereas women have more fluid and encompassing egos. Does that mean that women are weaker or more emotional or sensitive or incapable of logical/metphysical/abstract thought? No. But it might suggest that we do not have the whole story when it comes to ways of knowing, or the limits of knowing, and this includes knowledge about what is real or what exists, or what types of things are morally significant, and so on. That is, as Eve Browing Cole has put it, the feminist developmental psychology theory seems to offer a convenient explanation for the Cartesian ego as a traditionally male ego.

    Then the question emerges, is the Cartesian ego gender-neutral, as the Cartesian Salon Women seemed to think, or is it a particular manifestation of the gendered social roles of the time? Since the idea is so central to much of modern Western philosophy, is it not at least reasonable to look in to the matter? Moreover, might this suggest that as strict gender roles become less regulated a wider range of ego-formation patterns will develop among both females and males? We need not think along dichotomous gender lines any longer, though; we might suggest something altogether more unorthodox, which, depending on if you buy into the psychological development thesis, could also have implications for our modern history of metaphysics and epistemology.

    When I think of the basic metaphysical division between mind and body, I am most often left undecided about how to understand its relation to culture. The hierarchical dualism of mind/body is too often tied up with cultural associations that are tied up with power relations on the social/political and ideological level. For example, male/female, Western/non-Western, White/non-white, Wealthy/Not Wealthy, German/not German, etc. are associations that are attached to the mind/body dualism with its attendant hierarchy. Proof of this is found in everyday documents, literature, philosophy texts, etc. One way (feminist?) philosophers have approached this issue is to suggest that the mind/body *hierarchy* is incorrect; another approach would be merely to attempt to sever the cultural-political from the metaphysical. How that is done is a socio-political process, it seems to me.

    Finally, I find it a tiresome, if unresolved, existential dilemma for a female philosopher to either bolster her own ego by favoring what are thought to be traditionally male qualities, which carry a higher cultural and intellectual capital value, and rejecting what are viewed as the “weak” traditionally cast female qualities, or holding up for consideration some potentially favorable “female” qualities or perspectives (which are “female” mostly because of dominant cultural roles) at THE RISK of appearing to be either “weak minded” oneself, or one of those “irrational” feminists. Which position would be the “good girl” and which the “bad girl”? Actually, this no longer makes sense, since you may suffer either way– either you will be at the mercy of double standards for violating gender roles, or you will be seen as “weak minded” and therefore somehow inherently ill disposed toward the rigors of philosophy.

    Which begs the question, of course, of what counts as “real” philosophy?

    (I think there are positives to both Analytic and Continental approaches to Philosophy, though I think both are male-dominated and short-sighted. I do wish to do more boning up on Analytic Philosophy, however, if only because it is the dominant form in the U.S. (a too late practical consideration for an idealistic working-class gal), and more in line with my own intellectual proclivities. I am, however, (alas!) some sort of hybrid.)

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