Feminist Philosophy in a bad job market

It’s never easy to get a job in philosophy, and it’s even harder in feminist philosophy. But right now it’s even worse. When a department finally gets a position released, they know they might not get another for years. And it is likely to seem rational to be as risk-averse as possible, hiring someone sure to be taken seriously. A rational department, even one that is not itself hostile to feminist philosophy, will be aware that feminist philosophy is often not taken seriously. So it will seem rational to hire someone who works in a more mainstream area.

Questions: What can we do to combat this? What can feminist philosophers on the job market do to be taken seriously? And what can those of us who have permanent jobs do to convince our colleagues that it makes sense to take what they will see as a risk and hire someone who works in feminist philosophy?

13 thoughts on “Feminist Philosophy in a bad job market

  1. I wonder if this doesn’t parallel the problem faced by other areas such as philosophy of religion. One rarely sees job ads for someone with an AOS in philosophy of religion. I think many departments think that anyone can teach courses in the area, similar to the way many philosophers seem to assume that any woman in the department can double as a feminist philosopher. For years the going advice for those interested in philosophy of religion has been to do one’s dissertation in a mainstream (M&E) area, then wait until one has secured a job to start working on philosophy of religion. Typically people will work on research programs that are easily related to problems in philosophy of religion, so it’s often quite easy to extend one’s research program this way. It’s sad that there isn’t more room in the market place, but I wonder if similar advice might not apply to aspiring feminist philosophers.

  2. Taken seriously by whom? The regular world will never take philosophy seriously. The goal should be to impress a) students b) history.

  3. Maybe one thing to do would be to take the approach that Hornsby & Fricker do in their Companion: don’t pitch feminist philosophy as a separate specialism, but rather a position one can take in various different debates. So if you’ve worked on pornography, say, list your area of specialization as political philosophy or ethics (or philosophy of language even). And if you’ve worked on essentialism in the biology of sex, list your specialization as metaphysics. Leave it to your summary of your thesis to show that you’ve taken a feminist philosophy approach.

    That’s probably best discussed with supervisors; maybe some people would think that was deceptive in some way.

    At a workshop I went to on employability, someone asked a similar thing about working in continental philosophy. The response was to make sure you had a grounding in a “core” area in addition to the less popular specialism. If you specialize in feminism but can offer one of the LEMMing subjects as an area of competence, that would help.

  4. Carl, I was thinking of the more immediate goal of getting jobs for the folks doing feminist philosophy, so they don’t all end up leaving the profession.

  5. Lettes of reference seem to be an obvious area. If you are writing one and can say something like (to draw on a recent discussion) “X’s work on essentialism and gender provides new approaches to foundational questions, including ones about the varieties of anti-realism. She has developed a new argument about the compatibility of … ”

    aDM: one has to be careful, since many university committees will probe to see just how up you are on your AOS. So they may want to know what you’d teach in courses at various levels.

  6. For job seekers,

    I think it is not uncommon, at least in the dossiers that I have read to list more than one AOS, so I agree with A different mathew. I agree that it might be especially good for candidates with an AOS in feminism. I did this way back when, when the job market also seemed impossible–Feminist philosophy/ philosophy of biology/ philosophy of science The unifying theme was scientific explanations of the evolution of traits associated with gender. Explanation made it philosophy of science, evolution made it philosophy of biology and gender made it feminist philosophy.

    It helps to have a unifying theme that presents itself as a research program where one can develop a publication record. I have been on committees where the candidate had three different research programs in three different AOS’s. While I think this demonstrates an impressive breadth, these folks were almost always removed from the candidate pool.

    Committees worried that (1) how can a junior person actually have all of these excellences? and (2) even if they do have these different areas of specialization, how can they stay current on the range of areas such that they maintain the AOS and develop a tenureable publication record, while getting their teaching up and running?

    I think these are reasonable concerns to keep in mind as a grad student, both in planning out a career (in the _years_ before a job search) and in preparing for the job search.

    Finally, I _really_ encourage job seekers not to seek a job, but to seek a position in a place where they can write and teach about what they love with a reasonable expectation of tenure. Of course, there are interim positions, that can pay the bills. But it pains me to see that these position so often turn into horrible traps and that the traps are disproportionately full of women relative to men.

  7. For recruiters,
    Over the long term, fight to invited excellent feminist speakers to campus. The number of philosophers who I encounter that do not think feminism is ‘real’ philosophy or ‘rigorous’ scholarship continue to stun me. I had one colleague say, to my face during a faculty meeting, that I was an acceptable candidate because my expertise in the statistical methods in evolutionary theory “made up for” my feminist work in his eyes. (Math made me an honorary man.) I work hard to get well recognized feminists on campus and in front of these folks. Then when colleagues say that feminism is not ‘core’ or ‘rigorous’ you can say, What about that time Longino spoke?

  8. one more for job seekers:

    I think the most important line to have on the tip of your tongue during an interview is, “That is not what I do. Let me tell you about what I do.” This in response to research, but not likely teaching questions.

    When you have a range of expertise, or list a very broad sort of expertise, questions can come from all over the place. As a result one can end up looking unqualified about everything instead of qualified about a particular thing. You need to take control of the interview and make sure that they get that although you have broad teaching competence and can talk to colleagues about a wide range of topics, you have a particular publishable research program.

  9. A different Matthew:

    I work on feminist philosophy having worked on both pornography and essentialism. For the past couple of years I’ve tried to sell (sic) myself in precisely the manner you suggest. However, recruiters tend to get back to me saying that they want someone who does *mainstream* metaphysics/ political philosophy. So, my worry is that recruiters appear to want people who work on mainstream areas doing mainstream topics within those areas.

  10. Well, in my inbox this morning lay an email announcing 3 positions at the University of Oregon (where did they get that money??) calling for Aos in American Philosophy, Latin American Philosophy and, surprise, Continental Philosophy. The surprise continues as one reads about the needs of the department: feminism is included.
    How did that happened? The department has always had continental leanings. Kuddos. And thank the work of Bonnie Mann, Beata Stawarska and Naomi Zack for showing that feminist philosophy is key to the philosophical agenda.

  11. I recently listened to an interview with Bonnie Morris, who speaks about her experience as an historian specialising in women’s studies. Although the whole thing is pretty interesting, I feel that her anecdotes about interviewing for a position within history departments are particularly relevant (it’s about 27 minutes in).

    She recommends marketing/spinning the ‘feminist history’ courses one would teach to the deans/interviewers. For herself, she talks about how in a global world, understanding gender etiquette will be essential for anyone in diplomacy, international business, etc.

    I wonder if a parallel argument would be possible for feminist philosophers seeking a position in a crappy job market–i.e. topics like the ethics of abortion could be seen as important for students who want to go into politics.

    Just a thought that seemed to me as if it could potentially help.

    Oh, and the interview can be found at: http://odeo.com/episodes/25040859-Bob-Edwards-Weekend-Hour-1-author-and-women-s-studies-professor-Bonnie-Morris-This-I-Believe-Inc-Executive-Director-Dan-Gediman

  12. Jessica, that interview sounds interesting and I’ll listen to it.

    I wonder, though, if you are uncovering one reason why philosophy has been so slow to change. A lot of people find the idea that philosophy might actually have a useful content in such a direct way really not appealing.

    There are too many examples to cite, but I’m thinking of discovering an interview with two of my colleagues in a university newspaper; they were trying to dispel the idea that studying moral philosophy had anything to do with being a better person.

    Or perhaps I could quote one of D.Phil examiner who, faced with my worries about a career, advised me to give up the idea of making money from philosophy.

    One never forgets…

  13. Let me add: the not making money from philsophy had nothing to do with my work being feminist or practical; at the time it was neither.

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