NY Times on Women in Philosophy

The NY Times has followed up on the Philosophers’ Magazine story about the lack of women in philosophy. On the bad side, they focus only on the hypothesis that philosophers are too aggressive, without any discussion of e.g. stereotype threat and the like. On the good side, at least they didn’t choose to focus on Baron-Cohen’s view that our girlie brains just aren’t made for this. And, also on the good side, it’s great to see the issue getting some attention. (For our earlier discussion, see here.) Thanks, Kelley!

12 thoughts on “NY Times on Women in Philosophy

  1. Did you see this comment? Strange that a female philosopher would make this argument, unless she means that there is some reason women do not value abstractness?

    This prompts me to want to post here again (I’ve been busy with classes). Now that I’m transitioning FTM, I’ve had at least one conversation with people who are curious whether the influx of testosterone will change my comfort level in a philosophy department. I’m wondering, myself what will happen in a) my experience of presenting/defending papers, b) the perception others have of such presentations.

    It will be difficult to untangle what is due to physiological changes – my testosterone levels increasing, causing a different style? or psychological – my confidence in myself increasing due to having finally begun transition? or perceptual – my colleagues see me as a man so treat me differently? Or, of course, the fact that I’m gaining experience.

    I won’t go so far as to say that through this unique transition experience I will wind up knowing the answer to why there are so few women in philosophy (Unlike the anonymous “professional philosopher” linked above who seems to be certain based on statistical comparison with merely one field. Hopefully she doesn’t work in epistemology!) However, I am hoping to have some light shed on the situation. Perhaps I’ll wind up being in a position to do something about it one day.

  2. Orlando, I am glad to see you comment here!

    I do remember Ben Barres, biology at Stanford and FTM, saying that his work is described differently – I think he’s asked about the woman named “Barres,” whom people sometimes think is his sister. Anyway, he’s been told her work isn’t really up to the quaity of his. The NY Times had a couple of things about him some time ago, and I think he wrote about his experiences in either Science or Nature.

    It would be wonderful to hear about your experiences. Are you keeping a diary of any sort – that’s rhetorical question, actually. I hope you do, and can share the insights you will have.

  3. I hadn’t heard of Ben Barres, but was intrigued by what you mentioned. I just found the Nature piece — it’s in Vol 442, July 13, 2006. It has a great rebuttal to Summers et al., and a few personal comments. Barres says he has noticed a difference in the way he is treated as a man: “I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”

  4. i think the dominance of analytic philosophy in US-UK departments is the main problem. in europe, philosophy is seen as something women study.

  5. RZ, I love the idea. There are complaints that he doesn’t have new ideas, but I’d love to see the old ones acted out in academia.

  6. Orlando, great to hear from you! And it will be great to hear more on this topic, if you’re willing. RZ and JJ: They are brothers.

  7. it’s not the abstractness or the agression. it’s more frequently than infrequently the myopic, either/or + true/false “logic.” in law, you craft an opinion; you are permitted a certain range of motion in your choice of materials and reasoning: case precedents, the phrasing of prior opinions, and (hopefully) your actual sense of justice.

    in law, you can redefine the language surrounding a word. if you do the same in philosophy, you excite paroxysms and dictionary pointing without reference to real world situations or the nuances of your argument. in some subjects and cases this might be warranted, but often it is not…

    the truth (yes, truth) is that in current UK-US philosophy, you do not have the same options as you do if you go into law and, as a result, your craft is *much* more limited. and i think women, especially at this moment in history, are not particularly interested in being limited. so they leave. they find subjects where what they take seriously will be taken seriously. and it’s too bad, because philosophy is much poorer for their loss.

  8. reel aesthete:
    `in law, you can redefine the language surrounding a word. if you do the same in philosophy, you excite paroxysms and dictionary pointing’

    What’s your basis for these generalizations? I ask for two reasons. First, since I haven’t been following this blog closely lately (too busy working on my dissertation, alas), I missed any comments where you described your background — whether you’re a lawyer who’s dabbled in philosophy or a philosopher who’s dabbled in legal theory, say.

    Second, your generalizations don’t cohere with my own experience. I work on science and ethical-political values, so I have some familiarity with the styles of writing in philosophy, natural science, and the more philosophical end of legal theory. In all three areas, there’s a certain body of jargon that may not be rigidly defined, but that everyone uses in roughly the same ways. Some quick examples: `consequentialism’ in philosophy, `ontogenesis’ in biology, `strict scrutiny’ in legal theory. Without this body of jargon, technical communication would be impossible. But, at the same time, it’s also impossible to come up with definitions that exactly track the way these terms are used, and there’s some flexibility in how a given term will be used by a certain individual or in a certain paper.

    In short, you can’t have complete and utter freedom to define and redefine a word however you want in law. Otherwise no-one would be able to understand anything anyone else wrote. And, on the other hand, philosophy isn’t as rigid as your generalization claims. So long as I state my definitions clearly at the start of the paper or talk, I do not have trouble making my views understood to other philosophers. Nor does the subsequent discussion degenerate into paroxysms and dictionary pointing.

  9. Noumena, you certainly sound like someone in the midst of writing in an analytic subject, even without the “dissertation, alas” parenthetical.

    i haven’t disclosed my background, nor do your comments make me feel compelled to do so. hint: i’m not a dabbler. as for experience, clearly our experiences don’t match.

    and i said nothing about having complete and utter freedom to redefine a word in law; i leave that sort of damage already done by the bush administration and political and legal powers far greater than i. the comment you seem to have skipped is where i stated that “case precedents, the phrasing of prior opinions, and (hopefully) your actual sense of justice” are the deciding factors in crafting a legal opinion, which i would presume includes the actual word choice.

    without a body of jargon, communication might actually be possible.

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