The New Directions in Metaphysics conference coming up at Nottingham takes things in a rather old direction in at least one respect: gender. For contrast, one might check out the forthcoming New Waves in Metaphysics volume. (Thanks, R!)
The New Directions in Metaphysics conference coming up at Nottingham takes things in a rather old direction in at least one respect: gender. For contrast, one might check out the forthcoming New Waves in Metaphysics volume. (Thanks, R!)
50 thoughts on “Not-so-new directions in metaphysics”
Well, how do you expect organizers to find women to speak at metaphysics conferences when everyone knows there aren’t any … ohhhh, I see what you did there!
I have a couple of colleagues who have set up a multi-year program with a European country. It will involve an annual conference and an annual summer school. Their approach has been to ask their friends from grad school (who happen to be male) to lead the conferences and summer school. The friends then invite their other friends to be the speakers at the events. So far the next 3 years are planned, and I see only 2 women and dozens of men on the programs. Next year’s program has no women at all. The topic is analytic, and fairly technical, but there’s no shortage of women in the field. It’s just that guys tend to be friends with guys, and they’re looking forward to getting together in this European country and partying every summer.
I want to say something, but I don’t have tenure and they do, so I’m afraid to speak up. Both colleagues are pretty openly anti-feminist. What can I do about something like this?
(Sorry for the vagueness above — I’m trying to stay anonymous.)
Tricky one, anon. I think you’re right not to risk yourself. Why not email us at the contact address, though, with some urls for programmes and let us do the dirty work?
Thanks, Jender! Unfortunately, they don’t have the programs on-line yet, but I’ll definitely email you when I’ve got something to send. I feel a little cowardly doing that, but basically I am a coward. I keep telling myself that if I ever get tenure I’ll start speaking up! I only hope that’s true.
Anonymous, I don’t think you are acting like a coward. You are being prudent. It’s not a good idea to try overtly to change things from a position of weakness. It’s very hard and messy to try it from one of strength.
As it is, you are not sitting around and leaving everything to others. Good for you.
Anon: I agree–this is not cowardly at all! Just writing about it here means you’re brave enough to pursue this and that you’re not willing to just ignore it. If you are on friendly terms with any other women working in these areas who are already tenured, you might also bring this to their attention and see if they can do anything to address it.
This stuff is so frustrating! And the link to the New Waves in Metaphysics volume demonstrates that it doesn’t have to be this way…
Having attended the conference, it’s hardly suprising there were no women speakers. Of the 42 that attended, there were only three women, all postgrads. Now I happen to know that this conference was widely publicised, with emails being sent to departments all over the UK and on philos-L. Assuming women weren’t avoiding the conference because of lack of women speakers (which, given the impressive line up, would be absolutely absurd), the female interest in ‘New Directions in Metaphysics’ is pretty low. The conference organisers will have invited the 7 speakers most appropriate to the conference, with no regard to gender. Do you think to avoid this kind of negative feedback they should have included a couple of women speakers for the sake of it? That would be a sad state of affairs…
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if some women avoid conferences that they think are going to be an unwelcoming environment to women, or that they think that all male conferences are more likely to create such an environment: nor does it seem absurd to me to do so.
In any case, it’s certainly not the case that female interest in metaphysics is low, as is obvious if you look at the speaker and delegates list of conferences more widely, or at what’s being written by women in the profession. And even if it were the case, the obvious question is whether all-male conferences is helping perpetuate it being the case when it could be turned around.
“The conference organisers will have invited the 7 speakers most appropriate to the conference, with no regard to gender.” I wonder what your evidence for this is. Certainly, I don’t accuse the organisers of conscious bias, but it’s well known that unconscious bias influences such things
“Do you think to avoid this kind of negative feedback they should have included a couple of women speakers for the sake of it?” No. I think they should have included women speakers because it is destructive to the profession in general to have so many male only conferences, and that it is a good in itself to have minimal gender balance in the profession.
I think the fact there were few women in attendance shouldn’t give you reason to think that ‘female interest in ‘New Directions in Metaphysics’ is pretty low’. First, consider how many excellent women there are currently working in metaphyscis: Haslanger, Bennett, Wilson, Jenkins, Hawley, Paul, just to name a few. Those aren’t token female names. Those are just excellent metaphysicians, any way you look at it. Secondly, there are some prominent metaphysics (or metaphysics-heavy) conferences which have gender ratios that look far more balanced that ‘New Directions’, both for attendees and for speakers. I’d direct you to the websites of the Bellingham Summer Philosophy Conference and the Arizona Ontology Conference — you can get a full list of speakers and participants and have a look at the gender ratios for yourself. And finally, speaking for myself: as a female philosopher I’m far more likely to attend conferences with a decent gender balance. That ‘New Directions’ was all male was a reason for me not to go. I don’t think that’s absolutely absurd. There are many excellent conferences — more than I can attend. So when I’m making choices, gender issues come into the picture.
I’m glad that you were able to attend the Nottingham conference. I’m sure you heard some great philosophy. But I don’t think the low number of women tells you *anything* about women’s interest in metaphysics.
Point taken, Ross. One conference attendance shouldn’t be taken as representative of interest in general. Nevertheless, I think the attendence ratios are more interesting than the speaker ratios. After all there does look to be pressure on inviting female speakers for precisely the reasons given by yourself and Elizabeth Barnes. Why would a conference organiser invite a male-only audience knowing that it would put a lot of women off coming! Out of interest, do you (Elizabeth and Ross) think the ratio of speakers should be representative of the ratios in the professional world (assuming an equal standard of course), or do you think conference organisers should be purposefully accepting more papers by women than men. Should this extend to journals too? I appreciate that most journals are blind refereed, but lets face it, we all know that the editors of many journals know the author before it gets accepted. This would look extremely unfair on male philosophers, even if it did have the desirable consequence of increasing the number of women working in metaphysics!
As for the source of my information: This website was brought to my attention by one of the organisers (a personal friend) who was rather upset and offended by the comments.
Maybe Ross is right in thinking there to be a ‘subconscious’ male bias. In today’s society, and in knowing the *guy* involved, I hope this is incorrect in this instance.
sorry. I didn’t mean ‘more papers by women than men’, rather ‘a higher ratio of papers by women than the ratio of papers by women submitted’.
Okay, I’ve checked that Ross (hi Ross!) isn’t going to make basically the same comment I’m making at the same time again. . .
Anon, you raise a lot of important questions. I’d like to emphasize that I think the point of not having male only conferences isn’t (or isn’t primarily) that women won’t want to attend all-male conferences. The issues is much bigger and more general than that. Gender ratios in philosophy (especially non-ethics and non-history philosophy) are terrible. That’s bad for philosophy. And those ratios haven’t been getting much better. So I think we need to consider what can be done to actively try to address these gender imbalances. All-male conference line-ups are one place to look. Conferences are very public, and they send very public messages. If you have an all-male conference, that can suggest ‘hey, all-male line-ups are okay; the status quo is okay; the ‘New Directions in Metaphysics’ are male ones, etc’. I’m not saying that’s what the conference organizers *intend*. But it can never the less come across that way.
Whereas if you make an effort to put women (excellent, smart women) on the program, it’s like good advertising. The conference is now publicly advertising philosophy done by women – right alonside philosophy done by men. And for various reasons this can be a really good thing, perhaps one (among many!) steps which could start to redress the gender imbalances in philosophy.
To do this — to have women on the program in most any conference — you would need to practice some affirmative action. The gender ratios in philosophy are such that if you just picked, at random, top philsophers working in field x for a conference on x, then lots of conferences on x would end up being all-male. But I think the stagnation of gender ratios in philosophy shows us that doing nothing and waiting for philosophy’s gender problem to get better isn’t working. We need to take more active steps to address it. And maybe conference programs are one (again, among many!) of the places we can do this.
That doesn’t mean — as you suggested — that we’re being unfair to men. The idea, rather, is that the gender situation in philosophy arises at least in part because there is (perhaps largely unconscious) bias against female philosophers. Measures of affirmative action are, in that respect, meant to make things more equal (ie, help to redress some of this bias), not make things unequal by giving women an unfair advantage.
anon, there has been an immense amount of research into implicit gender biases and there’s no doubt they are pervasive. They affect men and women, and they do not operate in a way that is usually accessible to consciousness. In this context, there are two things that are really important:
1. They operate by affecting one’s perception and cognition. So one tries and tries to pick only the best, but one may well have a distorted perception of the competitors. Or, as we discussed here, one simply won’t remember the good work by women in the field. Outsiders’ work is not remember well, and certainly not as well as the insiders’ is.
2. They are self-perpetuating. Women’s work is not properly evaluated, not well remembered, and so the work is not accepted or invited, and so women are outsiders, anomalies, whose work is not properly evluated and remembered.
I hope I’m not coming across as anti-feminist, or at least not as anti-equality, because it is equality that I think philosophers should be aiming for. If it is genuinely the case that there is a subconscious psychological bias against female philosophers (outside of ethics etc…) then something needs to be done to counter that bias. The trouble is, I don’t see positive discrimination in this case as positive discrimination at all. It’s discrimination full stop. From a male-perspective it’s negative discrimination! Giving papers at conferences looks good on CVs for up and coming philosophers. What if this affirmative action were to filter through to the lower levels? It would be genuinely unfairly destructive to the careers of young men. Wouldn’t it be better to try and sort out this balance by looking at encouraging undergraduate female philosophers to consider post-graduate study in metaphysics etc.. When the ratio of women philosophers increases so will their representation in conferences and journals.
I’m a young philosopher – and not one of the conference organisers as you may expect from previous posts! The notable absence of women in what I hope to become my profession is, I admit, pretty worrying. I just worry that the issue should be addressed at a level that will be detrimental to the careers of people like myself. Besides, I’m really unclear as to what the evidence is for women being discriminated against. Can you help me out here? Maybe if I was more convinced as to where this bias lies I might be more inclined to agree with these strategies. When the ratios of women speakers represent the ratios of female philosophers, and women are given the same opportunity to become philosophers as men, I need more than just “there’s a subconscious bias” to pursuade me the bias really exists in this area. It just seems completely unfalsifiable!
I hadn’t read your post when I posted mine (I think we must have been typing at the same time). What you say is very interesting, and I’d like to look more into it. Do you have any references/paper you’d advise?
Anon, I’ll leave it up to others to present the evidence that there really is an implicit bias against women in philosophy – as far as I’m concerned, the evidence is extensive and convincing, but others know much more about it than me. And I can’t see much reason to suppose that evidence is unfalsifiable, other than general Quinean reasons to suppose that *everything* is!
But put the antecedent to the side for the moment, there’s a question as to the conditional: if there is this implicit bias, should we employ affirmative action to redress it?
You give an argument that says: no, because that would be unfair to male philosophers. But if the antecedent really is true, I don’t think that’s the case. If the antecedent is true, affirmative action removes an existing unfair for men, it doesn’t create a new unfair advantage against men. At least that is the intention: I think you would need to say more than you do to argue against that.
Whether affirmative action is the correct response, this issue aside, if of course another issue. To my mind, the case for affirmative action is better when it comes to choosing conference speakers etc than it is when it comes to choosing what to publish. For a blind refereed journal, there’s at least the *pretence* (and as you point out, the reality isn’t quite as simple) that what gets published are all and only the submissions that meet a certain standard. Now, there’s evidence to suggest that submissions by women don’t get assessed impartially even under blind review, but it’s at least not obvious to me that the way to counter that is via affirmative action.
But choosing conference speakers is a different matter, I think. No one, I suppose, thinks that when they’re choosing speakers for their conference on X that they simply choose the 8 best philospohers of X (that are available). Rather, there are always *loads* of excellent philosophers of X you could ask, and the choice at that point is going to be somewhat arbitrary. In that case, it doesn’t seem at all unfair to me to let gender be a tie-breaker. I could invite a or b, both are excellent and work on relevant topics – neither is being unfairly treated if I invite the other – so let me invite a over b in order to have a gender-balanced conference. I can’t see anything wrong with that at all.
I should emphasise that, at least from my point of view, none of this is meant to cast blame on any particular conference organiser. As far as I’m concerned, the profession as a whole is to blame for the gender biases prevalent in philosophy, not any particular person. The point of bringing up particular all-male conferences is not to cast blame on the organisers of that conference but rather to draw our collective attention to the fact that this happens so frequently: the hope being that this will cause each of us to be more aware of our unconscious biases and as a result strive to overcome them.
Note also that the phrase ‘affirmative action’ covers a diverse range of strategies – some good, some not so good. To my mind, the range of strategies it covers is so diverse that the phrase isn’t really useful. It also has unfortunate connotations – perhaps as a result of its use in popular media – of unqualified women being chosen over qualified men, which is obviously not a good thing.
Anyway, rather than talking in very general terms about ‘affirmative action’, it would be better to concentrate on the details of the concrete proposal on the table with respect to the issue of all-male conference line-ups. The proposal is that if one is a conference organiser, when choosing people to invite for the conference one should:
a) be aware of the gender imbalance in philosophy
b) be alert to the ways in which the gender imbalance is perpetuated – one of which is, as JJ says, that excellent work by female philosophers does not get picked up as much as men’s, those women then don’t get invited to as many conferences, they don’t become as well-known, and their work is less likely to get picked up, and so on
c) check whether there are suitable women you could ask to speak at your conference – this means more than simply thinking, off the top of your head, who the big names are in the field
d) inviting them!
In short, you need to ask yourself whether you are passing over excellent, qualified, female speakers. Making sure that you’re not passing over excellent qualified female speakers doesn’t negatively impact on male speakers. Thus the idea that affirmative action always takes place to the detriment of men is false.
Oops – I see Ross has made pretty much the same point as me. I really should refresh a discussion before commenting…
Monkey, agreed! Let me stress: since women are not noticed, remembered, and so on, finding women key notes may require a lot more than simply consulting a list in one’s head. You might have to look and even look hard.
About the evidence of implicit bias: Here’s a page with a lot of sources. Another thing you might do is to click on “bias” in our topics and check out some of the articles.
The best material comes from studying the sciences; the argument to apply the material to philosophy is roughly this: Implicit bias has been well documented in the sciences and so it forms the best explanation for the under-representation of women in philosophy. (Not everyone knows that there’s been millions and millions spent by the US National Science Foundation on this topic over the last ten years.)
People do sometimes advance a priori conjectures about why it might be different, but there is no evidence at all to support such conjectures.
I absolutely agree that we need to discuss specific proposals rather than speak in general terms about ‘affirmative action’. I had hoped from my comment that it was clear I was talking about a specific instance of affirmative action: taking gender into account when chosing a conference line-up. (And I agree with everything you and Ross say by way of spelling this out.) I think that based on what ‘affirmative action’ means, a proposal like that counts as a form of affirmative action.
I disagree, however, that we shouldn’t use the term ‘affirmative action’ in these cases. As you point out, it has a lot of negative connations. People falsely assume it means giving women and minorities *unfair* advantage. But affirmative action doesn’t (or needn’t and shouldn’t, anyway) involve any such thing. And I think that’s precisely why we should use the term in describing proposals like the one we’re discussing here. People are wrong about what ‘affirmative action’ means! So by specific examples we should attempt (even if it doesn’t work) to correct those misconceptions. Some people will still complain that affirmative action is essentially unfair. But I’d bet those are mostly the people that will complain no matter what we call it.
@anon, I’d also recommend (in addition to the implicit bias stuff) that you read Sally Haslanger’s excellent paper on the status of women in philosophy. You can find it here: http://www.mit.edu/~shaslang/papers/HaslangerCICP.pdf
I agree with Ross, Monkey, Elizabeth.
I am currently involved in organizing a conference; the percentage of women that work in the field is not great, though not as terrible as some other fields. One thing that I did, before I sent out invites, was to go through all the faculty listings on the Phil. Gourmet report, and write down the names of any potential candidate women philosophers that worked on the relevant areas. I figured that if I did this, the odds of overlooking women philosophers who worked in the field would be lessoned significantly. Since the PG does not list faculty for non-Ph.D. granting institutions, this is far from a perfect solution, but in my experience it was very helpful.
I found that when I was initially trying to think of people to invite for the conference, I suffered from a kind of mental paralysis: I actually had a very hard time thinking of more than 14 names or so at first, both women and men! Having the list in front of me helped with that quite considerably.
I don’t see how a case could me made that my doing this was unfair to men in any way. And it looks like it is paying off with respect to having a more female-friendly conference.
I don’t have a lot to add, as Elizabeth, Ross, JJ and Monkey are saying everything I’d want to say. However, I do want to add that I very much share Ross’s view that blaming individual conference organisers isn’t the right focus. (Indeed, note that my post just calls attention to the issue rather than doing anything blame-y.) I always make this pretty in my emails to conference organisers. Here, for example, is the email I just sent to this conference’s organiser:
I’m re-sending this email not to nag you but rather because I’ve learned that I was having some difficulties with my email at the time that I sent it and so it may never have got to you. Please don’t feel pressured to respond– we’d very much value your input, but I do understand what a busy time of year this is for everyone.
I’m one of the bloggers at Feminist Philosophers. We’ve got something of a campaign going with respect to conference that have only male speakers, of which yours is one. We’re trying to spread awareness of the harm that this does, by perpetuating the invisibility of women in philosophy and thereby feeding the implicit biases that make it more difficult for women to be taken seriously as philosophers (or to take themselves seriously).
We’re writing to those who hold all-male conferences for two reasons:
(1) To urge you to think seriously about trying to include women in the future (which, for all we know, you may have tried to do for this one– we don’t have any way to tell).
(2) To invite you to come join in our discussion of these issues. (Our post on your conference can be found here: .) We’d like to know how it is that you came to have an all-male collection of speakers. We want to bring it about that there aren’t all-male conferences, but to do that we need a better understanding of how they come to be. You should know, by the way, that it’s perfectly OK to tell us “Oops, we screwed up– I didn’t even notice that.” As I note in one of my comments in a previous discussion of these issues, I did that once myself.
If you want to know more about implicit bias, you might look at some of the posts we’ve done:
Best wishes and hope to hear from you soon,
I wasn’t castigating anyone for using the term ‘affirmative action’ – sorry if it came across that way.
conference organizer, that’s really interesting. I think a little research needs to be done, but nothing much more onerous than what you’ve done.
since in fact this discussion is getting a lot of attention (visitor “hits”), I hope you aren’t going to mind my saying why your approach might be modified a bit rather than just copied. One quite well documented problem is that women tend to be disproportionately hired in places other than the top research universities. One reason for this is that typically women’s interests have often taken second place in solutions of the two-body problem.
One thing one could do is to supplement a search through the Leiter list with an e-letter sent to senior scholars asking for recommendations, perhaps particularly for women in MA or other programs. I also think someone is compiling a list of female philosophers, but that project is, I believe, in its early stages.
Philosophers who are dismayed at getting called out for all male conferences should know that Jender is being comparatively very patience and gentle about it. She and I used to play good cop-bad cop (not intentionally, I think), and I am less clear about the benefits of patience.
I do think there are very serious questions about justice in light of which these conference practices are pretty egregious, and made worse by using public money. I do know that a number of major US grant giving bodies in the sciences have stepped in and insist on more equitable spending of their resources in a lot of dimensions; there are people who’ve gotten called out and had their funding threatened.
I also think that if the profession were 80% white and 20% black, then the problem might well be viewed differently. There was a lot of unsatisfactory discussion around the Clinton-Obama race about whether black men now get a better deal as far as publicly expressible bias goes. Whatever one thinks of that, it does seem that white men feel ownership of problems about racism more and see the need to at least pretend to take the problems seriously — with some awful exceptions. The idea that if one points out someone has held an all-male conference, then one will be seen as making him feel bad is not a good sign. His feelings are really not terribly important compared to what else is at stake, IMHO.
Well, I’m a female PhD student working on metaphysics and when I read the conference title I certainly was very interested in attending. But given that I can afford to go to only a limited number of conferences and that there are more conferences I am interested in than I can go to I have to make choices – very much what Elizabeth already said. And how do I go about to make these choices? (It sounds similar to something Ross said earlier about how conference organizers should choose their speakers:) If there are two conferences I’m equally interested in then I will (other things being equal) pick the one that has female speakers over the one that has none. Maybe this is especially so because I’m still a student, I’d feel like an outsider at an all-male speakers conference. On the other hand, if there are women there too I all becomes more achievable to me. Of course, this also influences my behavior. If I feel less like an outsider, I might find it easier to raise a problem in discussion or go up to a speaker (male or female) and ask a question. This, of course, does not only mean that other philosophers notice me, which might influence my job chances later on, but also that I feel more confident about being a philosopher and this, in the long run, will make it likelier that I choose an academic career. When I gave a talk at a small conference one of the listening female students actually came up to me after the talk and thanked me for giving a talk, because it made her feel really good to hear a younger female speaker! I perfectly understood what she meant.
Of course not all female philosophers/philosophy students experience what I just described. But arguing that only the ones that don’t react sensitively to these issues should stay in philosophy (and I actually heard/read people arguing that) is discriminating against a certain type of people (not only women but any type of minority within a field) who are certainly no less valuable TO THE PROFESSION than the other types. After all, we want or at least we should want the best philosophical research possible and this cannot be done by the white male extroverted (etc.) alone. Attending conferences as a listener will be one of the first contacts of a graduate student with the world of the profession and what they see there will shape their views about the profession in certain ways. If you are serious about wanting to achieve more equality within the profession then you should spend serious effort on aiming for equality and diversity at conferences.
replace ‘you’ for ‘we’ – I don’t have a particular person or team in mind.
Incidentally, if I were a female philosopher I think I’d be actively looking for male-dominated conferences. Carrie Jenkins raised some excellent objections at the ‘new directions’ conference, and contrary to the general consensus here, I suspect the ‘bias’ against often makes the audience listen in more carefully to what she has to say. “Hey, the girl’s talking… I wonder if she has anything interesting to say…”. When the woman does have something interesting to say, that will be noticed.
Maybe some might object that I’m not a woman, and so what would I know. But I guarantee that I would have no problems whatsoever attending an all-female speaker conference if the topics interested me.
Anon – if you have evidence for the claim that the bias works in women’s favour, then we’d be more than willing to hear it. Unfortunately, all the evidence we have – which is ‘hard’ evidence, rather than anecdotes – points in the opposite way. In any case, that’s rather missing the point. Women philosophers don’t want to be listened to attentively in conferences because they’re such an anomaly that everyone sits up and listens in surprise. We want to be listened to because we’re philosophers and want other philosophers to give our views the same consideration they give to male philosophers.
Also, none of what we have said here should be taken to imply that in all male-dominated groups, women won’t be taken seriously.
I also think that your willingness to attend all-female conferences would quickly decrease if you were to find that you were made to feel like an outsider, excluded from discussion, not taken seriously when you spoke, etc. Unfortunately, that does sometimes happen to women at all-male conferences. That’s why some female philosophers aren’t willing to attend all-male conferences.
I was merely pointing out the brute fact that Carrie Jenkins’s remarks were taken very seriously, and perhaps her remark brought her competence as a female philosopher to the attention of the audience. If there were more female philosophers like Carrie, willing to attend ‘male-dominated’ conferences, perhaps this bias would fade quicker than it is.
Well, fortunately for me that situation wouldn’t arise, because in a society where female oppression suffocates professional life, if anything my comments would be taken more seriously than any of the female attendants at the all-female speaker conference.
Anon – excuse me if I had misread your suggestion. Getting more female philosophers to attend conferences is part of the issue that we’re concerned with. We’re particularly concerned at getting more female philosophers invited as conference speakers. As you note, if there were more of us about, the bias would fade faster.
Also, what we have said here doesn’t rule out an all-female conference from being a hostile environment for any male attendees. We’re not making sweeping general claims about female oppression suffocating professional life. We’re making very specific claims, based on evidence, about the possible reasons why philosophy remains a male-dominated sphere, and what can be done to combat this. If you are interested in reading more, then check out the links in JJ’s and Elizabeth Barnes’ comments above.
“If there were more female philosophers like Carrie, willing to attend ‘male-dominated’ conferences, perhaps this bias would fade quicker than it is.”
No-one is doubting that some female philosophers will be perfectly happy to go to such events, ask questions in discussion, etc. Lots of factors come into that: self-confidence, being taken seriously on other occasions, and the like. But the issue isn’t about the few who succeed despite the odds, it’s about the many who don’t, or at least, *might not*. And it does sound like “if women just sucked it up and stuck up for themselves, the situation would improve”. The onus should be on those in positions of relative power to change things, rather than those in positions of relative powerlessness to deal with it.
“I was merely pointing out the brute fact that Carrie Jenkins’s remarks were taken very seriously, and perhaps her remark brought her competence as a female philosopher to the attention of the audience.”
That’s half the problem, isn’t it? It shouldn’t even be a surprise that women can be excellent philosophers! It shouldn’t need bringing to attention!
Rich, I’m sorry if I made the implicit assumption that women weren’t taken seriously. In my experience of probably around 30 conferences, the women seem to have been taken equally seriously as the men. I was speaking from what seems to be the general feminist consensus. As we have already assertained though, my anecdotal evidence doesn’t count for much.
We share the desire to sort out the gender ratios. If actively taking gender into consideration when choosing speakers is what is required to solve the problem then so be it. I have no issue with this when (a) the speakers are invited (as opposed to papers being chosen on a competitive basis – in which case the best papers, irrespective of gender, should be chosen), and (b) this does not affect the quality of the conference. I don’t think (b) would often, if ever be an issue these days, but I do worry that in competitive situations gender issues will be considered (which is frankly unacceptable as far as I’m concerned). I hope most feminists would agree with me on this last point, but who knows. Catherine MacKinnon thinks women get raped every time they have sex, so anything’s possible…
Just a further thought to what’s already been said by Monkey and Rich. That men recognize some female excellence shouldn’t dismiss the potential of gender bias. *Of course* Carrie made excellent comments at the ‘New Directions’ conference. Carrie is an excellent philosopher. She routinely makes excellent comments. Unless men are either (a) stupid; (b) *extremely* sexist (or some combination thereof) they’re going to recognize this excellence.
But those same men — especially if they have the attitude which you wonderfully describe as ‘hey look, the girl talking. I wonder if she has anything interesting to say?’ — may judge women to a harsher standard than they judge men. So, e.g., they might recognize that Carrie is excellent, but not think she’s *as good* as some male philosopher who’s also been asking questions (even though they might in fact be on a par, or Carrie might be better). And if a woman is clearly philosophically able, but not quite as excellent as Carrie, they may by this same standard view that she has nothing interesting to say.
This double-standard will reiterate in many ways. When men are evaluating a female philosopher they’ll be more likely to remember her mistakes. They’ll be less likely to remember her successes. If she and Mr X both right a paper on y, they’ll remember to cite Mr X and they won’t remember to cite her. This is how implicit bias works, and this is how gender imbalances get perpetuated.
So just saying: ‘but the men thought Ms. X was great!’ doesn’t do much to undermine the worries we’re discussing here.
Just for the record – and for any other readers not familiar with this literature – an aside with some info on MacKinnon. Also, some feminists do think that for consent to be meaningful, i.e., for it to really count as consent, it must occur in a situation where there is no power imbalance (or where the power imbalance is negligible). One might think, e.g., that a slave cannot consent to having sex with the master, due to the master’s vast power over the slave. But that’s completely different to claiming that all sex is rape. Anyway, that’s off topic.
I just wanted to say thanks to the people saying nice things about me here! *blush*
I don’t really have anything substantive to add to the discussion. I’m sympathetic to the claim that gender should be a consideration (one among many, of course) when choosing speakers for conferences.
‘Sexuality “is a social construct of male power: defined by men, forced on women, and constitutive of the meaning of gender” (MacKinnon, 1989, p113) It is permeated by gender inequality and male dominance of women. This is true not only of some, but of all sex: from ‘nomal’ intercourse to prostitution and pornography to sexual harrassment and rape… rape must be acknowledged as “indegenous, not exceptional, to women’s social condition” (MacKinnon 1989, p. 197).’ (taken from Primoratz -Sexual Morality: Is consent enough.
OK so maybe not all sex is rape, but hey, it’s enough to keep you out of bed.
Anyway, enough of that. My female philosophy of sex students weren’t too impressed.
Anon – yes exactly my point. MacKinnon’s actual position is far more nuanced and sophisticated than is captured by the slogan ‘All sex is rape’. Since that’s a position that is often wrongly attributed to her, it’s best to make sure that it’s not repeated all over the internet. Hence, the aside.
MacKinnon is writing in a Marxian tradition. `Men’ and `women’ shouldn’t be construed as plurals or quantified singular predicates, but instead as class terms. That is, she’s not claiming that every sexual interaction between any given man and any given woman (in patriarchal society) is rape. Instead, she’s claiming that (in patriarchal society) the characteristic relations between the class of men and the class of women, viz., sexual relations, are political relations, and in particular constitute a form of oppression of the class of women. I don’t know if you’re just a grad student, anon, but you really should know better than to violate the principle of charity and take quotations out of context.
Anon’s worry, as stated most succinctly, seems to be that `in competitive situations gender issues will be considered (which is frankly unacceptable as far as I’m concerned)’. What sorts of competitive situations is he worried about? It looks to me like competition for those extremely scarce resources out of which one builds an academic career: jobs, speaking time at conferences, pages in journals, book deals, formal recognition of the importance of one’s work (President of the APA), and so on.
Now, anon appears to think that invitations to speak at a conference are not competitive, while the process of choosing among submitted papers is competitive. But this seems to me to be either false or irrelevant. If a competitive process can be defined as one in which a single `winner’ is selected from among a pool of candidates by judging them on the basis of various attributes, then both of these processes are competitive, and anon’s distinction is false. Or, if what’s really worrisome is the possibility that the distribution of scarce resources among a set philosophers partly on the basis of gender and sex would be unjust, then I don’t see how the fact that one decision is made competitively, in whatever sense, while another is not, is relevant. What does competition have to do with distributive justice?
The thought is simply this: If I write a better paper than woman X, my paper should be chosen for publication, and vice versa. This would all be a lot easier if editors chose their papers ‘blindly’, but of course this is not the case.
If papers were not submitted to be judged, then perhaps it’s more reasonable to take gender issues into consideration (so long as there are male and female philosophers equally qualified to speak).
If there were more female philosophers like Carrie, willing to attend ‘male-dominated’ conferences, perhaps this bias would fade quicker than it is.
Come on, girls, you’re just not trying hard enough.
I’m sympathetic to the claim that gender should be a consideration (one among many, of course) when choosing speakers for conferences.
Glancing at the original list of speakers, it seems as though it was in fact a preeminent concern :)
So this has been said pretty explicitly alread, by I’ll say it once more. No one here is suggesting that we should favor lower-quality work by women just because it’s by women.
Instead the idea is that work by women tends to be under-rated in various ways. Explicitly taking gender into consideration might go some way toward redressing this.
So not: by taking gender into consideration we’ll allow poorer quality, but that’s okay because we want better gender ratios.
But instead: a lot of excellent work by women gets under-valued or ignored. By taking gender into consideration we’ll allow some of this high quality work (work that’s just as high quality as that of men) to get through.
Now you might disagree that women’s work tends to be undervalued. We’ve given you some evidence to suggest you’re wrong about this, but we’d be open to hearing arguments to the contrary. You might also disagree that the best way to address any such bias is by affirmative action measures.
But it’s not disagreeing with anything that’s been said here to say that it’s unfair for a lower standard to be applied to female philosophers.
Incidentally, if I were a female philosopher I think I’d be actively
looking for male-dominated conferences.” Well, people are different, aren’t they? This is not *only* about being more or less self-confident, but let me nevertheless say something about this: If you are an outsider (and you just are if you are female philosopher amongst only or mostly male collegues) then you are likely to feel nervous, careful, less confident then normal. Not all outsiders are the same, of course, but again, we should make sure to not discriminate against the ones that in fact react very typically in such situations. It just means that you are very aware of your environment. Introverted and/or sensitive outsiders are likely to feel that going to conferences where they are outsiders takes up all their energy, which, in effect, will cause them to avoid such events. Which, given how important it is for your career to visit onferences, might influence their career negatively or even cause them to choose a different career. (This does not only appply to women, btw, in fact, I know men who would agree with this.) Unless you are a very confident person you are likely to have some of the negative impressions connected with being an outsider. And, as I said before, it cannot (and shouldn’t) be the aim of academic philosophers to have only a certain type of people doing philosophical research (e.g. male or very confident etc, etc.). Just realize that people from different backgrounds, different cultures, with different genders, different temperaments, different sensibilities will also differ in the way they think about issues. And the diversity of ideas is what is important in academics. It helps further knowledge. An introverted female philosopher might well
see other problems with a particular account or suggestion than a
extroverted male philosopher (other, not better or less good.) So of
course we want introverted female philosophers to speak out! It can only make philosophy better if they do. However, this means creating an environment where they feel comfortable to do so. Just to be clear on these two points. I’m not saying here that ideas from introverted females or worth more or less than ideas from extroverted males. And also, I picked introverted female philosophers as the example but of course the points apply to all different types of people who are minorities in the profession. What we need is diversity.
Further, I agree with everything Richard said and would like to add: I don’t want to go to a conference and have everyone stare at me. I prefer to overall blend in with the group and to be remembered as someone who said something interesting, not as THE WOMAN who – surprisinly enough – talked AND said something interesting. I chose philosophy because I love the subject as such, I didn’t also choose all the unpleasant circumstances that come with the profession. And no, these circumstances are not unevitable at all when our aim is to have the best philosophical research possible.
This is to support WHY we should make an effort to promote gender-balance at conferences. The next question is, HOW we go about to do this and no one here thinks that we should choose a mediocre paper written by a female philosopher over a brilliant one written by a male philosopher. There might well be more brilliant male metaphysicians than brilliant female metaphysicians, just because there are much more male metaphysicians than female ones. Nevertheless, the aim must be to promote a gender-balance within the whole discipline. And one imporant move to help this happening is to make sure that half of your good/very good/brilliant speakers are female ( note that it’s not *famous* that matters!). Yes, this might mean that some female philosophers speak at conferences more often than some of their male collegues. But this is the only issue I can see here and it is really no issue at all.
If you Ivory Tower types don’t mind a compliment from a thoroughly “whooped” undergrad, I’d like to thank you for getting these conference organizers to address the gender skew at the elite levels of the discipline. It matters, especially to those who are just getting started on their academic careers. “Unconscious” gender biases can get UGLY when there are multiple power imbalances at work. I only wish I’d found this site and blogged with JJ before I went waving my “peanut gallery banner” all over the department about “Professor Alpha”, who is now trying to label me the next Seung-Hui Cho for having the audacity to speak out against him.
On a more positive note, JJ, you were right about our department chair. She is a woman, and she will be mediating my case in absentia while her temporary (male) replacement deals with on-campus issues, including this one. I took your advice and listened to what she had to say, even though we haven’t met yet. By that I mean I looked up her CV and read some of her published works. Her words were reassuring. I hope she’ll examine the statistical evidence (pertaining to female mass murderers–or lack thereof–and other violent women) and my personal file from her area of expertise and reach the conclusion that “Professor Alpha”‘s accusations against me are patently absurd.
Not to keep rehashing the issue; I’m just trying to thank the people who strive to promote gender-fair practices at all levels of academia for offering a little hope to those who might not otherwise “make it out of the starting gate.” I suspect that my case is not as rare as some men would have us believe, and “affirmative action” type strategies are definitely required to correct current imbalances.
Linda Nochlin has an interesting paper that I think relates mutatis mutandis to the topic at hand: http://www.miracosta.edu/home/gfloren/nochlin.htm
I’m not sure whether anything I have to say is going to be illuminating at all, but I thought I might as well add my two cents to the discussion. I think the general fact of the matter is that there does exist a gender inequality in professional philosophy. As such, our concern ought to be why such an inequality exists and what we can do to change it. I in no way wish to take issue with the claim that there are gender biases in professional philosophy, but I would like to suggest that gender inequalities may not necessarily be products of individual actions that reflect said biases. I worry that gender inequalities are simply entrenched because there has been no real effort made to stop the perpetuation of gender inequalities. The though is that although perhaps no individuals act upon implicit gender biases, gender inequalities still persist simply due to the pre existing environment. I hope that made sense.
In no way do I wish to give some broad sweeping generalization of why gender inequalities exist in philosophy, I think these are very subtle complex issues that require a lot of care and attention. I might very well be wrong in supposing that gender inequalities are simply self perpetuated without any individuals perpetuating them based upon implicit gender biases
Specifically, I wanted to speak to the issue of ‘affirmative action’. I think this point has been made ad naseum, but no one thinks that women ought to be selected to present at a conference or to have a paper published soley due to their being women. The point of affirmative action as far as I see it is to ensure that self perpetuating gender inequalities come to a stop.
So here’s why I think affirmative action might not be such a horrible thing. Ex hypothesi, women are systematically underrepresented in print and at conferences. I’m not going to take a stab at explaining why, but here’s one possible reason. There simply aren’t as many women in professional philosophy as there are men. Now, if 5 people submit great papers to a journal which can only accept one of them, and only 1 of those people is a woman, there is a lower chance of a woman’s work appearing in print. Lets say this is indicative of the entire situation of women in philosophy. Now, the result is going to be that women are underrepresented in print. At least to me, it seems this situation might look quite discouraging were I to be in the situation of many women deciding whether or not to pursue philosophy at a professional level (from my understanding, there is not so much a gender inequality at the undergraduate level, but one that arises at the postgraduate level and inevitably at the professional level). If this discrepancy in representation can in fact play a substantial role in whether or not a woman decides to pursue philosophy professionaly then I worry that women may very well decide to not pursue philosophy professionally. If women, on the basis of gender inequalities choose not to pursue professional philosophy, the worry is that the gender inequalities will continue to be perpetuated. How might one stop this cycle? One worthwhile suggestion is that a conscious effort should be made to ensure that women are not underrepresented in professional contexts. What might this do? It might make more women feel at ease about pursuing philosophy professionaly once professionaly philosophy can prove itself to be a profession amiable to women. I presume if this is done, we might see more professional philosophers who where women, and if a conscious effort can be made to ensure a fair environment, we will eventually no longer need to make the effort consciouslly.
My proposal might very well fall short of capturing the actual situation of women in philosophy. I wouldn’t be surprised, but I do find many peoples aversive reaction to affirmative action puzzling. It’s not because a philosopher is a woman that a paper would be selected or what have you, it’s because she’s a good philosopher and we ought to see more capable philosophers who are woment to be represented.
Jeremy, from my point of view as a grad student I *very* much agree with pretty much all you said above!
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