Ten Small Things You Can Do to Promote Gender Equity in Philosophy

I’m doing another post here, for the New Year. (I also did these about women in philosophy, here and here.)

The New Year seems like a nice time to compile a list of small things that many of us (whatever our sex/gender) can do fairly easily to help the cause of gender equity in philosophy. (If you’re wondering why *these* suggestions, scroll down to “Background”, below.) Of course, their ease and appropriateness depends on your particular situation. Use your judgment about what small things you should try.

(1) Organising a conference? Make sure you’ve got some women speakers. Try appropriate subject searches in the Philosophers’ Index, and remember that implicit bias may have prevented good women philosophers from getting the visibility they deserve. You can help to change that. (Also, think about doing things that will get you in the position to organise conferences or sessions, like joining an APA committee.)

(2) Attending an all-male conference? Say something about it. You can be confrontational, jokey, or friendly, depending on what suits you. Personally, I find it very effective to make a joke, which then opens up the conversation in a very productive, non-aggressive manner.

(3) Editing a volume or special issue? See (1): similar considerations apply.

(4) Teaching? Include some women on the syllabus. Even in the history of philosophy, they’re not as rare as you think. When students see all-male syllabi, that helps to shore up the implicit associations between maleness and philosophy.

(5) Check out the candidacy/comprehensive/prelim exams in your department. Try to get some women included. This can usually be done in a pretty non-confrontational manner by just suggesting “a few more recent authors”, and a helpful list of suggestions.

(6) Doing a job search? Make sure everyone on the committee knows about implicit bias, and bear in mind the suggestions here.

(7) Involved in a journal? Urge anonymous refereeing and editing at every stage, to minimise effects of implicit bias. (This is also important for making sure that there isn’t a bias in favour of famous names, a bias against foreign names, biases for or against particular institutions, etc etc.)

(8) Develop the habit of acknowledging women. One thing research has shown over and over again is a tendency not to notice the contributions of women. Be sure to acknowledge women’s contributions to discussions (by name, if possible), and notice when others fail to do so. Pick up on this in a friendly way (e.g. “Yes, Edith was saying something very like that just a minute ago…). When you’re writing a paper, make a special effort to remember women who may have helped you (or whose work may have influenced you), since research shows you’re likelier to forget them.

(9) If you’re speaking to a woman, make eye contact and listen to what she’s saying. (Both men and women make less eye contact with women than with men.)

(10) Whatever you’re doing, talk about implicit bias. It’s really not that hard to do, since it’s incredibly interesting. And the more people who know about this, the better.

Background: Psychological research on implicit bias has made it very clear that nearly all of us are subject to unconscious biases, whatever our conscious beliefs. Believing ardently in gender equality does not prevent one from being subject to biases which work against women. Nor does being a woman. (If you want to know more about implicit bias and its likely workings in philosophy, you might start here.)

If we want to be less biased we need to work at it, rather than just reflecting on our conscious non-sexist beliefs. Deliberately trying to include/notice/pay attention to women is one way to do this. Moreover, research suggests that exposure to counter-stereotypical exemplars can do a lot to counteract implicit biases. In this case, that means women philosophers.

(Many thanks to JJ, LP, AG, LA, JVC and everyone else I’ve discussed these issues with!)

51 thoughts on “Ten Small Things You Can Do to Promote Gender Equity in Philosophy

  1. A great new year’s reminder and list of useful strategies! Thanks!
    I also like the reminder under “background”… I remember taking a test about implicit bias and thinking I would most certainly emerge as the least biased person! How wrong I was. Me, the champion and activist for equity, yes me! I was biased albeit unconsciously. That was a welcome shock I must say. So yes we need to be aware and act against it.

  2. JS, thanks so much for doing this. I love the ideas!

    May I stress a factor that could make someone’s following 8 much more effective? That is, make sure you are reading women’s papers also. Since women are cited less, that might involve a quick whip around through the Philosopher’s Index.

    The pamphlet linked to in 6 looks extremely useful. People in academic departments tend not to be thrilled by the idea that their judgments are biased. After all, almost all of us strive hard not to be biased in at least some areas. But getting people to look at the examples in that piece might a least alert them to the need to be self-monitoring.

  3. Thanks Jenny. Your points are important. Let me add a couple of others.

    Teaching: the same point Jenny made about acknowledging the contribution of women professionals to discussion applies to women students.

    Department publicity (especially websites–our “faces”): include women prominently. I can link a humorous example, though there are serious ways as well. My department photoshopped our own faculty members’ heads on The Death of Socrates, making sure that women were in the foreground (but not as Socrates) http://www.calstatela.edu/dept/phil/ .

    Colloquium series: include women speakers on a wide range of topics.

  4. Thanks so much, all of you! Ann– great suggestions, and fantastic photoshopping: hilarious! Christine, thanks for your candour about the bias tests. They are indeed disconcerting.

  5. Thanks for posting this! Perhaps a helpful point to add to (7) would be to make sure there isn’t a bias against women, folks with foreign-sounding names, non-famous folks, etc. in the selection of anonymous referees as well.

  6. Great list! A potential addition:

    Teaching / Evaluation: Do (at least initial) grading and evaluation without knowing whose work you’re evaluating. It’ll provide one less way for implicit biases to harm students.

  7. Good points, Matt and anon! And as an addition to anon’s point: anonymous undergraduate marking has been standard in the UK for a long time. Word is that when this was adopted the percentage of women getting first-class degrees rose by one third. (I haven’t been able to find documentation of this, though, and would love it if someone could point me to some!)

  8. Another point that hasn’t been mentioned, which I think is enormously important in the long run is mentoring of students at both undergrad and grad levels. First, there is a tendency to be closer to those one is unconsciously more comfortable with. So, with more male prof’s you end up with more serious mentoring of male students. (And that’s even without adding in the possibility of sexual harassment.) Second, in my experience, there are often different pressures, different needs, worries, concerns, obstacles, etc. with female students. (There is a lot that could be said here.) And female philosophy students drop out at higher rates. Third, we know that mentorship in its many forms is enormously important to getting jobs in the field.

    So taking the time to really support female students, including challenging them on behaviors that will hurt them in the field, supporting them with obstacles, and advocating for them as they advance is crucial to increasing equity.

    Let me also say that I think it is important for male faculty to be involved in this. Certainly this is not to deny that female faculty have taken on the brunt of this work, or that in some cases they are best suited – but if it all falls on them it is both an unfair extra burden, and also has the tendency to create a perception of the female students as being separate.

  9. Thanks for posting this!

    I would add a strategy that is somehow implicit in the previous ones, but rarely suggested also in other conversations I had on the issue of implicit bias: blind reviewing of graduate admissions documents.

    Both letters of recommendation and writing samples could be easily rendered anonymous and gender-neutral. This would require only a bit of effort from letter writers, and it would be easily obtained for what concerns writing samples. Notice instead that not only are writing samples not required to be anonymous, but applicants are often asked to put their name in the header of each page of it! Quite a nice way to highlight who the author is, and remind the reader of a bias-determining factor over and over.

    As a graduate student myself, I am not sure whether this is feasible at every stage of the admission process, and for all of the required documentation. But women and other minorities would certainly benefit from a discussion about how to avoid bias at such a crucial stage of their career.

  10. Thanks so much , Jenny. Hearing these things said and repeated is such an important reminder.

  11. On (4): I teach intro philosophy of language, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to include women in the syllabus. I cover the classics up to Naming and Necessity. Certainly reasonable people can disagree about what counts as a classic, but I doubt there’s anything written by a female philosopher that could make the cut. Ruth Marcus on names? Sure, I mention her, but having students read her stuff, when the ideas that became part of the new theory of reference are just scattered remarks in papers on other topics, seems odd. Worse, it would be transparent tokenism when I’m not having the students read any of the other people who inspired Kripke on singular reference.

    I am aware that I can include several women if I cover more recent work, but that’s not how I teach the course. Anything I can do short of changing the focus of the course?

  12. Would it have to be a huge change to include some more recent stuff? Mightn’t there be a reasonable case to be made for including something post-70s anyway? I might be able to give more specific suggestions with a bit more detail. Do you structure the course around topics or chronologically?

  13. Others surely know more about philosophy of language than I do, but some thoughts that come to mind include Ruth Marcus’s paper “Extentionality”, contained in the Oxford Readings in Philosophy volume _Reference and Modality_ edited by Leonard Linsky. If you cover Grice or speech-act theory at all then Jenifer Hornsby’s excellent essay “Feminism in Philosophy of Language”, in the _Cambridge Companion to Feminism_ would be useful. (Hornsby might also have other useful papers.) Depending on what else you cover, writings by Barbar Partee or Luise Antony might be appropriate (though the first’s work is highly technical and might be too hard for many undergrads- it’s often too hard for me!)

  14. A further thought for Anon: If the bibliography has to be *classic papers prior to 1972* and if a classic paper has to actually be widely known, influential, etc., there just won’t be much room for women. But if you’re willing to look after 1972, there’s tons of very mainstream well-known work by women on vagueness, the semantic/pragmatic distinction, demonstratives, singular terms, etc etc. And I would certainly want someone who had taken an intro phil language class to be familiar with developments post-1972.

  15. Re anon’s comment. Wittgenstein allegedly said at some seminar “Thank God we’ve gotten rid of the women.” Of course, one woman remained: Anscombe. I should have thought her work on Frege and on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus has relevant bits. Her Introduction to the Tractatus has some discussions on differences in how names and definite stand for something.

    Anscombe’s work (along with her work jointly with Geach) has titles that might make them look like passive commentaries, but in fact they are full of original ideas.

    If one were looking among women who might have addressed some of the relevant problems in the early days, one might consider Hide Ishiguro and Jenny Teichman – it’s hard to search for relevant work before 1970, since so many papers didn’t have abstracts.

    Another thing one might look at is later writing on the earlier philosophers. Here again, what could looks like the history of philosophy is really full of original philosophy. Cora Diamond and Juliet Floyd (see in philpapers and elsewhere) come to mind. Juliet Floyd has written along and with Putnam.

  16. Thanks for these great ideas! Here is a simple, concrete follow up to number (5) for anybody who teaches the Descartes-Kant class. If you don’t have it already, pick up a copy of ‘Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period’ edited by Margaret Atherton. It’s is a wonderful resource for incorporating women philosophers into a traditionally male-dominated syllabus. The readings are very manageable, easy to teach, and fit in very nicely with the themes and arguments that are the standard focus of the course.

  17. This discussion about point 4 is really helpful, but going back to the original posting . . .

    I am concerned about strategies 1, 2, and 3, since I think (i) they can (and sometimes do) impact negatively on the careers of the particular women whose work gets selected in this way and (ii) have the potential to impact negatively on the position of women in philosophy in general. I also have a suggestion for avoiding this problem.

    The problem:

    – say a book or conference contains ten papers;

    – if these are the best ten papers received, or the invitees are the best ten the editor or organiser could find who would agree, then there is no problem for anyone;

    – but if this is not the case then the contributor(s) who have been selected for some other reason are liable to stand out as having been selected for some other reason;

    – audiences are thereby likely to judge that paper or speaker to be relatively weak; and first impressions last for years and years;

    – what is more, with a little more difficulty in getting publication, that contributor’s work may well improve more quickly and more significantly than if it gets published anyway.

    Suggested solution: counteract the problem of implicit bias by ensuring that you seek out as many women philosophers in the relevant field as you can find and read some of their works; then select your team purely on whose papers were the best, with no consideration of gender.

    This is what I do. In my case, it has never led to an all-male line-up. Indeed, the proportion of women is often higher than in the profession at large. But I really wouldn’t want anyone to think my female contributors have been selected for any reason other than the strength of their previous work in the area.

    And if it ever did lead to an all-male line-up, what would be wrong with that?

  18. You write:

    Suggested solution: counteract the problem of implicit bias by ensuring that you seek out as many women philosophers in the relevant field as you can find and read some of their works; then select your team purely on whose papers were the best, with no consideration of gender.

    I agree that step 1– seeking out work of women philosophers–is important. But step 2 only works if you can say with confidence that your judgments of which papers are the best will not be affected by implicit bias. And all evidence suggests that there’s no way to be confident of this.

  19. I’d suggest that implicit bias – at least as normally understood, the concept could reasonably me made to fit lots – isn’t the only problem. There is simply no such thing as a uni-dimensional measure of “best paper”. And if there was, I don’t think any conference line-up ever would have been chosen solely on its basis. People setting up conferences pay attention to all sorts of things – whether interesting conversation will arise between x and y, whether x is a good speaker, whether they can get x, how close they are, interests of the audience. At least as important is the decision about what the topic of the conference/book is. There are all sorts of ways to define what is relevant to an issue, what perspectives and methdologies are worth including, etc. I think that more women get excluded from conferences by such decisions than by bias entering into the quality of the paper per se. In any event slight tweaking of the topic will often open it up to lots more women contributors.

  20. Reply to Jenny:

    Wouldn’t I be able to judge the likelihood of an implicit anti-woman bias? I could check what proportion of the papers I read were by women and what proportion of the papers I judged best were by women; if there is a significant disparity (I’ve never noticed one in my own events or editing) I could re-read the papers by women that I had not judged among the best to see whether I wanted to revise my opinion of any of them.

    Is there any evidence that implicit biases survive such testing? I don’t know the literature. But I do know that plenty of evidence suggests that unconscious biases involved in person perception affect immediate judgments but not carefully considered judgments. Perhaps there’s an interesting research project in here, if it hasn’t already been done.

    Reply to Mark:

    Sure, people have different sets of criteria for what makes a good paper, but so long as the same set is applied to all candidates for a given event/journal why does this pose a problem? Perhaps because some sets of criteria are themselves biased towards men? This is an intriguing suggestion, as is the suggestion that methodological differences align to a significant extent with gender differences.

    I like your suggested solution, but is there any empirical evidence of the problem?

  21. You write:

    Wouldn’t I be able to judge the likelihood of an implicit anti-woman bias? I could check what proportion of the papers I read were by women and what proportion of the papers I judged best were by women; if there is a significant disparity (I’ve never noticed one in my own events or editing) I could re-read the papers by women that I had not judged among the best to see whether I wanted to revise my opinion of any of them.

    I haven’t seen any studies of whether that would be an effective check. But I imagine its efficacy would depend quite a bit on sample size, which I suspect would be too low in this sort of case (but I’m guessing). Still, definitely worth investigating.

    These articles are very relevant to the relationship between implicit bias and affirmative action, if you’re interested:

    Click to access The_Law_of_Implicit_Bias.pdf

  22. Many thanks for the links. Those certainly look like good papers and I will be reading them soon.

    As a general point, if there’s no way of testing my selection procedure after the fact for implicit bias in order to counteract it, then its hard to see how there could be evidence of a problem of implicit bias in my procedure in the first place.

    I guess my suggestion is that everyone wanting to be affirmative adopts a procedure like the one I have suggested. After a while, we will have a large and diverse sample of projects to review..

    This strikes me as preferable to the approach in 1, 2, and 3, which could well be damaging the careers of women in philosophy. (I for one wouldn’t want to be involved with such strategies unless I was sure they weren’t doing such damage.)

    Anyway, I have heard rumours that there may be a conference coming soon on exactly this issue. I hope those rumours are right.

  23. JW, I don’t know if I’ve got your reasoning correctly, but it looks to me as if you are saying the following: Implemented in some ways, strategies 1-3 will be counterproductive; therefore, one should not implement them at all.

    The better conclusion would seem to be: therefore, be judicious about how you implement them.

  24. Let me just add, JW, that I haven’t seen anything that suggests implicit biases do not affect one’s considered judgments. Given the sorts of situations in which disguising gender makes a huge difference = e.g., not letting judges see candidates for an orchestra – it looks as though they do affect cases where people are at least trying to make good, careful decisions.

  25. JW: That’s exactly my suggestion. Whether we want to use the loaded word ‘bias’ here – I actually do, but that’s a rather longer claim to defend – there is very good evidence that women tend to work in different areas of philosophy, and on different specific problems than men. Methodological differences are hard to quantify, but I think anyone working in, say, M&E or philosophy of language can see that there is a reasonable correlation (of course not absolute). Let me put it in the form of an offer – you send me a topic and I’ll send you a tweak on it that will get more female philosophers interested in it. (That’s completely serious. But maybe off the list since I suspect this is not interesting at this point to everyone else here.)

  26. JW, you write:

    As a general point, if there’s no way of testing my selection procedure after the fact for implicit bias in order to counteract it, then its hard to see how there could be evidence of a problem of implicit bias in my procedure in the first place.

    Actually, the evidence is simply that most people are subject to implicit bias and that it’s tough to overcome. So I’d think the default assumption is that any procedure is subject to it unless there’s evidence showing it isn’t.

    JJ– I think there is evidence that quick judgments are *more* prone to implicit bias than more considered ones. But that’s not the same as evidence that considered judgments aren’t subject to it.

  27. ML, 2 things:

    1. I’ve been wondering why Jenny – or one of those offering advice – didn’t put in your excellent suggestion, mentoring. It is very important. It suddenly occurred to me that it might not, of course, be a small thing, which is what the list is about. Perhaps, though, there are something like mentoring steps would could take without undertaking the bigger role. For example, making sure one suggests some women next time one is asked who could review such and such.

    2. I think what women are interested in is a function of a number of factors, including professors’ suggested topics. It certainly seems right that such origins are not very relevant when we’re looking for speakers for a conference, but they might be relevant when we’re looking to make the discipline more friendly to women.

  28. JJ;
    Mentoring can be big or small. It can be as significant as taking on the project of nurturing someone’s dissertation, helping them through the whole process of grad school and keeping up with their career after. It can be as little as an encouraging word or quick bit of advise or expressed interest in the hall in passing. All of these matter enormously – to everyone, but most especially to those who don’t come to grad school with a strong sense that they belong there. Very often that will be women, folks from poor backgrounds, minorities, folks from rural backgrounds, etc. Way too many professors just don’t think that such things matter, or are part of their job.

  29. JJ: It all depends on what you’re packing into ‘judicious’. The problem cases in my example are the ones where the paper would not have been accepted purely by being one of the best ten or the author would not have been invited for being one of the best ten. Once you’re judicious enough not to employ strategies 1-3 in these cases, you’re not employing those strategies at all.

    JJ & JS: Considered opinions come in various kinds and degrees of ‘considered’. In the person-perception literature, certain biases decrease in influence the longer the subject has to think about the question. But what I’m really interested in is not just time to think, but the use of such time aimed explicitly at counteracting implicit bias. I think this ought to be testable and will think some more about how.

    ML: Thanks for the offer, but as I say I haven’t any evidence that I need to take you up on it; though you have shown me that this might be a function of my having broader methodological interests than most philosophers.

    JJ & ML: My suggestion is for a more sophisticated way of counteracting implicit bias. ML has suggested another one. A third can be generated out of those two: start with a broad topic; read a load of papers (ensuring a good proportion are by women); and only then narrow down the focus of the event/publication. It now seems to me that there may be many more ways to skin this particular cat. Which is best for a given event/book will depend on the circumstances of the editor and the aims of that event/book. Anyone got any more ideas for such strategies?

    ML: I think arguments of the form ‘anyone working in X can see that Y’ are bound to be influenced by implicit biases, gender-specific ones and more general ones (e.g. confirmation bias).

    JS: on the default assumption: I think we differ over the strength of evidence required to justify a strategy that may well be damaging to women in philosophy.

    In general: it is not only specific instances of employing strategies 1-3 that I am worried about; I also think that proclaiming that people ought to employ those strategies helps to impugn the works of women. (Is that paper just in there for gender balance? A question nobody ever asks of a man’s work!) If implicit biases are a function of the cultural environment, the very act of encouraging strategies 1-3 might itself feed anti-woman implicit biases in the philosophy culture (in fact, I think it does).

    Apologies if any of the above seems a little terse, but if it does then that is really just a function of trying to be concise; I’m getting a lot out of this discussion, so many thanks to you all.

  30. JW: I think there may be an important misunderstanding here. There is no reason to think that recommending 1-3 is recommending that people include inferior work. I’m concerned that this old objection to affirmative action is getting recycled here.

    There is a great deal of evidence that women’s work in academia is ignored, forgotten, and/or undervalued. 1-3 is about making a conscious effort to stop that.

    Oddly enough, if you look at the Malcolm Gladwell tape, the psychologist suggests one way to temporarily help with implicit bias.

  31. It may be, JW, that we’re not actually in disagreement about 1-3. JJ and I think one can make sure to include women’s work without including inferior work, and so do you. We *might* disagree over a hypothetical case where the only work available by a woman is clearly inferior, but all of us have yet to see such a case.

  32. Yes, I think we are in broad agreement, though I think our disagreement is not merely terminological. (Also, I don’t think the word ‘inferior’ is helpful here, as it is so vague.)

    To clarify:
    – I am in favour of affirmative action;
    – I am against counterproductive strategies;
    – I am very concerned that the following are counterproductive strategies:
    ––– (a) including women’s work for any reason other than the intrinsic merit (or likely intrinsic merit, if it is yet to be written, as judged by author’s track record);
    ––– (b) stating publicly that one should always ensure that women’s work is included.

    All I have done is (i) crystallise a concern that has been voiced to me in many conversations about this over many years, often voiced by women philosophers; (ii) give and encourage positive suggestions for affirmative action that avoids doing (a) and avoids doing (b).

    As for examples of cases:
    – I could post a whole bunch of true stories here, but that would be rather indelicate;
    – Do we need such cases? Doesn’t the theory of implicit biases itself give ample reason for this concern?

    Thought-experiment: your essay is in a book of ten essays; you are the only woman among the ten authors; just as the book is published, the editor publicly states that it is important to always ensure that one’s contributors are not all male; would you feel undermined by this?

  33. JW, you criticise these two strategies:

    ––– (a) including women’s work for any reason other than the intrinsic merit (or likely intrinsic merit, if it is yet to be written, as judged by author’s track record);
    ––– (b) stating publicly that one should always ensure that women’s work is included.

    As to (a): conferences and invited volumes are pretty much always based on both merit and other considerations. Very few conference organisers don’t try to get someone with a big name, often despite that said big name is into a repeating-themself phase of their career. Lots of people invite their friends, or at least seek out people whose company they enjoy and don’t invite people they don’t want to be around. People also often have to think about location, due to cost concerns. And on and on. Considering gender as well doesn’t so crazy once you reflect on all the other considerations that are so widely accepted.

    I guess I also tend to figure that the case of pretty much any conference or volume there will be quite a lot more people one would like to invite than people one is able to invite. One then has to choose between these people. Now, I suppose some people might have the sorts of minds that create a clear rank ordering and it might turn out that women are at the bottom. But I suspect most people are more like me– with lots of incommensurable things one likes and dislikes about all the options. I honestly can’t imagine having some list of possible speakers where the women are clearly the worst simply because I don’t make such orderings.

    (b) is a point that’s really interesting and important (and worrying). I don’t know whether research has been done on it, but I’d like to know.

    If people do think the Feminist Philosophers’ campaign against all-male conferences is a campaign to try to get sub-standard work by women into conferences, then that’s clearly bad. I always thought of it as a campaign to get people to recognise the excellent work women were doing by inviting them to speak at their conferences. Maybe greater clarity about this is needed?

  34. Jenny, I expect research has been done on this, because it’s a standard objection to affirmative action: either affirmative action brings in people who aren’t so good OR it diminishes the reputations of those who are good enough OR both.

    Two points here:

    a. In my experience, the fear that including gender in one’s criteria will diminish quality often stems from a perhaps unconscious sense that the now excluded people aren’t really good enough. Perhaps there are other routes to this conclusion and JW’s may be one: in field F good women succeed, so field G, which does not have successful women, may have some of lower quality.) Really, how could it be otherwise? If among the excluded people are lots of excellent candidates, how could choosing among them result in inferior choices, unless the ‘chooser’ is kind of clueless, which isn’t supposed.

    Bias seems to translate immediately into a suspicion that gender considerations lessen quality, though perhaps that’s not the only route.

    b. There is something really odd about the argument; In general, X’s are not selected for Y’s even when they are very good. But we cannot directly address this situation, because that would tarnish the reputations of those now not selected.

    What’s odd of course is that careers are actually pretty short, and if we do not do something fairly quickly, we’ll lose another generation. In the States and surely elsewhere, philosophy is looking like a great target for absorbing cuts and building departments full of white guys teaching about dead white guys is probably not the way to survive.

    You can imagine saying to someone: So sorry that your work was never really recognized or read, but still, at least your reputation is not tarnished, to the extent that you have one at all.

    Some AA colleagues I’ve talked to have a different take: “I have to live with the fact that I’m never going to have the respect and perks I deserve. But I look at those who do get perks and I see all the biases that work in their favor and against me. So someone tries to interrupt this system and get me some perks, but it will diminish my reputation? Now that’s really funny.”

  35. My personal reaction to the thought experiment suggested by JW is the same reaction I have when people ask me whether I would feel undermined by any affirmative action policy: I don’t feel undermined, or offended, because I have experienced an unequal treatment over and over in my student career. I have experienced sexual harassment from professors (fortunately in mild and manageable, but still stressful, forms). I have experienced sexual jokes and mocking about my work from my peers. I have heard my comments ignored, and praised only when reformulated by a guy.
    The list can go on and on, and we all know what is in it. So, no, if someone told me I got into a conference, or volume, or school, because I am a woman, I would not feel undermined. Even if someone told me I was preferred over a male who was a bit more qualified, I would not feel undermined. I know how guys get “better”. Even assuming that he truly is a better philosopher than me by unbiased, objective standards (if there is any), I think I deserve more chances. He has got better chances so far and he might still be privileged over me in a lot of other circumstances.

    Also, I am still interested in people’s comments on how to avoid biases in graduate admission. I hope there is not an ageism-related implicit bias going on…

  36. Reply to JS:

    It seems to me that such properties as proximity to venue, being fun at dinner, being a friend of the organiser do not pick out the same group over and over again regardless of who is organising the event or where it is. So I don’t think people selected in that way can be harmed by it and neither can an identifiable group of philosophers at large.

    A closer analogy would be a policy of ensuring there was always a blonde-haired contributor. Perhaps many blonde-haired people would welcome such a policy. My worry is that they would be mistaken to do so, as it would tend to work against their interests in a variety of subtle ways.

    (The example you cite of people selecting a Big Name contributor who is no longer saying anything new might be a practice that is inimical to the work of Big Name people; *why* isn’t this person coming up with the goods any more?!)

    On (b): I didn’t mean to imply that people might take your campaign to be aimed at getting sub-standard work into conferences. I think your aim of counteracting an existing bias is very clear. My worry is that your strategy in pursuit of this aim might well have unintended negative consequences. It might even exacerbate the very problem it aims to address. My proposal is for other ways of pursuing the same aim.

    Reply to JJ:

    My argument does not claim that “we cannot directly address” the overlooking of good work by women philosophers; it is only the claim that a particular way of trying to address the problem may well inadvertently exacerbate the problem, followed by a recommendation of strategies that will directly address the problem.

    Reply to SP:

    By my thought-experiment, I didn’t intend to ask how you would feel as a result of your being told that your work was selected for gender reasons. I was more concerned with the likely impact a public statement to that effect would have on other people’s view of your work. Wouldn’t it be inimical to being taken seriously? Of course I realise that women already face a problem with being taken seriously. My concern is to avoid making that problem worse.

  37. JW, thanks for raising these issues– well worth discussing. But I don’t think I’ll have the time to do so in the next few days– sorry!

  38. Actually, just two more quick things as I fear being misunderstood. (1) The point about inviting one’s friends, those close by, etc. was simply that we already (and probably inevitably) take factors other than merit into account in deciding which people to invite. These weren’t meant to be perfectly analogous to trying to undermine implicit biases by inviting women. (There’s much more good justification for the latter, I think, than for inviting one’s friends.) (2) Relatedly, the blond-hair analogy is not a good one unless (a) there is a background of blondes being disadvantaged in philosophy; and (b) there is good evidence that promoting the work of blonde philosophers will help to undermine this by showing that blondeness and philosophy can go together.

  39. Sara– the graduate admissions stuff is indeed important. It seems to me many of the same issues arise as with hiring, and I should have noted that in the original post.

  40. When we referee papers for journals and books for publishers, or write book reviews, if the author does not cite relevant women when they could, we can suggest that they do so. And in your own work, pay attention to whether there is any work by women that you could and should cite!

    Many, many papers by male philosophers are cited in lots of papers and books where such references are perfectly appropriate but also not strictly speaking necessary. Such citation helps the male philosophers cited by making their work more well-known and making the work seem more central or important. As far as I can tell, the bar for citing a female philosopher’s work is often much higher (i.e., it has to be obviously and directly relevant, and even this is often not enough).

  41. This paper turns out to be extremely relevant: It argues that the implicit bias literature shows (a) that bias is affecting the present, rather than just the past; (b) that bias affects judgments of merit; and (c) that counterstereotypical exemplars are a good way to undermine implicit bias. Interestingly, it also suggests reframing affirmative action as “fair measures”.

  42. Jenny, did you mean to put in a link?

    Also, I may have been the first to use “affirmative action” in this discussion. I did not mean to describe your measures as such; rather, the point was to locate an objection as one that got a lot of hearing in an earlier debate. “Affirmative action” may indeed not be a good term to use now. I’m not sure it was originally meant to stand for much more than ‘fairness,” but the trouble arises when – for whatever reason – fair play remains pretty rare. Then someone starts to talk about mandating fair play and we’re back to all the arguments about how unfair that is.

  43. Expressions/terms like ‘implicit bias’, ‘counter-stereotypical’ exemplars, got me thinking about the process of ‘gendering’ that takes place in 21st C. One is so used to seeing things performed in certain way, e.g. as the writer above mentions, ‘all-male conferences’, that you, or must I say, one stops seeing any patterning taking place.

    Questions that come to my mind are in recent times
    Why is government (in Britain I mean) so keen to recruit girls into Engineering?
    Why is government keen to teach the ‘grammar of IT code’ in schools and recruit boys and girls alike in Graduate schemes for IT programming language?

    My answer to these questions are, that is if I may answer my own questions, it is the issue of ‘supply and demand’, and therefore female are now encouraged to be Engineers, IT programmers, as the country needs them to improve these industries.

    So my next question is, who decides when female are needed and therefore suited for ‘once male dominated’ industry/s? Dale Spender said sometime ago, it is ‘man made language’ and was citicised for this and is seen as outdated.

    Who am I?? I am a lecturer for Language and Gender….

    I thank Simon Kirchin for introducing me to this web site, ‘Feminist Phiosophers’.

  44. There’s a standard US gov’t line that says that the US can no longer afford for STEM fields to be areas of white male privilege. The reason is that work in such areas has a huge impact on the economy AND white men’s interest in the areas is declining; in fact it has been declining for some time.

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