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!)