Guest Post: Louise Antony on SPP

Feminist philosophers, like other feminists and other philosophers, sometimes disagree with each other. Here at Feminist Philosophers we think it’s vital to be able to discuss these disagreements cordially and openly. Today we have a guest post from Louise Antony, in response to JJ’s post about the Society for Philosophy and Psychology. JJ will also be publishing a post responding to this one. As always, we ask readers to observe our blog’s “be nice” policy (to be found under “Our Policies”). Because I worry that this discussion could become not-nice, I’m going to be especially vigilant in enforcing our policies. In addition, I don’t want this topic to take over the blog, so I will close comments if it begins to look like no further progress will be made.

As President of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP), I would like to respond to the recent claims about our society posted here by jj. I am particularly concerned to counter the impression jj creates about the climate for women within SPP. In fact, the Society is engaging in active and ongoing efforts to increase and support participation by women philosophers, and it would be ironic and sad if these efforts were hampered by jj’s remarks.

JJ makes the following false claim: “[t]he society’s conference have [sic] a dismal record of women philosophers as invited speakers; in two out of the last three conferences, no women philosophers were invited speakers.” This charge has been mostly rebutted by commenters on jj’s original post, but let me rehearse the facts: In 2010, there were three women philosophers invited to speak at the SPP: Julia
Driver, Susan Dwyer, and Adina Roskies. In 2009, there were also four women philosophers invited to speak at the SPP: Adrienne Martin, Valerie Hardcastle, Ruth Millikan, and Tamar Gendler. In 2008, it is true that there were no women philosophers invited to give talks (but see below). In 2007, there were, once again, four women philosophers invited to give talks: Anne Jaap Jacobson, Elizabeth Irvine, Brie Gertler, and Lori Gruen. All of this information, and more, is available from the SPP website.

JJ alleges that the SPP is indifferent to issues of gender equity in its overall practice and organization, and that its climate is hostile to women philosophers. On the contrary, the SPP is quite self-conscious about equity issues and deeply committed both to increasing the diversity of its membership, and to improving the experience for women already participating in the society’s programs and governance. In 2008, Anne Jaap Jacobson raised concerns about what she saw as a low rate of participation by women philosophers in the society, and suggested the creation of a Diversity Committee. Creation of this committee was duly approved, unanimously, by the membership. It was charged, inter alia, with keeping account of gender balance in the society’s leadership and programs, and with actively proffering our collective expertise in studying and addressing the paucity of women in the field of philosophy. It was resolved at that same meeting that we hold a “Diversity Lunch” at each annual meeting in order to discuss equity issues as they arise, and to review the outcomes of earlier
initiatives. The next year, in 2009, we held an invited symposium on implicit belief, which featured a talk by Virginia Valian, author of the influential book on women in academia, Why So Slow? Her talk focused on unconscious behavior and attitudes that function to disadvantage women. She attended our newly implemented Diversity
Lunch and offered a variety of concrete suggestions for improving the climate for women within the society, which we have been endeavoring to implement. At the same luncheon, we undertook a number of initiatives for increasing the visibility of the society among women philosophers, and hope to be able to report progress soon on some of these.

It is noteworthy in itself that JJ’s complaint is so carefully crafted in terms of “women philosophers.” The SPP has long been a place where women are prominent and active, but JJ insinuates that it doesn’t count if these women work in empirical fields like psychology or linguistics. This baffles me. We are a society premised on the value of interaction across disciplines. Why should anyone care if the brilliant woman at the front of the room has a Ph.D. in Psychology or in Philosophy? In terms of the rate of participation by women, the SPP excels. In 2010, women constituted nearly forty per cent of the invited program. In the anomalous year of 2008, we had a woman president (Lila Gleitman), an all-woman Program Committee (Sharon Armstrong, Fei Xu, Susan Schneider, and myself), a woman Stanton Prize winner (Laurie Santos), and a woman (philosopher, by the way) winning our annual poster prize (Kate Devitt).

But even if we restrict our attention to the involvement of women philosophers in the SPP, it is wrong to focus, as JJ does, on one single measure – the number of women appearing in the invited sections of the meeting. There are other questions one might – and should – ask. For example: what percentage of women served as chairs or commentators – roles over which the Program Committee have most control? Here, I can report, the Committee did quite a good job: of the twenty-seven chair/commentator slots filled by philosophers, six went to women. That’s a rate approximately equal to the proportion of women in the field of philosophy as a whole, and probably greater than the proportion of women in the subareas of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. Additionally, a look at the contributed sessions shows an exceptionally high rate of participation by women philosophers, as compared with men philosophers: of the thirteen philosophers who authored or co-authored a submitted paper presented at the conference, six were women. (We
adhere to a policy, by the way, of mutually anonymous review.) Finally, it should be kept in mind that the program reveals only the people who actually participated in the meeting, not who all were invited. In fact, this year’s Program Co-chairs inform me that they endeavored to include women philosophers in every symposium, but that only Adina Roskies accepted their invitation.

Finally, I would like to say something about the paper delivered by Stephen Stitch. Jj’s characterization of this session is quite misleading. First of all, it was not a symposium on the reasons for the gender imbalance in philosophy. Prof. Stitch had been invited to present a paper to the SPP, and he chose to present one that dealt with this topic. It happened that the paper had been co-authored with another philosopher, Wesley Buckwalter. The work Stitch presented is completely continuous with his (and Buckwalter’s) ongoing study of the role of intuitions in philosophical method, work that is eminently suitable for presentation at our venue. The session
was chaired, as is common for this program slot, by one of the co-chairs of the Program Committee, Ron Mallon. It is not our custom to engage commentators for invited papers, and so there is no question of women having been excluded from this role. (As a matter of fact, however, I served as a de facto commentator, since I was given the first question, and since I went on for quite a while.) Let me just say for the record that (a) we in the SPP find nothing wrong or inappropriate about a man’s addressing the question why there are so few women in philosophy, but that (b) were we to set up a meeting session on this topic, we would of course begin by consulting women in the profession, as well as experts on gender equity.

No doubt our procedures for constructing our programs are not ideal, and perhaps there is more we could do to stimulate interest in the society among women working in philosophy of mind and language. We are open to constructive suggestions concerning these matters, but the promulgation of false claims about the Society helps no one.

Louise Antony
President, Society for Philosophy and Psychology