To count or not to count

Brian Leiter helpfully lists some new books in philosophy and one is an anthology. That means there will be a collection of papers, and it will contain some number of papers by women, given we allow “0” to count as a number. So how many are by women philosophers? Do we really want to know? Still more, does anyone really want to count? Further, it is a Routledge Companion; we already put some effort into discovering that another companion volume in ethics contains 68 essays, with 4 from women.

Still, having counted, let me share the fact that the The Routledge Companion to Nineteenth Century Philosophy edited by Dean Moyar (2010) contains 30 essays, with two by women.

Ethics and history of philosophy are traditionally areas that women are more highly represented than others, and Routledge’s figures here are remarkably low.


And we might as well add in information that otherwise remains in a comment by Wahine:

There were no plenary women speakers (out of 5 speakers in total) at the BSPS (British Society for the Philosophy of Science) Conference last week, and only two female speakers out of something like 12 at the Joint Session this weekend.

(My stress.)

The new Claude Steele book, Whistling Vivaldi, described here by Jender, suggests a way these cause harm that deserves our attention. Products and occasions of the marked under-representation of women do not just contribute to what Steele would label “the stigmatization of women in philosophy;” they also function to women as reminders of that stigmatization, thus producing stress that makes performing at our best harder.

Is philosophy finally a field toxic for women?

18 thoughts on “To count or not to count

  1. On the other hand, one of the four books Leiter lists is by a woman. I’d bet that more professional philosophers will read Leiter’s list than the list of contributors to this particular Routledge companion.

    Admittedly, this is grasping at straws.

  2. DH, nice point; I wish I’d made it.

    Still, the impact of a near-absence of women doesn’t depend exactly on doing the counting that I did. Looking at the volume gives one the impression that women are anomalies.

  3. For what it’s worth, I’m currently looking into some of these issues with regard to the APA meetings. I’m starting with the Pacific, both since that’s where I’m a member and because I’ve recently come to be on the program committee.

    So, with the help of my TA, here is the breakdown by sex from last year’s Pacific APA main program–and it’s not looking good:

    18 authors in author-meets-critics sessions: 17 male, 1 female
    48 critics of the above authors: 39 male, 9 female
    82 invited papers: 67 male, 15 female
    47 commentators of invited papers: 34 male, 13 female

    These figures are only from the invited portion of the program; I’m still compiling the data for the blind-reviewed sections of the program. I’m also hoping to expand the focus to include other years/division meetings, but I guess one has to start somewhere.

    There is much more that needs to be said besides just these numbers (for one, it would be helpful to know the breakdown of the APA’s membership; and to properly interpret the data, one would also have to know the rates at which invited men and women turned down their invitations). But again, one has to start somewhere.

  4. Kevin, these are shocking figures. I think we may have reached an “Ansgar Gabrielsen” moment. I don’t see why women philosophers should continue paying full dues to an organization that continues to discriminate against them. Why should I subsidize a vehicle of my own exclusion? Male members apparently get plenty of bang for their bucks, and some from mine, too, it seems.

    Assuming that these figures aren’t just an anomaly (having attended a few APA meetings I suspect they aren’t) it is time for female philosophers to issue an ultimatum. Either the APA stops discriminating against its female members by bringing the percentage of women on the invited portion of the Eastern, Pacific and Central programs up to 40%, in a very short time, or we will stop paying our dues.

    Just to refresh our memories, Ansgar Gabrielsen is the former Norwegian conservative Minister of Trade and Industry who proposed a law (which passed) back in 2005 mandating that all Norwegian companies have at least 40% of women on their boards or be disbanded. Companies were given three years to comply with the new law – and they did. The situation with the APA seems even more pernicious given that the association effectively has a monopoly on many functions integral to our profession. So I think it’s high time that something radical is done about its practices. Lest anyone think that 40% is a high number, the pool of female philosophers whose excellent work hasn’t produced invitations from the APA over the years must have ballooned, so there should be an sizable backlog of recent, outstanding work to choose from. Those inclined to worry that instituting a 40% rule will affect the quality of the program negatively simply fail to see the problem for what it is – systematically favoring the work of male philosophers over that of female philosophers simply on the ground of gender. That’s hardly quality control if you ask me.

    Maybe Kevin could be the Ansgar Gabrielsen of the APA? The title is up for grabs.

  5. On a slightly more positive note, the Australasian Association of Philosophy Annual Conference was held last week, and 2 of the 3 keynote speakers were women, Candace Vogler and Annette Baier.

  6. Kevin, I’m glad you are tracking the numbers. Have you considered contacting the committee on the status of women in the profession?

    The first category, author-meets-critics sessions, for the APA does look bad, but I’m afraid the others are close to what may be minimally acceptable. The proportion of women in philosophy faculty positions is in the low twenties; if we take that as a guideline to what should be the proportion of women on the program, then the figure aren’t so bad; in fact, the other three categories come close to 20%, I think (without doing the final adding up properly).

    Nick, now that is good news! Thanks.

  7. JJ, prima facie, it would be “minimally acceptable” if the proportion of female philosophers on the invited program roughly corresponds to the proportion of female philosophers holding faculty positions.

    But to conclude that it is actually just under the circumstances requires us to bracket some important considerations such that (1) some female philosophers may have left the field as a result of the discrimination endemic in the field (2) that the lack of invited women speakers at prestigious conferences and the lack of female contributors in prestigious edited volumes (documented on this site) may have put a damper on their enthusiasm for writing and publishing (3) that the presence of a critical mass of women on the program will help ensure a more balanced recruitment in the future, thereby stopping the current drain of female talent away from philosophy at the undergraduate and graduate level.

    I therefore think your 20% target is too unambitious. Just for comparison, the number of Norwegian women with any kind of board experience before 2005 was negligible. The point of the policy was not to equalize the figures of (a) women with board room experience relative to women actually serving on a board, and (b) men with board room experience relative to men actually serving on a board (in which case we would be stuck with the status quo), but rather to expand the pool of women serving on a board radically, so that female talent wouldn’t be lost, and women would feel comfortable using their talents in the board room in the future. The point is that the low percentage of women in philosophy faculty positions is itself a sign of exclusion, and it cannot therefore be used by itself to determine what just representation at conferences and in anthologies should be.

    Unless you think that women philosophers who haven’t been invited to speak at the APA meetings are somehow not qualified or would do a poor job, I take these considerations to trump those of numeric proportionality in deciding what justice requires.

  8. Rather than calling for an immediate boycott (even if it would be justified), I think the first move should be to contact the Program Committee chairs of each division and raise the problem. The programs for 2011 have not been finalized yet, so there is time for redress. If there is no acceptable response, then it is time to consider more drastic action.

  9. PS: given the exchange above, I think the cleanest thing to do is to focus on the author-meets-critics sessions as particularly in need of fixing, and then mention overall numbers with regard to invited sessions.

  10. The Committee on the Status of Women has a session at the upcoming Eastern Division meeting called “Is the Climate any Warmer for Women in Philosophy?” I don’t know precisely what they have planned for this session, but this would clearly be a good forum at which to raise such issues during the discussion period. Unless official duties require me to be elsewhere during this session, I will attend it.

    Richard Bett, Secretary-Treasurer of the APA Eastern Division

  11. Karen, I’m fundamentally in agreement with you, though I think there may be a complication. It would be wonderful if we could advocate for a representation of women at conferences that could actually make it seem as though women can flourish in the profession. That might even encourage more women to stay in philosophy.

    The complication is about advocating and criticizing. I’m not sure what the reaction would be to advocating numbers over the 20%. At this still fairly early stage it seems to me wise not to give people an excuse to see us as over-reaching and so ignorable. I’m also not sure about criticizing conferences and books that don’t get much beyond 20%.

    That said, I’ve gotten uneasy about the focus on the numbers, though I think it has been a good starting point. There are issues of epistemic justice and stereotyping, among a lot of others, that we could start to emphasize more.

    Anon, I agree. Good ideas.

  12. Richard Bett, Thanks for the info and in effect the reminder that one can write to members of the committee and/or the session.

  13. JJ, I share your concern about strategy – but I am convinced that setting clear and ambitious goals is the key to successful negotiations. If you ask for little you receive little, and hitting the mean in this case will probably require that we aim a little over the target.

    Very rarely do unjustly privileged groups give up their privileges voluntarily, and as is often the case, it is easy to believe that you have in fact compensated fully for some internalized tendency to favor the work of men when all you have done is tinker a little around the edges. If all we are asking for is one or two more women invited speakers here and there we are also signaling that the problem is limited – that we are, in effect, nitpicking about justice. Identifying a clear goal allows us to educate our colleagues about the true extent of the problem.

    I’m Scandinavian, so I tend to be a little impatient with the “oh, it’s so difficult and oh, it’s going to take a long time” school of social policy that I have frequently encountered in North-America. As Gabrielsen realized, the incremental approach that waits for unanimous approval frequently gets you nowhere. All you need is a willingness to make yourself unpopular, effective means of protest and enough supporters in positions of power. And I believe we have that.

  14. Karen, once again I fundamentally agree.

    I’m not at all sure we have effective means of protest. I think many even of the tamer actions of the US civil rights movement would not be acceptable to many feminist philosophers.

    Relatedly, I’m also concerned about asking other women philosophers to be prepared to be unpopular. Academics can be very vicious, and philosophers can be among the very worst. And it is hard to have people going around spreading lies about one or mounting libelous character attacks.

    A close friend has been arguing to me that lots of academics are prepared to tell pretty bad lies to get their way, and I’m afraid he’s right.

  15. Just a remark about the Moyar volume that prompted this discussion – I’ve edited a different volume on C19 philosophy (not out yet), a similar kind of thing, and I have to say that it was difficult to find many female contributors. I know, I know, everyone says this, but I am a feminist philosopher and I really actively worked towards including plenty of women! I had a way disproportionate number of refusals from women – no doubt they tend more to be over-committed – and, moreover, there just were less women to consider as possibilities in this area. While I agree, women are generally relatively well represented within history of philosophy, interestingly this appears to be less the case for the C19 than for early modern, Kant, or history of C20. So I ended up with 4 female contributors out of a total of 16 essays (the volume is smaller than Moyar’s). Just to emphasise that even for those of us who are as it were not merely well-intentioned but actively pursuing change to the gender division within philosophy, it can be very hard to get a good representation of women.

  16. Thanks for the input and comments, all. A few follow-ups…

    My primary motivation for looking at this is wanting to be a good member of the program committee, coupled with the recent realization that I’ve been guilty of implicit bias in past projects.

    I wish I could get figures for the percentage of APA members who are women, as this would help to see how bad the current figures are. Does anyone know if the APA has this information and, if so, how to get it? If the programs are roughly reflective of the discipline at large, then perhaps there is nothing else, other than working on increasing the stream of women into the discipline, that needs to be done. But if, as I worry, the program underrepresents women even more than the rest of the discipline, then perhaps the chairs of the program committees should be contacted.

    We also need to keep in mind, however, that the percentages on the program may not reflect the effort put into avoiding these problems. I’m working on putting together an edited volume and am trying to have a good distribution of authors (along a number of axes, including sex, rank, US/UK, etc…) and am finding that female scholars are turning down my invitations at about 3x the rate of male scholars. And a colleague has reported that when she was working on the program committee for another division in the APA, she once had 14 women turn her down for a session before having to fill the spots the day the program was finalized.

  17. Kevin, you might want to look at the comment from Karen, #7, and the following discussion between her and me. I express qualms about the practical politics, but it occurs to me that there’s arguably an obligation that one might see many philosophical groups as having.

    Given there has been very extensive and deep discrimination against women in philosophy, societies should do something about ameliorating women’s situation as a stark minority just about everywhere. There’s strong evidence in Claude Steele’s recent work that even a 3-1 male-female ratio at a conference is stressful for women and degrades their performance; I mention what he says about the conferences in a comment on that post. Philosophy conferences often have a 4/5/6…10/-1 ratio, if there are women invited to speak at all. In addition, some of the best universities didn’t admit women until the 70’s, and others limited the hiring of women or didn’t engage in it at all until then or later. The stories from women were at institutions when they first admitted women grad students in philosophy can be pretty horrific. For example, it might be pretty impossible to get anyone to believe you could do metaphysics or philosophy of language. And other experiences of women as, e.g., they were among the first faculty at formerly all-male colleges could be quite terrible. I remember a friend recounting that when she went into the senior common room, of which she was a full member, the men turned their backs to her.

    Such experiences are fairly recent, and some in effect continue. I hear from my own grad students that the male students will tell them it is obvious women can’t do philosophy, and I have heard the same from women at other universities. And none of this yet picks up the topic of sexual harassment.

    One is not likely to flourish in such situations, and there are lots of studies that measure the degradation in performance when someone is in them. It is significant, and that may be part of what makes the low ratio of women in philosophy self-perpetuating.

    This looks like an argument to me for saying the APA and other philosophical societies should try to counterbalance the low representation of women in the profession rather than just mirror it.

    This may be related to the problem of finding women to participate as invited speakers or on books. There are many more highly skilled women philosphers than there are highly visible women philosophers.

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