So where are the women and why aren’t they prominent figures at philosophy conferences?

In many ways, this blog has been concerned with the absence of women.  We have looked at conferences, book collections and degree and employment figures, where women are entirely absence or significantly underrepresented.   A recent article by Ceci and Williams has claimed that it is elements of choice, not discrimination, that are holding women back.  Their claim has gotten some attention, including attention on this blog, here and here  In the second post Jender picks up on an article by Alison Gopnik, and I’m going to highlight a quite different part of Gopnik’s article, one that relates to recent discussion here and on other blogs.

 It is easy to get the impression that there’s an element of choice significantly operating in the absence of women.  And surely that has got to be right in some way.  Some women seem to have too many invitations and they choose to decline some.  Some women also have strong family obligations that interrupt their participation in conferences, and lead to their declining invitations.  In addition, as Ceci and Williams point out, women often do not have the resources men have, and this impacts their participation and publications.   

But Gopnik highlights another that must be taken seriously.  If one reads the vignettes that show up on Jender’s blog about being a women in philosophy, it seems an almost inevitable conclusion.  As Gopnik puts it:


Why does gender lead to unequal resources? … Women drop out in ever greater numbers as they advance along the academic pipeline that leads from graduate school to first job and beyond. They often settle in jobs at lower tier schools with fewer resources and fail to even apply for publications, grants, or the best jobs at the best universities. Perhaps these women are simply choosing to have fewer resources. …. But as Ceci and Williams admit, …[experimental ] studies show that women are subject to bias from the very start of their careers. Is it any wonder that many of them, keenly aware that their efforts are being downgraded compared to those of men, would withdraw from a competition that is systematically unfair? 

 Obviously, choices depend on alternatives, and the factors influencing women’s alternatives in philosophy raise all of the issues we have been addressing.

3 thoughts on “So where are the women and why aren’t they prominent figures at philosophy conferences?

  1. Yes. (Wo)men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.

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