Query from a reader about teaching women authors

I’m currently teaching a mid-level philosophy class where the syllabus has just switched from exclusively male authors to exclusively female in the last few weeks. (I did not plan this, it has just been an artifact of moving from historical to contemporary literature.)

Since this has happened, I swear that the women in the course who did speak up before are speaking up more, and women who had not previously spoken are speaking up for the first time.

My not terribly diligent Googling yielded no results about this, and I don’t feel that I can completely trust my sense that this is happening, so I thought this would be the place to ask if others have noticed this or have anecdotes or (better) data bearing on this question. Is there reason to think female students participate more when discussing female authors?

6 thoughts on “Query from a reader about teaching women authors

  1. This might be a (positive) case of stereotype threat: if a person is made aware of a stereotype concerning their social group (i.e. women not suited to do philosophy by only reading works from male authors), they are likely to perform worse than their actual potential. See for example Jennifer Saul: “unconscious influences and women in philosophy”.

  2. In my admittedly short time of teaching, I have found this to be true. At this point I try to put a female author somewhere within the first quarter of the semester, even if it feels forced. Not only do my female students perk up while reading and discussing a female, but many of them stay engaged after that point.

  3. I taught a feminist theory course during the winter, and we spent one day discussing Jennifer Saul’s work on implicit bias, stereotype threat, and women in philosophy (a draft is available elsewhere on the blog). Some of the female philosophy majors and minors spoke explicitly about how they notice when there are women authors on a syllabus, and some said that they feel more interested in the readings when they can relate to the author’s voice (‘voice’ being apparently very broadly construed because they were at this point talking explicitly about an epistemology course they had shared, not about readings where gender was a theme) Likewise, they reported feeling excluded in a course on contemporary philosophy when the syllabus contained no female authors, partly because they knew it would be possible for females to be included, and they weren’t. As is to be expected, some students were explicitly aware of this, some weren’t. But the fact that even some are should provide additional motivation for us as teachers to do what’s needed to help our students relate to philosophy.

  4. absolutely wrong.it does not matter who is the writer.it may be possible the writing material is about women and female students get attach to it.many male authors also wrote on female side like thomas hardy’s tess of d’urburvilles.

  5. Since my only direct experience with an Intro class that included women is my own, and we are women from pretty early on, I haven’t noticed this *with women*.

    But African-American students generally seem to perk up considerably when we get to Charles Mills.

  6. kwame anthony appiah has a book on experimental ethics that could go into many different sorts of courses.

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