Here at FP we thought the same questions about the GCC recur so often that we could use an FAQ.  If you’re ever in need of something like this, it is also now linked from the Gendered Conference Campaign page.  See you in the funny pages!

1) What’s the harm of an all-male list of speakers?

The effects!

  • All-male events and volumes help to perpetuate the stereotyping of philosophy as male.
  • This, in turn, contributes to implicit bias against women in philosophy, stereotype threat, and at times the reinscription of the same few male names as the only leaders in their specialty.

2) Are you saying that gender is more important than philosophical merit in deciding on conference speakers?

  • No, but the most important reason to invite a speaker need not be the only reason to invite a speaker!
  • This sounds like a false choice, in any case, and depends on the definition of merit.  If the ‘philosophical merit’ of a speaker is that they are the most prominent leader in their specialty, then the perceived merit of the same few speakers is self-fulfilling.

3) Are you saying the organizers of these conferences are malicious?

We impute no blame to the organizers, and we can’t read their minds.  All of our focus is on the effects.

4) So everyone should invite a token woman?  

That sounds terrible, doesn’t it?  So let’s not.  As Anca Gheaus argues, there is no good reason to fear tokenizing.  Besides, men get invited for reasons that are not reducible to the quality of their work either. What say we all make the effort to invite skilled women appropriate to the area and available to speak!

5) How do you know the organizers of an all-male conference didn’t try?

We don’t know what organizers of conferences have done or what they meant to do.  We know the outcome, and that’s what we are concerned with. (See (3) above.)

6) What if there aren’t any women specializing in the conference topic?  So few women do some topics, they’re even more male-dominated than philosophy in general.

Yes, we also notice that philosophy and many subfields are male-dominated.  This does mean finding available and skilled women in a specific area takes effort.  But if we members of the profession do not make the effort, then the male-domination of fields becomes self-perpetuating, with some bad effects.  (See (1) and (2) above.)

7) Maybe women just don’t like the conference topic?

This seems unlikely to us, but if so, then we expect there must not be any women in the audiences at these conferences either, or women editing or refereeing journals in the area, and organizers must not have any female students who could use the kind of opportunity that a conference invitation would provide.  Is that the case?  How interesting if it is!  (But if that’s not the case, and if it’s not possible to determine the likes of all women in philosophy, perhaps we are all best off proceeding to invite women to speak.)

8) None of the well-known women in this area were available, so how would organizers find a female speaker?

Let us help!  Feel free to ask online here at Feminist Philosophers, or better, see our first point under How to Avoid a Gendered Conference.

9) Wouldn’t a woman asked to Conference X after you call attention to it just be undermined by feeling tokenized or being assumed to be a mere token by her audience?

  • We hope that a skilled philosopher speaking on her speciality would not be assumed to be merely a token.  We can’t prevent others’ sexist assumptions about talented women who agree to participate in a conference.  For a splendid articulation of related arguments, again, see Anca Gheaus’s “Three Cheers for the Token Woman!”
  • The double-binds women face in a sexist world, such as our either being neglected, or being invited and fearing we are mere tokens when we’re asked to speak on an area of our expertise, are both familiar and unfortunate to feminists.  But the solution is not to continue the prevalence and perpetuation of all-male conferences!

10) Why don’t you email the organizers instead of publicly shaming them on the internet?

  • We point them out to the online readers as evidence of the persistence and prevalence of all-male line-ups.
  • We call attention to all-male conferences publicly because this is the best way to raise awareness of the phenomenon and its effects. We are very explicit that this is not about blame, and it is not intended to shame.

REF Changes to maternity provision

The REF 2014 is the successor to the RAE 2008, the UK government-run exercise to evaluate research excellence of departments (in all fields) and then allocate research funds accordingly. This is done by having (almost) all research-active staff submit 4 pieces of work which are read and assessed by a panel of philosophers. However, in certain special cases people are allowed to submit fewer than four pieces of work. In 2008, women who had taken one period of maternity leave were allowed to submit three pieces. But under the proposed rules for 2011, even TWO periods of maternity leave would not be enough for a reduction.

You can read SWIP UK’s statement here.

The good news is that we’re still in the consultation phase. You can make your views known here. I’ve been told that it would also be good to lobby your university to make sure that they include this point in their response. So I urge you to do that as well– contact your HOD, your PVC for research, whoever is in charge of diversity issues, etc. I really think we CAN make a difference on this. Let’s do it.