The Epistemology Women-Friendliness Challenge

Sandy Goldberg writes:

In the past few months, I have heard several epistemologists make remarks about epistemology’s relative lack of friendliness to women (in comparison with philosophy’s other subfields). Perhaps the most often-cited evidence was the ratio of men to women in epistemology, compared to the ratios in other subfields of philosophy; salient high-profile epistemology conferences at which most or all of the invited speakers are men; several high-profile epistemology volumes at which most or all of the invited contributions are from men; and the relative lack of women epistemologists on many epistemology syllabi. I have not done any investigations to confirm any of these allegations (and I have not compared epistemology to other subfields). Still, it seems to me that we have a problem so long as these are the impressions that are had by prominent epistemologists. (I also cannot say that my experiences in epistemology give me confidence that these claims are wholly inaccurate.)

I do not post this to cast aspersions or to accuse. Rather, in the spirit of the undergraduate women students at Northwestern who recently started the WiPhi (“Women into Philosophy”) group here in the NU Philosophy Department, I post this to challenge the epistemology community. With these excellent undergraduates (and the many, many others like them all over the world) in mind, I challenge us to see whether, within a period of a few years, we might change our practices in such a way that, far from being seen as not particularly women-friendly, epistemology will be, and will come to be seen as, one of the most women-friendly subdisciplines within philosophy. (Of course, this should be part of an effort to make philosophy as an entire discipline more women-friendly, as well as more friendly to all underrepresented groups; but perhaps this smaller and more focused effort can help these larger aims.

Let’s have more of these!! (Great idea, Sandy.)

And let’s also think of ways to make our areas of philosophy more inclusive– not just of women but also of people of colour, disabled people and other groups that are underrepresented.

4 thoughts on “The Epistemology Women-Friendliness Challenge

  1. This is great, thanks so much to Prof. Goldberg.

    I am not going to be much good at suggestions, I’m afraid. The one I do have is this: please, if you have a junior woman in epistemology in your department, do what you can to see that she has a mentor. I think sometimes in a smallish department this can be awkward. If it feels awkward, see if you can find her a mentor from outside your department (and I mean from some other philosophy department, not from some other humanities department in your institution, though that can also be useful).
    I know this is not the sort of Big Picture suggestion Prof. Goldberg and Jender have in mind. I’m eager to see what suggestions others have.

    I’m a little uncomfortable mentioning this, but by the way: I regularly read Leiter’s blog and I note the “notable move” posts, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a notable female epistemologist mentioned. It’s possible that I’ve missed some (I hope so!).

  2. I’ve been asked by some grad students at an institution to help with understanding points in feminist pedagogy (I think that was my label). I haven’t really started to list the points I think should be made, but I think it would be appropriate to do so in response to Sandy great idea. This isn’t about making the field friendlier, but it might make classes more female-friendly:

    In fact, I think Jender may have a post on this somewhere, and if so, I hope she’ll say.

    To get us started:

    General points, not especially about epistemology:

    1. Avoid things that lower women’s performance/participation.
    a. Common behaviors, such as letting men talk and cutting off women; or not even calling on women.
    b. Things that can set off, e.g., stereotype threat.
    c. Sexist examples
    d. All male reading lists

    2. Things that can enhance women’s participation
    a. include women writers.
    b. try to make the classroom cooperative; e.g., draw out students’ points, as opposing to squashing them

    More about epistemology

    1. consider pairing “what can she know” by Lorraine Code with a male contextualist.

    2. think of have the class pick some topics from the SEP on feminist epistemology and philosophy of science to include.

    Well, some thoughts! Let there be more!

  3. I wonder if part of the problem is that some (many? too many?) mainstream epistemologists seem to think that political and/or ethical considerations have no business in epistemology “proper”. There is fantastic work being done in what Linda Alcoff (a notable female epistemologist) has coined “political epistemology” (related and relevant to what some mainstream epistemologists might recognize as social epistemology). Moreover, there *is* a high profile epistemology conference happening in just two days time with quite a remarkable number of female epistemologists, a conference I might add that was mentioned on this blog. I challenge and welcome (!) the “epistemology community” to attend the Feminist Epistemologies, Metaphysics, Methodologies, and Science Studies conference this year and in the future. I challenge and welcome the “epistemology community” to read the numerous articles published in Hypatia and books by such prominent (and up and coming!) epistemologists as: Lorraine Code, Alexis Shotwell, Linda Alcoff, Kristie Dotson, Mariana Ortega, Ishani Maitra, Emily Lee, Letita Meynell, Cate Hundleby, Heidi Grasswick, Ann Gary, Nancy Tuana, Alison Wylie… etc. etc.

    I do mean this with good spirit–and it strikes me as fascinating from an epistemological viewpoint that what I have said above is not (or might not be) really obvious to some folks.

    Gaile Pohlhaus, Jr. (aspiring epistemologist)

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