UNESCO list of women philosophers

Axel Mueller writes:

Dear everyone interested in supporting means for reducing the underrepresentation of women in conferences, lists of departmental invitees, etc.,

when recently, the Gendered Conference Campaign made higher waves in the blogworld, and after having read quite a number of contributions to related topics, one excuse that was extremely common refers constantly to a lack of information about women philosophers in the relevant fields when one, e.g., organizes a conference and thinks about speakers to invite. Some field, it is repeatedly claimed, just don’t have the high profile female presence to allow one’s planning to heed constraints of professionalism and GCC-commitments. Therefore, sorry as one is, and supportive of GCC as one would be, it’s impossible.
Not that this sort of comments were new in the history of attempts to remove obstacles to underrepresentation anywhere, by anyone. It’s actually a very effective ploy as long as the consequences of discriminatory practices are still firmly in place and there really do not EXIST enough people of the underrepresented group to staff certain necessary venues. However, in the case of female philosophers, there is, although of course there are TOO FEW women in professional philosophy to regard it as BALANCED, only a problem of too little INFORMATION. It is simply untrue that there are not enough women in professional philosophy, of ANY level of prestige and seniority one might fancy as an organizer, in just about any field. The fact is that this is simply very little known and very slowly communicated within the profession at large. Currently, there are many efforts underway for specific lists of women in philosophy which I liked very much, but it blew my mind when I came across the one generated by a project at UNESCO, which actually is a HUGE, CATEGORIZED INTERNATIONAL LIST OF PROFESSIONAL FEMALE PHILOSOPHERS:


I would like to issue two calls for action in this connection:

(1) To bring this list –and the UNESCO initiative Women in Philosophy– to the attention of all philosophy departments and chairs, with an accompanying invitation to use this list when organizing events.

(2) To widely publicize among graduate students, colleagues, administrators and activists the appeal to encourage women (or, in some cases, oneself!) to sign up in/for this list so it may soon become the most comprehensive authoritative reference point for international organizers of philosophy events, but also anyone else who needs information about women in philosophy.

I really think this list –also because it has appraently no regional, thematic or other biases– is a great idea for the general and international cause of removing underrepresentation of women in philosophy, and it might, over time, remove the ploy of there not being enough women in philosophy to try to invite one to do XYZ. One would simply stare at the proponent of such thesis in disbelief and say “but have you really not heard of the UNESCO list of women in philosophy with about 5000 people in all fields and levels of expertise?”. What a nice image…

4 thoughts on “UNESCO list of women philosophers

  1. There seems to be a common assumption on this website that every conference/ event must include women; and that, if it doesn’t, something sexist must be going on.

    Is it really right to have a special list of “philosophers who are women”, and expect people to refer to it when choosing speakers or invitees?

    This is a good example of a general problem that occurs in these gender-war type scenarios. If I were organizing a conference called “What’s So Great About Carrots?”, it stands to reason that I should like to invite the top carrot experts in the world to come and speak, regardless of whether they were men or women.

    The line of reasoning represented by this kind of “list” would seem to suggest that, prior to considering merit, I ought to consider gender.

    Speakers at events should be the most qualified ones with the most interesting things to talk about. Otherwise, what you will end up with in many cases is a “token woman” attending certain events — invited only because they wanted to include a woman, to avoid your criticism — who will make an embarassment out of herself by being of noticeably inferior quality to the rest of the speakers (or invitees, or whatever.)

    Obviously, that won’t happen in every case: it will only happen in such cases where a suitable woman was not available. But your line of reasoning would seem to suggest that such cases never exist; that there is always a woman available and that one should always be included.

    Do you see what I mean?

    There will always be a problem with a very general rule that everything has to include at least one woman, just because she’s a woman.

  2. Kevin, here’s a problem with your argument. You say,

    This is a good example of a general problem that occurs in these gender-war type scenarios. If I were organizing a conference called “What’s So Great About Carrots?”, it stands to reason that I should like to invite the top carrot experts in the world to come and speak, regardless of whether they were men or women.

    As it stands, it is NOT an example of what we are talking about. What we are talking about is a culture that cannot see or admit expertise among women. It would be something else if philosophers had what they think they have: unfettered access to who is really an expert. But tons of studies show that we don’t.

  3. Kevin: Let me just note that we have a GCC campaign page, and a FAQ, which you should consult.

  4. I think you’re assuming, by referring me to your FAQ, that your position is somehow unassailable: “Oh, if you check out the FAQ, you’ll see that we’re squarely in the right.”

    Maybe not, but that’s how it sounds. I’ve seen the FAQ, by the way.


    I can see that you believe our culture has a built-in bias against women, and in fact I agree with you on that point. However, what I am commenting on is the way you seem to be trying to solve this problem.

    Again, your position seems to be, based on this and other, similar posts on this website, that every “event” must include women speakers, VIPs, invitees, etc.

    And the criteria for their inclusion seems to be: “they’re women!”

    What I am saying is that including women in an event simply because of their gender is the wrong thing to do. And I’d say that to disagree on that point is tantamount to some kind of silly “reverse sexism”. I expect that instead, a response may be framed so as to make it look like you were doing something else; that in fact you have other criteria in mind.

    I’d like to know what they (those criteria) in fact are. Because, it seems that if anyone holds a philosophical conference and a quick scan of the speaker’s list shows no female names, that’s enough evidence of wrongdoing to generate a post on this website. I’m interested to know if in fact you have other criteria in mind, and whether you’ll admit that it may in fact be possible that the fact a particular event did not happen to feature female speakers may have nothing at all to do with a sexist culture or anything else of the sort, but rather be simply in coincidence with who was available and had presented the best papers/ talks/ etc. for consideration.

    It’s the sort of knee-jerk “there aren’t any women!” response that is so problematic.

    Furthermore, if everyone followed the advice given in this post and referred to a list of women every time they hosted an event, then being a woman would provide an unearned advantage in the field: you’d have a better chance at being included, just because they needed to fill the ranks with females.

    In fact, that is a kind of thing that does happen, for similar reasons of posturing, in many areas of society today. For example, I’ve known several people in Canada trying to joing the RCMP and being unsuccessful: and they’ve pointed out the fact that it’s actually quite easy to get a job with them, if you’re a woman or a minority. Disgusting.

    Quotas for race and gender, and all that sort of reverse discrimination type of thing, are not going to solve the problem: they’re just the same problem in different garb.

    Women should not be included in anything at all “because they’re women”. There needs to be criteria that can be met by anybody, and the challenge should come down to merit, not gender.

    How many women out there, who do in fact produce a sub-optimal quality of work, will feel free to complain about their exclusion by saying, “Well, we live in a society that just can’t recognize my expertise, so of course I’ve been ruled out.”?

    Do you not see this as a potential problem?

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