Syllabi: Got Women?

When crafting my Intro to Ethics syllabus for the upcoming semester, I tried to find as many great pieces by women as I could, hoping that I could meet the 20% challenge.  I didn’t do any conscious counting, though…until now. Here’s how it turned out:

100 total philosophers that we will be reading or reading about (about 10 are actually scientists or other non-philosophers)
56 are from required readings & activities, 44 from recommended ones.

Gender breakdown:

Required Readings (Men-Women): 68% – 32% (38-18)
Recommended Readings (M-W): 63% – 36% (28-16)

Women of color on the syllabus: Rabi’A Al- Adawiyya, Michelle Alexander, Michele Moody-Adams, and Caster Semenya as someone we’re reading about.  Wooo!! …That’s actually super sad that I’m excited to have more than 1% WoC on my syllabus.

So overall not shabby, considering that current efforts to get 20% women authors on syllabi are seen by some as necessarily lowering the quality of what we teach.  <sarcasmfont> I really had to lower my standards to include Foot, Nussbaum, Anderson, Moody-Adams, Korsgaard, Langton, and Fricker. </sarcasmfont>

I know this is not incredibly difficult when you’re teaching ethics, but it was still rather amusing how many times I stumbled upon a great piece that would make me think, “Oh ya; they do ethics and are awesome. I should teach them. Why didn’t I immediately think of that? And why aren’t they in the textbook?”

I’m using one textbook and everything else is from individual essays. Total authors from the textbook: 29. Men-Women ratio of authors I’m using: 80% – 20% (23-6).  (For the textbook as a whole the ratio is probably between 5-10%, which is my guess from eyeballing it).


How goes other people’s efforts to craft syllabi without atrocious demographics?

2 thoughts on “Syllabi: Got Women?

  1. If I were teaching a course on 20th-century ethical philosophy, or a course incorporating same, I’d put Anscombe’s essay “Modern Moral Philosophy” at the very center of it. I’m really kind of amazed that most syllabi on modern ethics don’t center Anscombe more, given that (a) her essay is an accessible teaching piece and (b) a fair claim could be made that she articulated the problems of modern ethics better than any other philosopher before or since.

  2. Last semester (for Intro Ethics with a history-of and theoretical emphasis) I assigned texts by 10 men and 7 women (including Nussbaum on Non-Relative Virtues, Korsgaard on Kant and Lying, Beauvoir’s “Ethics of Ambiguity”, Kate Rawles’ “Animal Welfare and Conservation” (have in other semesters assigned Lori Gruen on animals and ethics), Nel Noddings, Vandana Shiva, and Val Plumwood). However, the 10/7 ratio gives a misleading impression of near-parity, because we’re still wading through Aristotle, Kant and Mill for multiple sessions each, while the other authors generally enjoy just one session apiece… I’m looking forward to checking out some of your authors…

    The most delightful recent addition to my syllabus is Val Plumwood’s “Nature in an Active Voice.” Towards the end of the course, it helps to raise great critical questions not just directly about ethical theory and reflection but about various connections among metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetic-creative engagement. It worked especially well in dialogue with Beauvoir, challenging subject-object dichotomies in a way that many students really wanted to wrap their minds around.

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