The post “Why are there so few women in philosophy?”referred to research that described several ways in which beliefs about abilities affect women’s career choices. One important factor was whether people in the field saw the foundation of ability as something like inborn genius. Since women are seen as being less likely to possess innate brilliance, and they know this, the ‘genius fields’ may well seem less attractive to women.
I think there are a number of comparisons it would be interesting to make. How do exceptionally gifted children fare if they grow up to go to philosophy grad school? Another is asked by Josh Knobe below.
What do you think?
From Josh Knobe:
In my (very limited) experience, it seems like things have actually gotten a little bit better in this regard. I am really curious to hear whether people have the same impression.
Back when I was a grad student, there was a prevailing sense that the ticket to getting a job was not making concrete contributions to philosophy but rather cultivating an aura of genius. Some of my fellow students ended up writing and publishing papers while they were in school, but this effort was seen almost as ‘tarnishing’ or ‘sullying’ the purity of their philosophical work. Of course, this is exactly the sort of atmosphere that Leslie et al. show leads to underrepresentation of women, and all of the women in my year ended up leaving the field.
In the time since then, my sense is that things have actually improved a bit. More and more, I see an emphasis not on innate genius but on actual concrete contribution. But this sense I have is based entirely on anecdote and personal experience, not on any serious empirical research. So I am curious, do other folks see things in the same way?
Let me close by mentioning one thing that worries me. There are a lot of researchers these days investigating creativity. Creativity may be teachable to some extent, but not, as far as I can tell, by hard work. I don’t know what that means for originality in philosophy, nor do I have much idea of how much creativity and originality a field needs. Here again, what do you think?