Oxford’s Women in the Humanities initiative

Selina Todd, a social historian at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, relays the following anecdote that will sound pretty familiar to many philosophers:

At a recent academic conference, I stepped back in time, and not because we were all talking about history. Here was a group of men who announced they were “redefining” modern history. They swaggered through presentations – about men – asserting that only those in their charmed circle had anything of significance to say. Male speakers were introduced as great scholars – “he needs no introduction” a favourite opening – while the few female speakers were granted brief, unenthusiastic descriptions of their work. Few women asked questions; those who did were often ignored, though if a man picked up and repeated their ideas, these were then considered worthy of debate. We are all wearily used to “mansplaining” and being talked over, excluded or ignored. But this conference was a personal nadir.

On the first day I thought: is it me? We’re often told that women overreact, taking offence where none is meant. These were younger men, who’d grown up since the 1970s: wasn’t misogyny meant to disappear when they came of age? Yet, as I watched our next generation of professors perform, it was as if feminism had never happened.

On the second day, I left an overrunning session (those men sure can talk) and discovered a bunch of other women huddled around the cold coffee and curdling milk, who felt exactly the same. Something, we said, has to change.

This experience led to the formation of a new collaborative initiative at Oxford – Women in the Humanities. Todd describes the project in The Guardian in an article that includes many references to philosophy and the British Philosophical Association’s ‘Women in Philosophy’ report (as well as lots of useful information and comparisons.)

(Hat tip BW!)

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