Over the last year, we have heard a lot about the feminist/women’s (there are different versions) takeover of philosophy. That line of thought is nicely put in perspective by the various other similar claims discussed here.
The idea of a gender perception gap is borne out by studies in other areas. In one study on gender parity in the workforce, sent my way by colleague Flavia Dzodan, it was found that men “consistently perceive more gender parity” in their workplaces than women do. For example, when asked whether their workplaces recruited the same number of men and women, 72 percent of male managers answered “yes.” Only 42 percent of female managers agreed. And, while there’s a persistent stereotype that women are the more talkative gender, women actually tend to talk less than men in classroom discussions, professional contexts and even romantic relationships; one study found that a mixed-gender group needed to be between 60 and 80 percent female before women and men occupied equal time in the conversation. However, the stereotype would seem to have its roots in that same perception gap: “[In] seminars and debates, when women and men are deliberately given an equal amount of the highly valued talking time, there is often a perception that [women] are getting more than their fair share.”
How do you give men the impression of a female majority? Show them a female minority, and let that minority do some talking. This is how 15 minutes of Fey and Poehler becomes three hours of non-stop “estrogen,” how a Congress that’s less than 19 percent female becomes a “feminized” and male-intolerant political environment, and how one viable female Presidential candidate becomes an unstoppable, man-squashing Godzilla. Men tend to perceive equality when women are vastly outnumbered and underrepresented; it follows that, as we approach actual parity, men (and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, for some reason) will increasingly believe that we are entering an era of female domination.
[A post by Jenny Saul and Katharine Jenkins]
A reader writes:
“As I often do, I am going to be teaching an introductory level class with lots of work by authors who identify as members of groups who are underrepresented in philosophy. While students are very likely to notice the name of some and thus assume their belonging to such groups because of the name, others of these authors are underrepresented for reasons that are not visible and some might be visible but are not pictured on the dust-jacket. I am wondering how others mention/bring up and to what extent they highlight the identities/group membership of the authors in class and how they do so. It is not at all unusual, where I teach, that students will assume hetero, white, male authorship (regularly referring to authors as “he” throughout, unless corrected… and sometimes even when corrected). I am wondering if this might be something that could be brought up for discussion on Feminist Philosophers.”
This is a good question. It’s something that we are writing about, in a paper we’ve been working on. Our view is that this problem can only be solved by explicitly introducing the idea that philosophy is problematically white, male, straight, non-disabled and so on, and explaining that in order to help change this, you will be informing them when philosophers you are studying are members of under-represented groups. Then, you just give them whatever information about the philosopher you want them to have when you reach that point on the course. (Naturally, it is important only to share information that you are absolutely confident is in the public domain.)
We think that trying to draw students’ attention to this information via indirect methods such as including pictures in course slides or other materials will not only be difficult to carry out with relation to non-visible identities, but may actually backfire. If students notice that you are publicizing this information, they may well be inclined to wonder why you are doing so. Given background circumstances of sexism, racism, heterosexism, and so on, the motives they attribute are likely to be problematic ones. For example, they may think that you are choosing to tell them that a certain author is Black because you find it surprising (hence comment-worthy) that a Black person is successful in philosophy, or because you are trying to establish your own non-racist credentials, or more generally to show that we live in a post-racial era. By stating your motive explicitly, you block these problematic assumptions.
Bringing up the problems of racism, sexism and so on in philosophy could also provide a good opportunity for engaging students on these topics and pointing them towards further useful resources.
What do others think?