Women’s contributions to philosophy

The following should be read as more like questions than it may seem. Are women’s theories really seen like this? Are these factors really at play? And so on.

And I am doing this in a rush.


In my earliest days in philosophy, as one scanned the history of the subject, there seemed to be a near complete absence of women. This was scary, actually, because one seemed to be proposing that one could be one of the first to do something. And the idea that women couldn’t do philosophy did seem to have some evidence, however puzzling the idea was.

Thanks to many philosophers’ work, it has become clear that this picture of the absence of women in philosophy is simply wrong. But I wonder whether women’s work in general is brought into mainstream thought, despite wonderful efforts by some outstanding people. This does seem to be changing a bit for contemporary women, but much, much less so for historical women.

If it is true that women’s work largely remains footnotes to male philosophy, it is worth asking why. If we understand why, we might be able to mitigate it. I have three remarks to make about this. Then I have one depressing worry that there is an underlying cause that is very powerful.

1. For much of history, women’s entry into philosophy (and music, the arts) was through an advocacy by their fathers that they be let into the otherwise male activity.

2. Women’s work has been appropriated. I just recently saw work that claimed that Babylonian laments – most definitely the project of women – shows up finally in the choruses of male Greek playwrights’ plays.

3. There is in philosophy – at least today when we are evaluating historical texts – quite a lot of hostility to original thoughts. And women’s original thought may be particularly suspect. This leaves women with one alternative: accept as basic the framing of the problems in male philosophy. Otherwise, you are pretty much out on a limb which many will saw off.

If these are causes, then they point to something we can do in working with women’s texts, and that have been done already. One is to try not to introduce the women’s work through describing their fathers’ supports. It is with just about any woman until very recently remarkable that she learned to read and that she had any contact with topics taught in men’s schools. Still, this might not be the place to begin.

Since I am running out of time, let me cut to the chase. From one point of view, the facts I’ve mentioned may pale in comparison to another, which to some extent might be a separate cause and also something holding some of the factors in place.

This overriding cause may be: misogyny. As understood by Mann (Down Girl) one strong facet of misogyny is the deep expectation that women are supposed to serve men. So sure they can comment – maybe very well – on men’s texts, but they aren’t supposed to produce rivals.

In a rush, let me suggest that this would account for the remarkable appropriation of women’s work that occurs. I think nearly every women I know has seen this.

Important article by Talia Bettcher

Everyone should read this.

I don’t mean to be mean (I’m Canadian). I do, however, wish to hold Stock accountable for her philosophically questionable strategies of engagement. And I wish to do this starkly, possibly harshly. Let me be clear, then, that I am actually quite willing to have a discussion with gender critical feminists about these issues. I would love a genuine conversation to determine whether bridge-building is possible. After all, non-trans and trans women alike face oppression. Sometimes the oppressions are the same, and sometimes they are different. But this is just the “nature of the beast” when it comes to coalition building. Sexisms are complex, interblended with other oppressions such as racism, homophobia, ableism, and transphobia. That said, I can’t have an in-depth discussion with somebody who shows no signs of familiarity with the literature, no familiarity with the complex, nuanced issues at stake.

Update: for Stock’s response, see here.

I could swear someone said it’s getting better, but it’s not

As least as far as leadership positions for women in business goes, according to this article. And the reason? Well, it’s complicated, and there is this and that, but basically it’s bias.

The number of women leading the largest companies has always been small. This year, it got 25 percent smaller… evidence shows that the obstacles for female executives aren’t just because of their individual choices. There are larger forces at work, experts say, rooted in biases against women in power, mothers who work or leaders who don’t fit the mold of the people who led before them.

Effects of anonymization

There’s a nice summary here of several studies of anonymization in peer review. The summary itself comes from a study showing that 74-90% of reviews (reviewers were invited to guess author identities) contained no correct guesses of author identity.

reviewers with author information were 1.76x more likely to recommend acceptance of papers from famous authors, and 1.67x more likely to recommend acceptance of papers from top institutions…when reviewers knew author identities, review scores for papers with male-first authors were 19% higher, and for papers with female-first authors 4% lower.

Read more.

Public Philosophy Awards

Note: Submissions are due by September 15th, 2018.

We are pleased to announce that there will be two prizes available this year, one for an unpublished essay, and one for an essay published within a year of the deadline. The deadline for both is 15 September 2018. The award for each prize is $4,500. In addition, the top three unpublished essays will be passed to the Editorial Director and a Senior Editor at Aeon and will be considered carefully for publication. Any essay which is not accepted for publication will be given a written report from the senior editor about its strengths and weaknesses, with suggestions for alternative publication venues. No more than one essay per author will be considered across the two prizes.

To be eligible for the prize for a published essay, please submit a copy of your essay, together with publication details, to publicphilosophypublishedaward@gmail.com. An article counts as ‘published’ so long as it is published between the date of 16 September 2017 and the deadline for the award, 15 September 2018. An article featured on a personal website does not count as published. However, an article on a public website may count as published; decisions will be made on a case by case basis; feel free to include any qualifying information in the body of the submission email. Long-form submissions will be preferred, but articles of any length will be considered. There is no restriction to any area of philosophy. Unlike other Marc Sanders Prizes, this prize is not restricted to junior candidates.

Please submit your unpublished essays, anonymized for blind review, to publicphilosophyaward@gmail.com. For this prize, we will only consider long-form essays (minimum 2,500 words, maximum 7,000) with significant philosophical content or method by authors with significant philosophical training. The most important condition is that essays should be written to engage the general reader. There is no restriction to any area of philosophy. For this prize, there is no restriction to junior candidates. Philosophers at any career stage are encouraged to submit. Previously published essays will not be considered for this prize.

The Award Committee is Chaired by Susan Wolf (UNC Chapel Hill). The committee will also include Ken Taylor (Stanford University and Philosophy Talk), and Barry Maguire (Stanford University).

Please submit your blinded entry to publicphilosophyaward@gmail.com
by 15 September 2018. Please include the essay title in the subject line. Receipt of submissions will be acknowledged by email. Refereeing will be blind; authors should omit all remarks and references that might disclose their identities.

Any inquiries should be sent to Barry Maguire at barrymaguire@gmail.com.

You can view the criteria through which the papers will be assessed here: https://www.barrymaguire.com/public-philosophy.html.

Open letter to sign

Whatever you may think of the merits of no-platforming, it seems pretty clear that writing a petition calling for an event to be canceled should not be a reason for a student to be threatened with expulsion. If you agree, do sign this letter because that’s just what is happening at Bristol University. (Thanks, M!)

UPDATE: And if you’d like to a critical response to the letter, go here.

Alcoff on Junot Diaz, Me Too, and Intersectionality

A really important article.

Clearly, we need to go beyond easy binaries. The letter I signed calls on all of us to think through the important issue of how to demand individual responsibility from abusers while also being vigilant about our collective and institutional responsibility, to develop critiques of the conventions of sexual behavior that produce systemic sexual abuse. While individuals can never be absolved of responsibility by blaming structural conditions, those conditions do create opportunities, excuses, even training in the ways of domination, and these have to be radically transformed.

Read the whole thing.

Talking about Talking

There have been a few essays and commentaries of late about the difficulties in dialogues within feminism surrounding trans issues. All I’m about to say should be prefaced by acknowledging my lack of expertise or even good acquaintance in trans issues. I am not up to speed on the philosophical literature, nor am I up to speed on how all the conversational dynamics play out in less formal dialogues (e.g., I don’t use Twitter, but gather that this is a veritable hellscape of human misery where these conversations are concerned). My only reason for posting concerns the meta-level talk about talking happening as an offshoot of the core debates.Read More »

“TERFs” turf

TERFs are defined by many as feminists who argue against allowing trans-women into the category ‘women, supposing there is such a category. I saw a TERF piece getting a lot of praise. Or it might just be depressing. See what you think.

See the comments on the use of the term.