Critical Self-Reflection and Opening Up Philosophy

As we announced April 23, Feminist Philosophers is shutting down. This is one of a series of posts by FP bloggers looking back on the blog and bidding it farewell.

I started blogging here in the summer of 2012, four years into my Ph.D. program. When I began that program in the fall of 2008, I didn’t know much of anything about feminist philosophy, and I didn’t care to know anything about it. I thought gender was a shallow and inconsequential human category, so there was surely nothing interesting for philosophers to say about it. Furthermore, since it seemed like there weren’t many women in philosophy, I had a suspicion that any sub-field dominated by them (applied ethics, feminist philosophy) was probably not that good.

By the time this blog invited me to join, I had had some major shifts in my epistemic and ethical worldviews, and had switched from specializing in philosophy of physics to philosophy of psychology, with plans to write a dissertation on gender & race stereotypes and self-identity. I had discovered, in large part through blogs and connecting with philosophers over social media, that there was, in fact, a lot of interesting things for philosophers to say about gender (and other socially hierarchical categories.) I had also discovered that the demographics of the field were not such an obvious case of how the meritocratic chips had fallen.

Another half a decade later, I view social & feminist epistemology as my intellectual home base. One of my current interests is how phenomena like epistemic injustice and active ignorance may be playing out inside the philosophy profession, especially in terms of boundary policing and teaching practices. While there is so much work left to do, it is also striking to me what has changed since 2008. Many critiques of the profession that would have been laughed at (that I remember being laughed at about) are now taken up seriously in many places. You can even get published (in philosophy journals!) talking about them.

There is still so much work left to do, so much critical self-reflection the discipline needs to undertake. But there are people doing this work, opening up philosophy to new subfields, new methodologies, new conceptions of itself. I would like to highlight some of the work being done to help us let go of these unnecessarily rigid and hierarchical boundaries…though in some cases a more apt analogy may be that people are taking up sledgehammers to those walls and gates.

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Canadian uni prez doesn’t even make it to Day 1 of her term — gender troubles?

Today, September 1, should have been the first day on the job as Brock University president for Wendy Cukier. However, on Monday, the Canadian university dropped a bombshell — Brock and Cukier had mutually decided that she would not take up the position. So far, both sides are mum on the reasons for a move with huge costs (as they must have known) for both Brock’s and Cukier’s reputations — not to mention the costs of running another presidential search. But much of the speculation, both in the Canadian post-secondary scene and in the media, has it that the break-up is evidence of gender problems at Brock.

Here’s Globe and Mail reporter Simona Chiose’s take on the story. Predictably, an overwhelming number of contributors to the comment thread below that story are hostile to speculation that Cukier’s gender played into the shocking breakdown of her relationship with Brock.

However, there is good reason to think that the Canadian post-secondary education sector (like PSE sectors in many other countries) is not only less welcoming of women presidents but also less good at retaining them than their male counterparts when troubles emerge. Earlier this year, a group of mostly-male Canadian uni presidents agreed that the lack of senior women leaders at Canadian universities is an urgent problem.  For decades, the percentage of Canadian university presidents who are women has remained unchanged at less than 20%. Despite this, Cukier is one of a series of high profile premature departures by women university presidents in recent recollection. Put simply, we (in Canadian PSE) are bad at hiring women presidents, but we’re pretty good at letting them go.