Quantifying the Gender Gap in Philosophy
July 30, 2012 10:27 PM   Subscribe

Molly Paxton, Carrie Figdor, and Valerie Tiberius have a new paper in Hypatia quantifying the gender gap in philosophy (pdf).

The existence of the philosophy gender gap is, of course, well known. Sally Haslanger remarked on the gap back in 2008 and did some early work trying to quantify it (pdf) (also previously and previously-er here on the blue).

Of related interest is how philosophy compares to other academic disciplines with respect to gender diversity. The answer, from the 2009 NSF survey of earned doctorates, is ... not very well. Data for 2010 are now available online. The news for women is not much different: only 27.9% of philosophy PhDs were granted to women in 2010 (compared to 29.6% in 2009). And philosophy still comes out worse than mathematics (29.4%) and economics (34.4%) in that regard.
posted by Jonathan Livengood (51 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
On a personal (professional?) note, I was upset to learn that my own department could not make use of a diversity hiring program in order to hire more women, since we already have three women on faculty (out of 11 full-time, primary appointments) -- and that number is evidently satisfactory.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 10:30 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe we should be asking why so many men go into the fields.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:06 PM on July 30, 2012


I assume because most women who would go into philosophy go for English Lit instead.

Or perhaps because philosophy attracts a certain kind of supremely narcissistic yet useless wanker, which demographic skews heavily male.
posted by fleacircus at 11:53 PM on July 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


I can say that, coming from a department where I was not only the sole female grad student but also the only woman in the whole bloody department, it gets exhausting. It's really hard to wonder all the time whether your interests in feminism are contributing to your token status and whether you basically exist as a diversity requirement on top of all the other emotionally unpleasant parts of working toward an advanced degree in philosophy. Also, lots of old guard philosophers are fucking pigs when they're drunk, and will make some rather nasty assumptions about young women to their faces.

Hopefully the department I'm working in next year will be better, since there's another woman working there (though it's been made clear to me that she "doesn't fill up classes like I will" since she apparently doesn't scan as traditionally attractive. Sigh).
posted by zinful at 12:17 AM on July 31, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oops, hit post instead of preview.

This is very interesting research to me, since every person always wonders a little whether their experiences are normal. I think the reasons might be too varied to find any real thread, but fleacircus is definitely onto something. Pedantry is only really fun if you're already the type who likes the sound of your own voice, and people generally don't tell you to shut up. Us odd ducks are either blessed with great programs or contrarian personalities.
posted by zinful at 12:22 AM on July 31, 2012


Valarie Tiberius was my undergraduate advisor. She's awesome. I would have ended up working with her on my senior thesis had she not been on sabbatical that semester.
posted by cthuljew at 12:31 AM on July 31, 2012


every person always wonders a little whether their experiences are normal

I was the only female student in my philosophy department too, zinful. I believe around half the male lecturers were actively opposed to the presence of women in the department (this was a few years back).

I believe that there is a model of philosophy (one model, not the only one) which opposes the 'hard' or 'tough' unsentimental pursuit of reason to the weak emotional fleshy life of the body. That opposition is going on within the mind of the philosopher - he is suppressing and excluding his own 'weakness' - and it is going on externally as he seeks to exclude and denigrate people who would soften and weaken philosophy.

Obviously I think this is a false model, but I think it is a strand within modern philosophy, and the drama is acted out in the denigration of the intruding female half of humanity.
posted by communicator at 12:47 AM on July 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


philosophy attracts a certain kind of supremely narcissistic yet useless wanker

There's actually something in this, I think (speaking as a philosophy graduate), but I don't quite know how to restate it without falling into one or other kind of sexism. Something about the opportunities for the display of ego-driven forensic combat display behaviour which apparently appeals to the male participant and repels the female. Much as it seems to do in law and politics, unfortunately.
posted by Segundus at 2:31 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


First, the biggest drop in the proportion of women in philosophy occurs between students enrolled in introductory philosophy classes and philosophy majors.

It's almost as if they don't want to pursue the subject any further, after getting a good look at it!
posted by thelonius at 2:37 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm glad to hear this - looks like women tend to make more sensible decisions.

Seriously though, I mostly do philosophy I suppose, or so I'm constantly being told - but not in a philosophy department. And for myself at least, essentially none of the thinkers who have had an impact on me have been straightforward philosophers. Foucault - historian, Bourdieu - sociologist, Latour - science studies, Tim Ingold - anthropologist. And all these people basically ask the same sorts of questions that philosophers do, but the answers are, for me at least, usually far superior. Old-school American Pragmatists are good though, but they too don't really fit into the mold that well, and the only two pure philosophers I've truly enjoyed are Merleau-Ponty (but not phenomenology in general, the rest of the classics are mostly terrible) and Deleuze (but mostly for amusement's sake).

There does seem to be something to philosophers-as-philosophers being basically narcissistic and useless wankers...
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:54 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: supremely narcissistic yet useless wankers.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:25 AM on July 31, 2012


My experience working in professional philosophy is that philosophers come in all kinds of personality types and that there's nothing particularly masculine about the personality type required to do good philosophy. There is a combative element to certain parts of it (responding to hostile questions, hostile peer review) but women can be just as combative.

Actually I'm more concerned about the lack of non-white people in philosophy.
posted by leibniz at 4:31 AM on July 31, 2012


I did not know that women were so underrepresented in philosophy, and am surprised to hear it. Next time a Larry Summers says that the reason there aren't more women in math and physics and computer science is inherent lack of math ability, I am going to ask why there aren't more women in philosophy, then. What skill can philosophy possibly require which is not equally required in scholars of history, literature, and the social sciences?

It's like, where are there so few female rock musicians (except singers) when women are so well represented among professional violinists and flautists and French horn players and so on?

Whatever the difference is (discrimination, socialization, cultures and subcultures?) it's interesting to see a case where it's so clearly not ability.

But since physics and philosophy suffer from the same "leaky pipeline" effect, with the proportion of women dropping as a function of progression along the academic career path, I wonder if it doesn't say something about the nature of academic careers? I wonder if the question shouldn't be, why are there so many women history and English majors?
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:09 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I, for one, would like to see more female philosophers that weren't knee-deep in the gender studies melee. There was Simone Weil, but she was unlucky enough to be the sister of genius mathematician Andre Weil. And it doesn't help that she's wikified as some sort of neo-neo-kantian Sylvia Plath:
Lectures on Philosophy is a compilation of the lectures that Weil composed for her lycée students. Focussing on the materialist philosophical project, she deals with truth not logically or scientifically but psychologically or phenomenologically. Here she discusses the conditions necessary for an experience of truth to emerge for the human subject, or for an object or concept to emerge as real within human experience.

However, she does not advocate a general theory of human "truth-production", justified by empirical observation.[28] As distinguished from the writings of William James, the Lectures describe the problem of truth as deeply personal, to be approached through introspection.
Before the first wave of feminism, there was a "zeroth wave" in the late 19th century which advocated independence for women, yes, but a separate role in society, one oriented towards caring and nurturing, supposed by the mores of the times to be an uniquely female attribute. These women were important in the prohibitionist movement, exerting real influence in society, but came short of pushing for equality. It would seem that Simone Weil (1909-1943), even as far as the Paris-Oxbridge circuit, was influenced by this style of thinking. Have you notice how young she died?
She died from malnutrition during WWII after refusing to eat more than the minimal rations she believed were available to soldiers at the time.
posted by syntaxfree at 5:16 AM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


There are a ton of women philosophers who aren't primarily knee-deep in gender studies. Examples: Nussbaum, Haack, Foot, Anscombe, Thompson, Churchland. As for Weil, I take her life mainly as a warning against the dangers of religious fanaticism.
posted by thelonius at 5:25 AM on July 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


I had forgotten about Philippa Foot. She's indeed very relevant.
posted by syntaxfree at 5:36 AM on July 31, 2012


She died a few years ago, I think. My list is a bit short on younger people. Perhaps the professionals here can rectify that.
posted by thelonius at 5:42 AM on July 31, 2012


Next time a Larry Summers says that the reason there aren't more women in math and physics and computer science is inherent lack of math ability, I am going to ask why there aren't more women in philosophy, then.

The view, not mine, is that the female brain can't cope with pure abstract thought, and these are all the most abstract subjects.
posted by Segundus at 5:45 AM on July 31, 2012


The funny thing is you would expect philosophy people to be the most enlightened and progressive, and generally they are: but sometimes the open mind is open to crap too. If you were sitting in the history common room and suggested that women were no good at abstract thought, you'd be lynched; but I've seen that happen in a philosophy common room and all that happened was that some guy in sandals took a deep breath and said he guessed it might be to do with the dichotomy between desiring to penetrate and desiring to be penetrated.

I come back again to the narcissistic wanker thing, I suppose.
posted by Segundus at 5:54 AM on July 31, 2012


Elizabeth Anderson has a long and interesting interview in 3AM magazine last week that touched on this. Here's an excerpt on the matter at hand, plus a bit on feminist epistemology.

3:AM: It seems unavoidable to confront the treatment of women in professional philosophy. Your work is not primarily about this, but it’s a huge issue isn’t it? In the 3:AM interviews with both established greats like Patricia Churchland and rising stars like Japa Pallikkathayil the issue is identified as a problem. What’s your take on this? Why is academic philosophy seemingly a worse place for women than in the rest of the humanities? and most other places in the academy?

EA: It is stunning how far behind philosophy is, not just compared to the other humanities, but to most other disciplines—including economics, chemistry, statistics, biochemistry, and molecular biology—in the representation of women. Even mathematics and astrophysics have more women. No theory of biological sex differences can credibly explain this.

Women were certainly not flourishing at the University of Michigan philosophy department when I joined it as its only female professor in 1987, filling a line that had been occupied by three female predecessors, all of whom had been denied tenure or left when they saw what the result would be. I entered a Department that was full of righteous denial that the flourishing of women there was a proper concern. My department has made huge strides on gender issues in the past decade, but the field still has a long way to go. Sally Haslanger has written some of the most important work on gender bias in philosophy. That even overt sexism is common in philosophy is well-documented.

The puzzle is why is gender bias greater in philosophy than in other fields? I suspect that gender symbolism, however absurd this is, plays a role. Gender symbolism is the tendency to project gender categories onto inanimate things and abstract ideas, as when we think of pears as feminine and bananas as masculine. Gender symbolism is pervasive in academic disciplines and subfields and helps predict the distribution of men and women across fields. The humanities are “soft”, hence “feminine”, hence imagined to be more suited to women—and indeed women are coming to predominate in most of the humanities as judged by Ph.D.s granted. But within the humanities, philosophy is relatively “hard”, hence masculine, hence imagined to befit men, so women are scarce. And within philosophy ethics is relatively “feminine,” so is it that surprising that women are disproportionately concentrated there?

That’s only one dimension of a big complicated issue and far from the whole story, given that fields such as chemistry and statistics have better representation of women than philosophy although they are symbolized as masculine. We need to consider dynamic issues as well. Sociologist Paula England has found that as more women enter a field, men run away from it. This can lead to tipping points, in which fields such as art history and psychology become dominated by women. But we are still only at the most primitive stages of answering the comparative question.

3:AM: You are known for your work in feminist epistemology and philosophy of science. So can you first say what the motivations for such an approach were in philosophy and who were the pioneers?

EA: I have argued that feminist epistemology and philosophy of science is a branch of naturalized, social epistemology focusing on the causes and consequences of gendered ideas and practices on the presuppositions, content, methods, concerns, cognitive authority, uses, composition and organization of diverse fields and modes of inquiry. It’s what you get when you join naturalizing trends in epistemology and philosophy of science with feminist concerns, such as the ones that underlie your previous question about the relative paucity of women in philosophy. Pioneers in the field include Linda Alcoff, Louise Antony, Lorraine Code, Patricia Hill Collins, Donna Haraway, Sandra Harding, Nancy Hartsock, Sally Haslanger, Evelyn Fox Keller, Elisabeth Lloyd, Maria Lugones, Helen Longino, Charles Mills, Lynn Nelson, Nancy Tuana, and Alison Wylie. This is far from an exhaustive list; I apologize for errors of omission.

posted by Beardman at 6:15 AM on July 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


My list is a bit short on younger people. Perhaps the professionals here can rectify that.

I'm not a professional, but just among people I know personally, Sarah Moss (epistemology and philosophy of language, Michigan), Liz Camp at Penn, Liz Harman (ethics, Princeton), and Carolina Santorio at Arizona are all excellent philosophers under 45, covering a wide range of subjects within the discipline.
posted by escabeche at 6:26 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Something about the opportunities for the display of ego-driven forensic combat display behaviour which apparently appeals to the male participant and repels the female. "

My degrees are in law and in theology, but I teach a few philosophy classes at the local community college, where I am the only woman in the department. I had a senior colleague who would come to my large lecture class and heckle me. He didn't do this to any male colleagues. I mostly use a fairly gentle Socratic style with a lot of humor and where I frequently provide the "big error" answer, especially early in the semester when students are hesitant about being wrong. I guess he saw this as weak, that I wasn't attacking my students and ripping their fallacious thinking from them, but rather trying to lead them along with me. He kept complaining to EVERYONE IN THE DEPARTMENT that my students weren't going to learn anything if I was "nice" to them. So he comes in my class to HECKLE me and starts disagreeing with everything I say. The first couple of times I treated it like a student talking out of turn and basically redirected the class to keep it back on track. When he kept it up, that's when I got mad.

Then he got to see what it looks like when lawyers engage in ego-driven forensic combat displays. We'll just say that I have a lot more training in it as a high-stakes formal activity and a lot more tactical expertise at argumentation techniques.

I don't think he liked it because he didn't come back.

Anyway, as a general thing and as a mostly-outsider, I've been pretty taken aback by the unprofessional attitudes that appears to be acceptable from male philosophers (casual sexism, outright rudeness to colleagues and students, meanness, total refusal to adhere to even basic socialization norms). Most of my colleagues are great, but there's definitely a haven for the jerks in a way that isn't tolerated in "nearby" disciplines.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:04 AM on July 31, 2012 [17 favorites]


All i know is, when I wake up in the middle of the night wondering how vague propositions work across referential contexts, I'm calling a professional.
posted by thelonius at 7:05 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Then he got to see what it looks like when lawyers engage in ego-driven forensic combat displays.

I love it!
posted by General Tonic at 7:26 AM on July 31, 2012


Add to escabeche's list of young, excellent women philosophers: L.A. Paul, Helen Beebee, and Laura Ruetsche. Also, Nancy Cartwright and Sandra Mitchell should be added to the list of talented women philosophers, though they are not as young as they once were -- they're old and influential enough to have Wikipedia pages!

And, good God, Eyebrows McGee, that is ... yuck ... what is a strong enough word to describe that?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:39 AM on July 31, 2012


I, for one, would like to see more female philosophers that weren't knee-deep in the gender studies melee.

G.E.M. Anscombe is one.

There was Simone Weil, but she was unlucky enough to be the sister of genius mathematician Andre Weil. And it doesn't help that she's wikified as some sort of neo-neo-kantian Sylvia Plath:

I don't think that gender, or racial for that matter, representation is an important issue so I'm probably not your intended audience, but I adore Simone Weil and I'm confused by your remarks. Why is her brother's achievement relevant? The implication appears to be that his status as a major 20th century, perhaps historical, figure somehow limits her potential recognition. If I have this right would you explain why?

I also don't understand the remark about her Wikipedia article. Is it that she is out of step with mainstream academic philosophy, and thus not a compelling example to all concerned of a successful woman in philosophy?

Before the first wave of feminism, there was a "zeroth wave" in the late 19th century which advocated independence for women, yes, but a separate role in society, one oriented towards caring and nurturing, supposed by the mores of the times to be an uniquely female attribute. These women were important in the prohibitionist movement, exerting real influence in society, but came short of pushing for equality. It would seem that Simone Weil (1909-1943), even as far as the Paris-Oxbridge circuit, was influenced by this style of thinking.

This is a strange comment to make after stating your interest in female philosophers removed from gender studies. Even if Simone Weil was influenced by this style of thinking, which is questionable considering her own unconventional path, I don't see the relevance. Isn't this questioning of her politics in this context, that is her philosophical merit, sexist? With the exception of Heidegger, a rather extreme and actively debated example, this isn't done with male philosophers.
posted by BigSky at 8:15 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wrote a long comment on the state of the discipline in this respect, but decided to ditch it...dunno why I feel compelled to point that out...

In brief: I've been in one undergrad philosophy department, one grad philosophy department, and taught two places, mostly in a pretty average, non-prominent department.

A. Everybody in philosophy is puzzled by the lack of women and minorities in philosophy, and almost everybody is concerned about it.

B. Philosophy is messed up in many ways. It's got its share of idiots and assholes. Many philosophers are socially inept in the extreme. It's too combative. It tends to be full of people (male and female) who are from privileged backgrounds, and it often shows, and not to their credit. Philosophers tend to have overly high opinions of themselves. There are many careerists and slick operators.

C. But philosophy is good in many ways. Arguments are typically more logically rigorous than in the rest of the humanities. There are typically many notably intelligent and interesting people in any given philosophy department. And in every department I've ever been in in any way, the departmental culture was overwhelmingly liberal and reasonable. Sort of leading to:

D. There is less sexism among philosophers than among any other group I've ever been part of. Philosophers sometimes get falsely accused of sexism because they don't genuflect before the holy trinity of race, sex and class. Lots of weak thinking about that stuff has taken over lots of the humanities, but not philosophy. But one can reject that strand of contemporary thought without being in any way sexist. There's no room here to litigate those issues, though...

and:

E. Thing is, it's hard to have honest discussions about all this. There is often a presumption that, in any case like this, it's just got to be something bad about men, or something bad that men are doing. That stuff gets tedious, let me tell you, especially for those of us who are resolutely good people--non-sexist and so on. However, if one denies that it is some defect in men that is responsible, one is often interpreted as saying that it is some defect in women. And we're off and running. Furthermore: despite the generally reasonable atmosphere in philosophy, to say even the (I'd say) perfectly reasonable things I've written here in a non-anonymous forum could get you in big, big trouble in the discipline. But you can't solve a problem if you can't discuss it openly and rationally.

F. I doubt that under-representation of certain groups in philosophy is a special problem. Philosophy is the most science-like of the humanities, and the groups that are underrepresented in philosophy are underrepresented in the sciences as well. I expect that the two phenomena have the same cause. My own guess is that men have some slight tendency to be more easily fascinated by relatively small puzzles than women do. But it's just a hypothesis.

G. Finally, it certainly is tougher on women in philosophy in some important ways--but not in all ways. There are, as noted, sexists and sexual predators anywhere. There are some in philosophy, and some are protected by their fame--and I know this for a fact, and it makes me furious. (In the case I'm close to, I have been forbidden from acting on my knowledge by the victim of the harassment.) And where women are few and geeks are plenty, there are many awkward sexual advances and much resentment. On the other hand, hiring processes are often radically skewed in favor of women, and that cannot be ignored. I've seen searches in which applications from males were basically simply ignored, and in which it was determined from the outset that the person hired must be female--though this was not said in the ad, so hundreds of males with no chance of succeeding wasted their time and postage. (And that's just one of the relevant phenomena.) Furthermore, I've seen perfectly innocent males targeted by entirely unwarranted charges of (especially "hostile environment") sexual harassment, and unfairly characterized as sexist by some of the more...er...shall we say...enthusiastic...feminists. So there are ways in which it ain't easy being anybody in philosophy...

H. Re: the role-model hypothesis: I've wondered about it before, and asked my female students, and they've overwhelmingly said that it doesn't matter to them... Though, of course, it can matter and people can be oblivious to the fact that it matters.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 8:20 AM on July 31, 2012 [7 favorites]


One of the interesting things about the current culture in academic philosophy is there's basically no work/life boundary. You're expected to talk about your love life the same way you'd talk about modal realism or mental-state eliminativism or whateve — which is to say, loudly and combatively, with much respect for rigor and no respect for feelings.

I've seen this a lot — someone mentions a dilemma that they're facing in their own life, or a problem that they've had, or a feeling that they're experiencing, and it's taken as an invitation to Have A Discussion, which means a sort of semi-formal intellectual combat, positions laid out and arguments mustered and so on.

And I think that makes it a very difficult field for people who are in any sort of vulnerable position. (Which, unfortunately, women in a male-dominated field are, like it or not.)

In a normal setting, if a woman tells her best friend that she's being sexually harassed by her boss, we'd hope that Best Friend would offer sympathy and a listening ear. And reasonably often, in a normal setting, that's what happens. (Not always; not even as often as it should happen; but still, reasonably often.) In a philosophy department, what happens depressingly often is that you bring something like that up and suddenly you're Having A Discussion about the definition of harassment and the ethics of implicit consent and the difficulty of proving that the perp is doing it maliciously and so on and so on. The sort of unpleasant cross-examination that you'd expect in a courtroom — and that, incidentally, is responsible for so many rape and harassment victims refusing to take their case to court — will instead start up the minute the victim opens her mouth. It's exhausting, it's demoralizing, and frankly it amounts to a sort of collective, unintentional gaslighting — there's so much emphasis in philosophy anyway on being rational and hard-headed and willing to argue your case, and I've seen very smart people genuinely start to believe that they are somehow weak and mentally defective and unworthy-of-help because when it comes to their own personal emotions they'd prefer a sympathetic listening ear to a good knock-down argument.

This ends up creating a culture that shields harassers. I mean, any time people act this way, even outside philosophy, it has that effect. If a friend tells you she's been victimized and you ask for proof and start speculating about whether she really laid out her boundaries clearly enough, like it or not, you are making it harder for genuine victims to come forward. But so the fact that people act that way all the time in philosophy makes it a very, very harassment-friendly culture indeed.

Obviously it's not just a problem for women. It's a problem for anyone who is a potential victim. And people who get victimized in other ways — the occasional male harassment victim; people of either sex who face ordinary garden-variety social mistreatment, or whose work is exploited by their advisor, or who get attacked for having unorthodox political views or whatever — also have a really rough time of it in philosophy. You just can't talk to anyone about what you're going through without worrying that they'll stop you and make you define your terms and then start picking apart the definitions you offer.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:07 AM on July 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


There's also the idea floating around that maybe Women Just Aren't Into philosophy. And it's possible that that's true to some extent.

But given the way philosophical argumentation is… — oh god, I'm gonna use this phrase and half the people in this conversation are going to write me off as One Of Those Gender Studies Flakes, but here goes — given the way that philosophical argumentation serves as an instrument of structural oppression against anyone who asks for social support against sexism? I'm not at all surprised that women lose interest.

It's basically the same principle that says "You shouldn't give out essays as punishment to grade schoolers, or they'll just learn to hate writing." Once you've experienced an academic discourse as a form of punishment, or even seen it handed out as punishment to other people like you, it's hard to enjoy it for it's own sake.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:17 AM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


> I believe that there is a model of philosophy (one model, not the only one) which opposes the 'hard' or 'tough' unsentimental pursuit of reason to the weak emotional fleshy life of the body. That opposition is going on within the mind of the philosopher - he is suppressing and excluding his own 'weakness' - and it is going on externally as he seeks to exclude and denigrate people who would soften and weaken philosophy.

> The puzzle is why is gender bias greater in philosophy than in other fields? I suspect that gender symbolism, however absurd this is, plays a role ... Gender symbolism is pervasive in academic disciplines and subfields and helps predict the distribution of men and women across fields. The humanities are “soft”, hence “feminine” ...

Interesting. This is something I've been trying to think about. Can anyone recommend a reading list? Elizabeth Anderson rattles off a bunch of names, but none of them mean anything to me. Where are some good places to start?
posted by nangar at 10:34 AM on July 31, 2012


About Simone Weil: I don't know nearly enough about her to pass merit on her accomplishments -- I'm just reflecting on the general picture one gets of "female philosopher" wihout diving into the subject. If you look at another example I recognized -- Philippa Foot -- you see someone with enough merit that you forget the gender matter altogether.

Hannah Arendt should figure in here.

That said, names are being thrown around about people being in Wisconsin, but a distinction must be made between people who have advanced important concepts -- Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Heidegger -- and people who have taught philosophy, i.e. professors.
posted by syntaxfree at 11:47 AM on July 31, 2012


Actually, thinking of my own reaction about Weil v. Foot, I can't help but question the whole premise. Why does this matter? Is it that the present gender distribution is a predictor of future gender distribution in a sense that can be made properly attributional -- i.e. as something "to blame", not just as a cause?

Let me ask an even simpler question. Can Granger causality be seen in panel data of gender distribution across non-STEM graduate students?
posted by syntaxfree at 11:55 AM on July 31, 2012


re Weil - I haven't read her work, I have read some summaries of it. My remark, if that was derailing at all here, was my opinion of her biography; from what I know, I see her death as tragic, self-inflicted, avoidable.

but a distinction must be made between people who have advanced important concepts -- Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Heidegger -- and people who have taught philosophy, i.e. professors.

Well, that's another can of worms. The people I named are not of the stature of a Wittgenstein or Hegel, sure. But neither are their male contemporaries.
posted by thelonius at 12:14 PM on July 31, 2012


Fists O'Fury, the fact remains that there are very few women in philosophy compared to most other academic fields, along with programming and engineering. It's legitimate to ask why this is the case. You've framed your response in terms in terms of blame, and listed reasons why it can't be the fault of male philosophers, and so it must be the fault of women, or something-or-other. Asking whose fault something is is not really the best place to start when you're asking why something happens.

It's worth pointing out that women don't seem to be avoiding actual sciences like biology, chemistry, astronomy or medical research, just certain science-related fields like philosophy, computer science and engineering.

It's a bit off topic, but I think the history of programming is interesting in this respect. In the early decades of programming, from the late 40s through the mid to late 60s, the majority of programmers were women, and some of them made important contributions to the field. That changed starting in the mid 60s, when some universities started offering degrees in computer science, and organizations hiring programmers started requiring new hires to have them.

It's not that hard to understand the hiring decisions people made in the 50s and 60s. Managers and personnel departments tended to view programming as a type of clerical job. When universities started offering degrees in it, most of them weren't coed. What is hard to understand, though, is why when most universities went coed in the 70s, women didn't regain parity in a field they'd once dominated, although they did eventually gain parity, or better, in a lot of other fields where very few women had ever participated. There seems to be no good explanation for this.

Whether this has anything do with the current paucity of women in philosophy I don't know. But I think it's worth asking why this has happened this way.
posted by nangar at 12:55 PM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


In a normal setting, if a woman tells her best friend that she's being sexually harassed by her boss, we'd hope that Best Friend would offer sympathy and a listening ear. And reasonably often, in a normal setting, that's what happens. (Not always; not even as often as it should happen; but still, reasonably often.) In a philosophy department, what happens depressingly often is that you bring something like that up and suddenly you're Having A Discussion about the definition of harassment and the ethics of implicit consent and the difficulty of proving that the perp is doing it maliciously and so on and so on. The sort of unpleasant cross-examination that you'd expect in a courtroom — and that, incidentally, is responsible for so many rape and harassment victims refusing to take their case to court — will instead start up the minute the victim opens her mouth. It's exhausting, it's demoralizing, and frankly it amounts to a sort of collective, unintentional gaslighting

nebulawindphone--
This has not been my experience, but I'm a guy. I have seen cases in which women in philosophy were harassed, and they engaged in some pretty serious, as we might say, self-cross-examination...but that's sort of the nature of philosophers. I do agree with you that it's ok to sometimes just need a sympathetic ear. And that, in general, philosophers may be too critical for their own good. But I don't think that's something about sexual harassment specifically, it's something about philosophy generally.

In fact, from my perspective, it's almost the opposite. Current sexual harassment policies where I am apparently say that if a women feels as if she's been harassed, then she has. She might be loony, her feelings might be completely unfounded...but tough luck. If someone brings charges against you, you are, basically, ipso facto guilty.

I often fear that we've got a system in which the guilty people don't get caught, but every innocent person is at the mercy of anyone angry or kooky enough to bring charges against him. And, take it from me, such things do happen. Here's this big problem, sexual harassment, which we then try to solve with this crazy policy that deems every accusation veridical... What madness...

>philosophical argumentation serves as an instrument of structural oppression against anyone who asks for social support against sexism

Can't go with you there...but, FWIW, your very concern that saying this will make some peg you as "one of those gender studies flakes" makes me not so peg you... Philosophical argumentation, in my experience, goes pretty hard on sexism, and rightfully so. However, it *can*, if misused, be the instrument of skepticism...and in this case I guess that would go against a person making an accusation...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:07 PM on July 31, 2012


nangar,

> You've framed your response in terms in terms of blame, and listed reasons why it can't be the fault of male philosophers, and so it must be the fault of women, or something-or-other.


Nope. You might want to read my comment again.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:08 PM on July 31, 2012


Fists O'Fury, I got more or less the same thing out of your comment that nangar did. You make claims about being non-sexist, and about philosophy in general being non-sexist, but then turn around and say that female hiring is essentially undeserved affirmative action because there are more qualified men, and that sexual harassment claims (where you are) are unfounded attacks brought against innocent men who fear being victimized.

Either you're not expressing yourself very clearly, or you have a fairly skewed idea of what constitutes sexism. You may need to express yourself more clearly. I'm willing to take you at your word that you're not sexist, and you expressed yourself fairly calmly, but you're using a lot of the same arguments that very sexist "MRA" types make. If you mean something other than, "I'm not sexist, women just aren't qualified," you probably need to explain it out a bit more so that people will understand where your argument is going.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:43 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Contemporary counterparts? Easy peasy, Kripke and Badiou. Deleuze was indirectly killed by incapacitating illness, but A thousand plateaus only came out in languages other than french in 1980, and it's every Shannon-bit as foundational as Heidegger's Being and time. Hell, it's studied by the israeli army to try and make a way into what's only loosely striated space in Gaza.

Protip: if you want to make heads or tails out of ATP, start with Manuel de Landa. Watch some videos, and then get Virtual philosophy and intensive science for the heady stuff and A thousand years of nonlinear history for the trippy (and yet fact-dense) exploration of how revolutionary this whole thing is looking at a morsel of economic, urban and linguistic history.
posted by syntaxfree at 1:51 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's worth pointing out that women don't seem to be avoiding actual sciences like biology, chemistry, astronomy or medical research, just certain science-related fields like philosophy, computer science and engineering.

That depends on the science. Physics is one of the worst disciplines overall -- only 19.6% of physics PhDs were granted to women in 2010. Mathematics is not much better than philosophy (29.4% to philosophy's 27.9%), and statistics pulls that number up somewhat. Physics and mathematics also graduate a lot more PhDs than philosophy does. Together, physics and mathematics granted more than 3,000 PhDs in 2010; philosophy granted 434. Also, it's not entirely fair to computer science to say that they are only "science related." Unless you also want to say that mathematics and statistics are only science related, not real sciences.

Moreover, it's not just science and science-ish fields that have a problem. My wife earned her PhD in music theory and composition last year. That makes her pretty rare, since only 19.8% of PhDs granted for music theory and composition in 2010 were granted to women. (But music, unlike physics, can hide this sort of inequality somewhat, since other music specialties, like ethnomusicology, are much more balanced and/or slightly favor women.)
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 2:06 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do want to add that philosophy departments are pretty damn hostile places, for the most part, partially due to the things nebulawindphone talks about. What this creates is a very combative atmosphere, where everyone is constantly on the defensive. Women in male dominated fields tend to already be on the defensive for a lot of reasons, so casual remarks about Arendt's relationship with Heidigger (for example) can turn into "hostile workplace" accusations simply because little petty bullshit builds up over time.

As far as women getting hired over male applicants, I'm not sure I see a problem with that ceteris paribus. It was really damned hard being the only female philosopher I knew, especially since my department had a pretty sordid history of driving female hires away to friendlier pastures. If I had face to face interaction with women on a daily basis that did great philosophy, I maybe could have stuck to my real interests in metaphysics rather than constantly having to reaffirm everything through my daily awareness of being the token lady brains. I'm working at a community college next year, and I know that I was hired for lots of reasons, some of them being that I'm different from the "average" philosophy instructor, and thus can provide a different perspective but also will just be different enough that people who otherwise might tune out might be able to relate to me in a personal way. Teaching in the discipline is about getting the ideas across and encouraging students to engage with philosophy--having an endless droning stream of elbow patches makes philosophy seem like something only boring people do. If I'm just as educationally fit for a job, but have this added benefit over a conventional candidate, it seems obvious for a well rounded department to hire the young female Kantian with the Categorical Imperative tattoo over the market standard issue philosophy dude.
posted by zinful at 3:28 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


(I think I'll go ahead and blame Kant for the awful sentence structure in my post above)
posted by zinful at 3:30 PM on July 31, 2012


20% isn't rare at all. It's just less common than common. Female suicides in the USA are also about 20% of the total suicide toll per year, and yet we don't think it's specially rare.
posted by syntaxfree at 3:44 PM on July 31, 2012


I'll say -- I had the categorical imperative as a given conclusion for a long stretch, and would be regretting now if I had gotten it tattooed. I was also a marxist earlier on. People change, and being a philosopher means being particularly susceptible to change.

Moreover, if philosophy is, as Deleuze's formula goes, the creation of (proper philosophical) concepts, a tattooed kantian would strike me as fake as dudes with chinese ideograms that supposedly say "dragon warrior". You need the history of philosophy, you need it as a tool to do your job, not to try and make it a fashion article.


I'm finishing these days Deleuze's Kant's critical philosophy, which is exactly what a philosopher should do with the classics: despite being almost diametrically opposed in his own views to Kant, Deleuze distills the critical method from its rushed conclusions by means of close reading and reconstruction. What you get in return is not a "Kripkenstein", but a Kant that's faithful at least to neokantians, and at the same time makes sense and adds to the understanding of major philosophical issues from a deleuzian point of view. I'm on a roll with his treatises, and moving on to Spinoza: practical philosophy next.

posted by syntaxfree at 3:54 PM on July 31, 2012


20% isn't rare at all.

Sure, but 20% of 0.19% of 3% is. That's 20% of music comp/theory PhDs, which are only 0.19% of PhDs granted each year, where PhDs represent less than 3% of the population.

Rarity level: 0.00114%. (Approximately, of course.)
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 4:15 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hell, [A Thousand Plateaus] is studied by the israeli army to try and make a way into what's only loosely striated space in Gaza.

I really hate being one of those guys who demands cites, but.....cite? I guess you mean the staff college reads it, not that they issue it at boot camp?
posted by thelonius at 4:23 PM on July 31, 2012


A little off topic, but I didn't get the (first 2 versions of) the CI on my arm as a fashion statement, but more of a commemoration of finishing my thesis. Evolving past universal respect for persons isn't really desirable for me, anyhow, even if there's some debate about what universalization could possibly mean, etc.

The history of philosophy isn't just a "tool for my job", but a living entity, especially for my students (well, that's the goal anyway). The history of ethics informs every difficult decision I make, which probably results in the horrible culture noted above of over analysis in philosophy departments...but hey, there's gotta be some reason I specialized, right? (right!?)
posted by zinful at 5:47 PM on July 31, 2012


I was on my phone and couldn't look it up. DuckDuckGo'ing "idf+deleuze" leads to many blog posts with interesting perspectives, but what I had read was Lethal Theory, from the 2006 edition of "Roundtable: Research architecture, and Walking through walls, both by Eyal Weizman. The first takes a more critical-theoretical perspective, the second one is more operational as a description of actua field intel and ops.
posted by syntaxfree at 5:50 PM on July 31, 2012


zinful: I thought you were talking about a counterfactual. Didn't mean to judge.

That said, the only operational usage of "universal" is modal -- "in all possible instances" -- and this is immediately problematic because instances are nonrepeatable -- which is why, Plantinga notwithstanding, modal ontologies tend to circle around the idea of possible futures or flat-out postulating multiverses. But even in a multiverse (a well-specified one anyway; see David Deutsch for that) there's no ergodicity -- no symmetry between along-time and across-worlds comparisons. And here lies the problem: your universality is now across consequences, so you just have a version of consequentialism that depends on modal realism and a physical multiverse.

So uh, as folk wisdom goes, life is what goes on while you try to make plans.


(There's more, much more I want to say about this, but it would start from quoting entire paragraphs from ATP. Suffice to say, relying on subjectivity to populate an ontology is a shit sandwich, both because the phenomenological project (to my eyes) failed at defining the limits of intersubjectivity as a causal mechanism of reality (no amount of people can wish a stone into Mach 1 flight by staring at it); because of this science began to see philosophy as a pointless endeavor. What's more, an ontology needs rocks, algae, ducks and supernovas. These are things that exist, and would exist if human consciousness hadn't emerged at all.)

posted by syntaxfree at 6:12 PM on July 31, 2012


But I don't think that's something about sexual harassment specifically, it's something about philosophy generally.

Oh, I agree completely! This was in fact what I was trying to suggest — that the gender gap in philosophy is a symptom of a broader cultural problem which victimizes all sorts of people and not "just" women.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:27 PM on July 31, 2012


Like Eyebrows McGee and nangar, I read Fists O'Fury's comments as a defense of misogyny and a shifting of the blame for sexism on women. I have to leave for work soon, but I wanted to rebut some of his points in this thread.

Fists O'Fury: D. There is less sexism among philosophers than among any other group I've ever been part of. Philosophers sometimes get falsely accused of sexism because they don't genuflect before the holy trinity of race, sex and class. Lots of weak thinking about that stuff has taken over lots of the humanities, but not philosophy. But one can reject that strand of contemporary thought without being in any way sexist.

Who genuflects before the holy trinity of race, sex and class? I can't believe that someone who's been educated in logic and rhetoric thinks they can get away with that kind of ridiculous argument-by-analogy. The acknowledgment of the fundamental importance of race, sex and class to human existence is in no way a religion. And no, by rejecting that strand of contemporary thought, you do in fact come across as sexist.

E. Thing is, it's hard to have honest discussions about all this. There is often a presumption that, in any case like this, it's just got to be something bad about men, or something bad that men are doing. That stuff gets tedious, let me tell you, especially for those of us who are resolutely good people--non-sexist and so on. However, if one denies that it is some defect in men that is responsible, one is often interpreted as saying that it is some defect in women. And we're off and running. Furthermore: despite the generally reasonable atmosphere in philosophy, to say even the (I'd say) perfectly reasonable things I've written here in a non-anonymous forum could get you in big, big trouble in the discipline. But you can't solve a problem if you can't discuss it openly and rationally.

Who argues that sexism is the result of "some defect in men?" I don't know what you classify as an open and rational discussion but there is no way to debate someone reasonably who sets the terms of debate like you do. You set yourself up as a resolutely good person with perfectly reasonable opinions, assert that the atmosphere in philosophy is generally reasonable and that debating the issue is tedious. I have no idea why you think anyone should have any kind of discussion because your debate-terms set you up as the righteous participant.

I have no doubt that you are a kind and honorable man, but your formulation above implies rather bluntly that those who have a point of view that is in opposition to your own are less than resolutely good.

F. I doubt that under-representation of certain groups in philosophy is a special problem. Philosophy is the most science-like of the humanities, and the groups that are underrepresented in philosophy are underrepresented in the sciences as well. I expect that the two phenomena have the same cause. My own guess is that men have some slight tendency to be more easily fascinated by relatively small puzzles than women do. But it's just a hypothesis.

Everything in this paragraph is nonsense, except the fact that you doubt that "under-representation of certain groups in philosophy is a special problem." I don't know where to start with your claim that "philosophy is the most science-like of the humanities, and the groups that are underrepresented in philosophy are underrepresented in the sciences as well." First of all, philosophy compares unfavorably with biochemistry, neuroscience and sociology, to give a few examples from the article linked in this post. Secondly, I have no idea what being "science-like" is supposed to mean, in terms of philosophy or the humanities as a whole (more experiments or data-gathering?). Also, the hypothesis you put forth is completely unsupported by anything. Women seem no less likely, for example, to be into sudoku or the crossword, to give an example of small puzzles. In my experience women seem no less likely to wonder about the various puzzles of life and the universe, whether small or big.

G. Finally, it certainly is tougher on women in philosophy in some important ways--but not in all ways. There are, as noted, sexists and sexual predators anywhere. There are some in philosophy, and some are protected by their fame--and I know this for a fact, and it makes me furious. (In the case I'm close to, I have been forbidden from acting on my knowledge by the victim of the harassment.) And where women are few and geeks are plenty, there are many awkward sexual advances and much resentment. On the other hand, hiring processes are often radically skewed in favor of women, and that cannot be ignored. I've seen searches in which applications from males were basically simply ignored, and in which it was determined from the outset that the person hired must be female--though this was not said in the ad, so hundreds of males with no chance of succeeding wasted their time and postage. (And that's just one of the relevant phenomena.) Furthermore, I've seen perfectly innocent males targeted by entirely unwarranted charges of (especially "hostile environment") sexual harassment, and unfairly characterized as sexist by some of the more...er...shall we say...enthusiastic...feminists. So there are ways in which it ain't easy being anybody in philosophy...

For someone who claims they want an open and rational discussion, you sure seem ready to use insinuation and veiled insults to disparage those who disagree with you. I really don't know where to start with this. If the application process is so skewed towards women, then why are women so underrepresented in academic philosophy departments? If women are hugely underrepresented that is a problem not only for individual women, but also an indicator that some bias is keeping the academic discipline of philosophy from promoting its best students. No one may have it that good in philosophy, but if women have it worse, that's a problem to be fixed. Hiring more women is the most obvious solution. How to do that most effectively and fairly is something to work out, though.

Also, "geeks" are not some kind of special class of human. It is not some kind of iron law of sociology that male geeks must resent women. And blaming feminists for accusations of sexual harassment is... I don't know what to say, really. Laying the blame at the feet of the messenger is so far from what I consider to be sound reasoning that I'm aghast to see it in this context. It is a serious charge and should be taken seriously. Creating some kind of feminist bogeyman to blame for sexual harassment charges will only serve to make it harder for people (irrespective of gender) who have been harassed to step forward if the first thing they have to do is fight off charges of being too enthusiastically feminist.
posted by Kattullus at 8:00 AM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Here might also be a good place to tip the hat to LobsterMitten's excellent answer in an AskMe about this issue.
posted by Beardman at 9:40 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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