• Ilana

The underrepresentation of women in philosophy

Having studied philosophy in both an academic and personal capacity, I find myself somewhat put off the discipline due to the underrepresentation of women. Looking at my past, present and future syllabus, I see reading lists flooded with men and topics lacking a female scholar. After looking further into the question of why there is an underrepresentation of women in my philosophy degree, I found there to be some shocking evidence for the gender imbalance at all levels of philosophy.

philosophy, the oldest of the humanities, is also the malest (and the whitest). While other areas of the humanities are at or near gender parity, philosophy is actually more overwhelmingly male than even mathematics

The U.S. Department of Education reported that in the 1990s philosophy was one of the least gender-proportionate fields in the humanities[1]. Women can only be attributed to 17% of philosophy faculty in some studies[2]. Around the same time the Canadian Philosophical Association also claimed that there is gender imbalance and gender bias in the academic field of philosophy[3]. More recently, in June 2013, a U.S. sociology professor stated that "out of all recent citations in four prestigious philosophy journals, female authors comprise just 3.6 percent of the total." This is not an issue of being oversensitive to the course content, there is a legitimate lack of women in the discourse.

One of the reasons for this could be fear of entering into such a male dominated field. As the Inside Higher Education states, there is clear evidence that philosophy has a "...long history of misogyny and sexual harassment" that acts to exclude and scare women from the discipline[4]. However, there is not just a history of harassment in philosophy, it is a present problem too. Today women are "...leaving philosophy after being harassed, assaulted, or retaliated against,"[5] as noted by Jennifer Saul, a professor of philosophy at the University of Sheffield. These institutional acts of aggression against women exist in the very universities where future generations of female philosophers are expected to thrive and enter the field.

The homogeneity that exists in philosophy can be seen at all levels of the discipline, be that authors and scholars included in your syllabus, the professors that teach you, or the sheer lack of women completing a philosophy degree. According to Saul, "philosophy, the oldest of the humanities, is also the malest (and the whitest). While other areas of the humanities are at or near gender parity, philosophy is actually more overwhelmingly male than even mathematics."[6] This kind of exclusion demonstrates to women attempting to enter the field that it will be a difficult task. With few women in your studies to empower you through the discipline, it is hard to relate enough to the course to want to continue it.

The gender imbalance can be attributed to various forms of explicit and implicit bias that operate in the discipline of philosophy. Historically women have been excluded from philosophy due to sexist expectations and beliefs that limited the aspirations and education of women. Today the factors that create the gender imbalance in philosophy are an indirect result of historical sexism which has created a structural divide within the discipline and acts alongside direct acts of (micro)aggressions to further the underrepresentation of women by limiting the number of women entering the field.


According to a study by Molly Paxton, Carrie Figdor and Valerie Tiberius[7], it is the years between enrolment in an introductory philosophy class and graduating with a philosophy degree that has the largest decrease in the proportion of women in the discipline. Below I will explore what happens in these years to discourage women from philosophy.

The same article revealed male and female students have a different experience when completing their degree. Female students tend to find the course less enjoyable. This can be seen to be because the material is less relevant to their lives. Furthermore, male students have more in common with their professors so female students have reported feeling less likely to succeed, as well as less comfortable to participate in class discussion[8]. Female students feel there is not a fair proportion of readings authored by women[9], so experience a disconnect from their chosen subject, so do not wish to pursue it any further.

Researching for this post involved reading some very honest literature which elaborated on a woman’s experience as a philosopher. It delved into topics such as the double standard of aging (Susan Sontag) and the misconception that being interested in a fellow student’s work was synonymous with being interested in the fellow student. With an overwhelmingly male faculty and student body it can be difficult for women to voice their experiences, so the majority of my research had personal stories conclude with the individuals quitting their job or dropping their major.

With a word count on this blog post I feel unable to give these women the respect and justice they deserve, but if you would like to read what I am referencing or add your own story, here is the link: https://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/.



Ilana

Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Advertisement Officer and Editor at Ethica



References

[1] "Salary, Promotion, and Tenure Status of Minority and Women Faculty in U.S. Colleges and Universities." National Center for Education Statistics, Statistical Analysis Report, March 2000; U.S. Department of Education, Office of Education Research and Improvement, Report # NCES 2000–173; 1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:93). See also "Characteristics and Attitudes of Instructional Faculty and Staff in the Humanities." National Center For Education Statistics, E.D. Tabs, July 1997. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Education Research and Improvement, Report # NCES 97-973;1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF-93).

[2] U.S. Department of Education statistics in above-cited reports seem to put the number closer to 17%, but these numbers are based on data from the mid-1990s. Margaret Urban Walker's more recent article (2005) discusses the data problem and describes more recent estimates as an "(optimistically projected) 25–30 percent."

[3] Neven Sesardic and Rafael De Clercq. (2014). "Women in Philosophy: Problems with the Discrimination Hypothesis – National Association of Scholars". 2014 Academic Questions (vol. 27, no. 4). https://www.nas.org/academic-questions/27/4/women_in_philosophy_problems_with_the_discrimination_hypothesis.

[4] Colleen Flaherty (2014) "Web of Justice?" Inside Higher Education

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/05/19/unofficial-internet-campaign-outs-professor-alleged-sexual-harassment-attempted.

[5] Ratcliffe, Rebecca; Shaw, Claire (2015). "Philosophy is for posh, white boys with trust funds' – why are there so few women?". The Guardian.

[6] Jennifer Saul (2013) Philosophy has a sexual harrassment problem. Salon. https://www.salon.com/2013/08/15/philosophy_has_a_sexual_harassment_problem/.

[7] Paxton, Molly ; Figdor, Carrie & Tiberius, Valerie (2012). Quantifying the Gender Gap: An Empirical Study of the Underrepresentation of Women in Philosophy. Hypatia 27 (4):949-957.

[8] Paxton, Molly ; Figdor, Carrie & Tiberius, Valerie (2012). Quantifying the Gender Gap: An Empirical Study of the Underrepresentation of Women in Philosophy. Hypatia 27 (4):949-957.

[9] Paxton, Molly ; Figdor, Carrie & Tiberius, Valerie (2012). Quantifying the Gender Gap: An Empirical Study of the Underrepresentation of Women in Philosophy. Hypatia 27 (4):949-957.


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