[Note: I just could not find a way to make this more sarcastic or funny, because it’s such a serious issue. I had to even put off writing about it for a few days. And now, to address the elephant in the room.]
In the philosophy-world, there has been a recent movement to increase awareness of the sorts of experiences that female philosophers have—merely because of their gender—in philosophy departments. Two blogs that specifically address these issues that I highly recommend that all of you read (even if your philosopher is a male, they will interact with female philosophers) are What is it Like to be a Woman in Philosophy? and What We’re Doing About What It’s Like. I check these blogs every day.
Before you read these blogs, though, I thought it would be useful to address the question, “Why is it so hard in some departments to be a female philosopher?” Addressing this question will also, I hope, answer the question, “Why is this important?”
Fact: The field of philosophy is still dominated by men.
I don’t have any hard facts or figures for you about how many men and women there are in the field of philosophy, but all you have to do is attend a non-feminist philosophy conference, visit a department faculty webpage, or look up some currently published philosophy journals to see that there are more men than women in philosophy.
Fact: In places dominated by men, a masculine style of communication is almost always adopted.
If you’ve encountered any research about mixed genders in groups, you know that there is this theory called Muted Group Theory. MGT explains that in situations where men and women communicate together in groups, the conversation will tend to have a more masculine style of expression (i.e. aggressive, competitive, a focus on rationality rather than cooperation, more typically male metaphors [sports, for example]). Researchers such as Cheris Kramarae explain how women and other minority groups are forced to communicate in a white-masculine way in order to succeed in society, and thus their tendencies toward alternative communication styles are muted.
Most philosophy is especially oriented around a masculine way of communication (aggressive debating, attacking, destroying opponents). This is unattractive for some of us, not because we can’t compete in this way but because we favor a more cooperative and exploratory style. Some philosophers wrongly think that philosophy cannot be done in this way and believe that to do philosophy in a non-masculine way is to make philosophy more ‘watered-down’, ‘incompetent’, or ‘wishy-washy’.
Fact: There is still a lot of sexism and sexual harassment in philosophy.
Fact: Female philosophers are often perceived as either angry feminists or nonthreatening nurturers.
Seriously, how are women supposed to succeed in a field where if they approach philosophy in a more aggressive fashion, they are deemed “angry” or called bad words that mean essentially the same thing, or if they approach philosophy in a cooperative or gentler way they are perceived as being mothers or nurtures (but definitely not as philosophical threats, of course).
Can you see why this is a problem? This is where the blog What We’re Doing About What It’s Like comes in. Some departments really are trying to change the prevalent attitudes in the field, and this blog chronicles some of these.
So if you have a female philosopher, be extra aware of what she will most likely experience in her academic life. Encourage her to keep philosophizing. This is a large and systemic issue in philosophy. Your female philosopher might often feel marginalized and alone. She might feel that talking about episodes where she has felt discriminated against is just a lot of complaining (women are often made to feel this way by superiors who do not want to address their concerns). One thing that you can do is encourage her to share with you when she encounters discrimination, and encourage her to stand up against such treatment.
And keep your male philosophers from dismissing women and trivializing their important contributions to the field. Seriously.
You can follow me on twitter (@philosiologist) or friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email, if you would like (left sidebar). Paper-writing season is now over for my philosopher, so perhaps posts will be more regular than they are now, as I now have access to the home computer. Perhaps, perhaps not. I'm still not quite used to writing for an audience, so the elementary, "I'll write when I feel so inclined," attitude still dominates my psyche.