Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Female Philosophers

[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.

~The Philosiologist


  1. Thanks for the blog links. Being a prospective grad student at the moment, as well as male, I know very little about those sorts of experiences. Having attended an undergrad institution where two out of five of the philosophy faculty are female means I haven't had much exposure to typical behavior, I reckon. Only one of the male faculty there fits the 'masculine' typology presented here in terms of communicative style.

    As a result I find the idea of gendered communication styles weird. It certainly doesn't fit my experience, where I see both styles in both genders, as well as mixes in individuals. I also don't see how 'cooperative' and 'rational' are at all opposed, so I'm unsure I grasp this use of these terms.

  2. I'm afraid I have accidentally put some material that is not supposed to be eaten in my mouth instead of that piece of white chocolate while and as an effect of reading your blog.

    Yes, it was a beer bottle cap and yes, I am happy to be anonymous.

  3. I really appreciate you writing this post. I am a woman in philosophy, and while I haven't had some of these experiences, like sexual harassment, I know many women who have. Also, even when I do not get direct feedback about being too aggressive or too nurturing, I often end up criticizing myself along the lines you mentioned. It is hard to not judge oneself by the standards of one's own society. I know that I over-analyze how I might have appeared in many conversations, e.g. "Was I too aggressive?" or "Did I give in too easy because I was intimidated?" I think everybody has these questions, but I am pretty sure women are more likely to dwell on them than men are. In fact, I would be shocked if very many of my male colleagues ever question if they were too aggressive.

    Like the above comment, I am also a bit wary of characterizing certain ways of communicating as masculine or feminine, not because I do not think that women tend to communicate differently than men, but because I do not think this is a natural difference. Ultimately, I think women are socially trained to avoid confrontation, and hence philosophical discussions are a bit more intimidating for us at first, but I do not think the answer is give up "philosopher attacks." Rather, I think women should encourage one another to participate in tough discussions more often. I have learned to love a good philosophy attack every now and again, but not before shedding a few tears over experiencing them.

  4. While an avid reader of your blog, I have some concern with this article.

    I was looking through the links you posted - specifically the, "What is it like to be a Women in Philosophy?" one. Some of the stories were very troubling, no doubt. I plan to continue to look through that blog in particular.

    However, you say that males tend to have, "a focus on rationality rather than cooperation."
    My two issues with that are first, as another commenter noted - they're not mutually exclusive. Someone could be both rational and cooperative.
    But more importantly than that is simply that a philosopher can not give up rationality. Irrational philosophy is hardly philosophy. The focus can't leave what is rational.

  5. The main concern among commenters seems to be the exact definitions of 'co-operative' and 'rational' (how very like philosphers!). Perhaps a further clarification of how you want us to read that would help?

    And thank you for those links, I'd never thought of Philosophy, a field of higher thought and reason, as a feminist concern. It seems contradictory to reason that a subject which encourages thought and enquiry could be anything less than gender-neutral.

  6. DS and Anonymous@12:28 - You might both take a look at Sally Haslanger's "On Being Objective and Being Objectified":


    There's been quite a lot of feminist work done on the gendered nature of reason and rationality, but I think that the Haslanger article functions as a really nice primer on the issue.

    Cooperation and rationality are not inherently opposed. However, in a social context they are characterized as feminine and masculine, respectively. This in no way is meant to imply that women are essentially cooperative and men are essentially rational - there are plenty of individual cases wherein people behave in ways that deviate from gender norms. The issue is that women are *expected* to exhibit feminine virtues, and those expectations create a kind of double bind. If a woman behaves in a nurturing, cooperative way, then she's more like to qualify as a "good woman," but less likely to qualify as a "good thinker" or a "good philosopher." If she deviates from the norm, then she's a "bad woman," and there are definite repercussions for that.

  7. So glad you wrote this. I read a report on women in philosophy a few weeks ago, and I'd actually been thinking about asking you to write on the topic.
    I follow the blogs on Scientopia - same problems in the sciences. I gather that mechanical engineering has the worst record of treatment of women.
    The communication style issue is critical - having to act as something you are not, and then being perceived as hostile if you do, and wishy-washy if you don't is an obvious no-win. It takes real courage for women to pursue post-grad education in all too many fields, and the few departments where bias isn't the normare vastly too few and too far between.

  8. Yeah, I have to repeat this concern about the "white masculine" claim. I'm not too sure I understand what this is. What is this "aggressive" and "attacking" thing which is peculiarly masculine? It sounds pretty terrible to me, and it's certainly not how I (male) do philosophy.

    I've seen this claim repeated a number of times (along with this notion that women go in more for discussing the emotional element of ethics -- well, don't all of us who aren't bowled over by rationalism try to do the same?) and I fail to understand it. I've never seen anything neutrally-male, just claims about speaking "Over rationally" and "attackingly", whilst the supposedly "female" way of doing things is more "co-operative" and "exploratory" as you say. Well great, when you put it like that, I wonder: why aren't we all speaking in a "feminine" way?

    I'm all for including more people, but I've never understood anything in my language to be particularly barring against female participants. I press and attack points when there is something incredibly suspicious, and I try to be more "explorative" when I do not understand what the other person is saying, or if I think they might be wrong overall, but there still might be some good insights in there.
    I've never understood any of this to be particularly "masculine" or "feminine" so... yeah... I just don't get the language claim here. There are certainly lots of philosophers who speak in that "attacking" way, but surely that is something we would all like to avoid, not some overly-masculine thing that just needs to be balanaced a bit?

  9. I concur with the fourth comment - the blog is great fun but I must take issue with this post.

    An undeniably serious issue such as this needs a lighter touch.

    Consider the idea that philosophy *should* be the way it is and that this draws men rather than women. Put this way round the picture changes.

    I wouldn't countenance this view - at least not put so crudely - but there may be something in it. Many people will think that ignoring this possibility undermines a lot of what you say - especially the implication that male dominance made philosophy discourse the way it is rather than male discourse better fits philosophy - hence male dominance.

    A subtler representation (not using the FACT: motif) would have kept the focus on the legitimate concerns about the mistreatment of women in this male dominated environment.

    "FACT" number three about sexism and sexual harassment is the only one you needed and the only one that matters. Your loose theorising around it obscured the point and undermined the important message.

  10. Important post, thanks!

    I think your distinction between rationality and cooperation is even more telling than previous posters have acknowledged. Of course rationality is not opposed to cooperation, but the very fact that you opposed them when thinking about philosophers suggests (I believe rightly) that philosophers often possess a narrow sense of rationality as some sort of debate weapon for eviscerating opponents.

    This is an aspect of professional philosophy that I take care to actively avoid. Thankfully, I have found both male and female philosophers who view philosophizing as a cooperative dialectical enterprise rather than a grudge match, and this is where I choose to focus my intellectual energies.

  11. These straw-men responses always pile up when this discussion comes up. If you point out that philosophy tends to embody the style and tone of the conventionally masculine, someone will point out, as though you've said otherwise, that these aren't natural sex differences. If you point out that this is related to an overly aggressive, childish, and unfruitful form of argument and debate, and that the culture of professional philosophy promotes this one artificial mode of argumentation as the only natural form, diminishing those who, due to differing cultural influences and training, have the audacity to think you can argue rationally without jeering, pissing-contests, and name-calling, they will pretend you've claimed rationality is bad.

    I just can't imagine why people find anything suspicious about the gender biases of a field obsessed with distinguishing everything according to categories of hardness, thickness, strength, and rigor?

  12. Here's a thought: We definitely should stop discriminating against women in philosophy and discouraging them in any way from doing philosophy. But should we also encourage them to do philosophy in virtue of their being female? The risk I see is that successful female philosophers might not get the respect they deserve for their work, but might be treated as if they only fill the gender gap.
    [I suspect that there must be a debate about this risk in the affirmative action issue, but being from the EU I am not familiar with that.]

  13. Re: Rory
    "I'm all for including more people, but I've never understood anything in my language to be particularly barring against female participants. I press and attack points when there is something incredibly suspicious..."

    I suppose my point isn't so much about language as such as it is about general behavior with respect to picking targets of attack. Part of the issue is that many female philosophers notice that they get interrupted more often and are more regularly attacked than their male counterparts when making points that they would not be attacked on if they were presented by a male philosopher. (I am a male and have been in the philosophy business for about a decade and can affirm that this is generally true.) What feminist philosophers have pointed out is your (and men's generally) "incredibly suspicious" alarms probably go off in ways that they don't when men are watching men do philosophy and making roughly the same point that the female philosophers are making. Philosophers may not always, or perhaps even usually, be conscious of this, but that does not mean that it doesn't happen. Philosophers like to pretend that they are incredibly "objective" and would never behave this way, but, again, there is plenty of evidence that they do. I've seen it in classrooms, hallways, philosophy offices, conferences, and at colloquium. Plus, there is quite a bit of social psych evidence to suggest that this is true in fields outside of philosophy as well. I've probably done this myself and am not proud about it, but I at least try to be conscious of it and fight against it.

  14. Philosophers who would like a more thorough definition of terminology, please consult the resources assembled here (as well as Emily's article pointer, which is very helpful):


    There are several articles that summarize MGT very well and will link you to more professional articles. I am not as eloquent as these researchers, therefore, reading their work will be more beneficial than me stumbling over things and drawing more philosophical criticism (I would also like to reminder you, if you remember correctly, I am not a philosopher). Also, these are psychological/communication theory terms, not philosophical terms.

    @NM: Thank you for reminding me in a very patronizing way, of course, that I address this issue "so crudely." I am deeply indebted to you for your critical evaluation of my first-rate piece of scholarship. After your comments, I will make sure to revise and resubmit this to all of the professional journals I was planning on submitting this blog to, as everyone who reads this knows that I am, in fact, really a philosopher who is, in fact, attempting to do scholarly work through this blog.

    A reminder to everyone: (1) I am not a philosopher. (2) This is not a professional article. (3) These blog entries are all meant to be a light summary of certain things that philosophers do/experience/exhibit.

    Thank you, everyone else, for your comments and redirection. Please keep discussing!

  15. Having now read the linked blogs, I can definitely see the sexist biases present in the field of philosophy. It helps a lot to understand that the gender issues have more to do with expectations (which I definitely understand are present) rather than essentially gendered styles of communication (though MGT may subscribe to those, I have not yet read the resources which Katie has provided). The cases of sexual harrassment and sexist behavior in the blog linked in the original post were eye-opening and horrifying.

    It seems to me that issues of sexual harrassment, sexist assumptions/behavior, and the judgment of "bad woman" (to used Emily's terms) applied to women who adopt the rational mode seem more ethically urgent to me than issues regarding communicative styles (except where there is intersection, obviously). Communicative styles have and always will naturally cause clashes (a fact which this blog has seemed to recognize as a central conceit). What's important is that said clashes are detached from personal and especially institutional sexism, racism etc...

    @Anon5:"If you point out that this is related to an overly aggressive, childish, and unfruitful form of argument and debate, and that the culture of professional philosophy promotes this one artificial mode of argumentation as the only natural form, diminishing those who, due to differing cultural influences and training, have the audacity to think you can argue rationally without jeering, pissing-contests, and name-calling, they will pretend you've claimed rationality is bad. "

    I think this itself is quite a straw-man. Rationality was listed alongside what were presented as objectionable qualities such as aggressiveness and competitiveness. If rationality or a bias towards rationality were not being objected to, it should not have been included. This isn't a criticism of the clarity of the post (it is after all a casual piece of writing), I just don't think your response to how people have responded is very fair at all in this case.

    "I just can't imagine why people find anything suspicious about the gender biases of a field obsessed with distinguishing everything according to categories of hardness, thickness, strength, and rigor? "

    How about "supple" arguments and "elegant" solutions or argumentative "flow"? I've seen these adjectives as well as others entirely unrelated to hard/soft dichotomy used. Like "brilliant" or "focused" or "sustained" lines of reasoning. "Rigor" is about the only adjective you've listed that I've seen be used more often than any of the above (I don't think I've EVER seen "thickness" used except as an insult implying stupditiy), but I certainly know when I've used it it has a lot more to do with well-built architecture than crypto-phallic imagery.

  16. Oh my, you must get rather frustrated with some of this pedantry! I really think that to focus all attention on one distinction or claim is rather to miss the point, which is that women do have these experiences in philosophy, both across continents, and at all levels of qualification. To focus on a point of terminology as the first order of business is to do the problem a disservice.

    However, saying that I think the way that Emily characterizes the dilemma for female philosophers between being a "good philosopher" or a "good woman" is very helpful. As she says, rationality and cooperation needn't be inherent male and female attributes in order to set up the problem. It's the fact that society's / academia's expectations of a "good philosopher" stand counterposed to their expectations of a "good woman" (whereas by contrast, they fit very well with expectations of a "good man"). I think this defeminizes (sic) women, and makes them more susceptible to anything from being interrupted more frequently right up to sexual harassment. As a "fallen women" you are fair game when it comes to sex. But as a woman nonetheless, you will be patronized and treated with suspicion in an academic setting.

    Even if women in philosophy don't experience these responses from men in their academic community, this double bind that they're in means that they still experience a lot of internal wrestling when it comes to the kind of persona they should develop / adopt, both in the classroom and in the more social settings of the academic world. I know plenty of highly intelligent and savvy women who angst about what to wear for teaching, or for conferences, lest they give the impression that they are trying to use their looks to garner favour, or they not be listened to with full attention because the men are staring at their cleavage. We hate this kind of thinking just as much as some of these commenters seem to, and yet many of us are unable to overcome it.

    I realise this is a largely emotive response, rather than an analytical one. But dammit why do I need to be rational all the freakin time ;-)

    Finally, I much appreciated Anonymous' response at 07.10.

  17. I can see the point that men with prejudices against women may crowd out women with their language, by subconsciously dismissing points when they come from a woman. But then that would be part of a problem with the people themselves. I wish feminists the best of look in eradicating this (and I hope I can do my part to shift such people out of academia), but if it is coming from biases so deeply ingrained then I'm not sure what one can do to stop it, except to back up a woman when her points are unfairly dismissed (although... one would surely do that with anyone whose points are dismissed?).
    I'll keep an eye out for in future, although I have to admit I'm not nearly as experienced as others. Maybe things are better here in the UK, but I've always seen women's opinions taken just as seriously by male professors are students. I have noticed a certain reluctance to speak up, although I always attributed that to a personal shyness about expressing opinions. I never took it to be a gender thing, but when I'm a professor I'll do what I can to try to encourage all my students to share their thoughts. :)

  18. Hi philosiologist,

    Just wanted to encourage you to keep up the good work. I think after the comments you've gotten on this post, you can now say that you know what it's like to experience the first volley of multiple philosopher attacks all on the same topic. So don't let it get you down.

    There need to be mechanisms to publicly shame and oust the big-shots who attempt and get away with awful behavior. The "what it's like to be a woman in philosophy" blog makes that clear. It also makes clear that all of us need to be more reflective about our interactions with our colleagues.

    I'm not convinced that philosophy culture needs to be changed beyond this, however. Personally, I think there is something to the idea that certain subject matters attract certain genders and/or personalities, and that this is not a bad thing. I think this is true for fire-fighters and social workers just as much as it is for philosophers.

  19. Katie - despite being a professional philosopher, I want to be unphilosophical in this moment to buck the current trend in your comments (which is a rather philosopher thing to do, I admit), and and make the sweeping, generalized unfrounded value judgment that your latest post is excellent. Glad you're keeping us all grounded in the tangible.

    Analytics who are parsing her blog to pieces, much love to you all!

  20. As a man in philosophy, I've defnitely witnessed, maybe even reinforced, a version of what Anon 7:30 observes: women get treated with less natural deference to their points, less benefit of the doubt. They get interrupted more, second-guessed more, ignored more, or "taught" more -- the way you direct and advise a good child -- than men. It's pretty shameful, actually.

    But I think there's a better shot at curbing THAT kind of discrimination if we DON'T focus on different gender styles. That is because we don't -- and never will -- experience reasoning as a practice done according to certain pre-rational styles and tastes. We experience it as an attempt to get past such traces of our paricularity, our personal traits or differences, so as to focus purely on substance. Whether that's true, and whether we describe reasoning that way, is another (irrelevant) matter. Point is that's how we experience ourselves doing it, at least while we do it. So in the heat of argument, being sensitive to another "style" of reasoning will be experienced as appreciating that someone else has baggage, blocking them from pure reasoning. "Sensitivity" like that is exactly what you don't want.

  21. I would just like to add that women's behaviour or communication style is very likely not irrational, since rationality is a goal oriented concept. If you learn from an early age that to be accepted in a community you should behave in a certain way, it is obviously rational to behave accordingly.

  22. @Katie I think that response is more than a little unfair. I was not referring to your idea when I admonished "so crudely" but was distancing myself from the version of a response I had just suggested people might make. I was calling my version crude, not yours.

    That said, I do maintain that this needs a lighter touch (a criticism in a similar vein). I think that the issue of how women get on in philosophy is extremely important but pop-psychology (or is it pop-sociology?) theorising is damaging to this cause as it undermines the vitally important point - women are not treated as they should be in philosophy! I honestly didn't think this was as much of an issue as the blogs you linked to seem to show - perhaps the UK isn't as riddled, as Rory suggests. I am appalled that it is so and grateful that this blog brought it to my attention.

    A neat example of the "light touch" requirement arrived via Ken Clarke (Justice Minister) who used the phrase "serious rape" yesterday. "Serious" implies that there is a "non-serious" variety that needs distinguished. Never mind that he didn't intend such a distinction, the phrase kicked the hornet's nest. A lighter touch on this subject was required because the stakes are so high.

    Please re-read my original comment and imagine the same words in the mouth of someone you like or respect. I find this helps me see where I am projecting an attitude rather than revealing one. Hopefully that will show that I wasn't aiming to patronise but rather criticise. Not peer-review criticise, just plain old-fashioned disagree.

  23. "Consider the idea that philosophy *should* be the way it is and that this draws men rather than women. Put this way round the picture changes."

    NM, even if you object to the crudeness of this particular phrasing, the notion itself that philosophy is simply more attractive to men (and that this justifies male dominance) is obnoxious and silly. Katie did not need to address this idea in her post - the "many people" who think that such an omission undermines the other things she says are individuals whose perception is so thoroughly clouded by male privilege that they will never understand their discipline's systemic misogyny anyway.

    Oh, and no "lighter touch" is necessary here. The suggestion is wildly patronizing.

  24. @Emily, there is not much point in digging that particular trench any deeper. A few points:

    I don't think such a view would justify male dominance, but rather innocently explain it.

    'Obnoxious and silly' is name-calling and patronising.

    If you deny the person with an opposing view a right to dissent on the basis that their perception is fundamentally flawed then you leave them no way to respond. This exactly mirrors the unjustified denial of women's perspectives on the basis they were clouded by female sentimentality (or whatever other bunkum).

  25. Just a little bit of extra data for anyone who is interested:

    1) I believe the ration is just about 80% male, 20% female in the top universities in most English speaking nations.

    2) There is some interesting research about a gender bias in philosophical intuitions. This bias extends o issues of epistemology like the Gettier case, questions of free will, etc. There are some interesting discussions about how this might contribute to the gender split in the field. Of course, it is unclear what factors lead to this split.

    There is an excellent lecture online about this presented by Stephen Stich (Rutgers University):

    If I can digress to pragmatics for a moment: What do male philosophers (like myself) do to minimize or eliminate this problem? My solution has been, broadly speaking, to ignore gender as well as I can while conducting philosophy. This might, however, lead to me being seen as one of the aggressive ones, I'm not sure.

    Having been a martial artist in my youth, I developed the view that gender is 'left outside of the ring'. If someone stepped into the ring with me, they were a fighter, just like I was, and gender had nothing to do with anything. It simply seemed the only respectful and honorable way to go about things.

    I feel much the same in the practice of philosophy. Pulled punches or an effort to be especially nice to someone because they are a woman seems utterly disrespectful to me. (I am not suggesting that this was the suggestion of other comments or the OP, merely that it might be a suggested method.) So what do we do?

    On the one hand, I always try to maintain a respectful approach regardless of gender. On the other, I consider it a part of that respect to thoroughly challenge the ideas being presented. So, while I try to make sure that my arguments are directed at arguments, not people (not "You seem wrong, because...", but rather "This argument seems wrong, because..."), my arguments are still thorough (which some might call aggressive).

    Ultimately, I imagine that there is no one answer, people are different from one another, and assuming that there is some single preferred communication style across all women would be just as problematic as the initial assumptions. But given that we can't be expected to know a person's preferred interaction style just because we listened to a presentation at a conference, how do you think the male philosopher should proceed?

  26. I think the policy of "gender blindness" is just as counterproductive as "color blindness" in the case of racial bias. The key problem is that even the well intentioned often fail to notice unequal treatment, so feigning blindness makes us less capable of catching and remedying these problems in both ourselves and others. It's primarily a blindness to my own unconscious participation in prejudice, but even if I'm the exception who has no prejudice, it's a blindness that will prevent me from identifying and treating the problem in others.

    For example, as a teacher, it was only when I intentionally started looking for it that I noticed that I sometimes call on men more, because they are sometimes more aggressive in getting my attention (raising their arms high more ostentatiously, starting to speak before called on, etc.), and that both my students and I sometimes interrupt women when they speak (in part because many men will talk quickly and loudly without pause, preventing interruption). So only by being aware of this issue am I able to effectively observe a "blind" rule of universal equal treatment.

    I also think that the points that we shouldn't "pull our punches" and that good philosophical argument can seem aggressive are true to a degree, but more misleading than helpful. It's misleading because it implies that when women express distaste for certain features of philosophical institutional practice, it's usually a desire for either A) lower philosophical standards or B) politeness and social niceties. ("There's no crying in baseball!")

    The main implication in both is that the complainer is trying to get us to focus less on the argument at hand and more on the people: making us pull our punches and add irrelevant gestures of nicety ("That was a great paper, now let me say why it was wrong..."), sacrificing philosophical standards to protect people's feelings.

    The irony of this implication is that the complaint about aggressive argumentative styles is precisely the opposite: The complaint is that the "aggressive" "masculine" style that dominates academic philosophy tends to ad hominem, focusing on the person instead of the argument and adding irrelevant rhetorical flourishes in a secondary ego-battle that has no direct bearing on the topic. For example, instead of saying: "your premise is false, your argument poor," I'll say [with accompanying overwrought facial gestures and enunciation] "your argument is *wildly* implausible; who [implied: in their right mind] would believe such a premise?" It's like the verbal sparring in the boxing ring--it's really a second contest for the audience, not really part of the true fight.

    Here we have exactly what the complainers are accused of: philosophical standards are lowered, because we attempt to win the audience by rhetoric, by mocking our opponent, regardless of the *real* quality of the argument, and irrelevant distractions are added: we become more focused on having a witty, cutting remark, a good burn or putdown, and less focused on having a good argument.

    I think this is a common--and commonly gendered--feature of many practices besides philosophy, but it's most common in one place: geek wars. For example: people who argue about sci-fi, comics, video games, jazz, indie rock, coffee. To understand why professional philosophy is the way it is and how it should change, we should study the source: the Simpson's Comic Book Store Guy.

    In fact, if you want to understand "philosophers" you'd be surprised how every supposed "philosophical" quirk is simply boring old, everyday "geek."

  27. The irony of this implication is that the complaint about aggressive argumentative styles is precisely the opposite: The complaint is that the "aggressive" "masculine" style that dominates academic philosophy tends to ad hominem, focusing on the person instead of the argument and adding irrelevant rhetorical flourishes in a secondary ego-battle that has no direct bearing on the topic.

    I think that's quite wrong. In my experience, at least at the higher status levels of philosophy discussion and disputation the aggressive, combative style is egoless. My sense is that it's exactly *because* the participants know it isn't actually a battle or contest but ultimately a cooperative enterprise that they're often able to blast away at each other's positions without ever taking it personally.
    Of course, ymmv.

  28. Thank you for this post, thank you Emily, Katie, and several anonymous.

    Luckily for male philosophers, and unluckily for female philosophers, philosophy is a discipline of rationalizing, so they are incredibly talented at rationalizing away responsibility, guilt, and even acknowledgement of sexual discrimination (and in the case of the ever-so-illustrious department of philosophy at the Ohio State University, knowledge of sexual harassment and sexual violence among undergraduate students within their department). So what that means is dozens of over-rational comments about how "no this just isn't right," and then the well-meaning "I'm a male philosopher, and I don't do this." "I guess it must just be a [not my country/not my state/not my department/not my discipline] thing, because I don't see that here."

    For those reasons, I am really happy to see posts like this, blogs like those linked, and especially the men who say, instead of the typical "I don't see that/I don't do that," "I have seen that, and I'm sure I do it too, but I am trying, and helping to spread awareness."

  29. I don't have anything insightful to say that hasn't already already been said.

    So just this:

    Thank you.

  30. One of the guys in my department shared this blog on Facebook and I am so happy he did. Your blog is so witty and moreover sweet. Your philosopher is very lucky to have you as a partner. I think it can be very intimidating for significant others to be introduced to this bizarre culture. Thank you for an excellent resource that I can use to communicate with a partner. When you are on the inside you forget about what it looks like from the outside. I generally associate with would-be-continentals in my personal life but I am in an analytic department. It is hard to explain what the difference is to non-philosophers and I wind up feeling conflicted about if/how to tease it out for them.
    Also, THANK YOU for this post about women. I think two things are going on in the comments. It appears to be a debate between ‘equality feminists’ and ‘difference feminists’. I also think this issue ties back to the entry ‘Philosophers and Inconsistencies’. If you bring up sexism everyone makes a joke about Aristotle without realizing that in many areas there is still a specter of man-as-norm. Ideally, one wants to be accepted in the community but when you feel alienated qua woman it can feel even more alienating to point out the original point of contention.

  31. @Emily

    "Oh, and no 'lighter touch' is necessary here. The suggestion is wildly patronizing."

    Great. Thank you for that remark.


  32. Thank you so much for this - the links especially. They've really helped me - it's been incredibly cathartic to hear that other people have had similar experiences to me.

  33. Kate, I just burst into tears. I've spend the entire day reading your blog and then I arrived to this post... I'm an undergrad female philosopher from Bogotá, Colombia and being redirected to the blogs you linked here is the best thing that has happend to my academic life in the past two years. Now I feel I can go on... Thank you very much.

  34. Anon 12:10: I am so glad this was helpful. Hang in there!

  35. As a philosopher, and incidentally as a male, I guess I find this insulting. Being belittled, mocked, and personally attacked is inseparable from the job, and is more often then not the first indication of whether you are doing it well. To argue that this 'male' style of communication is discouraging to females seems so insensitive considering how much a successful philosopher often has to endure on behalf of recognition which will only sometimes come during one's lifetime, or never because someone after you managed to state your position in a more agreeable and eloquent fashion. Pain is pain whether it is of a man or a woman, and to argue that these humiliating practices we all endure are bad precisely because they discourage women from entering philosophy seems to me indefensible. If you say to me "as a community, philosophers should attempt to be more inclusive, more attuned to the negative effects their words can have upon any pupil" I would whole heartedly agree, and I hope the memory of the pain and discouragement I endured will help me to remember why I should not inflict the same on another student. But I do not think that attracting women to philosophy is good in itself beyond the good of attracting any human being to the subject.