Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's the point with gender diversity?

Female Science Prof examines a CoHE essay which manages to sneak in an especially silly defense of male privilege. Do read the comments on her post!

In philosophy, it is rare that anyone out of undergraduate study will dare to make such comments (except in blog comments). And yet, with the explicit attention our profession gives to justice, equality, objectivity, and complex explanation, there are numerous blatant cases where women are excluded from professional networks or taken less seriously than their male counterparts. There has been little systematic attention from institutions, whether that be our universities, our funding agencies (which, granted, are mostly without funds), or our professional societies. This is a problem where ignoring the problem is an effective means of continuing it.

I will say that one useful thing that the Woods essay does is to implicitly treat the absence of women as a scientific problem. Even in denying that this is appropriate, he assumes that others see it that way. Likewise, the absence of women in philosophy is both an educational problem (particularly since the gap is initiated at the undergraduate level), and it is also a philosophical problem. 

3 comments:

Noumena said...

For nearly forever, I've been trying to think of the best way to make a case to non-leftist and non-progressive philosophers that the underrepresentation problem within philosophy is, in fact, a genuine problem.

I've thought a bit about adapting Helen Longino's arguments, which themselves are adapted from Mill -- the marginalization of women leads to the possibility of masculine assumptions going unnoticed and therefore unchecked. But, outside of ethics and some parts of philosophy of science, it's really, really hard to point out compelling examples (to a non-feminist), and "well, we don't know what they might be, because we don't have any women working on metaphysics" is a bad response in numerous ways.

So, since an epistemic argument seems to be a dead end, I've been thinking a bit about a justice-based argument. But that might be too far afield from the views of justice held by mainstream philosophers to gain any traction either.

Ironically -- or maybe not -- the difficulty is finding the rhetorical strategy to get philosophers to pay attention to a philosophical problem.

Khadimir said...

The validity of the statement "the absence of women in philosophy ... is also a philosophical problem" is highly contingent upon what constitutes philosophy and philosophical problems.

As a suggestion, it might be of benefit to identify what philosophical practices would or would not see this absence as a philosophical problem and why.

In my own case, I am unsure of whether it is a philosophical problem--and I'm not even sure what such a "problem" is--at all. It is a problem of the ethical, socio-cultural, of justice, etc., which manifest in particular ways within this domain and practice.

I do not mean to disagree with the given outlook on gender diversity, but I want current efforts to be more effective. Hence, I suggest that perhaps feminist (or any such) activity to gender (etc.) diversity might be locally tailored to cast the "philosophical problem" in terms that those philosophers understand.

I, for one, would not react well to being told that the number of women enrollees in a department must be a certain number. I would react well to expanded and disproportionate effort to give opportunities and to recruit under-represented groups of which women are such a group. In either case, I would be confused by being told that we are doing this to solve a philosophical problem (or to solve an imbalance in the perspectives represented community of inquirers, etc., which is to vague to be actionable).

Aside, I note that noumena writes "non-leftist and non-progressive philosophers," which I think indicates my point. It's a socio-cultural and political problem first and only second an issue for philosophical practice. If one conceives the two as one and the same, then it will be very difficult to talk to those who see them as separate. Some might enforce that separation for ill ends, while others might just conceive the whole issue very differently.

Anonymous said...

Feminism is a supremacist ideology, and is not concerned with fairness.

A majority of students appears to be female now, and in various fields females are OVER represented, therefore, what are you talking about? Moving females from medicine to philosophy? Achieving a ratio of 3/4 of female students in the whole university system? Oh yeah of course, that's your dream, supremacy!

Get a fucking life.