Friday, October 24, 2008

This week's thoughts on women in philosophy

I haven't posted much on women in philosophy lately, but the concern is always operating there in the background. My current research is not in feminist theory, the course I'm teaching includes only a handful of women authors, I don't even run into my female colleagues on campus. But the concern is always there, and here are some of the ways it has been popping into my head lately:
  • We just had winter quarter registration, and my philosophy of science course has 1 woman out of 32 students. I've had 6 additional requests from people who want to get into the course, and all of those have been from men. 
  • I mentioned this dearth of women to a colleague, who said "well, what do you expect? RIT is 2/3 male." I'd be satisfied with a class of 32 that had 10 women in it! The background ratio doesn't come close to explaining why women students don't take upper-level philosophy classes. And the fact that it's philosophy of science? The ratio of male:female students in the sciences at RIT is more equal than the student body as a whole. Look at it this way: I have more deaf students in my courses than women.
  • I also mentioned it to our program coordinator, who responded that the gender imbalance will probably correct itself since I was hired last year and another female professor starts next quarter. Having a few women professors in the department is important, but it's not enough. And recruiting women should not be all on our shoulders.
  • Most of the attention to the gender gap elsewhere in the profession has been in reference to the hiring of women professors. But I do believe the (incomplete) data indicate that one significant difference between our leaky pipeline and the pipeline in the sciences is that most of the leakiness is at the undergrad level. How can I fault our program coordinator for having no plan to recruit women except to cross his fingers and wait? Because I'm not sure that anyone has a clear idea of how to do it.
  • At least at RIT, the lack of interest among women is not due to the unclear or unlucrative career path for philosophy students. We just got a major this year, so nearly all the students in the upper-level philosophy courses take the course to fulfill a liberal arts requirement.
  • I was trying to pick a textbook for the class, and I had the same frustration I have every year: every single textbook in philosophy of science contains only selections by men or, if it does contain some selections by women, they are writing as "feminist" philosophers of science.  This is true even of the textbook put together by a woman (Janet Kourany's). Why? We women make up between 10 and 20% of philosophers of science, so why don't we make up between 10 and 20% of the authors in the textbooks? Those of us who write on feminist philosophy of science write on other things, as well.
  • Finally, I'm looking forward to the women's caucus at the Philosophy of Science Association annual meeting in a couple of weeks.


Noumena said...

There's a certain pernicious feedback loop operating here: since women's contributions to philosophy of science are perceived to be marginal, their papers aren't generally included in the canon of classic articles/books reprinted in textbooks, which in turn reinforces the view that their contributions to philosophy of science are marginal. It's really the same reason every intro to philosophy of science textbook has to cover Popper, the neopositivist accounts of confirmation and explanation, and the realist/antirealist debate between 1962 and 1986.

I am kind of surprised that Kourany didn't include Cartwright's `Do the laws of physics state the facts?' in her textbook.

Khadimir said...

I find it odd that your program director would correlate female faculty and female enrollment. That is, I have heard that connection being made from many quarters, but I am skeptical of the idea that adding one or two female faculty members will achieve proportionality. Faculty proportionality should be a goal, but I question attributing too much causal power to it.

Evelyn Brister said...

Noumena, although I do appreciate Kourany's approach of highlighting feminist philosophy of science, like you I'm surprised that the text reprises the traditional (read: 20th century) canon. There are some books that break out of the mold of featuring confirmation and explanation, but they still don't include women authors. Good point about the feedback loop.

Khadimir, no doubt having women faculty does help some with recruitment. In my opinion, though, the main reason it helps is not that women "see themselves" in the professor but because women professors make just a little extra effort to speak with and listen to women students. Of course, giving equal attention to women and men is something that every professor can do, but not all actually do. (See the comment from the SPP Diversity blog, which I put up a few days ago.)

Khadimir said...

Hmmm ... I tried to find that article but couldn't. I did find the IAT tests and posted a slight association of women and science and men with the liberal arts. I do not put much stock in those tests though.

Yes, I agree with your thoughts on women professors, EB, but also believe that more structural changes need to be made. More needs to be done on that account for all such "diversity" efforts. (I dislike the term and the usual rationale for its invocation, for most of the time it is carried by the inertia of a cultural fad and not real concern for the problems.)