Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Women Philosophers: Then and Now

Feminist Philosophers notices and re-posts an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education on women in philosophy.

It's marvelous to see articles on this worry of ours appear so prominently (and, it seems, more frequently). Especially since it is not uncommon for my colleagues in other humanities and social sciences to be utterly and completely surprised when they find out that the gender make-up of my department is typical for the discipline as a whole. (The economics department down the hall is the same size but has more women.)

One thing we need to (and have been) doing is to 1) identify (possible) causes of the gender disparity; 2) identify strategies to remediate it; 3) work to see these through; and 4) find ways of evaluating their success.

Regan Penaluna, the article's author, is clearly committed to doing this. Having identified the male (and sometimes misogynist) content of philosophy classes as a possible cause, she's writing a book on early women philosophers. The continued entrenchment of a canon in philosophy is a clear difference between our classes and what's going on in English Lit!

At the same time that we pursue strategies to diversify the authors and content that we teach (How many women were on the last syllabus you put together?), I think it's vital to address possible social causes.


KateNorlock said...

A former undergrad of mine (now a grad student in philosophy) proposed writing her senior thesis on the history of all women ever in philosophy. I suggested that was too vast a pool, and she initially disagreed, having gotten the distinct impression that until the 20th century, there were next to none. Wow, did she have to scale back that topic! She barely got out of the ancient and medieval periods before the year was over. Mary Ellen Waithe's work was tranformative for her, and she ended up with a rich, and slightly outraged, analysis of women's presence and absence in philosophy.

Mary Ellen Waithe said...

Well, it took me 5 years to find this blog, but thank you for your kind mention of my work. --Mary Ellen Waithe