Women pushed out of philosophy departments at universities
Robin Wilson at The Chronicle of Higher Education has a great profile of The Society for Women in Philosophy, an organization that started in part because women in philosophy departments around the country were frustrated with the lack of respect, the abundance of harassment, and otherwise terrible treatment. Though the piece is behind a paywall, it’s well worth reading the whole thing. One shocking fact from the piece:
More than 80 percent of full-time faculty members in philosophy are male, compared with just 60 percent for the professoriate as a whole, according to 2003 data compiled by the U.S. Education Department, the latest available.
She also chronicles some pretty horrifying sexual harassment in the field:
“There are some jerks in philosophy,” said Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, a professor of philosophy at Duke University who sits on the association’s Board of Officers and supports the committee to study sexual harassment. “I have seen people hitting on female philosophers where I thought they shouldn’t.”
And she notes that one of the things that the discipline prides itself on — rigorous and cutting critique — can push women out of the field before they even get into it:
It’s not unusual, she said, for female students to come to her office crying. “These women say they want to quit philosophy because they don’t feel they belong,” said [Sally Haslanger, a philosophy professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology].
That’s something that female students themselves back up:
“I have yet to hear from any of my male colleagues that their advisers had explicitly talked about how they looked versus their performance,” said the female student, who asked not to be named because she will soon be on the job market. “When my male colleagues get feedback, it’s always about their performance and the quality of their work, not their appearance.”
The problems for a lack of women in philosophy departments is multifaceted, not in the least related to many of the other problems that female academics face. But I also know that other research on bias within scientific professions has proven that a profession that prides itself on rationality or objective measurement is often even more prone to bias than those that are aware some bias exists. Philosophy may well be one of those professions that views itself as objective or overtly analytical while ignoring some of its own biases.
It’s also worth pointing out that philosophy in particular is a discipline for which a lack of diversity — whether in thought or demographics — is a real danger. The very idea of philosophy is to challenge one another’s thinking, but if certain people aren’t even included in that rigorous process, it leads to unchallenged ideas.