Philosophy and Sexism…

As a short experiment, I googled “image philosopher”…

It took me 9 pages to find 1 distinctly female face, of a person likely to be an actual philosopher..


By the time her face popped up, I’d seen this one several times…


Not that I don’t love Hermione, but she’s not exactly a philosopher, yet — I know, I know — it’s because everywhere else in the world the first Harry Potter book is called “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”… and Americans think philosophers are scary, so they used an obvious synonym, “sorcerer”… like that isn’t scary… gagh..  but, I digress..

The point of the article that got this rant going is that philosophy is about 80% male, for some rather entrenched reasons… only math and physics are more “male” than philosophy.

The whole article is here, and it’s quite good…  I suggest you read it.

As a woman who started grad school a long time ago, and finished a couple of years ago, this isn’t much of a surprise.  What really hit close to home was his analysis of “smart” as used in philosophy.  It has always seemed to me that the term is more associated with attitude and closely aligned with “fit” than it is a judgment of what a philosopher puts out.  Most of what has seemed to be commented on to me as “smart” in another person is kind of aggressive, cocky, nerdy, male — and generally also caucasian and hetero…

It also occurs to me, more and more often, how correct aspects of Standpoint Epistemology actually are — (if you’re one of my students, ask for or look for my feminist epistemology paper, I’ll share it with you if you’d like to know more..) — namely, if your group is homogeneous, then you’ll THINK your point of view is value neutral — which sounds a lot like what happens in philosophy… the male, relatively privileged, probably caucasian, point of view is quite prominent — and thus, is called “smart” and  perpetuated in all the small and large ways that groups perpetuate themselves..

There is also a pretty complicated argument in support of the idea that stereotypes tend to reinforce themselves.  So, if a woman isn’t supposed to be “smart”, then her performance will suffer.  In my own graduate classes there were few females and even fewer females among the advanced grad students.  At the time I was there, there were NO women teaching grad-level classes and only a couple of women on the philosophy faculty roles… (one only taught undergrads and had her office in another department, another was on an assignment as an administrator).  So, I didn’t even have A female faculty role-model to show me that women can be “smart”.. and I had plenty of experience with older faculty members being “candid” (in their minds) but which ended up being discouraging to me..

The thing is, even when members of the favored group are well-meaning, the attitudes are ingrained and only show when the expectations are violated in some way.  For example, I have a female friend who shared this story… in confidence..

She was newly tenured at her college in a small department.  The senior person in her department was also female.  A male had been hired for a 1-year position, but the tenured females declined to interview him.  As  you might imagine, this didn’t go over well and they were accused of being “f-ing bitches who hate men”.  When, in reality, his hiring the year before had been the result of some dean strong-arming, and if the tenured members of his department had their way, a more qualified person would have occupied the position all along.

What you can see from this is that the male assumed the position was his — and he became quite obviously angry when it was made clear to him that wasn’t going to be the case.

Also, a male was hired as the third tenure-track person in the department.. so, it wasn’t about gender at all, but rather about the qualifications the new-hire had and the 1-year person didn’t…

Some apple-carts are going to be upset if things are going to change… here’s to apples in the streets!



Filed under Feminism

2 responses to “Philosophy and Sexism…

  1. skeptic

    “In reality, his hiring the year before had been the result….” Is this not also a standpoint? Ah, relativism only applies to the other guys (pun intended), not to you.

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