Thursday, November 29, 2007

Women Ph.D.s in Philosophy

Evelyn Brister has some new figures on the number of women receiving Ph.D.s in Philosophy each year in the U.S.

A couple of years ago the number cracked 30% for the first time (that is, of the Ph.D.s in philosophy awarded that year, 30% went to women).

But now that looks like an aberration, and the number has slipped back into the high 20s, where it's been since at least the early 1990s.

This is bad news on a number of levels. But what makes it especially distressing is that I can't think of a single initiative to increase the number of women in philosophy. I certainly can't think of any high profile initiative.

In other fields this would be a cause for grave concern. Look at what computer science and engineering programs do to attract women. Look at what professional organizations in the sciences, e.g., do to increase women's participation. But what has the American Philosophical Association done to address this problem?

The problem isn't just at the Ph.D. level -- it's also a problem, obviously, at the undergraduate level where women students aren't choosing to be philosophy majors. But, again, I wonder what has been done--either at the level of the APA or at the level of particular departments--to address this problem.


Blogger BigK said...

Women in philosophy have been asking many of the same questions for decades. I must say that I think we have done excellent work on some of the answers! But I agree with much of what you say; coincidentally, I have recently been presenting a paper I contributed to on the increased numbers and initiatives re: women in science (as opposed to the nonincreases and noninitiatives re women in philosophy). It does indeed seem that other disciplines take much more action on this than does our own.

At the APA level, the Committee on the Status of Women has been working to address these same questions for years. Their efforts, as far as I can tell (I'm not a member), are limited by the nature of the APA as a merely semi-professional organization (recent leaders of the APA seem predominantly in favor of that characterization). Organizations that do a better job on gender-related initiatives tend to be robust professional organizations with large membership fees, employment-oriented goals, and so on.

Even at the department level, though, initiatives would seem to be hampered by American philosophers' discomfort with gender. Even many of my undergraduates insist gender has nothing to do with philosophy - - though, puzzlingly, they see questions of identity as central to philosophy! It is a persistent feature of philosophy that gender is taken to be secondary rather than central to the human experience. This strikes me as baffling, but there it is.

4:55 PM  
Blogger John Capps said...

Dear BigK,

I'm familiar with some of the work you cite (that's interesting, too, what you say about the APA), but still frustrated with the philosophical profession on this issue.

There's just no excuse for philosophy being at or near the bottom among the humanities as far as gender equality (as I believe it is) -- and this is made even worse when philosophy doesn't compare well with the sciences, either!

My students, too, are uncomfortable with gender, and it frustrates me that they don't become more comfortable the more philosophy courses they take. The fault isn't entirely their but ours, I think, if their coursework doesn't at least give them exposure to and some comfort with feminist philosophy.

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At my undergraduate institution, the department was certainly interested in getting more female majors... But I'm not sure they devised any particularly good ways of going about it.

3:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Feminism is an approach to philosophy; Marxism is a theory in socio-politcal philosophy and philosophy of history. I don't understand the remark about the Ministry of Education.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Christopher Richard Wade Dettling said...

What exactly is an approach to philosophy?
You replace a word with a phrase.
What is the precise meaning of this phrase, approach to philosophy?
Feminism is philosophy and not philosophy?
And what is the exact difference between feminism and Marxism, these are not political movements?

5:23 AM  
Anonymous Rashidajones said...

I agree with you. It seems impossible to define "American culture." Yet Americans are instantly recognizable by persons of other cultures. Without giving over to essentialism, let's say that´╗┐ there is a sort of fuzzy set that is "American philosophy"--always with a chip on its shoulder to prove itself acceptable to practical American culture. And oh yeah, add "environmentalism" to that list.


12:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm actually puzzled why people are so concerned about the low representation of women in philosophy. Notice that it never works the other way around -- we never here feminist scholars lamenting the poor representation of male perspectives in nurse-related scholarship. In fact, they systematically attack any male that seems interested in the subject.

12:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to clarify my point -- gender seems a total non-sequitor. It seems more like it's part of some postmodern agenda at universities that we've all been brainwashed into accepting. I once heard a horror story about a female professor who accused Physics students of using particle accelerators because they were symbols of male dominance and female suppression.

12:59 AM  

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