Philosophy Has a Woman Problem


People say silly things if you tell them you’re a philosopher. (“Tell me some of your sayings!”) People say particularly dumb things if you tell them you’re a lady philosopher. People don’t say anything to you if you’re a philosopher who also happens to be a woman of color, because they think you don’t exist.

After famous (yes, there are famous living philosophers) philosopher Colin McGinn resigned from his tenured post at the University of Miami following sexual harassment allegations made against him by a grad student, the New York Times’ The Stone blog asked women philosophers to explain what’s up with their field. The first post by Sally Haslanger, a professor of philosophy and the former director of women’s and gender studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, succinctly sums up the gender gap, which is worse than it is in most of the physical sciences. In 2010, philosophy had a lower percentage of women doctorates than math, chemistry and economics.

It’s hard to know how many women philosophers hold faculty positions because no one keeps good data on the topic: estimates put it somewhere between 16-20%. Women of color? “Apparently there was insufficient data for any racial group of women other than white women to report.” According to the A.P.A. Committee on the Status of Black Philosophers and the Society of Young Black Philosophers, there are currently only 55 black women in philosophy in the U.S., , 31 of whom hold tenured or tenure-track positions.

“With these numbers, you don’t need sexual harassment or racial harassment to prevent women and minorities from succeeding, for alienation, loneliness, implicit bias, stereotype threat, microaggression, and outright discrimination will do the job,” Haslanger writes.

[New York Times]

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