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15/04/2015

Philosophyisforposh,whiteboyswithtrustfunds'whyaretheresofewwomen?|HigherEducationNetwork|TheGuardian

'Philosophy is for posh, white boys with trust


funds' why are there so few women?
Over 70% of philosophers in UK universities are men. We speak to academics about how
institutions can become more inclusive
Rebecca Ratcliffe and Claire Shaw
Monday 5 January 2015 13.06 GMT

Philosophy stands out among the humanities: its one of the few subject areas where
women are vastly outnumbered by men.
Although male and female students take philosophy undergraduate courses in almost
equal numbers, the number of women who pursue a career in philosophy is much lower.
A recent report by the Equality Challenge Unit found that, among non-Stem (science,
technology, engineering and maths) subjects, philosophy is one of the most maledominated, with men accounting for 71.2% of the profession.
Why arent there more female philosophers? And how can university departments
become more inclusive?

Professor Jennifer Saul, head of philosophy department, University of Sheffield


When I was a PhD student at Princeton in the 1990s, nobody that I knew was talking in
any kind of systematic way about women in philosophy. I remember just one
conversation, on a train, in which several of us women PhD students remarked on how
little we spoke in seminars, and swapped some tips on how to overcome the fear of
speaking that had somehow come upon us only once we hit grad school Get used to
your voice! Try asking how do you spell that name?
It wasnt until many years later that I started getting to know women who did get
together to talk about these issues. Then I learned facts that women are only 17% of
full-time academic sta in philosophy in the US (the UKs a bit better with 29%). And I
learned that this was worse than in most elds of science, where gender disparities have
long been a source of concern. I wanted to learn more about the range of womens
experiences good and bad in philosophy. So I decided to create a blog where people
could share brief anonymous anecdotes.
What I received shocked me. It was a deluge of stories 10 or more a day, almost all tales
of horrendous sexual harassment. This wasnt the sort of open-to-interpretation stu
that Ive found many expect. This was the distinguished visiting speaker whose rst
words are: Show me a grad student I can fuck. This was woman after woman leaving
philosophy after being harassed, assaulted, or retaliated against. It was bad, and it was a
torrent. (And the stories and help requests that came to me o-blog were even worse.)
The profession was shocked, and galvanised.
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Philosophyisforposh,whiteboyswithtrustfunds'whyaretheresofewwomen?|HigherEducationNetwork|TheGuardian

Since the blog started, there have been several very public high-prole sexual
harassment scandals in philosophy. And theres now starting to be a backlash against the
feminists who have taken over the profession and who are now said to wield
enormous power to persecute.
The truth is were not running the profession: were still down at 17-29%. Were starting
to make some small bits of incremental progress in ghting a problem thats been going
on far too long. This is an enormous source of hope, for me. But its far from a complete
turnaround. And we have even further to go with other issues. As male as philosophy is,
for example, it is far, far whiter and philosophers are barely beginning to address this
problem.

Patrice Haynes, senior lecturer in philosophy, Liverpool Hope University


Education was valued highly by my Caribbean parents, especially mathematics and the
sciences serious subjects that would set you up for a secure, professional job. When I
declared that I was going to do a masters in philosophy my father was pretty horried.
Philosophy is for posh, white boys with trust funds.
My fathers image of the uselessness of philosophy reects a wider suspicion outside
(and even inside) academia that its merely a relic of the past, languishing in the shadows
of science.
In some sense my father is right: pursuing an academic career in philosophy is rather
cavalier, for theres no guarantee of a job at the end of many years of study. I suspect this
may explain why ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the discipline. Add to this
philosophys eye-blinding whiteness and it is easy to see the lack of appeal.
To my knowledge there are just ve black philosophers working in the UK, three of
whom are women and Im one of them. At philosophy conferences, Im typically the
only black academic among the delegates, and often Im one of the few women present
unless its a feminist philosophy conference, in which case the number of men can be
counted on one hand...
To date, Ive not encountered any direct racism or sexism in academia (excluding the
presence of this in the western philosophical cannon). Yet its worth noting that neither I
nor the two UK-based black women philosophers are employed by standalone
philosophy departments: this threshold remains to be crossed. Moreover, while there are
few women philosophy professors there are zero black philosophy professors in UK
institutions.
Occasionally, Ive been told by American academics, usually middle-aged males: Theyll
love you in America. All you need to do is mention youre a black woman in your
application and youll be in! Im not entirely convinced. After all, although the
American Philosophical Association has 11,000 members, there are only 30 or so black
women philosophers based in US philosophy departments. More problematically, while
such comments are no doubt well-meant they also raise the dreaded spectre of
tokenism. Hard-earned academic achievements are overshadowed by ones ability to
improve the diversity prole of a department by 100%.

Stella Sandford, professor of modern European philosophy, Kingston University


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Academic disciplines and practices are not immune from the tendency of societies to
gender everything. They are fully part of the social-cultural world, even if people often
consider them to be remote.
But there are also reasons internal to the discipline itself. In comparison with other
subjects philosophy tends, still, to be very inward-looking. It tends to dene itself rather
narrowly and has found it extraordinarily dicult to accept challenges to its traditional
ways of doing things.
Other disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences were generally quick to
respond to the ideas of the social movements of the past half-century, but for a long time
philosophy remained indierent to these. The kind of philosophy that dominates in the
UK has tended to see itself as engaged in a purely rational practice uninuenced by social
and political contexts. It hasnt therefore been able to see the ways in which it in fact
mirrors the interests of its relatively narrow band of practitioners and excludes others.
In the wake of the womens movement, for example, most Anglophone philosophers
clung on to the idea that thinking about gender belonged to sociology and had nothing to
do with them. The groups most aected by these social movements didnt perhaps they
still dont see their concerns taken seriously in philosophy. It is little wonder if they
choose to study in more hospitable areas.

Helen Beebee, Samuel Hall professor of philosophy, the University of Manchester


In philosophy, the ability to think with exceptional clarity and rigour about very abstract
issues is highly valued, and rightly so; but this is, of course, a stereotypically male virtue.
And that means that women have to be that much better than their male counterparts in
order to be judged to have the same level of ability. Thats just the way stereotypes work:
its much easier to think that someone is an intellectual giant if thats a quality that ts
neatly with other things you know about them.
Its really hard to tell when or whether youre the object of these kinds of biases. If you
dont get a job or get your paper accepted for publication, there are always other possible
explanations.
But there is at least good general evidence if not specic to philosophy that
stereotypes can explain, at least in part, the relative lack of success of women and other
minority groups.
And there are personal experiences. Ive sat in plenty of meetings and seminars where
womens views have been accorded less respect than those of the men in the room.
My own level of standing within the university hierarchy has, throughout my entire
career, been systematically underestimated by colleagues.
As a 40-year-old head of department, when I arrived at a meeting for heads of
department one of the other heads (a woman) said: Oh, Im sorry, student reps arent
invited to this meeting. Early on in my career in my late 20s and early 30s I took to
wearing a suit in the rst few weeks of the academic year, in order to save people the
embarrassment of mistaking me for an undergraduate (and this is in institutions where
the chances of someone being a mature student were pretty low).
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Philosophyisforposh,whiteboyswithtrustfunds'whyaretheresofewwomen?|HigherEducationNetwork|TheGuardian

These days, like most of my male colleagues of whatever age, I dont bother; nobody
mistakes me for an undergraduate. But they do and Im 46 routinely mistake me for a
PhD student or a postdoc, unless I very quickly say or do something that makes that
assumption untenable.
I sometimes think I should cultivate the look of the stereotypical woman professor. Im
not sure what that look is, but minimally I think you have to have grey hair and be over
50. So, if I stop dyeing my hair, I wont have long to wait.

Katharine Jenkins, PhD candidate, department of philosophy, University of


Sheffield
I started thinking about the situation of women in philosophy when I was studying for
my MPhil. Some undergraduates reported that women spoke in seminars much less
often than men, and as the graduate student representative, I helped raise this issue with
the philosophy faculty.
Initially, there was some resistance to the idea that this was an issue of gender, as
opposed to simply an unavoidable problem caused by some students being shy. But
we surveyed the students and found that this was indeed a gendered phenomenon.
Discussions in philosophy are often conducted in a very aggressive and combative way,
and given that social norms discourage girls and women from behaving in these ways,
its hardly surprising that these modes of discussion make some women feel less than
fully at home.
This problem can be addressed quite straightforwardly by having seminars that are more
closely moderated so as to help make them less combative. This is good for anyone who
might be put o by a very aggressive environment, and I also think it encourages more
nuanced philosophical engagement.

Richard Pettigrew, professor and head of the department of philosophy at the


University of Bristol
You often hear people speculate that the adversarial nature of some philosophical debate
is oputting for women because they are less comfortable in combative situations. I
dont see any evidence of this. But it is certainly true that women tend to be judged
negatively by others if they display adversarial behaviour.
It seems that women in a philosophy debate are in a lose-lose situation. Either they
perform well by the standards of the debate, but then they are judged negatively on their
character they are judged abrasive or high maintenance for behaviour that would
have earned a man plaudits such as competent and knows his mind. Or they behave
in a way that will attract less opprobrium, but then they are judged negatively on their
philosophical ability.
Another factor is unconscious bias where we evaluate a persons performance on a task
more negatively if they belong to a group that is stereotyped as being bad at that task.
What to do? On the one hand, we need to try to change the stereotype. We can do this by
creating gender-balanced reading lists for our courses, by ensuring that there is a gender
balance in the rostrum of speakers at our conferences, in our seminar series, and on the
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Philosophyisforposh,whiteboyswithtrustfunds'whyaretheresofewwomen?|HigherEducationNetwork|TheGuardian

boards and committees of our journals and learned societies.


We also need to mitigate the eects of unconscious bias by anonymising where possible,
whether it is in undergraduate grading or in hiring procedures, and by training all sta in
the known ways of reducing bias.
Male philosophers must become more involved. If the burden of combating the underrepresentation of women in philosophy is borne disproportionately by women, this will
deprive them more than is fair of the time they have to devote to their research and
teaching, which is how philosophers build their careers. Men must be equal partners in
combating the problem.

Dr Meena Dhanda, reader in philosophy and cultural politics, University of


Wolverhampton
Women in academia, generally speaking, are up against the usual pressures keeping
families together and looking after students. Many tend to nd their voice later in life
than men. Finding the right words and the right milieu within which to express our
philosophical thoughts is a dicult task.
Much of mainstream philosophy is tame and taming, precisely because it is engaged in
reproducing privilege.
Feminism and anti-racism are only supercially incorporated within the language of
cultural politics. Perhaps thats why the position of black and minority ethnic women in
philosophy remains annoyingly low. Few think that anything needs to be done to undo
the eects of continuing implicit gender or racial biases within the curriculum, in hiring
practices or in the progression of teaching sta.
My recent interdisciplinary and collaborative study for the Equality and Human Rights
Commission, UK, entitled Caste in Britain, which outlines the implications of making
caste as an aspect of race in the Equality Act 2010, uses philosophical tools, without
naming any philosophical theories.
It will not be seen as a philosophers work, given the orthodoxies entrenched in our
subject. I know this; but still think that if philosophy were to become more open to
womens insistence on thinking through the implications of our embodied existence an
existence enmeshed by identity markers such as gender, race, caste or class then many
more similar projects need to be undertaken.
The thorn of racism is so deep in the esh of philosophy that it is no longer visible from
the surface. It hurts. We need more black philosophers, women philosophers
adventurers and heretics, unruly, rigorous and untiring thinkers, committed to making
philosophy respond to the world we inhabit.
More like this:
Sexism is driving women out of science
White males monopolise best paid jobs in UK universities, report shows
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