Monday, November 16, 2009

Women in Philosophy

There has been an ongoing discussion on the Leiter Reports blog about the under-representation of women in academic philosophy. The speculations about the reasons for the dearth of female philosophers include the following possibilities: (1) that the way in which philosophers talk about our profession (using language about arguments, defending our positions, attacking our opponents’ assumptions, etc.) puts off women who tend to be less aggressive and competitive; (2) the perceived impracticability of philosophy and the lack of a clear path to a non-academic job; (3) the lack of female role models; and (4) the lack of a serious effort by the profession to reach out to women.

It continues to puzzle me why more women don’t study philosophy, though I tend to believe that the final two reasons above offer far more promising explanations than the first two. I’ve been thinking, though, about my own experience teaching pre-college students. Over the past ten years I’ve probably had a dozen or so experiences in which a student (anywhere from age 10-17) has told me, “I think I’d like to be a philosopher when I grow up.” And they have all, 100% of them, been girls. I’m not sure what that experience adds to this discussion, but it does at least give some weight to the idea that female role models make a difference.

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