In 2011, The American Philosophical Organization released a statistic stating that “women make up 21% of full-time faculty in philosophy” (949, Paxton, et al.). “Why is this staggering?” you may ask; “I’m sure there are similar ratios in the fields of engineering, math, science, etc.”
To answer that, yes, there are similar ratios in those disciplines; however, philosophy is the only humanities division with that level of underrepresentation of women. Why? Because philosophy is a discipline that requires tackling issues logically, thinking critically, arguing, and being rational – activities and qualities that are apparently too difficult or unseemly for women.
Dr. Sally Haslanger, a member of the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT, shared her struggle as a female graduate student of philosophy in her 2008 article “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone).” She states she was the “butt of jokes,” and that a professor once told her “he had ‘never seen a first rate woman philosophy and never expected to because women were incapable of having seminal ideas’” (1).
Why does this get me in a huff? Why have I dedicated a whole blog to this? First of all, as some of you may know, I am a graduate student of philosophy here at UMKC, so the topic is close to my heart. And, while I have never been met with resistance simply because I possess a certain set of genitalia at UMKC or during my undergraduate career at Rockhurst (I’ve had quite the opposite experience at both places-fantastic faculties on both accounts), I did have a run-in with some gender discrimination when I was visiting a few schools to decide where I wanted to apply for my graduate studies.
I went to meet with a faculty member at a particular university about the philosophy program there. The gentleman was standoff-ish, but initially, I shrugged it off. He asked me why I wanted to be in the program; I answered. He asked me if I, as a woman, thought I could handle the curriculum; I answered. He asked me what I “wanted to be when I grew up” because I was not going to find a career in philosophy; I thanked him for his time and left.
This type of stereotyping is not only unacceptable in philosophy, but in every field of academia (and all aspects of professional life, as well). There is no reason, as a student, that you should be deterred from your dreams because of your gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. As college students, whether your field of study is law, engineering, philosophy, math, criminal justice, English, or psychology, do not settle for discrimination; speak up, share your experiences, and aim to make a difference.
Haslanger, Sally. “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone).” Hypatia, Vol. 23, Issue 2, pp. 210–223, May 2008.
Paxton, M., Figdor, C. and Tiberius, V. (2012), Quantifying the Gender Gap: An Empirical Study of the Underrepresentation of Women in Philosophy. Hypatia, 27: 949–957. doi: 10.1111/j.1527-2001.2012.01306.x