Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › my opinion on why there are so few women philosophers

my opinion on why there are so few women philosophers

A former member
Post #: 2
I have some ideas about why there are so few women in philosophy, all from my own personal experience, which is the only thing I can draw from on this topic. I expect that my opinions will be offensive to some.

1. men, much more than women, are interested in self-reliance, and this includes relying on oneself for thought formation. men, more than women are interested in forming independent thoughts. women commonly adopt the thoughts of others rather than taking the trouble to form their own. this is partly social conditioning i think, but it might be evolutionary also. we can see this very clearly happening even at cocktail parties.

2. women are easily offended compared to men, generally speaking. we have to be more careful what we say around women compared to men because women often have trouble getting past their offence or past their moral judgment, which means they don't tend to dig below the surface of propositions. this is a very general statement about women, and is true in my experience.

3. men can handle combat much better than women; probably also for social reasons. i am naturally combative and i have an advanced degree in psychology, and i cannot count the number of teachers and students who thought i was 'fighting' when i was only asking simple questions. in philosophy, it is much different, there is much more tolerance and openness for questions and probing below the surface than in the field of psychology. but i believe, if i were male in my psychology courses, and asked the same questions in the same cautiously friendly tone, i would not be seen as fighting. this shows me that in psychology, women are expected to be submissive and 'nice', and to not ask too many questions. so, perhaps this attitude pervades all of society, and women are more concerned than men whether they are 'nice' and liked, so they do what is expected in order to be liked. only a few of them don't give a damn if they are liked or not! ;) one of my psychology professors told me that i am 'combative'. ha! really?... and i actually thought i was being nice, seriously! i don't think psychology knows what 'combative' is; i had barely even got started! ;)

4. men, more than women, are willing to suffer. women, more than men, expect to be comfortable and catered to... what this means is that because it is actually painful in some ways to think really hard; to press into something and dig and dig and dig, it actually maybe even physically hurts, women avoid this kind of pain while men avoid is less often, probably because of reason #1 above... men are more accustomed to or more willing to develop their capacity for self-reliance. women are not catered to so much in philosophy, and so they avoid the field.

5. all of the above is my personal experience of the differences between men and women in general, and in academia. i guess my overall conclusion is that women are weaker than men, generally, not just physically, and so they don't gravitate to fields where internal strength and self reliance is cultivated by being in that field, or is necessary in order to join the field. but there are some weak, hoakey but very popular sub-fields within philosophy, that are filled with men, and possibly more in analytic tradition than in Continental even though the reputation is the opposite, and that's a funny thing! biggrin
Michael
Shephard42
Seattle, WA
Post #: 111
Without agreeing or disagreeing with your post, I'd like to respond to the idea of "strength" and "self-reliance". I don't believe this is a digression because those words appear to be central to your statements, which seem to also imply a suggestion of how the situation can be improved.

I suppose you could simply be speaking loosely, but the word choices result in a predominantly favorable representation of the combative, independent approach towards philosophical investigation. Those traits may indeed be useful in such activity, but that doesn't necessarily mean they should be lauded uncritically. My own personal experience is that when it comes to intellectually aggressive men - myself included - the words "strong" and "self-reliant" could just as easily be switched out for "obsessive" and "stubborn". In fact, there's an obsessive quality that I've seen in many "driven" people (male or female) which tends to form a big part of their energy and ambition.

As part of a larger discussion about equality between the sexes, I'm against any hint of the idea that empowerment of women necessarily means anything like "being like men" or "doing what men can do". The same cocktail of cultural forces that encourages males (practically from birth, if not earlier), to be intellectually confident and risk-tolerant also encourages them to be controlling, unsympathetic, and emotionally repressed.

And more to the point, while I haven't made up my mind about Victor's original question(s), I think it's possible that the "side-effects" of that cultural cocktail (combined with whatever evolutionary neurological hard-wiring men may have) have had an impact on the historical foundations of western philosophy as a male-dominated pursuit - a pursuit where how you think can have such a massive impact on what you think. If that was the case, then having women emulate the "strength" of men (intellectual or otherwise) is either not the solution or only a partial solution. It's also possible that the entire notion of philosophy needs to be reexamined - not to "feminize" it, but to acknowledge the potentially (deeply) hidden biases that two and a half millennia of primarily male contributions might have introduced.
A former member
Post #: 3
michael, i do not disagree with you; i don't think we disagree (but if we did, so what? ;) i think men and women are equal but in very different ways when they both cultivate their natural powers rather than being conditioned so much by society's unnatural dictates. i was speaking more of how things are and you are speaking more of how things should be. i don't think women should take on men's conception of power, most definitely; this actually could be a whole evening discussion: the topic of power. it needs a lot of investigation. power actually is a very, gentle, non-coercive, but is more seductive and alluring that dominating and controlling. The latter is a much weaker form of power because it relies on force and force always breaks down in time because it cannot be sustained indefinitely. i think actually that love and power are very closely related, but very few men understand this. the ones who do are outrageously successful in life, it seems to me anyway. looking forward to more discussion next week in-person.
Michael
Shephard42
Seattle, WA
Post #: 112
i don't think women should take on men's conception of power, most definitely
Excellent. I'll take off my language police hat, then :)

this actually could be a whole evening discussion: the topic of power. it needs a lot of investigation.
Agreed.

looking forward to more discussion next week in-person.
I am as well. It's definitely shaping up to be one of the more...energetic SAPC events.
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 200
Thanks, Katherine and Michael, for raising the level of discussion over some of that happening in the comments on the intro page which quickly gets off target.

Katherine, your experience in philosophy corroborates mine, which has been mostly in analytic circles. (I was wondering if it was any different in Continental ones.)

The tendencies you've noticed in women (taking cues from men, avoiding confrontation, etc.) I have seen also in writing, in hundreds of academic papers across all fields of philosophy by women and men---mostly men. But I have deliberately gone out of my way to consult views by women (when I could find them) on many major controversies in philosophy, systematically looking for patterns. I've been doing this for decades. I was always nervous about bringing up this topic in mixed philosophical company because the patterns weren't always obvious (though sometimes they were). Often they required interpretation which only someone with a background in the history of philosophy would likely appreciate. But sex differences, not just in style, but in the way ideas are conceptualized from the start are everywhere evident. Often even when female and male philosophers use the same language they weren't talking about quite the same thing though intending to---or perhaps were but giving different weights to the same or different aspects. And often they use slightly different language to talk about things that are commonly assumed to be the same when in fact what they intend are different---but systematically related---things. The nuances of the term "freedom" in political philosophy are just one instance. In the abortion debate, what constitutes a "person" would be another---and these differences cut across wherever they come out at the end of the debate. And there are many others. This is what I mean by an indeterminacy of translation. Even where there is agreement what is at stake for each is different.

I have discussed these differences over the years with many women one on one---and almost always they agree about the reality of the differences. Sometimes there's disagreement as to the source of the differences, but rarely their existence. The politically correct reaction is to attribute them mostly to social forces. I think that comes from the exaggerated assumption that gender is malleable while biological sex isn't. I don't think either gender or sex is as malleable or as fixed as many think. I think they are both both. There are real and pernicious stereotypes out there but they don't pose philosophical problems.

What I've found the hardest thing to do is to counteract the immediate tendency for many people to impute a pre-set value to a difference. As Michael points out, male assertiveness, sometimes taken to the point aggression, or the penchant for pursuing ideas to their logical extreme as a way of "crash-testing" them or even for the hell of it is still valued more highly than taking a more contemplative, relational, and tentative approach to conceptual problem-solving.

My point is not that one of these methods is always better or worse. But that in both its methods and its content much of traditional philosophy has the shape it does because it has been mostly practiced by males. As to whether that is a good or a bad thing depends on whether it might not be better if philosophy was practiced in roughly equal numbers by women and men---in the face of their natural tendencies.

That said, I will have a few things to say at the meetup about the fact that women have always been in philosophy since Greek times and their contributions are out proportion to their small numbers and even smaller fame. They just didn't trumpet themselves nor have they always been trumpeted. Socrates, Descartes, Kant, and Wittgenstein, for example, all owe a great philosophical debt to a woman (other than their mothers). I will say something about these women.

Perhaps I'm exaggerating the significance of philosophy, but I think the human world has the shape it has now because of philosophers of the past. I think that shape could stand some improvement.
A former member
Post #: 4
looking forward to your reflection on the topic at the meetup. this reminds me, i obtained a translation of a schopenhauer book printed in 1896 (i paid $175 for it in london) that was out of print for more than 100 years... translated by madame karl hillebrand.... then bloody hell, a couple of years later i think it is oxford uni press did a reprint of it (a really ugly one!) and dropped off the 'madame' in the translator's name... making the woman into a man! wow! wtf?! makes me wonder how much of men's writing is actually women; probably not lots of it but some it seems.
George
user 74564852
Raleigh, NC
Post #: 143
Some people say Bertrand Russell is a philosopher of no philosophy and is one who is deeply in debt to others. Alan Wood called Russell a philosopher of all philosophies, because, when presented with dozens of alternative battle plans, the commander-in-chief could carry out only one. The decision to choose one out of many is none but the commander-in-chief's.

This is a retort to point #1.
Abby
AbbyinSammamish
Sammamish, WA
Post #: 41
Karl Hillebrand was a man. The “Mme.” that is sometimes seen before his name is odd. Best for all of us would be to drop gender markers wherever gender is irrelevant.
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