Women in philosophy

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This article is about the state of the discipline. For a list of women philosophers, see List of women philosophers.

Women have engaged in philosophy throughout the field's history. Socrates states that he learned the most important truths about Eros and the Beautiful from a female priest and philosopher, Diotima.[1] In the west, academic philosophy was typically the domain of male philosophers, though female philosophers such as Catherine of Alexandria (C. 300 CE) continued to theorize, and write during this time. In the early 1800s, some colleges and universities in the UK and US began admitting women, giving rise to new generations of female academics. As of 2007, the American Philosophical Association has a Committee on the Status of Women which is charged with assessing and reporting on the status of women in the field.[2]

History of Women in Philosophy[edit]

While there were women philosophers since the earliest times, and some were accepted as philosophers during their lives, almost no woman philosopher has entered the philosophical canon.[3] Historians of philosophy are faced with two main problems. The first being the exclusion of women philosophers from history and philosophy texts, this exclusion lead to the lack of knowledge about women philosophers. The second problem deals with what the canonical philosophers had to say about philosophy and women's place in it. In the past twenty-five years there has been an exponential increase in feminist writing about the history of philosophy and what has been considered the philosophical canon.[4] Some of the earliest philosophers were females, such as Hipparchia of Maroneia and Arete of Cyrene. Socrates attributes to the (possibly fictional) Diotima of Mantinea his lessons in the art of Eros (or philosophical searching). Plato's final views on women are highly contested, but the Republic suggests that women are equally capable of education, intellectual vision, and rule of the city.[5][6]

APA Committee on the Status of Women[edit]

The Committee on the Status of Women is a part of the American Philosophical Association devoted to the assessment and reporting on the status of women in philosophy.[2] It is currently chaired by Hilde Lindemann [7] In April 2007, Committee on the Status of Women co-sponsored session on the central question "Why Are Women Only 21% of Philosophy".[8] At this session, Sharon Crasnow suggested that the low numbers of women in philosophy may be due to

  • A) Differential Treatment: male and female students being treated differently in the classroom.
  • B) Vicious Circle: female students do not feel inclined to do philosophy because of a lack of contact with female professors.
  • C) Misleading Stats: administrators focus on the humanities overall which obscures the disparity in philosophy.[8]

Society for Women in Philosophy[edit]

The Society for Women in Philosophy is a group created in 1972 that seeks to support and promote women in philosophy. It has a number of branches around the world, including in New York, the American Pacific, the United Kingdom, and Canada.[9] Each year, the Society for Women in Philosophy names one philosopher the Distinguished Woman Philosopher of the Year.[10]

Gendered Conference Campaign[edit]

The blog Feminist Philosophers hosts the Gendered Conference Campaign, which works toward increasing the representation of women at conferences and in edited volumes, citing that "all-male events and volumes help to perpetuate the stereotyping of philosophy as male. This in turn to contributes to implicit bias against women in philosophy...."[11]

Bias, discrimination, and sexual harassment[edit]

On March 28, 2011, the blog New APPS published a post examining the persistent sexual harassment faced by women in philosophy, due largely to "serial harassers" continuing to work in the field despite widespread knowledge of their actions. The post proposed that, since institutional procedures seemed to have been ineffective at removing or punishing harassers, philosophers socially shun known offenders.[12] The story was subsequently featured at Inside Higher Ed[13] and several blogs, including Gawker[14] and Jezebel.[15] In 2013, a series of posts on the blog "What's it like to be a woman in philosophy?" instigated a spate of mainstream media articles on the continued dominance of men in philosophy.[16][17][18][19]

Reports on Women in Philosophy[edit]

U.S. Department of Education reports indicate that philosophy is one of the least proportionate fields in the humanities with respect to gender.[20] Although reports indicate that philosophy as a professional field is disproportionately male, no clear, unequivocal data exists on the number of women currently in philosophy, or indeed, on the number of men in philosophy, and it is debatable how to define what it means to be ‘in philosophy.’ This can variously be defined as the current number of Ph.D. holders in philosophy, the current number of women teaching philosophy in two- and four- year institutions of higher learning either/both full-time and/or part-time (no one data set exists which measures these), or the current number of living women with publications in philosophy. The lack of clear data makes it difficult to establish gender proportions, but the consensus among those who have tried to arrive at an estimate is that women make up between 17% and 30% of academically employed philosophers.[21]

The National Center for Education Statistics' 2000 report, "Salary, Promotion, and Tenure Status of Minority and Women Faculty in U.S. Colleges and Universities," estimates in Table 23 that the total number of "History and Philosophy" U.S. citizens and full-time faculty who primarily taught in 1992 was 19,000, of which 79% were men (i.e. 15,010 men in history and philosophy), 21% were women (3,990). They add, "In fact, men were at least twice as likely as women to teach history and philosophy."[22]

In their 1997 report, "Characteristics and Attitudes of Instructional Faculty and Staff in the Humanities," NCES notes, that about "one-half of full-time instructional faculty and staff in 4-year institutions in English and literature (47 percent) and foreign languages (50 percent) were female in the fall of 1992, compared with less than one-half of instructional faculty and staff in history (24 percent) and philosophy and religion (13 percent) (table 4)." In this report they measure Philosophy and Religion in the same data set, and estimate the total number of full-time instructional Philosophy and Religion faculty and staff in 4-yr institutions to be 7,646. Of these, 87.3% are male (6675 men), 12.7 are female (971 women).[23]

The 1997 report measures History Full-time instructional faculty and staff in 4-yr institutions to be 11,383; male:76.3 (8,686 men); female: 23.7 (2,697 women). The numbers of women in philosophy from the two studies are not easily comparable, but one rough method may be to subtract the number of women in history in the 1997 report from the number of women estimated to be in 'history and philosophy' in the 2000 report. Doing so suggests that as a rough estimate, 1,293 women are employed as instructors of philosophy.

The 1997 report indicates that a large portion of all humanities instructors are part-time.[24] Part-time employees are disproportionately female but not majority female.[25] Therefore, considerations of full-time employees only necessarily leave out data on many women working part-time to remain active in their field.

In 2004, the percentage of Ph.D.s in philosophy, within the U.S., going to women reached a record high percentage: 33.3%, or 121 of the 363 doctorates awarded.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Plato, Symposium 201d and following.
  2. ^ a b http://www.apaonlinecsw.org/mission
  3. ^ Duran, Jane. Eight women philosophers: theory, politics, and feminism. University of Illinois Press, 2005.
  4. ^ Witt, Charlotte and Shapiro, Lisa, "Feminist History of Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/feminism-femhist/>. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-femhist/
  5. ^ Garside, Christine (1975). "Plato on Women". Feminist Studies: 131–138. Retrieved 2015-04-27. 
  6. ^ Jacobs, William (June 1978). "Plato on Female Emancipation and the Traditional Family". Apeiron 12 (1): 29–31. 
  7. ^ http://www.apaonlinecsw.org/members
  8. ^ a b http://lemmingsblog.blogspot.com/2007/04/apa-report-status-of-women-in.html
  9. ^ SWIP Website http://www.uh.edu/~cfreelan/SWIP/hist.html
  10. ^ http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2013/03/call-for-nominations-distinguished-woman-philosopher-2013-kukla.html
  11. ^ Gendered Conference Campaign " Feminist Philosophers. Feministphilosophers.wordpress.com (2009-12-10). Retrieved on 2011-06-02.
  12. ^ What is to be done about sexual harassment in the philosophy profession? – New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science. Newappsblog.com (2011-03-28). Retrieved on 2011-06-02.
  13. ^ News: A Call to Shun. Inside Higher Ed (2011-05-27). Retrieved on 2011-06-02.
  14. ^ Philosophy Departments Are Full of Sexual Harassment. Ca.gawker.com (2011-03-30). Retrieved on 2011-06-02.
  15. ^ Anna North, Philosophy Profs Propose "Shunning" Sexual Harassers, Jezebel, Mar 30, 2011
  16. ^ "How can we end the male domination of philosophy?" http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/nov/26/modern-philosophy-sexism-needs-more-women
  17. ^ What Is Philosophy's Problem With Women?: http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/09/09/philosophy_has_a_woman_problem_let_s_try_to_figure_out_why.html
  18. ^ "In the Humanities, Men Dominate the Fields of Philosophy and History": http://chronicle.com/article/Men-Dominate-Philosophy-and/135306/
  19. ^ Name Five Women In Philosophy. Bet You Can't.:http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2013/06/17/192523112/name-ten-women-in-philosophy-bet-you-can-t
  20. ^ "Salary, Promotion, and Tenure Status of Minority and Women Faculty in U.S. Colleges and Universities."National Center for Education Statistics, Statistical Analysis Report, March 2000; U.S. Department of Education, Office of Education Research and Improvement, Report # NCES 2000–173;1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:93). See also "Characteristics and Attitudes of Instructional Faculty and Staff in the Humanities." National Center For Education Statistics, E.D. Tabs, July 1997. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Education Research and Improvement, Report # NCES 97-973;1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF-93).
  21. ^ U.S. Department of Education statistics in above-cited reports seem to put the number closer to 17%, but these numbers are based on data from the mid-1990s. Margaret Urban Walker's more recent article (2005) discusses the data problem and describes more recent estimates as an "(optimistically projected) 25–30 percent."
  22. ^ NCES (2000), previously cited.
  23. ^ NCES (1997), previously cited.
  24. ^ NCES (1997): "Forty-two percent of all instructional faculty and staff were employed part time by their institution in the fall of 1992. Forty-five percent of [all U.S.] humanities faculty were employed part time."
  25. ^ NCES (1997): "Part-time faculty members were more likely to be female (45 percent) than full-time faculty (33 percent), although the majority of both part- and full-time faculty were male (55 percent and 67 percent, respectively."
  26. ^ Hoffer, T.B., V. Welch, Jr., K. Williams, M. Hess, K. Webber, B. Lisek, D. Loew, and I. Guzman-Barron. 2005. Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report 2004. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center. (The report gives the results of data collected in the Survey of Earned Doctorates, conducted for six federal agencies, NSF, NIH, USED, NEH, USDA, and NASA by NORC.)

Further reading[edit]

  • Singing in the Fire: Stories of Women in Philosophy by Linda Martin Alcoff. Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003.

External links[edit]