Women in Philosophy: A Case for Optimism

Women in Philosophy: A Case for Optimism


Clara Fisher, Newton International Fellow at the Gender Institute at London School of Economics, makes “the case for a tentatively optimistic reading of women’s contemporary place in philosophy” in an article in the Dublin Review of Books. She writes:

On the one hand, structural inequalities, such as women’s representation and inclusion, seem utterly entrenched, sometimes even insurmountable, while on the other, awareness of the need to overcome such inequalities is growing, with societies, academic fora and blogs drawing attention to the danger a mono-gendered, raced, and classed discipline poses not just for underrepresented philosophers but also for philosophy itself. There are thus signs of changes afoot that could seriously undermine the intransigence of gender inequality in philosophy.

What are some of these positive signs?

Societies for Women in Philosophy now constitute a network of organisations drawing attention to said inequalities, and are introducing measures to redress same. For instance, although the Irish Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP-I) was only established in 2010, it has already held over twenty events, many of which dealt specifically with gender inequality in the profession, or supported women philosophers in others ways (for example by providing opportunity to present work, networking, and mentoring).

Moreover, such activities have been matched by mainstream philosophical bodies, such as the British Philosophical Association (BPA), which, in conjunction with SWIP UK, designed and implemented a Best Practice Scheme for philosophy departments that includes specific regard for the promotion of gender equality. The American Philosophical Association, similarly, is currently inviting submissions to its planned Code of Conduct for Professional Philosophers, and already has a very active Committee on the Status of Women, which includes on-site visits for departments seeking to improve their climates for women philosophers. In Ireland, too, there are now significant opportunities for structural intervention in philosophy, but also in academia more generally. For instance, the BPA/SWIP UK Best Practice Scheme calls on philosophy departments in the UK and Ireland to meet to adopt the scheme, hence, Irish philosophy departments have a ready-made tool-kit for redressing some of the historical disadvantages women in philosophy face. Moreover, the Equality Tribunal’s ruling in favour of Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington sets a precedent for subsequent cases, and seems to have prompted at least nominal concern for gender by the university administration, while galvanising activism by students and staff.

A further cause to be optimistic, she says: “at least recognition of the problem generally no longer needs to be argued for.”

(image: detail of Untitled 1977 by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian)

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