Philosophical Topics of Interest to Women?


A philosophy professor sends in the following inquiry for discussion:

One way to try to make introductory-level philosophy courses more appealing to women is to include more articles written by women on the syllabus.  I have seen a good deal of discussion and suggestions about this.  Another way might be to try to include more topics that are more likely to be of interest to women than other topics.  I have not encountered any useful discussion of this possibility and wonder what your readers think and whether they know of any useful resources I might consult.  There are a few obvious examples within ethics and political philosophy since they involve pregnancy (e.g., abortion, commercial surrogacy) and one can come up with other examples in these areas along similar lines, but I’m curious about whether there is anything useful that can be said beyond that relatively narrow range of cases.  Are there less obvious topics in the values area that are particularly good at generating interest among female undergraduates?  Topics in other areas such as metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, etc?  I would be particularly interested in any concrete data on this topic, but merely anecdotal evidence would also be appreciated.  Thanks.

Suggestions and comments welcome (though they may take a while to appear, owing to travel). 

UPDATE: I am taking a beating in the comments for posting this. At the moment I do not have time to write a substantive reply, but let me just say a few things: (1) criticism of the decision to post this is welcome; feel free to add or elaborate, as I appreciate the feedback, and I think it is perfectly worthwhile to ask whether this is a question we should be asking at all; (2) if you do wish to provide an answer to the reader’s inquiry about topics, please base your answer on data or your experiences, and not on speculation or guesswork; (3) I will post a reply tonight or tomorrow, if not sooner. Thanks.

UPDATE: I make additional comments about this post here.

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Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

I am personally skeptical that there are topics that appeal to women more than men.Report

Justin Caouette
Reply to  Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

I am also skeptical of this.Report

anonymous
anonymous
6 years ago

Sorry, I know that this post was titled and written with the best of intentions, and I know that these things were meant as generics, but everything about this bugs me. I think that while it is important to think and teach about topics that all sorts of different people are interested in, it feeds into essentializing b.s. about women (in particular, essentializing b.s. about our lack of interest in abstract thought, our fascination with babies and pregnancy (neither of which I care about at all), etc.). I find this sort of thing highly problematic and insulting to those of us women who work on abstract, non-applied, and technical areas of philosophy (and similar things in all sorts of other disciplines).Report

epicureandealmaker
6 years ago

Philosophical topics of interest to women: Philosophical topics of interest.Report

anonymous
anonymous
6 years ago

And I think you should delete it. Maybe use the race test here, which I think is itself problematic, but is applicable here. Imagine I wrote you a question about how to make philosophy appealing to African-Americans which included stereotyping and essentializing of the kind that is in this post. I do not think you would post it. I think you would think it was racist and offensive.Report

justinrweinberg
Reply to  anonymous
6 years ago

anonymous, thanks. I was a bit concerned, along the lines of your comments , when thinking about whether to post this. And indeed, if the reader had asked for speculation about which topics women students might be interested in, then I think I would agree with you entirely. However, the reader was asking for data or reports of people’s experiences with students. Of course such data and experiences are subject to misinterpretation, but nonetheless it seems like people might have worthwhile information to share, perhaps even surprising information, could be put to good use. This would be true even if the majority of people said “I have observed no difference between men and women students in their philosophical interests.” I do not think switching from gender to race changes anything here, but I am open to be schooled on this.Report

anonymous
anonymous
Reply to  justinrweinberg
6 years ago

“There are a few obvious examples within ethics and political philosophy since they involve pregnancy (e.g., abortion, commercial surrogacy).”Report

anonymous
anonymous
Reply to  justinrweinberg
6 years ago

(In other words: I stand by my claim that you would not have published something that made a similar claim about what was “obviously” of interest to African-American students. And I am totally sick of being told over and over again by people in philosophy that I am interested in pregnancy, abortion, or surrogacy, topics in applied ethics, or things that have “real world” (whatever that means) significance, when what I want to do is think about logic.)Report

anon810
anon810
Reply to  justinrweinberg
6 years ago

Would you have drawn the line anywhere? Suppose the question specified “the question of whether cleanliness is godliness, ethical questions about food access, nutrition, etc., philosophy of education and child-rearing” as the obvious lacuna of interest for women. I don’t see much difference, and would certainly hope that this imagined example would get censored, or at least attached with a rider about the offensive presumptions.Report

anonphil
anonphil
Reply to  justinrweinberg
6 years ago

Actually, anonymous, some of us are sick of people regularly invoking African Americans to supposedly illustrate what is not acceptable in how to talk about other groups.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
Reply to  anonymous
6 years ago

Interesting that you mention the race test. The idea that one way to make philosophy attractive to African-Americans is by including certain topics pertaining to race and African-Americans’ experiences is vigorously argued for by Nathanial Adam Tobias Coleman, a philosopher of race.

See: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/comment/opinion/philosophy-is-deadwhite-and-dead-wrong/2012122.articleReport

LisaShapiro
6 years ago

I share Jennifer Frey’s sentiment. But I will nonetheless comment with anecdotal evidence. Women students I have had conversations with seem gripped by questions of authenticity — how to navigate a world which foists a set of behavioral expectations upon them while pursuing their own aims, aims which often clash with those expectations. I suspect the men also find these questions gripping (but they aren’t the ones having personal conversations with me). These are the questions of young adulthood, after all.Report

anon810
anon810
6 years ago

I’m pretty sure that the suggestion to include work written by women isn’t directed toward the idea that women find that work more interesting. Rather, it’s about showing everyone that philosophy is a more inclusive discipline than one might expect, were one to see a syllabus with readings from men, alone.Report

Lauren Leydon-Hardy
Lauren Leydon-Hardy
6 years ago

For what it’s worth, I really wish that you (or the author of the comment) hadn’t deleted the comment that suggested that you delete this post. I think the commenter made an excellent point: suppose everything about the above inquiry were the same, replacing gender with race. Then the question would be how to I keep people of colour in my classroom? I seem to be able to get them engaged with obvious questions related to [insert essentialist racist stereotype here], but what other suggestions to folks have? That inquiry would be racist and inappropriate, and arguably never would have been posted.

I thought that was an excellent point. I agree with Jennifer Frey and anonymous — this question is totally offensive, even if it’s being asked with the best intentions. Young women do not need a special set of girly philosophical questions. Rather, they need teachers who won’t completely ostracize them for being women in philosophy classes. If you want women to stay in your classroom, stop making them feel like they’re out of place there.Report

justinrweinberg
Reply to  Lauren Leydon-Hardy
6 years ago

Just a quick point — I did not delete that comment. I do not know why it disappeared for a while, but it is back up now.Report

Justin Caouette
Reply to  Lauren Leydon-Hardy
6 years ago

Well said, Lauren!Report

Kimberly
Kimberly
6 years ago

I had a pretty negative reaction to this, too– assuming that there are gendered interests in philosophy is deeply problematic.

It seems that the appropriate people to check with here would be undergraduates–both men and women. See if they share interests or not and find what they are. Given the forces that weed women from philosophy, asking those of us who made it through is likely to skew the results.

My interest in philosophy started with philosophy of religion and quickly moving to mind and science. I was a psych major as an undergrad, but in the last two years of my degree realized that the questions I was interested in were philosophical rather than psychological. Ultimately, I was interested in trying to understand how humans fit into the natural world.Report

Sherri Irvin
6 years ago

I agree with Jennifer Frey that one should apply a healthy dose of skepticism to claims about what women are more interested in. At the same time, though, the structure of our society is such that some questions tend to be more pressing in the lives of women than men, and those questions have often been excluded from the curriculum. I like to bring them in.

In my aesthetics classes we consider the aesthetics of the body, including readings about fashion (Karen Hanson’s “Dressing Down Dressing Up: The Philosophical Fear of Fashion”), bodily beautification in the context of oppressive and racialized standards of beauty (Shirley Anne Tate’s “‘Beauty Comes From Within’: Or Does It?”), and ideals of sexiness (“Sex Objects and Sexy Subjects: A Feminist Reclamation of Sexiness,” which Sheila Lintott and I co-authored). Our inquiry isn’t restricted to women (we also read Chike Jeffers’ “Should Black Kids Avoid Wearing Hoodies?”), but women have often thought deeply about issues of attractiveness, beauty labor and the signifying powers of clothes and the body in the context of their everyday lives, so they tend to participate quite actively in these discussions.

We also look at the issue of how power circulates in the art world:
Carol Duncan, “Who Rules the Art World?”
Kwame Anthony Appiah, “The Post-Colonial and the Aesthetic” (an excerpt from his book In My Father’s House)
Maurice Berger, “Are Art Museums Racist?”
Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”
A.W. Eaton, “When Ethics and Aesthetics Meet: Titian’s Rape of Europa”

In my philosophy and race classes we consider a variety of ways in which gender intersects with race, with readings like these:
Patricia Hill Collins, “The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought”
Ofelia Schutte, “Negotiating Latina Identities”
Kyoo Lee, “Why Asian Female Stereotypes Matter to All: Beyond Black and White, East and West”
Edna Bonacich, “The Failure of the American System for People of Color”
Patricia Hill Collins, “Toward a New Vision: Race, Class, and Gender as Categories of Analysis and Connection”

In epistemology and philosophy of language, there is plenty of room to consider epistemic injustice and silencing (Kristie Dotson, Miranda Fricker, Ishani Maitra, Mary Kate McGowan, etc.); in metaphysics, one can consider the social construction of gender (Sally Haslanger, Asta Sveinsdottir, Judith Butler [her paper 1998 paper “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution” is quite accessible even for those who quake in terror at her name], etc.). Many of these topics lend themselves to analysis that considers both race and gender.Report

Sherri Irvin
6 years ago

A whole host of additional comments were posted while I composed my lengthy comment (11:19 a.m.). I’d like to say a bit more about what not to do.

Don’t put this kind of material on the very last week of your syllabus, after you’ve spent a semester ignoring gender and race issues. Interweave it throughout the course.

Don’t frame the content by saying, “Okay, ladies, this is for you!” Frame it as important content that everyone should be thinking about.

Don’t suddenly show interest in the perspectives of your female students when you have turned to a topic that addresses gender. Don’t start shooting them meaningful looks and expecting them to bear a special burden to carry the class discussion. Don’t expect them to represent the perspectives of all women.

All of these remarks apply a fortiori to race. I would also encourage people to read LK McPherson’s comment here: http://dailynous.com/2014/08/21/ferguson-philosophy-class/comment-page-1/#comment-7766.Report

alethiam
6 years ago

Anecdotal evidence: Having graduated from an all-women’s college, going on to graduate school and teaching, the answer–from experience–is no, there is not a topic “more interesting” to women than men in philosophy.

I would recommend reading up on what Eddy Nehamias and others have found on reaching out to women and keeping them in the field.Report

alethiam
Reply to  alethiam
6 years ago

(Typed too quickly, confusing Nahmias)
http://philpapers.org/rec/ADLDMAReport

Rebecca Copenhaver
Rebecca Copenhaver
6 years ago

Are there philosophical topics of interest to women? Short answer: all of them.

Longer answer: if you want to make sure that a philosophical area will virtually disappear, manufacture an association between it and women. People will start choosing not to be interested in that area, most without ever thinking about why they don’t find that area interesting. Take philosophy of education – an area with a very long and fascinating history, that overlaps with just about every major area of current interest to philosophers. But it’s been relegated to the fringes, and I think it’s pretty clear why.

This is what bothers me about the question.

I’m very optimistic that things will get better, though. And Justin, I’m very pleased that you posted it. It’s a conversation worth having. Thank you.Report

Sherri Irvin
6 years ago

I want to say one more thing about the fact that this item was posted at all. Personally, I think it is useful to highlight and respond to the fact that in attempting to engage students from underrepresented groups, some of our colleagues will start from essentialist assumptions such as “(Most cis) women have uteri; therefore, they’ll be interested in topics pertaining to pregnancy!”

As my 11:19 a.m. suggests, I do think the syllabus should address topics that are likely to be of interest to members of underrepresented groups because of their distinctive experiences within our society. I discuss the aesthetics of the body as a gendered issue not because I think women are inherently more interested in the body (ack!), but because society has foisted concerns about the body upon us (even those who wish to reject beauty discourses and beauty labor) by disproportionately rewarding and penalizing us for our appearances at every turn. Similarly, I would expect that topics pertaining to non-ideal theory would be of particular interest to students of color in a political philosophy class, because they are disproportionately likely to be aware of the massive structural injustices built into our society, and thus to find ideal theories that don’t address the transition from injustice to justice unsatisfactory.

From my perspective, it is better to have this discussion than not to have it.Report

anon feminist philosopher
anon feminist philosopher
6 years ago

Here’s a claim: pregnancy and natality are of central importance to the human condition qua human condition — what people value and how they structure lives, communities, states, etc. They are therefore of philosophical significance. They are not things everyone experiences or cares about. But they are philosophically interesting in their own right.

Business-as-usual philosophy and the historical canon have studiously ignored pregnancy, natality, and fertility as objects of analysis, or discussed them in massively distorted ways (presumably because business-as-usual philosophy and the historical canon have studiously ignored or massively distorted the experiences, interests, and voices of people who can and do get pregnant).

Questions about pregnancy, abortion, childhood, surrogacy, care work, etc therefore strike me as having a good claim on being on a philosophy syllabus IN THE FIRST PLACE. They may have the added bonus of speaking to (some) women’s lives, interests, and experiences and helping them make sense of their worlds. But this is something we ‘get for free’ on top of constructing a class on philosophical topics that matter.Report

HK Andersen
HK Andersen
6 years ago

As someone who works in fields generally labeled “not of interest to women”, I am also deeply alienated by this kind of question. It puts those of us who are women and interested in ‘those topics’ in a weird dilemma where others sometimes dismiss our interest as “well, you’re different than other women”. In this framing, one can either be a normal woman, or have the interests one does, but not both.

However, in the spirit of having the discussion, I’ll also add to what others have noted: having female authors on the syllabus, but NOT ONLY in the places designated as “women’s topics”, does matter to some students (this is from personal discussions with students here, and reflects my own past experience). Putting female authors on the syllabus for only those topics makes it look like women in philosophy only do that.

Finally: topics of interest to women students are any topics where they are treated as full participants in the discussion. How the professor responds to female students is more of an issue than the topics that get discussed. This means direct interaction, as mentioned above, as well as indirect – does the professor just ignore it or stay silent when other students say or do rude or dismissive things? Other undergraduates sometimes treat each other in a poor fashion. Being aware of the fact that sometimes male undergraduates can cut off, dismiss, fail to engage with, etc. their female peers means the professor can run the discussion in a more responsive fashion.Report

anonymous ethics prof
anonymous ethics prof
6 years ago

I think those who worry about essentialism and pigeon-holing topics “for women” are right to be cautious and skeptical. We know efforts along these lines can go very wrong. However, I think a thoughtful and good-faith discussion might start with a realization along these lines:

Having read up on some social psychology, I’ve been told that various kinds of implicit bias might result in me choosing topics in my classes that “people like me” will particularly enjoy. Who knows why people like me enjoy this stuff, maybe it’s biological but probably it’s just cultural. Nevertheless, sometimes I try to break out of this routine by imagining what topics people who aren’t like me might enjoy. I notice that many of my male students get really energized by just war, capital punishment, and torture discussions. Being male myself, if I’m not reflective about my choice of topics, I worry that I’ll skew some of my classes towards topics that are of particular interest to these male students because I have so much in common with them. This is a trend I want to avoid. Is there any pattern to what male students get energized by and what female students get energized by? Maybe there’s data on this!

Hopefully if there IS data on this, we can avoid some dangerous pitfalls (assuming the differences are biological, for instance, or drawing normative conclusions based on the difference we observe). But I don’t think this topic should be off-limits by any means. The well-meaning advice of just ignoring gender in topic selection, and picking “interesting topics” will no doubt fall prey to implicit bias. Gilligans work on “justice” and “care” comes to mindReport

dt
dt
6 years ago

One needn’t think that philosophical topics are gendered in order to think that inclusion of, say, Elizabeth Anderson’s work (among that of many others) in feminist epistemology or the work of Haslanger (among many others) in feminist metaphysics, both of which I suspect are rarely taught in intro phil (thought I’d be happy to be wrong) may play a contributing role in changing philosophy’s being on old boy’s club.Report

trackback
6 years ago

[…] In this post, Justin asks for recommendations of ‘philosophical topics of interest to women’. The intention behind this request is, as far as I understand it, a really good one – it’s one way of trying to grapple with the underrepresentation of the women in philosophy. And yet. And yet I find posts – and conversations – like this frustrating. Let me explain. […]Report

hlinde
hlinde
6 years ago

I like what Sherri Irvin has been saying in this comment thread. The question is a good one, and does NOT necessarily essentialize women. The fact remains that women and other marginalized social groups are woefully underrepresented in philosophy, and course content in introductory and other undergraduate courses can be part of the problem. What I think would really help is if philosophers stopped boundary-beating, and respected the work of people who are doing philosophy on topics that haven’t gotten much attention in mainstream philosophy. A lot of that work is practical: think of the departments, for instance, where bioethics gets dismissed as “not real philosophy.” Philosophy of race, feminist philosophy, philosophy of disability also easily spring to mind. If undergraduates were exposed to some of this stuff in their undergraduate courses, more of them would perhaps find something in philosophy that really speaks to them, whoever they are.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

While I understand why many would worry that a question like this might invite stereotyping, I’m honestly surprised by the assumption many are making that the question presupposes gender essentialism.

On the contrary, I would think a question like this is motivated by a recognition of the historical nature of gendered roles, and by the very different material conditions of men and women historically and at present. Unless we’re all just disembodied brains, why assume there can’t be subject matters of greater circumstantial interest to many not all men or women?

I’m assuming many here have read, for example, Simone de Beauvoir. Doesn’t she make such an assumption for precisely anti-essentialist reasons: you are your situation initially, and then you become what you’ve made of your situation. It’s a historical and material fact that we have, through racism and sexism and classism put different groups into different situations and we cannot remedy that crime by gender-blindness or color-blindness or class-blindness–where “topics of philosophical interest” may often obscure the vested interests of the few.

I’d like, for example, to think everyone has an interest in the present problem of class inequality. But I see nothing offensive in suggesting the possibility that this topic will be of more interest, generally, to those who suffer from it than it might be, on average, for the privileged. Why wouldn’t people more directly and materially affected by a topic not be more disposed to take an interest in it? What’s offensive, for example, about suggesting that in a world where women’s reproductive rights are sometimes absent and often endangered, women have more incentive to be concerned about the issue?

In fact, this is an important part of identifying and dealing with problems of privilege. Men have the luxury of being disinterested in the topic of abortion because they are circumstantially privileged in relation to it: the outcome needn’t harm them.

The same is true here: to acknowledge there may be topics women have greater social-historical and material incentives to care about is to acknowledge that men have unjust intellectual privileges as well as material ones. So while it’s good to be critical of the suggestions, to be alert to the fact that they might smuggle in essentialist stereotypes, I think it’s a big mistake to deny the non-essentialist alternatives.Report

hlinde
hlinde
Reply to  Anon
6 years ago

Well said.Report

stef
stef
6 years ago

People are right to worry about gender essentialism and gender stereotypes associated with the question “What philosophical topics do women find interesting?” But… come on, lets not run off to our social-media-mutual-back-patting-forum and cast this post as horribly sexist and misguided (especially given the context and intent of the question).

Might there be an empirical study (a wide-spread survey, or whatever) that shows that out of topics T1-T20 female subjects have a significant preference for topics T4, T12, and T16, and a significant dispreference toward, say, T7 and T18 (while male preferences/dispreferences differ). Do we have any a priori reason to think that this is not in fact how things are? Is it crazy to hypothesise that this is how things are? I don’t think so. But notice that nothing here assumes gender essentialism, it is just a hypothesis about the de facto preferences of men and women undergraduate students.

If there was such evidence about preferences would it be useful? Would it be a good idea to try to incorporate topics T4, T12, and T16, as an attempt “make introductory-level philosophy courses more appealing to women”?Report

Jean
Jean
6 years ago

When I used to teach Philosophy of Mind and Language, I had majority male classes. Now that I teach many upper level classes in applied ethics, I have majority female classes. There’s no way to avoid thinking this is because, as the world is right now, women and men have somewhat different interests. In an intro level ethics class it does make sense to try to include different sub-groups by picking appropriate topics. Procreative topics: yes. Surrogacy is a great topic. Vaccination of children is an interesting topic. Less obvious topics that appeal to women especially: animal ethics. I find the gender of authors less relevant, because students pay no attention to authors’ names (Rachels is female and Thomson is male, right?). I’m for using topics to draw in other groups of students as well. For example, you can pull in athletes by talking about performance enhancing drugs. You can pull in music fans by talking about stealing music. If you orient yourself to different groups this way, obviously it doesn’t follow you must think they’re innately interested in different things, etc. And anyway, not all course content can be modified this way. Everyone ought to have to stretch, not just have their pre-existing interests gratified.Report

Carolyn
Carolyn
6 years ago

One thing to avoid in course descriptions and teaching for introductory courses, I think, are claims about the deep reliance of philosophy on formal logic, etc. The stereotype that men are better at math is still a powerful one (http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~na/Children.pdf), even if it is merely a cultural spandrel, and has clear effects on the enrollment of women in courses and programs that appear to be math-heavy (http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.1086/321299?uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21104087951031). We made changes of this nature at UC Merced recently (e.g. removing the phrase “predicate calculus” from the description of the introduction to logic course, which was required for the Minor), and I may be able to determine whether it had any impact on the proportion of women in the Minor in years to come (although we also recently added a woman to the faculty–me–which is likely to have an impact). Note: I am not advocating for the full removal of logic from these courses. But presenting logic as one among many methods of philosophical inquiry is a better approach at this level, in my mind.Report

Lee
Lee
6 years ago

I would like to suggest that the issue this professor is facing is not the concern of finding out which subjects might be more interesting to women, but their own belief that some subjects are – and that these will be universal. Perhaps considering why they think this would be a useful step in figuring out how to present philosophy as a compelling area of study for all students? On a practical note, maybe it would be worth asking for the input of all the students at the beginning of a course, to ask which areas they might be interested in addressing particularly.

From my own experience, I certainly felt more included as a potential philosopher when there were some female philosophers included in the readings, but wouldn’t have been more interested in work focused on pregnancy than general human rights and I think it could be more offputting to have these specifically included as it risks encouraging the stereotyping of women philosophers. This is already rather bad – as a student with a primary interest in feminist philosophy, I have encountered more surprise from others about this since I transitioned and started using a male name (and lets not talk about the greater authority my words seem to have in some circles).

Actually, my first reaction to this post was to recall this comic: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1962#comicReport

Incandenza
Incandenza
6 years ago

When I first read this post, I too felt uncomfortable with the idea that certain philosophical questions might be particularly appealing to women. On reflection, however, this idea would appear to be correct – provided that it is understood in the right way. As several other posters have explained, it is impossible to deny that certain courses in philosophy – especially, in my experience, ethics and social philosophy – attract higher female enrolment than others (such as metaphysics, which has terrible levels of female enrolment at every university I’ve ever seen).

However, it does not follow that women have these interests essentially. Still less does it follow that women should be discouraged from pursuing metaphysics or logic. I don’t believe that either implication was intended by the author of this blog.Report

LisaShapiro
6 years ago

This might be a good occasion to remind folks of the google doc with suggestions for readings (written by women philosophers) for inclusion in syllabi across the range of philosophy courses.
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AgJqzL_YyKKxdEwyd1o5c1lubFp2TGpiSlkyTE5jOXc#gid=0Report

Julinna O.
Julinna O.
6 years ago

New philosophy students generally do not have much idea what interests them prior to actually diving in to doing philosophy, so conducting a survey without prior exposure would not really help. Surely the factors that turn first-time students of philosophy on to a wide range of philosophical topics and questions are many: (a) the quality of the teacher (one who takes time to explain the issues and their importance, one who connects with the student), (b) compelling readings by a wide range of authors, (c) peers who also express an interest in philosophical questions, and (d) the student’s ability to connect to the material. It would be hard to account for all of these critical factors merely by asking which fields of philosophy interest one most. Moreover, these factors deserve more attention because they would seek to open opportunities for women, not just cater to their interests.

It seems that attempting to create a list of philosophical topics that are of interest to women would be pointless. It’s not the topics themselves that drive philosophy – for any interested student with an aptitude for philosophical reflection, most philosophy topics are all fundamentally fascinating. Rather, what is most critical is how we collectively attempt to answer these questions. There are ways to diversify one’s curriculum that do not involve appearing to cater to “women’s interests” because women’s interests are so different than men’s. We are all interested in the same stuff – reading a wide range of authors who use different methodologies to answer philosophical questions is the best strategy for including, rather than ghettoizing, women.Report

Sasha
Sasha
6 years ago

The comments attacking the very asking of this question are pious claptrap. Of course we can’t know a priori that there are no correlations between gender and philosophical interests (as stef pointed out). If you think it’s wrong merely to ask the question, you are an ideologue, not a philosopher. My suggested remedy: less trendy jargon, more thinking for yourself.Report

B.H.
B.H.
6 years ago

I agree with many of the criticisms above, and won’t repeat them here. I wrote a longer anecdotal response on my personal blog (not linked b/c personal, not professional), but I do want to communicate this bit:

By the time I was 18, I had already been subjected to so many gendered expectations on my intellect itself that I was ready to throw all of the babies out with the bathwater — if anything even vaguely looked like it was marked as the “girly” version of something, I ran the other direction and burned/salted the earth behind me…

I could talk about this period of my life and these experiences for hours, but what I really want to say in response to the Daily Nous post, in light of the above, is this: sometimes women leave because you try to “appeal” to them. I know I would’ve been out of there right away if somebody had told me that in order to do philosophy, I’d have to jump through all these gendered hurdles where I have to talk about marriage or care ethics or even much contemporary ethics at all. I absolutely recognized and despised the gendered aspect of “thinking about morality,” or who has the burden of figuring out what’s right and wrong, or what’s a good way for people to interact, or whatever, ever since I was at least 12 years old. We come in with that background already in place.


So, I don’t know what to say to this person who is so worried about finding topics that “appeal to women.” I am sympathetic with the idea that, inevitably, some topics might be of greater practical interest to the average 18 year old woman than others, given the way the world actually is. But need we cave to that in such a facile manner? Need we tacitly endorse “the way the world actually is” and serve it in the way we teach? And what place is there, now well over a decade after my own adolescence, for intellectual girls who don’t want to be stuck being “girls”?Report

Rachel V McKinnon
6 years ago

Sasha, I wonder, are you suggesting that there are no norms associated with asking questions? That is, should all questions be fair game?

I have a worry about that. Questions create presuppositions and can do a variety of things like trigger stereotype threat. I hope that there’s some agreement that, “Should we round up all of the gays into internment camps and execute them all?” is not a good question to ask seriously. Doing so would be offensive and hurtful.

Something similar, I think, is going on with the criticisms of the very asking of the question in the original post. Asking the question, in a serious way, can be harmful. Note that a number of women have said exactly this in this thread: it created harm. So it’s not pious claptrap: what’s being reported is how this question is offensive (philosophically and personally) and harmful. We have to think about the norms of our utterances, and not just in the abstract (e.g., I work on the norms of assertion in my research), but also in our daily lives.Report

USC Student
USC Student
Reply to  Rachel V McKinnon
6 years ago

Rachel, I agree that not all questions are fair game, but one key difference between the posted question and your ’round-up’ question is that the former is an empirical inquiry and the latter is not. Unlike the posted question, we reasonably believe that the ’round-up’ question can be settled from the arm-chair. Knowing that purveyor of this blog enjoys asking empirical questions, I took him to express exactly that sort of scientific curiosity. While being fully sympathetic to Professor Frey’s skepticism, I think Sasha has a point: “we can’t know a priori that there are no correlations between gender and philosophical interests.”Report

Rachel V McKinnon
Reply to  USC Student
6 years ago

I don’t think that merely because something is an empirical issue that that makes it fair game. “Are black men really less intelligent than white men?” This question is problematic.

Now, perhaps there are ways to re-phrase the question so as to lessen the harm or change its status as problematic. That partly seems to be what’s behind the OP question: the question ought not be whether there are topics that are of more interest to women; the question should be whether teaching a different (or more diverse) range of topics will make women more likely to continue in philosophy. Those are both empirical questions. But the former has problems that the latter does not.

Just because something is an empirical question doesn’t give it a free pass.Report

Dana Howard
Dana Howard
Reply to  USC Student
6 years ago

USC Student, the ’round-up’ question could be reworded as an empirical inquiry: ie. “What are the best methods to round up …” Surely you don’t think that this question should be taken seriously. So I don’t think that the appropriate distinction can be made between the method of inquiry that is required to answer the question. Not all empirical endeavors are normatively valuable and some could be harmful. We should be wary of equating questions that look more scientific and data-driven as ones that are more neutral. This is one lesson the Feminist philosophers of science have clearly outlined. See for example:

Anderson, Elizabeth, 1995a, “Feminist Epistemology: An Interpretation and Defense”, Hypatia, 10: 50-84.

Longino, Helen, 1989, “Can there Be a Feminist Science?”, in Garry and Pearsall 1989.Report

Rachel V McKinnon
6 years ago

Dana: Exactly. Very well put. Thanks.Report

USC Student
USC Student
6 years ago

Dana and Rachel: point taken.Report

Bojana Mladenovic
Bojana Mladenovic
5 years ago

Courses on paradoxes, epistemology, metaphysics, most history of philosophy courses, have about 2/3 to 3/4 men to 1/3-1/4 women in preregistration. We try to balance this in final enrollments. Courses on personal identity, philosophy of art, aesthetics, moral and political philosophy (especially bioethics), tend to have gender balanced preregistration.

I don’t see anything wrong with the way you asked the question. I do not see that it contained an unwarranted assumption; it was just an open, honest question.Report