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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Female speakers: a rarity

We all know about the male-dominated philosophy volumes, especially those in mainstream analytic philosophy. Often these volumes have no female contributors. Occasionally they have a token woman. When you point it out to the editors, they have plenty of excuses.

"I invited lots of women but they all said 'no'."
"Hardly any women are working in the area."
"I just asked the most prominent people in the field."
"It's the proceedings from a conference."
"I am just following the norm"

Legitimate reasons? In some cases perhaps. It could indeed be that the editors invited a handful of women who all said 'no', and it could be that hardly any women work in the relevant area. But how often does that happen? The prominent-people and conference excuses are just... well, plain silly. Might it not be that those invited to contribute to volumes on a regular basis have a better shot at becoming the most prominent people in the field? Or is it the other way around? And I can't help but wonder why female speakers weren't represented at the conference or workshop that preceded the volume. Is it because less than 10% females on the main program is the norm, even in areas where it shouldn't be difficult to find qualified female philosophers? Or is it because the qualified women in the area live too far away from the conference site? Or is it because the prominent male philosophers in the audience wouldn't be able to handle the tiny female voices? Naaah, it's probably just that "caring about the status of women in the profession is so twentieth-century" (HT: Feminist Philosophers).


Anonymous said...

Hi. I understand the sentiment, but in my case, it's valid! There are very few women working in philosophy of mind (comparatively speaking), and even fewer in cognitive science and/or AI. I've gotten used to being one of the very few women at such conferences, but it would be nice to see some more enter the scene...

Brit Brogaard said...

I don't know the numbers for philosophy of mind. But I can think of quite a few very good women in philosophy of mind. Even so, I often come across philosophy of mind conferences with no female speakers on the program.

Anonymous said...

I don't buy the argument of the first Anon. Off the top of my head, at top 25ish departments, what about Churchland (UCSD), Siegel (Harvard), Balog (Yale), Levin (USC), Raffman (Toronto), Dickie (Toronto), F. Egan (Rutgers), Bennett (Cornell), Paul (UNC), Gertler (Virgina), Jeshion (UCR) etc. And it's not clear to me why conferences have to limit themselves to inviting speakers at top-ranked schools, if people elsewhere are doing good work. In my experience, the same 10ish men keep getting asked to be speakers at conferences in philosophy of mind, and that perpetuates the notion that there aren't women in philosophy of mind.

Brit Brogaard said...

I think the second Anon has it exactly right. There *is* no excuse even in philosophy of mind. There are plenty of women doing excellent work in philosophy of mind both at elite universities and at non-elite universities.